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Marketing/Marketing Strategy for College Agency

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Question
Hi Mr. Scherch!

I'm currently managing a design agency on campus and when I came into the position, there was literally no awareness of the agency on campus...and there still isn't any.

There aren't really any overhead costs but the way the agency is structure, it's incredibly difficult to bring in enough revenue to cover the salary costs of the two managers. I want the agency to succeed so badly that I don't even log my hours sometimes to get paid.

We offer our design services (posters, logos, websites, etc) to the entire University as well as the city, but we have difficulty attracting student customers since they often have friends or someone in the organization to create the designs and many clubs don't have the funds. And so we currently are trying to target the academic departments because they do have the funds and often need things designed, but we still don't attract enough clients. Most of our clients are actually non-school affiliated and I'm not sure how they hear about us...

We've also added a photography agency just this year and are trying to plan a big "launch" campaign this month in hopes of getting both the design and photography agency name out there.

With that said, I have a few questions for you:
1. Do you have any suggestions on steps to take to create a strong awareness of the agency on campus? We have the budget to create marketing materials, but what kinds should we focus on?
2. How competitively should I price the services for students, departments, non-school affiliated companies, etc?
3. Is there a suggested way we should go about launching the photography agency?

I would appreciate any advice you can give! I apologize for the length! Thank you (:

Oh, and one last unrelated thing! What should a college sophomore do now to get into marketing consulting later in life? What are the first steps and what kind of internships and jobs would be most helpful?

Thanks again!

Answer
Hi, Brenda:

Thank you for your question.  I previously worked in a university Marketing and Public Relations department, so I think I can provide you with some insight. And I think the most important thing you can do it develop relationships with the right people at the college; this is more important than any kind of launch event, or development of slick marketing materials.  If you can do this, you can price your services competitively and profitably, because you will be seen as a valuable asset rather than a commodity to be bought at the lowest price; it's unfair, but many people without design/marketing experience who don't understand all that goes into an effective marketing campaign, may see your skills and expertise as a dime a dozen.  I don't think you need to "launch" the photography agency; it should just be part of a full line of marketing services, which should include the addition of Public Relations services, which I'll touch more below.

Because building relationships is so important, but also time consuming, you want to pick the right people with whom to work.  Find out if your college has a Marketing and/or PR department as part of the administration, and approach them first.  They will be any academic department's first stop (usually) when they want to promote a program, event, etc.  Building a repore with the PR/Marketing director(s) should be your primary goal.  And if you can make this happen, it will be the best way to land design work for the school.

If your school does not have a PR/Marketing department in the administration, then you have a great opportunity to become that resource for the whole college.  Again, they key here is building relationships.  Most colleges today have an Advancement Office, and that is where I would start in this case.  That office typically is in charge of "advancing" the goals of the school via fundraising, PR/marketing, and alumni relations.  Focus on the manager levels rather than on going directly to the VP.  His/her administrative assistant is also going to be a key contact.   If your school does not have an Advancement office, try the president's office, focussing at first on the the president's administrative assistant, because he/she controls the president's schedule.  The president may have special assistants, so if he/she has a special assistant for recruiting/advancement/PR, they will be a key contact. Once you have established a relationship with those offices, try to get a few small jobs from them.  If those jobs go well, you can try to get invited to a cabinet meeting, where you can present your capabilities to the key decision makers on campus, namely the provost, deans, and other executive level managers.  Impressing these people and getting them to be your advocate to their respective areas will be key to your ability to connect with the next level: directors of admissions/recruiting and department chairs.

I think offering photography services is a nice addition to your capabilities.  As I mentioned above, I also strongly recommend offering Public Relations services, especially media relations.  Because of limited budgets and distaste for traditional brand-building efforts like advertising, higher ed executives often prefer PR: it's perceived to be less expensive than advertising, and they like the soft approach, preferring to be mentioned in a positive news article over print ads, billboards, etc.  Media relations are important, because if you can't get your press releases published, it doesn't matter how well written or interesting they are.  Media managers and reporters at traditional and digital media are all constantly bombarded with press releases and event invitations, so you will need patience and perseverance to build relationships with them.

As you have probably realized now, building relationships is your most important task.  Even more so than with businesses, who you know and how well you get along with them at a college is more important than what you can do.  Above all, you have to be able to communicate to them how you can benefit THEM.  Having said that, you still have to be effective.  If/when you get a shot to impress the executives at the school, you're going to have to be outstanding. But I cannot stress enough that meeting and getting to know the right people will determine your success more than how creative your designs are, or how good your photos.  In business, where profit is the motive, leaders will often see past the "people side," working with those who will be most profitable.  Relationships still matter in business, but not nearly as much as they do in higher ed, where there is no profit motive, and promoting a reputation is the goal, whether the reputation of the school, an academic department, or individual professors' careers.  And since a reputation is much harder to measure than profit, you have to appeal to their ego as much as anything else.  

Building relationships can be a time consuming process, and requires patience, because you may have to try many times before getting to meet the right people.  And once you do meet them, you may still have to cultivate the relationship before it results in work.

As for taking the right steps to be a marketing consultant, you are on the right track.  The experience you are gaining in running your design agency is valuable.  Understanding how to manipulate the media, strong design sense and technical skills, good writing skills, and of course a degree in marketing and eventually an MBA are all helpful.  But the ability to connect with people, find out their desires and goals, and convince them that you are the person who can help them achieve those desires or goals is always going to be the most important skill you can develop if you want to be a consultant.

I hope this information was helpful. If you would like more specific answers, please feel free to ask follow-up questions.  Best of luck to you!

Regards,
Shane Scherch  

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Shane Scherch

Expertise

Questions about advertising and any type of marketing communications, including branding, planning, budgeting, creative, media research, media buying, and follow-up. PLEASE NOTE: I will NOT answer homework questions; do your own school work.

Experience

I have more than 10 years experience in the field, including in-house corporate marketing and as a private consultant. Products and services I've helped market include fast-food, air conditioning companies, computer software, higher education, television shows, and fitness and health centers.

Education/Credentials
Bachelors Degree

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