The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode 13 · 1 year ago

Campus Campaigns That Work: How to Include Donor Stories in Your Marketing


Earlier this year Kenyon College received a record-breaking $100 million gift from an anonymous donor.

Kenyon’s marketing department was then faced with the challenge of how to tell the story of this generous anonymous donor while also explaining why gifts at every level are important.

In this episode of The Higher Ed Marketer, Bart Caylor, President & Founder at Caylor Solutions Inc, and Troy Singer, Senior Account Executive at Think Patented, chat with Colleen Garland, Vice President for Advancement at Kenyon College and Janet Marsden, Vice President for Communications at Kenyon College, about how Kenyon shifted their campus experience marketing campaign to prospective students and prospective donors during the pandemic.

They also talked about:

- How they manage donor relationships

- How they adapted their campaign to COVID

- How they were able to produce videos without an internal team

Know of a higher education marketing change agent you’d like to hear on the show? Does your university have an interesting story to be featured? Connect with Bart Caylor or Troy Singer. If you’re not on LinkedIn, check the Caylor Solutions or Think Patented websites instead!
To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to The Higher Ed Marketer on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.  

You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in higher education. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to student recruitment, don'tor relations, marketing trends, new technologies and so much more. If you are looking for conversations centered around where the industry is going, this podcast is for you. Let's get into the show. Welcome to the Higher Ed Marketer podcast. Will we encourage higher ed marketers that we admire to share ideas and insights that other high ed markers can benefit from? I'm Troye singer and I'm here with my partnering creation, Bart Taylor, and this conversation we have today is very dynamic and it's stem from a one hundred million dollar donation to a school, but as we got into it, it is so much more. Bart, can you tell us a little bit about our conversation we're having today? Yeah, try, I'm very excited about this. This is a a hundred million dollar campaign or a hundred million dollar gift is fascinating in and of itself, but just to see what they're doing at Kenyon College of Ohio just is fascinating to me with everything, with their brand. It was a great pleasure to talk with Janet Marsden, she's the vice president of communications, and then calling Garland, she's the VP for advancement, and just to hear them both kind of talk about the way that they have, you know, addressed this this large gift, as well as just the way that they're kind of crafting the brand. And they do have such a good job of being articulate and being so thoughtful, and that's one of the things that I would really encourage everyone to kind of listen for during this conversation. Well said, Bart and without further ado, let's go into our conversation with Kaleen and Janet. Our conversation today is what Janet Mardson, vice president for communications at Kenyon College, and Kalean Garland, vice president for advancement at Kenyon College. Again today the topic is how canyon initially doubled down on their campus experience marketing campaign to prospective students and alumni during the pandemic before diving in. Janet, could you give us a brief description of your all at Kenyon? Hi, yeah, so I'm Janet Marsden. I'm the vice president for communications at Kenyon and I'm responsible for the strategic positioning of Kenyon College, and so that means I oversee the communications to all of our constituencies, whether they're people who are just getting to know us, like prospective students and families, or people who knows very well, like our alumni and our current students, faculty and staff. And I'm also thinking about communications to the the people who may only know as a name, so the broader public. Overseeing website publications, social media, Alumni magazine and all of our media relations and crisis communications. Thank you,...

