Boosting Applications and Fostering A Healthy Grad Student Pipeline


Spark451 Media RelationsBy Spark451 Media Relations|October 28, 2020

A couple of years ago, in an environment where MBA applications were generally down, one of our Ivy League institutional partners developed a unique advance-application program to shore up its MBA student pipeline. The initiative allows talented undergraduate students to apply for and gain advance admission to the institution’s prestigious MBA program.

By the time this school partnered with Spark451 in the summer of 2019, the institution had only just begun promoting the unique opportunity through a somewhat bare-bones email marketing effort. While the initial campaign was reasonably successful, the school’s administrators were ready to amp up their efforts and help the program reach its full potential.

Effective Solutions

To help our partner raise awareness of the program among qualified undergraduate students, and drive them to apply, Spark451 developed a combination of digital communications, including:

  • A robust series of search emails
  • Facebook and Instagram ad creative for a digital lead-generation campaign
  • A dedicated inquiry-capture landing page
  • A downloadable fact sheet (which the school ultimately used as a printed handout as well!)
  • An informational marketing video
  • A compelling series of prospect nurture emails

While adhering to the school’s larger brand, these materials built upon and expanded an existing marketing framework and helped refine key messages about the program’s unique benefits. In select instances, the materials were delivered by third parties as needed. For example, the emails were built and deployed from the school’s existing CRM, and the digital media ads were launched by the institution’s existing digital advertising partner agency. Regardless of how the materials were delivered, Spark451 ensured that the messaging and look was unified and suited for the niche audience.

Impressive Results

Ultimately, the program’s administrators reported the following results for the 2020 cohort:

  • A 64% year-over-year increase in started applications
  • A 76% year-over-year increase in submitted applications

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We’d love to help you achieve similar results. Reach out when you’re ready to discuss strategies and tactics to support your own enrollment goals.

The Votes Are In: Innovation451 Competition Winner is a Data Lake Platform for Data Governance, Analytics and Predictive Modeling


Spark451 Media RelationsBy Spark451 Media Relations|October 19, 2020

Innovation has always been an intrinsic part of the culture here at Spark451, but this year, we took it even further with the launch of our new company-wide initiative, Innovation451.

Starting this spring, Spark451 Principal Steve Kerge challenged all employees to come together to identify big needs, propose revolutionary solutions, and ultimately, select which ideas to develop and implement.

Meeting(s) of the Minds

While we were all still working remotely during the COVID-19 shutdowns, Sparklers from every discipline and department got together for virtual brainstorming sessions, during which all participants were encouraged to share their ideas. The only rule—that there were no rules!

After we generated a lengthy list of ideas for potential products, technological tools, and infrastructural improvements, participants voted to select four ideas to pursue further. Once the finalists were selected, the individuals who had proposed the ideas were each allowed to recruit two other employees to help them flesh out their ideas and prepare presentations to “sell” their ideas to the entire company. (Think “Shark Tank,” or as some of us came to call it, “Spark Tank!”)

Following the presentations this summer, the entire company was asked to rate each idea according to the following metrics:

  • Spark451 integration (how it aligned with our culture and mission)
  • Higher-education integration (how well does it solve a problem in our industry?)
  • Attainability
  • Stability
  • Usability
  • Marketability

The Winning Idea

Ultimately, the winning idea was to overhaul how we store and manage data—to move from a warehouse architecture to a data lake. As John Bellina, Director of Digital Services; Ed Flaherty, Client Development Strategist; and Saish Patkar, Senior Data Specialist, explained during their presentation, this massive infrastructural change (and sizeable fiscal investment) will enable Spark451 to easily provide even more robust campaign performance reporting, as well as deeper strategic analysis of campaign performance—both at the individual institutional level and industry-wide. These additional points of reference will allow us to be even more nimble at optimizing performance in real time, and enable us to benchmark performance across the industry, which should contribute to even greater success on enrollment campaigns.

While Spark451’s data team moves to make this bold new vision a reality, the company at large is gearing up for another round of Innovation451. We can’t wait to see which ideas rise to the top next!

TikTok Advertising For Higher Education


Spark451 Digital Media TeamBy Spark451 Digital Media Team|October 15, 2020

It’s safe to say that TikTok has taken the world by storm. Given the video-sharing platform’s overwhelming popularity with teens and young adults, it has the potential to help colleges and universities make a lasting impression on prospective students.

