1 TWO CAVEATS: This is a cached version that has lost all its formatting. It s hard to read I apologize. The original version not only sounded good, it looked good! I don t have permission to post this, so I d appreciate your not passing it around. It was written in 2005 and no attempt was made to implement it, so I m not revealing any competitive secrets. Promotional Plan for the MBA Program Spring 2005 Background The Graduate Program Committee, in its report, recommends that the College prioritize the growth of graduate programs. They assert that a larger program will lead to greater visibility, opportunities for fundraising, ability to offer electives and specializations, and economies of scale in administrative areas. The proposed MS in Accounting is an important step in that direction. Combined with continued growth in the MBA program, and a potential MS in MIS degree, there is an opportunity to achieve critical mass in CM graduate programs. These three degrees represent the product issues and their nature and requirements are the province of their departments, the GPC, and ultimately the faculty. Promotion, however, is an administrative/programmatic activity that the departments are not equipped to handle and that is regarded as a level of detailed involvement that is not appropriate or desired by the GPC. This plan focuses solely on promotional issues for College graduate programs. Growing the graduate programs in numbers while maintaining a high level of quality will have spill-over effects in the undergraduate program and other areas of College life. With that singular focus in mind, the recommendations in this plan are based on two premises. One premise is that the best use of scarce CM promotional resources will be to focus all incremental expenditures on graduate programs. The incremental resources available for promotion can be increased by decreasing the amount of print promotion, in both the graduate and undergraduate programs, to a minimum consistent with applicant and student expectations. All promotional expenditures, both graduate and undergraduate, should be required to provide justification beyond simple continuance of past practices. Justification of proposed promotions should include a statement of objectives and how the achievement of objectives will be assessed. Once executed, they should be required to provide the best available measures of achievement and impact, based on original objectives. Balancing accountability and effort in a situation where staff resources are stretched thin will be difficult. The second premise is that, in order to be cost effective, the Website must be the centerpiece of all College promotional activity. Most of the promotion will be aimed at driving prospects to the Web site for detailed information and for action steps. Other types of promotion, such as MBA
2 information sessions, should use the site as an important resource. Site maintenance and enhancements must be carried out with the student acquisition objective in mind. In addition to the issue of scarce resources, there are ongoing problems in the area of promotion that the College must acknowledge. They include: Past promotional activities have suffered from lack of formal planning and often seem to have been conceived and executed at the last moment. Follow-up, both to applicants and current students, is labor-intensive and mostly ad hoc. Acquisition efforts have been undifferentiated, that is, they appear to have treated all qualified students equally instead of singling out especially desirable applicants for special cultivation. There has been little requirement that promotional efforts, both personal and in the media, justify their cost effectiveness. The College has no formal marketing research to inform promotional approaches. This plan will deal with all the problem areas except that of marketing research. The College tested several promotional options during spring and early fall The results of those promotions will be reported as part of this plan. In addition, teams in the graduate Internet Marketing course were asked to design message strategies and online advertisements during the fall semester. Their insights are summarized in Appendix 1 to this report. Specific parts of that appendix will be referred to throughout the plan. Objectives With these issues in mind, the specific objectives of this promotional plan can be stated. They are: To design an integrated, multi-channel student acquisition program for the Fall 2005 entering MBA cohort. The program will be executed in Spring It will be flexible enough to quickly adapt as soon as the MS in Accounting program is approved and the date for the first entering cohort for that program is established. To develop an ongoing promotional model that can be replicated without extensive incremental effort each semester. This proposed plan can be used as the model each spring for attraction of the (larger) fall cohort. It can be scaled back each fall for attraction of the (smaller) spring cohort. To build in continuous learning and improvement in all promotional areas. Although retention is also an issue in any program, it is not being addressed in this plan. Retention for the MBA program is high and apparently rather stable. Anecdotal evidence from students suggests they consider themselves a captive audience because there are no other affordable programs in the Boston area. If retention is an issue, it deserves a specific, separate plan, not brief mention in an acquisition plan.