Janet. Kaleen. Yes, so, I lead the advancement division at Kenyon. We make up but just close to forty professionals who work in development, alumni and parent engagement. All of our advancement services, by a records, anything relating to once you graduate and leave Kenyon falls in our lets. Thank you, Kaleen. And to get into our conversation, the reason why I first reached out to Kaleen because of an announcement of a one hundred million dollar gift, which was the initial reason I said Hey, would love to have you on the podcast, and then that conversation led to how this gift was part of a bigger initiative and we should get Janet involved. So again, with the help of Janet Kaleen, could you kind of tell us the story about this amazing gift? Absolutely, it's an honor to get to tell the story. Anyone who works for our nonprofit of any kind dreams of an opportunity like this. So and when a gift of this magnitude comes about, it's never about the solicitor or the ask it's about a partnership, and that was definitely true in this case. This is a donor who has cared about Kenyon for a very long time and really helped craft and understand our strategic priorities. So while this gift ultimately is to fund new student construction new student housing, it really is to a key strategic priority of the college to help us enhance our student housing experience, and is Janet will get to a little bit later. This is central to WHO Kenyon is. The experience all four years on our campus, living and working together on the hill is an essential part. It's not just about what happens in the classroom, it's about what happens two seven when you're part of the Kenyon community. So we were just thrilled to see the gift come to fruition and the communication of the gift was a little bit tricky because it gave us an opportunity not only to tell the story of this amazing gift, but also to help our other donors see that their gifts still mattered, that while a hundred million is a phenomenal gift, it doesn't solve every single problem that any college or university has and we still we're going to rely on other donors to help US support our students through students scholarships. So it was a win win really for us to both tell the story of the donor but then also to continue to make the case of why gifts at every level are important. That's great. I imagine that you know both for you, Kaleen and Janet, the challenge of being able to tell the story about the donor when they want to remain anonymous was probably a little bit of a challenge as well. Tell us about that now, no question about that. We always try to convince donors to share their their story, but we respect their wishes and in this case this is a donor who does not...

...want to be known, and we have quite a few donors who over that way and in many ways I really respect that, because they're putting the college first and they're putting the purpose of the gift first and they're not caring so much about attention to them. Are even many cases, you know, the gratitude that we all feel to them. They don't necessarily want that kind of attention. I think that's great. And Janet, what what would you say about that? Well, I would add that to collings point about, you know, the challenge of having, and I don't like to talk about a challenge of having a gift of this magnitude to have to celebrate, but but that you you want to be able to acknowledge the role that other donors play in this. And so in our communications we had the opportunity to bring in other voices, so alumni who could reflect on their own experience on campus and and and the this gift was going towards something that every alum could speak to what they're what their experience was in in on Kenyan's campus, and we were able to bring in student voices as well, and so I think that that in some ways made it easier to show how expansive the the reach and the role of this community plays and Kenyans Future, while we were able to celebrate this, this singular gift. That's great, because I I've worked with a lot of schools on capital campaigns and have served on a national campaign cabinet for my Alma Mater, and you know that that particular campaign was a hundred and twenty five million dollar campaign over the course of six years. You mean, you pretty much took care of all college campus campaign you know, with one gift, and I know it didn't just happen overnight. I know that these types of things take years and years and years and years in the making, but congratulations on that and I do think that I want to kind of point out to our listeners that the strategy that you took is to make sure that the other voices of the other diners were heard, because I think that that I think that's so important. That I want everybody to understand is that just because you have a singular gift of great magnitude does not mean that you know you're taking care of for life that anything else. I mean you've got to engage everyone else to make sure that they feel as equally a part with their you know, a hundred dollar gift. There, you know, tenzero yearly gift or whatever it might be, because it is a part of a community and I think that's I think that's Kudos to you all for for doing that. So congratulations. All right, I might say one more thing about that. In addition to just knowing that intuitively, we had under taken a study with a the group called the art and science group to really understand our our constituency donor motivations, what was working, and so we knew that there was a risk and when associating a gift of this magnitude to that, somehow your other donors would sit on the sidelines and applaud but not necessarily see how it was impacting them. So that definitely informed our strategy and fortunately we had a group that that met, including Janet, every other week for about nine months...

