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Everyone knows the economy has been very bad within the last eight years and it has affected the colleges and universities around the country, and these places had to find newer ways to market themselves to prospective students better than any other college/university out there.

Since this is not something new, many articles have been written on new strategies that colleges/universities are taking to increase their prospective student enrollment.

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article in 2004 that was titled Marketing Institutions and Recruiting New Students: What Works Best? It begins saying that, “Increased competition for students and tuition revenues.  Cuts in support for higher education.  A commitment to diversity.  Concerns about meeting student-aid needs.  Those are a few issues that are forcing institutions to review and update the ways they market their campuses and communicate with prospective students.”

The article continues to say that “Many admissions offices now use new technologies to broadcast their carefully choreographed messages.  Staff members, current students, alumni, and administrators all woo applicants through personalized email messages, parties, and even ads in movie theaters, as well as more conventional methods.”

I know that Sweet Briar has increased their connection to prospective students since two years before, encouraging staff to get in contact with many of them.  “Marketing has also increased the amount of ads appearing on Facebook, created new viewbooks and materials that perspectives can read, and has also encompassed many phrases/sayings that can represent a wider range of prospective students than the previous campaign allowed before,” stated Zach Kinkaid the Director of Media, Marketing and Communications at Sweet Briar College.  Kinkaid went on to state that, “There has been 530,000 visitors to the new SBC website from November 2010 – November 2011 and that each month requests for more information about the college have doubled from prospective students interested in learning more.”

Each institution has different reactions to loss in income, especially smaller institutions that really need help to get them out in the marketing world to be able to reach new prospective students and the article makes sure to say why as well, “Common reactions to enrollment dips, often driven by panic, include strategies such as expanding recruiting into areas where an institution has had little or no visibility – and lacks the resources or foresight to create a sustainable presence (the very thing needed to expand into a new market).

It goes on to say that, “Enrollment problems almost always result from a combination of external and internal variables, like demographic changes, a blurred institutional image, or deeply ingrained institutional practices”  Wow this sounds like Sweet Briar College, “Only the pursuit of incremental, data-driven improvements and innovations will result in substantial breakthroughs.”

“While recruitment solutions will different for each college or university, however, there are five basic principles that can be applied universally:

1) Students are influenced by relationships.  A major focus of any recruitment strategy should be on cultivating a relationship between the prospective student and the institution.

2) Students want to be treated as individuals.  Customized communications, whether delivered face-to-face, via telephone, or through the Web or email, should be personalized, timely, and relevant to each individual.

3) Communications should be delivered through multiple channels (promotional advertising, direct mail, Web chats, and multimedia presentations) by multiple people (the chancellor, admissions counselors, faculty members, the parents of current students) with a single voice.  Repetition is necessary to expand interest in the institution and move a prospective student to visit the campus, apply for admission, attend orientation, register for classes, and pay the bill.

4) Every interaction with a prospective student is a ‘moment of truth’ for the institution.  Each one should be carefully orchestrated.  The pivotal event, during which students decide if a school is right for them or not, is usually the campus visit.

5) A slow response to a student inquiry or request is the proverbial kiss of death.  A slow response signals to the student that the institution does not care.”

I do believe that Sweet Briar is trying to improve all these aspects as much and as fast as they can so enrollment does increase and prospective students will feel connected and welcomed at the institution they provide.


Jo Ellen Parker, President of Sweet Briar College was asked about how the “Flourish” campaign has helped enrollment since its implementation and said that, “The redesigned materials have been in use for less than a year. New student enrollment this fall was 4.5% above last year. We had the highest number of inquiries in 5 years and the highest number of applications in 10 years.”

Parker continued to say that, “The number of requests for more information received through the web site has doubled. Almost 13,000 people have clicked on a facebook ad.  So, since the new materials came out, there has been significant increases in inquiries, applications, visits to the web site, and requests for information.” Parker is excited to see this new campaign increase over the years. “We’re hoping to see that trend continue throughout this year!”

Back in 2009 there was an article written about Sweet Briar College, called The Price of an Enrollment Shortfall by Scott Jaschik, addressing the issues of budget and enrollment.  The information given is quite interesting and some great comments were made by President Parker.