3 SWOT The readers of this plan are well aware of CM s strengths and weaknesses. Formally, they are incorporated into the College s strategic plan. Table 1 is a SWOT listing solely from a promotional perspective. It is not all inclusive; it deals only with issues that are germane to College promotional activities. Table 1 Promotional SWOT (A Complete SWOT is Available in the College s Strategic Plan) Strengths (see Appendix 2 for Benefits list used during Web site development) Affordability (consensus among MBAs) Accredited Small classes Flexible class scheduling Accessible, quality faculty Diverse faculty and student body Location Opportunities Targeted, high-impact student acquisition advertising Partially automated application follow-up system A segmented, differentiated approach Weaknesses Uncontrollable Physical Facilities Location (also a strength) Thin programmatic administration Semester & summer structure Administered by DPCE Controllable Size of program Less than desired frequency of course offerings Lack of specialized degrees Minimal number of specializations Scarcity of electives Threats Another round of major budget cuts Competition will become active in areas of promotion that are currently inexpensive (see Search Engine Ad Term Prices Skyrocket attached as final appendix) Given the familiarity of issues the S and W categories, they will not be discussed. The remainder of the plan will focus on taking advantage of the opportunities and attempting to forestall the competitive threat.
4 An essential part of any promotional plan is to identify and profile the target audience. Highly targeted promotion is especially important when all resources must be used with maximum effectiveness. Target Audience The target audience for this promotional plan will be limited to qualified men and women in the Greater Boston area. The feasibility and desirability of acquisition efforts aimed at international students in general or specific cohorts of international students will not be considered. The profile of the target audience, based on College experience and the judgment of the MBA students is: Working professionals who are employed full time Ages Live and work in the Boston area Looking for career advancement Desire an affordable program Want flexibility Consume a variety of media (not necessarily in rank order of usage) Online Radio Print, especially the Metro MBTA advertisements Material obtained at professional associations and educational testing/preparation centers. Target audiences that present special opportunities for aggressive acquisition activities include: Highly qualified students It will first be necessary to define students who are especially desirable. Grades and test scores would be a permanent definition. Each semester or year it would also be possible to identify a group of qualified students who had other desirable traits, e.g. accounting majors, students interested in environmental management or public policy, students who desire a health care specialization. This assumes, of course, that programs exist to service the special interests. Students who receive tuition wavers (state employees and perhaps others) Employees of non-profit organizations Employees of SMBs and larger businesses that do not pay employee tuition. All except the first segment are potential students who are especially susceptible to the affordability of the CM degree program. Positioning Over the past 20 years there have been occasional discussions about desired positioning for the College. The issue of quality versus affordability has never been successfully resolved. The closest we have come to a positioning statement is the slogan used on the Web site:
5 This is an acceptable way of dealing with the quality/affordability issue for the College as a whole. It does not meet the need for a clear and compelling positioning for the College s graduate programs. Until we find a way to develop a positioning statement, brand positioning themes will provide guidance: Professionalism Unfailingly positive and upbeat Aura of accomplishment and success Empowering The Brand Itself This raises the reasonable question, What is the brand we are positioning? Based on the original premise that we are dealing only with the MBA program, the current brand can be stated as: The UMass Boston MBA That leaves no room for the soon-to-be-approved MS in Accounting program. It can be branded as: The UMass Boston MS in Accounting Those two formulations are mutually exclusive. There needs to be an umbrella version that encompasses both. It can be stated as: The UMass Boston Graduate Management Degrees. How do we create these brands and others to be added in the future? The basic answer is, Repetition, and lots of it. In all our promotional activities, online and offline. The branding statement should be added to all program communications media from to stationery In every public statement about the program by any member of CM. All done in light of the elements of this plan, especially the positioning themes and brand benefits. Advertisers refer to this as everyone singing from the same page. All senior staff should take the lead in spreading the branding message whenever the occasion arises. If necessary, the Dean must play the role of enforcer in seeing that everyone does, indeed, sing from the same page.