...trying to think through carefully, if this gift were to come to fruition the way we were hoping, how would we be prepared to roll it out? So it's definitely a team effort to be prepared for the messaging. I think that's great because I think that you know, that gift puts Kenyon College in a very elite club of very large, singular gifts to institutions and and you're right, I think that, you know you do have run the risk of your donor base thinking, oh well, they're like Harvard now, they don't need my money, and that's not at all the case. That's not at all. You know, they're the the you know, associating you with that type of other institutions just not fair, and so I think that the way that you did that, with with counsel and with with very strategic thinking, I think is very well done and it's and again, it's one of those things that, rather than just jumping around and high fiving everybody to say hey, look at this gift we got, you really thought it through a night and I think that's well done. So thank you, yes, and thank you for sharing the stories in the learnings that come with it. Wanted to change gears and ask Janet about the brand campaign here on purpose, that you had during the covid year. And I don't suppose the COVID post any problems to that campaign. Did it now? None whatsoever. Troy, it was it was just like, you know, walk in the Park Covid, as we all know, in this in this moment has has introduced some new things to think about and and for us, yes, we were rolling out a new brand strategy and really building on some tenants that had always been true. That's what a good brand strategy is. And here on purposes are sort of central theme. And this came out of a set of market research that we did a couple of years ago, speaking both with prospective students and families, current audience and alumni, so really a very comprehensive view on perceptions of Kenyon. And we were rolling out a new visual identity, including a an updated logo mark, which in itself has no complications, and we were also launching a new website, so an entire new site and developing a whole new suite of admissions materials. and Boom, a pandemic lands and our lap. So, putting aside the challenges of the work when you're managing a whole new flow of communications, the the the idea of being able to focus on place, the idea of being able to focus on connection and the relationships that happen here, which are two of our three pillars of our brand strategy, became quite a challenge when you couldn't actually have people here on campus on purpose. We were doing that purposely and you couldn't have people in a room talking with one another to be able to show that. So so when we were thinking about... do we show the place, how do we celebrate the place, and how do we start to make real and make visible these kinds of relationships, the attention that people give one another, we really had to get creative. When we can go into you know, I can go into a lot of detail about what we did, but but that was the set up. I should add, though, that this gift that we started with was a huge opportunity for us. When we think about place and we think about the the important role of the residential experience at Canyon, we were able, from a messaging perspective, with that gift, to have a very to make a very bold statement about the value of the residential experience at Canyon and the investment in that experience. You know, if you think about January of two thousand and twenty one, there were lots of conversations about the future of working in place, studying in place. Would we forever be remote? We didn't even know when the pandemic was going to end. So to be able to make a statement at that moment that that, yes, we are doubling down on this, we are investing in this, we have support in this, we celebrate this. was a huge opportunity for us. I think the only challenge was tone right. So the country was divided, the country, you know, people were dying, people were were tired. It was very, very hard to think about, like how do you strike the right tone where you celebrate this, this good fortune, and yet you recognize the context in which people are living? So lots of lots of ways that covid played into a complicated messaging year. Yeah, that's great and I can even tell, just in the way of your articulation of of that new brand that here on purpose, just how purposeful, I mean just in this conversation, how purposeful you're all doing everything that you're doing, how thoughtful and articulate you are with those types of things. And I find it interesting because I've got a lot of a lot of our clients are similar, small to medium size privates that you know, many of them are rural, and I think that you know you've got to do some things, especially with the residential experience, to really be purposeful in that strategy and I'm sure that's part of why the brand went to where it was. Maybe tell us a little bit about that, because, I mean Kenyans is kind of in the middle of it's in the it's the middle of everywhere. Okay, know, absolutely, I think you you're exactly right. In fact. You know, when we think about Kenyon's distinctions, and this came through in the data, right in the market research, one of the things that we're that most stands out about us is where we are when we look at ourselves compared to our peers. So many of our peers are coastal, so they're on the east coast or on the West Coast. Many of our students come from those parts of the country. So when they're making a choice to come to Kenyon, there's it's almost like a badge of honors,..., Oh, all of my friends are going to these sets of schools that are familiar, that are sort of in my backyard. I'm taking a step out right, I'm I'm going to go a little off the beaten path and and the reason I'm doing that is because everyone who lands at Kenyon has made that choice. So it's very intentional it's very purposeful and it comes through and the kinds of interactions that people have. So so that was really what was leading us to take this thing which, for some people, yes, is a negative. It's certainly the thing that is most notable right when you're just looking on paper, and let's turn that and show how it is a plus. You know, the other thing that was true for us is that we had really, really strong marks from our faculty in terms of how they thought about the place and how they thought about their students and how they thought about their colleagues in the work that they do here. It's it was quite remarkable when you compare it to sort of other institutions. And how do we turn that, this question of kind of faculty satisfaction, faculty, the meaning that they have, how do you turn that into something that speaks to the student experience? Is actually fairly easy to do that. And then the third was writing. Right and in Kenyan is long been known as a writer's college and for us we didn't want to pull away from that, but we needed to make that umbrella bigger to be able to show how the way that you think about the craft of expressing your ideas right is actually what makes you a good thinker. Right. So so good writing is good thinking. So that's where we landed when we were thinking about brand strategy. It's great. I I also kind of want to point out to some of the listeners too, that you're using a lot of the institutional data, you know, the faculty surveys, the alumni surveys, you know, maybe even, you know, other surveys with students and graduates, using that data to inform your brand decisions, and I think that's so, so critical. I think a lot of schools fail to realize that. You know, they're their institutional data and assessment office probably has some data that can be utilized by marketers, that can be utilized for communications and and again, doing that on purpose, being purposeful in that, I think is is very good and to serve some Kudos, and that so great. Thank you to both of you. I know that in terms of marketing the campus to both perspective, students into alumni, where customarily you promoted and relied on people to come on campus. Please share some of the learnings or the mindset changes that you had to go through over the past year and how you've accomplished though them. Clean. Do you want to start, because the the impact on alumni programming was really, really powerful.