Sweet Briar College held its discount rate at 42% and the result was an enrollment drop, a budget deficit of nearly $1 million and a new plan to save money.  The steps being taken were:

1) All retirement  contributions on behalf of employees will be suspended for five months (normally the college pays 8% of salaries into

TIAA-CREF accounts).

2) The president will work for two weeks without pay and the vice presidents and deans will work  for one week without pay.

3) A small number (up to five) of administrative and support staff positions will be eliminated through layoffs.

Parker said that, “The cuts were designed to show the commitment to going back to full spending on retirement accounts, salaries and so forth. Had the college simply reduced its pay levels a signal would have been sent that perhaps the college was scaling back,” which she said was not the intention.

The college had hoped to enroll 650 students that fall (new and continuing), but ended up with only 605.  Most of the lost students were (potential) freshmen, but the college  also saw some continuing students fail to return, typically citing the economy as the reason.

The enrollment drop means lost revenue of more than $900,000 out of a total annual budget of $43 million – and that’s significant enough shortfall, Parker said, that cuts were needed.  The college has been analyzing the reasons for its enrollment decline, and Parker said that she believes the issue was that, “Our financial aid packages were not competitive.” She said that, “We held our discount rate very closely to 42%,” and that now “we’re reviewing our aid matrix” and “having a discussion” on whether to allow the discount rate to rise.

Prior to her hire the college conducted a major strategic review,” said Parker “and believes that its mission and future are best served as a women’s college.  This is part of our distinctiveness, we view it as an asset.”

Corinne Adams, senior at Sweet Briar College also wrote an article, called Increased Faculty Salaries and Student Body Size Key to Sweet Briar’s Success, about the colleges budget shortfall and the new needs to increase enrollment and faculty salaries.  Adams wrote that, “Despite this focus on retention, some on campus still question the current financial state of the College, noting rumors that the institution is currently in approximately $1.3-$2 million in debt from building the Fitness and Athletics Center. Parker confirmed this debt, but offered reassurances. ‘That $1.3-$2 million in debt is what we have to fund out of the budget and the endowment,’ saidParker, who added,’If you look at amount of debt versus our annual budget, we don’t have a lot of debt,’ and showed a graph of the College’s performance from the Council of Independent College’s Composite Financial Index. The graph showed Sweet Briar above the level needed to sustain financial operations. Professor of sociology Brent Shea also expressed his confidence in the strategic plan’s potential to ensure financial stability, stating ‘We have a balanced budget and a plan for maintaining a balanced budget.'”

Adams went on to write that, “Shea emphasized faculty retention, as well as student retention, was key to maintaining the College’s viability, Shea also acknowledged that if the College continued the trend of the past 15 years, it might retain all faculty and programs, but that ‘the trend of the past 15 years has been a steady and steep downward trend in the salaries and compensation of professors (in comparison to what they were here, and in comparison to the present average salaries and compensation at most other US private independent colleges).’ Shea noted that while Sweet Briar currently enjoys the benefits of many highly qualified faculty with advanced degrees, many excellent faculty members have left in recent years. ‘Declining faculty salaries and benefits at Sweet Briar make it impractical for some professors to remain here for their careers…. we must bring salaries and compensation up to the average level for U.S. professors teaching at private, independent colleges.’

One of the big questions students ask about their colleges/universities new marketing campaign is “How much was spent to create it?”  At Sweet Briar College that question is on many students mind as budgets were cut and the repetitive rumors of the college losing more and more money.  So when asking President Parker of Sweet Briar College how much the “Flourish” campaign cost, she responded that, “The redesign work was done within existing budget, so there was no additional cost. Last year, a one-time special expense was approved to create the three primary YouTube videos.”  No exact number was given in her response, even when speaking about the existing budget which would have been interesting to know.

The same question was asked to Zach Kinkaid, the newest Director of Media, Marketing and Communications at Sweet Briar College and he responded that, “The budget was provided through many pockets of publication areas in the college and they put them into one area, but that decision was made before my arrival at the college by the Board of Directors and the President of the college.  I have a General Operating Budget (GOB), but I don’t know the exact amount.”  I pressed for the GOB, but received no answer for that amount.