6 Media Options One of the basics of good promotion today is the use of both online and offline media for virtually any promotional task including driving prospects to a Web site. For CM, there are good reasons to skew in the direction of online marketing. They are: The target audience of educated year olds is a heavy consumer of online media. Anecdotal evidence indicates that online search is one of the first activities when prospects start investigating MBA programs. The cost comparisons between online and offline are weighted in favor of online. Some examples are: The CPM Media This fall we paid $2.31 CPM (cost per thousand impressions) for the advertising in Boston.com. ($1,500. / 6,500,000 impressions). This is consistent with an industryaverage $3 CPM obtained from the local Yahoo! sales office. The campaign, running from November 8 through about December 3, brought 280 non-unique visitors to the CM site a cost per click of $5.37. See Appendix 3 for complete reports of the campaign. Last spring Metro quoted several ad packages to us ranging from $.94 CPM to $.75 CPM depending on size of ad and special editions. We purchased 29 insertions (5 column inches each) for $10,100 (average $350 per ad) 510,000 daily readers x 29 insertions = 14,790,000 impressions $10,100 14,790,000 = $.68 CPM 33% of the daily readers, or 168,300 plan further education in the next 2 years $10,100 $10,100 (168,300 x 29) = 4,880,700 impressions = $2.07 per marginally qualified viewer 11.8% of the daily readers, or 60,180, have an undergraduate degree $10,100 $10,100 (60,180) x 29 = 1,745,220 impressions = $5.79 for potentially qualified viewer If 33% of the daily readers who have an undergraduate degree plan education in the next 2 years (60,180 x.33) then 19,859 readers are genuinely qualified $10,100 $10,100 19,859 x 29 = 575,911 impressions = $17.53 CPM per qualified viewer A rough comparison is $372 per column inch for a 24 insertion schedule or $1,860 per 5 column-inch ad in the Boston Globe
7 Other major print media in the Boston area do not make their rates public for easy comparison, but ones that reach the target market such as Boston magazine and the Improper Bostonian are expensive because they reach a desirable target audience. UMB is currently paying $10,000 per month for 50% coverage (1/2 of all cars) on the MBTA. Online media generate basic measures of effectiveness with no extra cost and little extra effort. Offline media are harder to measure, but well-designed programs can provide measurement opportunities by using things like different URLs, phone numbers, and addresses. The server log for (a URL created for the Metro program and used only for that) is shown in Appendix 4. Few details are available from this system report, but a few patterns are clear. Most insertions resulted in visits to the site (there are 2 exceptions). There appears to be slightly more activity from Monday insertions than from Thursday. There is a clear pattern of wear-out toward the end, beginning with April 1. That is also about the time we changed the copy from a branding message The MBA That s Committed to Your Success to an action message Sign Up for an MBA Information Session Now. There were continued visits to the site, May through October, when there were no ads running or any other use of the URL. If we make a generous assumption of 7 visitors to the site from each ad insertion 7 x 29 = 203 non-unique visitors 203 = $49.75 cost per click $10,100 The 2 ad insertions in November, using the Information Session copy, drew few visitors to the site. The cost per clicks are basic measures because they only reflect how many times someone comes to the CM Web site as a result of an exposure in a specific medium. They do not reflect: How many of these are unique individuals How well qualified they are in terms of demographics, interests and intentions What further actions they take, once they have reached the Web site What other pages they visit How many times they return to the site Do they sign up for an information session? Do they download an application?
8 The advanced measures that permit accurate assessment of the cost effectiveness of promotions, including search engine and , are available from commercial services at reasonable cost. Making use of them, however, is time consuming. The CPA (cost per action) Media From December 2003 through December 2004, the Google AdWords program has brought 1,113 visitors (not identified, not unique) directly to the main MBA page at an average cost per click of $1.65. See Appendix 5 for a set of Google reports Program summary Ad summary For the entire program, ranked by number of clicks for each keyword For the month of November 2004 ranked by Number of clicks Click through rate Cost per click A second ad was added in early fall. It is giving satisfactory results but is not quite as successful as the original copy. Keyword bids have been changed from time to time to reduce the CPC on the understanding that it is not necessary to be in position 1 or 2 at the top of the page, but that positions 3, 4, and 5 (on the right side of the page) are usually above the fold in a viewer s browser, which is satisfactory positioning. With the understanding that the Metro calculation is an estimate, and that we do not know the quality of visitors that any of the 3 media have brought to our Web site, the cost effectiveness is: Google $ 1.65 per click (provided) Boston.com $ 5.37 per click (calculated) Metro $49.75 per click (estimate) It would be nice if we could simply say that Google is the cheapest, so we should rely on it alone. That, however, will not provide the number of prospects that will lead to the desired level of growth. It is also important to remember that bringing MBA prospects to our Web site is only a first step. We need a promotional plan that moves them through a defined series of steps that culminates in their enrollment in our program. The MBA Enrollment Management Process The enrollment management process for the MBA program can be described as a series of reasonably discrete steps, as shown below. Inquiry > Face-to-Face > Application > Acceptance > Deposit > Enrollment