Yeah, I'm happy to share what we did. So first I'd say, you know, we've always had a very strong peer network and so we were able to tap the peer to peer volunteer network pretty powerfully. We shifted, as almost every organization did, to a lot of virtual programming. The piece, I would say, that became very apparent, though, was just the importance of video and the increase use of video and photography because, as we've been talking about, like the place is so powerful and when alumnic see photos and images it immediately brings them back, it tugs it an emotional connection to the place and where that in ways that words alone can't. So we did indeed increase our use of video for things like this big gift announcement, which of course we couldn't do in person, but other things that we did as well in terms of we renamed our big Athletic Center for a very beloved and wellknown alumnus. That was all done through the use of video and so we tried to really, as Janet said in the beginning, appropriately share good news but in the context of what was going on in the world and that required just what felt like a near constant pivoting and adjusting and, you know, waiting till the last minute to make sure everything was just right to that moment when it was going to be released. But but we certainly have not let go of the fact that the place is important. But the virtual programming allowed us to expand some opportunities. So, you know, the relationships that Kenyan students form with their faculty is really something special and we've had for out of twenty years something called learning in the company of Friends, where one or two faculty members may go out on the road for events with alumni. Well, suddenly we could do those virtually and they were available to a much broader audience. So we've actually been connecting with people in brand new ways that would not have been able to make it because we didn't come to their city, but now suddenly they could tune in virtually and hear from a beloved professor talk about a topic that they care about. So there have been many bright spots in what what in my division we keep calling the pandemic potential, trying to look at the upside of what is possible instead of just what was taken away. I like that. That's great. Why would I would echo Allen's in terms of video, you know, certainly as we're thinking about sort of our other main audience, which is prospective students. You know, one of the the one of our strategies that has always been is to get them to campus right, to get them to visit campus. And and this is true of most institutions, that the campus is, it is a high conversion moment, and it's certainly true for Canyon. And so last spring, when that option became not an option, we had to quickly, you know, sort of double...

...up on our our our video collections, and we had always had a you know, a sort of a respectable virtual tour, but it was photo driven. And so the first thing we did was to mine our our be roll and our video collection and put together a series of what we were calling you serve in a minute, so mental path in a minute, gift, you know, places on campus in a minute, and and to edit those that footage so that you could get a sense of the beauty of this place. And then the second thing we did was to invest in some three hundred and sixty videos and and worked very closely to develop a version of that that that people could sort of watch on their own, but another version that our admissions counselors and our tour guides could do in real time with a prospective students. So thinking about repurposing that investment so that it would work for multiple purposes and to do that in close collaboration with the people who would be using them. And then the third, which is the most delightful and fun, is, you know, we had been planning to do this series that had students and faculty and conversation. That would be this way to show the kind of attention in the kind of relationships. We couldn't get them in a obviously in a room together right. So we had to pivot, and maybe I'm going to call it the pandemic pivot is my coin of terms, that we started working in animation for the for us that was for the first time, and we had interviews via zoom and then we had an animator using our new visual sort of identity to a set of animations that kind of brought them to life and they really captured the the diversity, the the kind of the very unique human quality of Kenyan students and they were just delicious and we're able to launch those on our admitted student website. So we wouldn't we probably wouldn't have gone down the road of animation if we could have gotten people in a room and and had a different kind of video. Yeah, I I caught a little bit of the animation on the home page of your website and I don't know if the other ones are similar to that, but I was just really blown away by that. I think that, you know, and I would encourage the listeners to go to Kenyon dot e to you to just kind of take a look at that, because I often talk about, you know, different ways to get attention, especially of generation Z, and you've got to be really creative. You know, they spend eight hours a day on Youtube. They're used to a lot of, you know, authentic and, you know, kind of different types of video. They've got a very discerning eye toward things and I think to do something like these animations that are unique and different and and and classy but yet still kind of quirky, I really think that's a...