Kinkaid has developed many new marketing strategies and new advertisements for the college, including 3 marketing videos:  She’s a Sweet Briar WomanShe Will Change the World, and A Leader of Tomorrow.   

“We’re making a bold statement with these new materials, we’re using some unconventional approaches to say to prospective students that Sweet Briar is where you will flourish, and we’re taking a lead in promoting not just the extraordinary educational experience we offer, but the value of women’s colleges.” Kinkaid said in an interview with PRWeb called Reinventing Edgy: Sweet Briar Launches Marketing Campaign of a Different Stripe. When asked how he developed the films and viewbooks for the college, Kinkaid deliberately sought marketing firms whose core businesses are outside of higher education “They had to bring both a creative and a collaborative approach to help tell the story of Sweet Briar in an imaginative, personal and far-reaching way,” he said “We didn’t want someone telling us what we needed.  We wanted a two-way partnership.”

The PRWeb article went on to talk about another significant marketing decision that was made by Zach Kinkaid to use in its new marketing video: For the three minute film, the College commissioned an original song by country music singer-songwriter Stephanie Quayle of Bozeman, Montana (which is also where Chisel Industries is located that SBC used for their marketing videos).  Quayle’s music, which often reflects her fierce independence both as an artist and a woman, has led to her involvement in women’s advocacy groups and conferences as a speaker and performer. So when the call came about writing a song for a women’s college, she checked it out. “I went to the website and was blown away,” said Quayle, “I loved the message. My gears shifted into songwriter mode.”

Kinkaid responded to the song that Quayle had created and said, “It’s what I was hoping for.  Our goal in marketing is to bring prospective students onto campus once they see this place, many of them know Sweet Briar is right for them.  This film will do that.  It’s forceful and just like the view book, it stands apart from what others in higher education are doping with their marketing materials.  Not what we’re doing but how we’re doing it.”

“Put together,” Kinkaid said, “All these things combine to say, ‘We’re here, we’re a great college for women who will change the world.  We’ve got excellent academics, a powerful  alumnae network, and strong athletics and riding traditions, not to mention an incredible campus and a dynamic community life that rivals any college or university in the country.'”

I wanted to get many opinions on the “Flourish” campaign from students, but I also wanted to get opinions from the college’s personnel who worked closely with the campaign.

When asking President Jo Ellen Parker of Sweet Briar College what the goals were of the “Flourish” campaign she responded, “The goal of all Sweet Briar’s marketing efforts – including the creation of the videos, the redesign of the web site, print materials, and magazine, and the increased use of social media like Facebook – is to represent the college in a dynamic way that will appeal to prospective students, their families, alumnae and other supporters. We want them to want to know more about Sweet Briar and to seek more information by visiting the web site, asking for more information, “liking” our Facebook page, and so on. With regard to prospective students, marketing materials are intended to get them interested enough to be in contact with Admissions so that a counselor can begin to work with them individually.”

There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what “Flourish” means to each student at the college and President Parker provides her meaning  of “Flourish” as, “To me, personally, “flourish” represents the way students thrive, grow, and succeed here on campus. I also like the fact that it evokes “flower” and thus echoes the Sweet Briar rose theme – and to my mind, it doesn’t hurt that it also evokes bold gestures.”

Some questions wondered by many students is who the college hired to create the many advertisements and videos, which President Parker says, “Last year MMC worked with a design firm called Smog and a videography firm called Chisel Industries.”

With further research I came upon the Smog Design Inc. website, which Sweet Briar College is represented on their Home page and their Featured Work page.  Some of Smog Design’s other featured work is:  The Art of Cars 2Selena Gomez –  When the Sun Goes DownJohn Mayer – Battle StudiesKaty Perry –  California Dreams Tour, and Britney Spears – Femme Fatale. Smog Design company also has a blog and their most recent post about Sweet Briar College is titled: Back to School by Ryan Corey on Sept. 16th 2011.  The Back to School blog post says “Over the past year, we’ve been working with Sweet Briar College—a Women’s College located in Sweet Briar, Virginia. We’ve created a whole slew of fresh new pieces for them, from their  viewbook to promotional posters and mailers. It’s great to be able to create work in this vein and we want to share some of the things that we’ve made for them recently.”