9 (partial/completed) So far, promotional efforts have focused entirely on bringing more prospects to our site and attempting, through information sessions and individual communications, to convert them to MBA students. We need to establish a semi-automated communications program, relying primarily on , that will provide a greater yield from the overall process. The communications program must require no more staff time than the current ad hoc efforts. Ideally, it should require less time and accomplish greater results. It should also give us an option of targeting especially desirable students. In recommending a promotional program, there has been an attempt to organize recommendations according to the EM process. However, that is not always possible, because an integrated, cost-effective program will sometimes involve more than one step. Recommendations For Current Action. This set of recommendations may, at first, appear staggering in its magnitude. However, careful reading will reveal that they are extensions, relatively minor, or reorganizations, relatively major, of what we are doing now. They do not represent a huge amount of incremental effort, although they do represent some. An inquiry-generation program for Fall 2005 needs to be at its peak in January through March, with lighter promotion through our final deadline of June 1. Our deadlines are later than some or all of our competitors. That suggests: Intensive emphasis on attracting highly qualified students in January and February A final push for applicants in April. Components of that program should include: Maintenance of the Google program at current levels. We are not maxing out on costs, so we are not loosing any impressions at the current level of expenditure. Strongly recommend adding a third ad immediately with an Affordable MBA theme. This allows us to test that appeal (against the current two ads) in a relatively invisible fashion. If it performs substantially better than either of the existing ads, that will be a sign that we need to come to grips with how to communicate the affordability issue once and for all. We also need to test seasonal copy like Still Time For Fall Admission. Immediate addition of similar paid programs on Overture and MSN search. Overture serves major portals including Yahoo! and the new MicroSoft search engine intends to be a major competitor to Google and Overture. A free listing was submitted to the new MSN search engine in December, but it has not had, nor is it likely to have, visible results. We need to do anything we can (better Web site copy, more links to our site, for example) to improve our natural search positioning on the three search engines that are most relevant to our target audience. Appendix 6 shows the result of a natural search done in December. Suffolk began paid search before we did. Babson is a new entrant, with a specialized landing page. The threat of competitors recognizing the important of online in general and search in particular is
10 real. Try to get a small piece of existing media contracts from the University. This was done this semester with two Metro ads in November. They pulled about as well as the ones CM paid for, and from our perspective they were free. The same has been done with WEEI in the past, and we should try for a car card on the MBTA. Another major contract with Metro does not seem to be cost effective. We should, however, continue to test other print vehicles. Combinations of online and print in the Boston Business Journal are affordable. We could test that as a vehicle this spring. Boston.com reaches our target market and was cost effective. A program of at least ten weeks (mid January through March 1 is suggested). We used the smallest and cheapest formats a banner and a sponsored link in November. The extremely cheap (and extremely small!) sponsored link generated a respectable number of click-throughs when compared to the banners. That format should run the length of the main campaign, and perhaps even longer, say until the final application deadline. We need a specialized MBA logo that will be visible in the small space allotted to the sponsored link. Continue with a banner on the pages recommended by Boston.com, since all pages performed at relatively the same level. Try some larger (and more expensive) formats for a concentrated period of time. This could include a skyscraper and another larger format during the month of February. Or we could time a heavier media push to coincide with the application deadline of competitors since our deadline is later. It could also include a specialized media buy known as a surround session Essentially this gives the advertiser all three advertising placements on a series of up to five pages seen by an individual visitor. Research has shown this (called exclusives on other sites) to be quite effective not surprisingly, since there is no competition from other advertisers for an extended period of time. This will require more and better copy, since three ads will be shown at once. Consider whether we could get a better media deal with Boston.com with a contract that would give us space for both MBA and Executive Programs ads. We could consider the same for the Boston Business Journal. An intensive push to be sure we are listed in all major MBA listings. As of this writing we are not listed, for example, in the Business Week listing for Massachusetts. When the site was visited in early January to confirm our lack of presence on that important list, the Career Services director at Boston University and the Dean at Babson were both featured on the education home page discussing aspects of their programs. Contact the Business Centers with two requests: That we be allowed to send one recruitment to their list each year. Part of that will be to ask their members to link to our MBA page from their human resources page. Request the support of the center director in obtaining these links. Request that every staff member who visits local companies ask for a link to our home page to make it accessible to both undergraduate and graduate prospects. Ask the accounting faculty to immediately develop an list of accounting firms and accounting contacts in corporations who can be asked to link to our MS in Accounting page when the time comes.