...nice way to do that and one of the questions I wanted to ask you as a follow up on all this video that you've been doing. A lot of schools will ask me and they'll say, well, I encourage them to do video, you know, as part of their content marketing strategy. We'll talk about let's make sure we do video, let's talk about different ways to do video, and they're like, well, we really don't have the budget to hire a big video firm. I'm guessing that you looked at some different ways to do video. I mean you didn't. You weren't bringing in crews from Columbus and Cleveland do to do your videos? I mean, tell us a little bit about that. Well, that is an interesting question, because we were in the middle of a search for videographer and a video producer when the pandemic hit and we actually were not able to fill that position. So if there are any great video producers who want to do amazing work, please, please come apply to can and we're looking for a talented people. But we had the benefit of having one a really great collection on hand, so we could mind some of that and we had relationships with a couple of independent video producers who we burned working with for many years, and so the fruits of that collaboration. That would be the thing that I would say is that you don't necessarily have to have it all in house. You don't necessarily have to hire a kind of fancy big firm. We it wasn't part of a package that we put together with our as part of a brand strategy or a big break roll out. We really found the the partners who were best in class at what they did. So, whether it was video or whether it was print publications or whether it was magazine, we and we were the glue. We were the same and I think that actually helps right like that helps us have it's more generative in terms of creative work. You get the benefit of outside perspective, but you also have a kind of responsibility to be the glue. And so then when we're working with KALEEN's team and we're working with our admissions team, that there's it's embedded, it's not it's not a kind of added distance kinds of collaboration. So so that I would recommend that. I like that. It's kind of like an internal agency type of feel where you're pulling in the different resources to put that together for your vision and I think that's a really good approach to that and I think even you know I'm going to make a little bit of a note here because a lot of our listeners have listened to some of my presentations and I have a presentation about marketing on a shoestring budget. And this three hundred sixty degree cameras that you're talked about that maybe your admissions team is used for live and I'm not sure which ones you're using, but those are those are not beyond reach for most colleges and most departments. I mean, you know, under under three or four hundred dollars on Amazon you can get a Nice Rico three hundred and sixty degree camera that put it on a selfiestick and be able to do some nice videos that k quality. You can post to Youtube and I'm sure that those are...

...some of the things that you did in addition to, you know, some of the additional things. But again, I'm just trying to let everybody know that this strategy that Kenyon has done with video, it's it's accessible and and you know it, just like most people will understand that I can find a freelance graphic designer, you can find freelance videographers to that can do a lot of the same types of things that you need to do so great. Thank you for letting me kind of encourage everyone with that, JANA. Of course, usually at this time when we're winding down, I ask for something additional that people can take away, but kind of feel guilty because both of you have shared so much, but I'm still going to do it. So, Janet, will start with you and then fall with Kaleen. Is there an idea, maybe something that you're thinking of doing, something that you recently read or a secret that you don't mind sharing that's work for you that marketer or someone listening could apply right away or within the next few days, the few weeks. You have anything, any tidbits, secrets you can share? Sure I I will maybe point to one of the things that we did in our web redesign a turn. We just have a terrific web strategist on staff and a great partner that we worked with, and so she looked very carefully at all the analytics, making decisions about what content stays, what you know, how do we think about our architecture? And she was noticing the about section right, and she so beautifully put it. She's like it's the junk drawer of Kenyon, right. So everything that you didn't know where else to put that. The you know, is a new initiative that that kind of didn't yet have a home got put into the about section and and she's, she's like, and it gets traffic right. So that's where people go when there's sort of starting out. So she reimagined. We don't. We no longer have an about section it on the Canyon Web site. We have news section that is very pointedly to prospective students of poor can't explore canyon, and it really allows us to put forward our sort of brand messages in a way that it comes at a place where people are looking for that kind of top level view. It allows us to for people to Browse, you know, via looking at photos or looking at if you just want the numbers. And what we found is in doing that. So the cleaning out of the junk drawer, we increase the clicks from our home page to that section of the website thirty seven percent. So so my tip is open the junk drawers. Keep them because they're important. They were there place that people want to go when they don't quite know where to go to look for something. But just make sure when they open that drawer, that they find something that is is what they're looking for and that it tells the story that you want to tell. That's great. I really like that and I was looking at the site while...