Chisel Industries, which made 3 of Sweet Briar College’s new marketing videos got it start only six years before with many awards that started in 2005.  Its Home page provides many of the marketing videos they have created recently and their About pageshows a video with all of the companies sponsors including Sweet Briar College.  Chisel Industries motto is “We sculpt stories that make a difference. And we want to tell yours.” CHISEL’s team have led Internationally-recognized projects for: KEEN FOOTWEAR, PROVIDENCE HEALTH & SERVICES, MTV, VANNS, HATCH, DIRECT TV, VELOCITY, GREENFLOW, LIQUID PLANET, MOONLIGHT BASIN, LOCATI ARCHITECTS, UNIVERSAL ATHLETIC, 1st INTERSTATE BANK, FIRST LANDING FIJI RESORT, MONTANA STATE UNIVERSITY, THE UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA, & STATE OF MONTANA TOURISM.

Another article written by Julie L. Nicklin on The Chronicle of Higher Education called Colleges Hope New Logos Will Help Them Sell More Merchandise talked about colleges/universities changing their logos and marketing strategies in order to get more money into the school.

Colleges are hiring graphic artists, image consultants, and advertising firms to spruce up their old logotypes and sports mascots, or to create altogether new ones.

Changing logos isn’t new. Many colleges over the years have changed or revised them, often by snipping ideas from clip-art books or taking suggestions from students, alumni, or friends. What is new is that colleges have become more deliberate about how they’re modifying the marks, officials say.A distinctive logo, college officials say, sets an institution apart in the eyes of alumni, donors, and students.

“We’re dealing with the MTV generation,” says Tom Myers, vice- president for enrollment services at American University, which unveiled a new logo in October. “Consumers are much more sophisticated. We’re looking at how this is done in the business world. And in the business world, image is everything.”

But some colleges warn that how much money an institution spends on a logo, and how it tackles the adoption process, can determine whether students and alumni will buy into the new symbol. Others worry that this logo mania could be helping some companies to profit in big, unjustified ways from the collegiate market.

Adelphi University says three companies each wanted to charge it as much as $150,000 to create a new logo. Instead, Adelphi hired a small graphic-design company, which charged $40,000.

One reason colleges are interested in jazzing up their logos, licensing experts say, is the stalled growth in the $2.5- billion national collegiate-licensing market in recent years.

While many on the campus have embraced the new symbols, some A.U. students aren’t happy with what they call the corporate approach the university took in adopting them.

Steven E. Lott, campus-news editor of The Eagle, the student newspaper, says administrators should have asked for students’ input rather than handle the effort themselves.

“A university is more than a corporation,” says Mr. Lott, a sophomore. “A university is a community more than anything else, and when you don’t include the community in a decision that affects us all, that’s an error.”

A.U.’s Mr. Myers says students were consulted informally.

As Lehigh watches the new dollars roll in, though, some observers can’t help wondering how long it might be before the Mountain Hawk gets a wing job to lift sales even more.

This was published in 1996, so the interesting fact about this article is that their logo has indeed changed, completely.  The Eagle logo is no longer their mascot as Lehigh has predicted and it has changed to a very sleek black Panther, but still a predatory species.

There has been many rumors that Sweet Briar College may change their mascot as well, from the Vixen (fox) with pearls to a Rose, but these rumors have not been proven to be correct.  It seems that colleges/universities need to change their marketing approach in order to raise enrollment and keep their schools thriving.

While researching about colleges/universities who have undergone some sort of media, marketing, or communications changes that had happened within the last ten years I actually came upon quite a few and learned that most schools react the same way that the Sweet Briar community is reacting right now.

I found an interesting article written by Karen Birchard on The Chronicle of Higher Education called “A Versatile Logo for a Dynamic Design School” and here are a few short snippets that represented what I am researching:

When the 135-year old Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto became an official university the school’s name was changed to OCAD University, but as Toronto’s fourth university, it needed a new visual identity.

The university decided to work with the Bruce Mau Design company. The firm’s team worked closely with the university to come up with a brand that wasn’t a staid logo but a flexible visual identity system that can also be a mini-gallery for students’ work, since artwork can be inserted into one of the squares.