11 Immediately begin developing an inquiry follow up program, with the objective of having it in place by February 1. This would require developing an HTML for each of the following: Inquiry > Face-to-Face > Application > Acceptance > Deposit > Enrollment Thank You with Thank You with Thank You with Congratulations Thank You Welcome Relevant Links Application and Partial--Items Remaining With Link to With Link to Specialization Links Complete--Est. Reply Date Course Schedules MGT 650 (from the Dean) Immediately develop standards for and single out a set of highly-qualified applicants. Standards to be in place by February 1 for emergency approval by the GPC. When the prospective student is identified as highly-qualified, either as a result of face to face contact or the initial application, add to the above: A warm but highly promotional message from the Dean As soon as the prospective student expresses interest in a specialization, a message from the relevant department chair. Identify prospective students from state agencies, non-profit organizations, and anyone else who has indicated that their employer does not pay tuition for follow up if they have not submitted applications by March 1. A form that requests relevant information for follow up, either on the Web site or at information sessions, should be developed and used as quickly as possible. It needs to ask, Where did you first hear about the UMB MBA program? to help evaluate our promotions. Each of the communications specified in this section can be preprogrammed. A mailing should be sent once a week (early in the week, not on Friday) to each prospect who has moved into a new category during the week. The concept is easy, but it will require meticulous maintenance of the prospect database, a task now in the hands of a student. As soon as we are confident that it works properly, each one of these s should be personalized. The entire prospect list should receive the MBA Update. In all promotional copy, we should use a branding message, not an appeal to action. The branding message should be strong, in order to drive prospects to the Web site. Once there, we need to find ways to highlight the two action steps Register for an Information Session and Download an Application. The action appeals have not worked well, probably because the small ads do not contain enough benefit-oriented copy to incite prospects to committed action. We should use the AACSB logo in all promotional copy. The Web site is the third leg of the promotional activity. What we have is a good start, but any good Web site practices continuous improvement. At present, we should: Immediately develop a semester-long plan that specifies uncompleted maintenance issues and needed enhancements. It would be helpful if we had a free-lancer or highly competent student who could do a page-by-page evaluation of the site, checking all links and looking for anything that appears to be wrong or incomplete. Maintenance issues that are known at the moment are:
12 Prerequisites have been a problem from the beginning, one that has not been resolved, although it has been brought up repeatedly. Some of the prerequisites are present with MBA course descriptions, some are not. Presence or absence appears to be completely random, but it clearly gives misimpressions to prospects and generates unnecessary questions to the program office by current students. Each semester we only post the next semester s course schedules at about the time the printed list comes out. That negates much of the value of the Web site for current students and causes us to lack an important piece of information for prospects. We also need to post the registration schedule, with the understanding that it is to be taken down at the end of the preregistration period. This is not as critical an issue as it used to be because we seem to be doing a good job of making the capstone courses available for both undergraduate and graduate students. However, it fits in with the mission of serving CM students through the CM Web site whenever possible. We need to keep building the Career Services section of the site as quickly as we can keep promises made. One way to do this is to make more use of the resources of the University Career Services Offices. Those resources are more extensive than most realize, but they are remarkably hard to locate on their site. Pages that highlight those services with brief copy on our page and a direct link to the service on the University site would give students access to what they are paying for and would bolster the image of our career services activity in the eyes of prospects. We should examine the current profile of MBA students that is on the site. It has not been updated although requests have been made for additional or new data. Desirable enhancements to the site include: A two or three year plan of anticipated MBA course offerings by department. Current students have few degrees of freedom in terms of choosing the right courses if they are to complete their degrees in a timely fashion. They are highly aware of this and incensed by the fact that they are being asked to register without knowing what courses will and will not be offered during the next semester. Personal observation suggests that eliminating this problem alone would free a sufficient amount of time of the program director to allow satisfactory supervision of the inquiry follow-up program. The Dean needs to take whatever action is necessary to have this plan posted on the site prior to pre-registration for the Summer and Fall 2005 semesters. Course syllabi are also desirable. Current students want to see them and prospective students use the syllabi to verify our claims of quality, timely course material. We have fall semester syllabi for all courses and soon will have spring, but none have been posted. This also should be done immediately, with priority given to MBA syllabi so they will be available for inspection by prospective students. Both of these issues give credence to the original belief of the Web development team that if we do the right things for our current students, we will be supporting the student acquisition effort. However, there are enhancements to the site that should be made primarily for the benefit of prospects. They include: Add a Program Costs page to the MBA page. Make it as detailed as possible. This is another way of making the affordability of our program clear without undue visibility. Post some sort of an annual report. We have information, but the formats required by the University are lacking in promotional appeal.