...we were talking and that's a great solution, Kalan. So I do to say it's hard to choose one thing because our team has worked so hard to really just tap into incredible amounts of creativity and resourcefulness, and that's happened all across campus. So I think we all have a lot to be proud of. So the one I'll talk about perhaps will speak more to the fundraisers and the audience and the marketer, so I apologize for that. But what we've learned is that when you have an existing relationship with a person, it is quite possible to maintain and move forward in that relationship through virtual means. I mean we've had a very meaningful conversations onto that have not inhibited in any way, but trying to cultivate a new relationship through virtual environment is much more difficult. And one of the things that we started very early on, I think our first session was maybe an April of twenty, was something we called the Kenyon insider series, where we've continued these quarterly but we in invited our major gift donors and perspective donors to these insider events where it was a special invitation. They got a follow up phone call from a development officer personally inviting them, and we've done everything from, you know, sort of a insider look at the brand new library that's under construction to having a couple faculty members on a panel and hearing about how are they teaching a lab course and a virtual environment like you know, how in the world is this even working, to how our students being affected and particularly with the George Floyd murder and what was happening with the tension on campus and the heartbreak on campus, and we were able to sort of open up a window to some key insiders that were important to us and we found that we had major donors in prospects who won live an out of the way areas, so not in the typical cities that we travel to all the time, who we didn't know at all, who were tuning in regular and staying on for the whole hour and really engaging in the content. So that was probably our most effective way of being able to cultivate a relationship with a new person who could get intrigued by what they heard in that hour long presentation and then be open to a oneonone conversation with a gift officer. That's that is something that has worked well and is just one example of something that we will continue post pandemic because, well, it certainly will do things in person. There are audiences that we've been able to reach through virtual means that we would never been able to reach only an in person events. Thank you, Klein, so impactful, both the last two secrets that you gave us and then everything that you've shared over our time together today. And for those who would like to reach you, especially if there's a great...

...videographer out there, how would they get in touch with the both of you? Kalen, if you would start. Yeah, my my email is the best way. It's just garland one, the number one. So I'm lucky to be one of the first garlands. I guess at Kenyon that I get the number one, but garland one at Kenyon, dot eedu. Thank you, Janet, and and I'm very, very similar. I'm Marsden one, so that Mrs then one at Kenyon. Dott EU. Thank you both. Again for your wisdom in and you have time that you've generously given us. Barn't any parting thoughts. I just want to you know again, Echo, and thank you both for your graciousness and sharing and again congratulations on not only the gift but also just the success that you've been doing with them, with your with your communications, in your marketing and just living living out that here on purpose. I can tell that even in our conversation here, of how apropos that brand is. So thank you again both for being here and looking forward to kind of following Kenyon going forward. Thank you for having us, our pleasure. And now for a commercial. The High Ed Marketer podcast is sponsored by Taylor solutions and education, marketing and branding agency and by Think, patented, a marketing, execution, printing, mailing and provider of higher it solutions. On behalf of of my cohost, Bart Taylor, I'm troy singer. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to the Higher Ed Marketer. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you're listening with apple podcasts. We'd love for you to leave a quick rating of the show. Simply tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. Until next time,.

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