“Students play such a pivotal role in the university so it was important to incorporate them,” said Bruce Mau Design’s president and CEO, Hunter Tura. “The squares can be a frame or framework to showcase the work of medal winners every year. That means the system also becomes a visual historical record. After 20 years, it will be an index of thinking, of what was coming out of the school.”

“The squares also pick up on the university’s iconic Sharp building where the façade is reminiscent of a crossword puzzle. “It allows the university to be flexible as to how it presents itself,” said Tura.

From this article it seems that the Bruce Mau Design company included other current students opinions in the creation of the new logo and found their opinions to be very important, but there are no comments from students that attended this university within this article, so the Bruce Mau Design company could be saying they took students opinions into account when they actually did not.

One of the problems that current Sweet Briar students had with the new campaign was the fact that their opinions were not asked or even considered, and therefore kept in the dark for most of the creation of the new “Flourish” campaign.  Maybe if more students opinions were considered Sweet Briar students would feel like they still had a “say” in what happens at their college?

While Sweet Briar College was in the process of changing its campaign through a new Media, Marketing and Communications approach to be able to reach more perspective students, the current students felt as though they were left in the dark on most of the decisions that were being made very quickly.  Many students attended the meeting that was held last year when they presented the new marketing campaign to the world, but students learned that most of their input was no longer useful because the campaign had already been decided on and implemented.  Yet still students spoke up about the things that could be changed such as the colleges new website and the promotional videos that would be seen by millions of perspectives.  Most students spoke up about their dislike of the new campaign being represented by the word “Flourish” and there are still many debates on if “Flourish” is the right message Sweet Briar wants to portray to students who will look at the college in the future, but some students agree with this change in the campaign.

Melanie Rinehart ’14 spoke about her feelings on the new campaign, “The Flourish campaign has the opportunity to encompass *how* we grow and learn at SBC, especially with our (highly regarded) professors creating such a strong academic environment. The issue many of the current students have is that we don’t feel using a cartoon to advertise an open house, for example, is the best way to represent the school in a serious academic light. Within a year, I was able to make the best friends of my life, find my academic passion, and become confident in my abilities as an academic while still having FUN with the traditions and women I go to school with- that is what Flourish is!”

Kelsey Allman, a perspective student agrees that the new campaign is great, “I think the new Flourish campaign embodies what SBC aims to inspire in every girl. SBC wants us not only to thrive, but to blossom and grow as women. The only weakness I see in it is that the message is not immediately perceptible, but, in my opinion, that separates the Vixens from the Hollins girls! I go to Marist School, an independent Roman Catholic school run by the Marist fathers, in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve known several good friends of mine that are either current students or that have graduated from SBC. What initially attracted me to the school was the riding program, but what kept my interest was the feeling of welcoming that I got from the website and through the information I was mailed. SBC feels like a giant family, and I’ve always wanted a sister! I hope to have 700 sisters next year!”

And some think the “Flourish” campaign can mean many other things as well.

Rachel Lasky ’12, a senior at Sweet Briar and a representative of the “Think is for Girls” campaign, spoke about her feelings on the new campaign and other changes, “I appreciate their efforts to bring in a new color scheme and that the new campaign actually gives us an object to picture (the flower). I overall liked the “Think is for Girls” campaign better, but it didn’t give any room for a single visual object to become a logo for the school. I’m not really a fan of the fact that our logo is a flower though. It’s a women’s college, yes, but I don’t know any other accredited university to have such a “fluffy” logo (for lack of a better term). I also don’t like the word “Flourish” at all because I want my education to be taken seriously and “Flourish” just reminds me of a finishing school where they will “water us and watch us grow into beautiful young ladies.” Though SBC girls are beautiful, I want us to be primarily viewed as intelligent women who were fortunate to get the education that is unique to Sweet Briar.”

Laura Leitch ’14 also a current SBC student agrees that some things just need to be changed in the “Flourish” campaign, “As a current student, I don’t mind the concept of “Flourish”, but I don’t like the way it’s been implemented. I hate the brown that has inundated all of Sweet Briar’s literature, and the rose is not one of my favorite logos. I think the idea of using the rose is fantastic, but I don’t think that it’s been designed well or used well and the idea that we may change our Vixen mascot to that Rose is horrible. I really liked the “Think is for Girls” campaign, especially the “girly-ness” of it. We are a women’s college, and the overt way that that campaign showed that appealed to me. I feel that the “Flourish” campaign occasionally goes to far and becomes something to mock, not something to draw in prospective students.”