13 As indicated at the beginning of this section, these recommendations represent extensions and reorganizations of what we are now doing. Still, the current staff is stretched beyond reasonable limits. We can work to make their effort more efficient, but giving them new tasks is not reasonable. An entry level, full-time staff person, a data communications manager, would be ideal. Until that can happen, however, it is suggested that we be very careful in our use of students and, instead, consider brief contracts with well qualified free lancers. Setting up the inquiry follow up program with the help of a free lancer is feasible. Database maintenance could continue to be the province of a student, closely supervised by the program director. We have a number of writing instructors who are skilled communicators. Some are willing to accept free lance assignments at extremely reasonable costs. None of them, however, appear to have any training in writing for advertising or public relations. Locating a skilled public relations free lancer who could work under contract to get the College visibility in local media would be a good use of resources. Likewise, establishing relationships with local development free lancers who could do things like run an occasional alumni event would be helpful. Desirable Future Actions. The process of continuous improvement will require testing of new promotional vehicles and advertising copy. This should be done on a regular basis as part of an ongoing promotional program. Likewise, careful maintenance of the Web site coupled with one or two major, targeted enhancements each year will result in continued improvement in its effectiveness. There are many other things we could do, but the recommendation is to focus on what we can do to bring our alumni into the student acquisition process. As an initial step, we need to make a concentrated effort to get addresses. In order to get them, we need to offer something in return. Suggestions are: Last-minute notifications about vacancies in MBA courses which they, as alumni, could sign up for. If this would generate income through CEPD, it would be especially desirable. Promotional prices, for individuals or for their companies, on executive programs. Admission to career services seminars or a special seminar once a semester for alumni. A timely white paper, which we could later post on the Web site. A financial services paper, the Massachusetts Economy in..., would be examples. Do the Business Centers have anything we could offer? In order to make this work, we should direct alumni to a registration form on the Web site, not take the information in any other way. The PeopleSoft program should have a piece of software that automatically puts registration information into a simple Access database or Excel spreadsheet. Maintenance of the list then becomes an ongoing issue. With cost effective contact with alumni established, there are many ways they could be involved in College life and MBA acquisition programs. Two obvious ones are alumni testimonials on the Web site and acquisition events at which alumni act as hosts.
14 Managing alumni participation is a labor-intensive activity and cannot be done without a staff member devoted exclusively to alumni relations. That should not, however, prevent us from quickly migrating our communications with alumni to so we can communicate more often at a lesser total cost. Conclusion The opportunities for CM to better promote itself and to attract more and better students are real. So are the threats, especially the prospect that our competitors will learn how to use the electronic media more effectively than they are now doing. We need to move thoughtfully, but quickly. We cannot outspend our competitors, but for the time being at least we can outsmart them! Clearly the MBA students perceptions are affected by their own situations and by acquaintance with their classmates. For one thing, they see this as a part-time program and do not appear to feel any need for a full-time program. They are also intensely aware of the importance of program cost to themselves personally and to their colleagues. In addition, their perceptions of media use patterns probably were influenced by considerable knowledge about recent MBA advertising initiatives. A marketer s note on positioning: lengthy positioning statements are dysfunctional in a promotional context. A sentence or a brief paragraph is essential. One senior advertising executive described it as an elevator closing statement. When you pass your boss coming out of the elevator as you go in, you must be able to answer the what is our positioning for... before the elevator door closes. The practical reason behind the need for a short, compelling positioning statement is that a promotional program cannot execute a lengthy treatise. Spring 2005 Promotional Plan College of Management 1