Elizabeth Lindsey ’86:

It’s my understanding that these promotional materials go through market testing before they’re adopted. So they must be speaking to the target audience, which is high school girls and their parents. Personally, I think the graphics are too visually busy, and the emphasis on brown makes it all a bit dreary. But at the same time, these are patterns, colors, and tones I’m seeing elsewhere (e.g., clothing, notebook covers, etc.) these days, so they must speak to someone, if not to me. I do like the way the material is compressed into a single, really cool shape that begs to be played with (implying that SBC is fun?), as opposed to a number of little bits and pieces to juggle the way the “Pink” materials were. Although, I did like the “Pink’s” little booklet on traditions and am sorry that “Flourish” doesn’t carry that over.

Sweet Briar’s traditions are so important to the intentional community building that happens on campus, and the Sweet Briar community, both campus and worldwide, is a truly cherished part of the college. Initially I didn’t care for the “Pink” stuff because, being from the “we’re women, not girls” generation, I still feel that the use of “girls” is derogatory, a put down along the lines of “you run like a girl” (and what’s wrong with that?!). But once I understood that young women now don’t bring that kind of baggage to the word, I was okay with it. I’m also a sucker for clever rhymes and alliterations. I did find at college fairs that that lurid Pepto-Bismal pink really did lure the young women to the Sweet Briar table. Clearly the market research for that campaign had done its job well in terms of color selection.

On a historical note, the promotional material Sweet Briar sent me back in 1980-81 was called “Education for Success.” I think I may still have it around here somewhere. This was back in the days of women beginning to enter the most male-dominated fields, the term “glass ceiling” was coined, and we were all encouraged to “dress for success” in the workplace. My senior year, my mom bought me the regulation dress-for-success navy wool blazer, white blouse, and pleated grey wool skirt for my official interview outfit. Basically a feminized men’s suit. I was dressed for success and ready to put my education for success to the test! I’m not sure when that campaign changed, but I remember it going strong while I was a student. I graduated in 1986.

MEA CULPA. The campaign designed to hook me back in the 1980s was *not* “Education for Success” but rather “An Education for Reality.” I’ve just been out in the garage unearthing those materials and have them in front of me now. Along with the “An Education for Reality” pamphlet Sweet Briar sent me, I also received the one for the athletics department called “Fit for Life” (back in the days when those fitness trail course things were new and exciting), one featuring the science and math program called “The Challenges of Science,” and one called “The New Literacy: Computer Science and the Liberal Arts.” I entered Sweet Briar with an electric typewriter, but emerged with some basic word processing skills–a true education for reality there!

New SBC Campaign Good or Bad?

I recently posted this question: “What does everyone think of the new Flourish campaign? Flaws/weaknesses? Strengths of it? What does Flourish mean to you?” on Facebook under the You Went to Sweet Briar College if… Group

I immediately started getting replies and here is the link to all these responses:

Some critique the new campaign:

Caity Gladstone

I personally just think that far too much effort (read: money) is going in to this campaign in order to attract potential students when perhaps the best way to attract potential students would be to instead use that money for practical things, such as technology, increased events- social or academic, and the general upkeep of the school. If they really want to advertise why not just get more participation from current students in job fairs, and within Admissions?

Make students want to come there by continuing to invest more in the school than in a website design. Because I can honestly say that when I was choosing my undergraduate college, the website didn’t have that much of a bearing upon my decision. …Neither did a slogan.

And others praise the campaign:
Melanie Rinehart

As a current student, the Flourish campaign has the opportunity to encompass *how* we grow and learn at SBC, especially with our (highly regarded) professors creating such a strong academic environment. The issue many of the current students have is that we don’t feel using a cartoon to advertise an open house, for example, is the best way to represent the school in a serious academic light.

Within a year, I was able to make the best friends of my life, find my academic passion, and become confident in my abilities as an academic while still having FUN with the traditions and women I go to school with- that is what Flourish is!

For more comments click the link above or if you have comments post them HERE!