Now, TikTok has made the advertising portion of the platform available to a select group of agencies, and Spark451 is proud to announce we’ve been invited to participate in this exclusive program. We are excited to help our college and university partners leverage the app to foster deeper connections with students.

Why Timely Marketing is Critical

Curious as to how hot TikTok actually is right now? With more than 63.3 million installs in August 2020 alone, TikTok was the most downloaded social media app (excluding games) that month, according to data from Sensor Tower.

According to Sensor Tower, TikTok was the most downloaded social media app (excluding games) in August 2020.

You might be wondering if your prospective student audience is giving TikTok enough attention to justify spending ad dollars on a new channel, and the answer is a resounding yes! Not only does Hootsuite show that 69% of the app’s monthly active users are between the ages of 13–24, but our own recent mini-research experiment showed that teens spend several hours per week on the platform.

We recently took a sampling of students’ screen times over the course of a week, and our findings confirmed that older teens and young adults are spending plenty of time on TikTok.

TikTok Tips

Interested in TikTok advertising? Here are a few things you need to know:

  1. TikTok is ideal for Gen Z: As mentioned above, the majority of TikTok users are under the age of 24, which makes the platform ideal for reaching prospective undergraduates, transfer students, or recent graduates who may be considering graduate school.
  2. TikTok is well-suited for branding efforts: TikTok is an upper-funnel method of advertising that can help you build brand awareness with your target audience.
  3. TikTok users are engaged: According to TikTok, the average user spends over 71 minutes a day on the app and opens it more than 14 times a day.
  4. Targeting is key: TikTok offers robust targeting opportunities, allowing us to reach users by demographic, interests, geographic location, and more. Additionally, we can leverage first– and third-party data, in addition to retargeting and lookalike audiences, to ensure you can deliver your content to users with whom it’s most likely to resonate.
  5. TikTok requires its own unique creative: Your ad creative on TikTok needs to be mobile-friendly video and appear to be native to the platform. Animation, music, and authenticity are key. Plus, TikTok ads need to be refreshed regularly to avoid ad fatigue within the quick-moving platform.

TikTok and Beyond

In addition to TikTok, Spark451 holds exclusive marketing partnerships with a variety of platforms, including Google, Facebook, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. When you partner with Spark451, our premier-level affiliations with these platforms mean you’ll have the most up-to-the minute access to the best strategies for making an impact on these ever-evolving platforms.

When you’re ready to discuss specific tactics for your institution, please reach out. Our digital media specialists and enrollment strategists will be happy to help you craft a budget-friendly digital communications plan.

The Results Are In: 2020 Graduate School Intenders Survey


Spark451 Media RelationsBy Spark451 Media Relations|October 8, 2020

You already know graduate school is a perennially attractive option for students seeking additional credentials, career advancement, or a career change, but disruptive events such as the COVID-19 pandemic have the potential to radically alter students’ grad school plans.

The Spark451 Education Research Division’s 2020 Graduate School Intenders Survey examines how the pandemic has influenced prospective students’ outlook on graduate school. It also includes relevant insights on:

  • Which factors students value most when assessing grad programs
  • Students’ communication preferences and social media habits
  • Respondents’ employment outlook
  • Delivery format preferences
  • And so much more!

Download the full report now to access all of the results!

Get the Report

2020 College-Bound Student Survey: Download The Report


Spark451 Media RelationsBy Spark451 Media Relations|September 30, 2020

You already know 2020 has been an unusual year for college admissions (to say the least). However, you may still be surprised by some of the findings from Spark451’s latest College-Bound Student Survey. For example, in spite of all the hype in the media, less than one percent of students who responded to our survey ended up taking a gap year!

Get the Report

This summer, thousands of 2020 high school graduates responded to the Spark451 Education Research Division’s ninth annual survey on the college selection process. Download the full report to gain access to all the valuable information for college admissions professionals, including:

  • The Class of 2024’s social media habits
  • Students’ reactions to test-optional admissions policies
  • Which influencers have the most power over college decision-making
  • The effect of virtual events on college decisions
  • So much more

Download the report now. Then, reach out. We’ll be happy to help you determine if your upcoming admissions marketing and student search plans are fully in line with the latest data from students.

Let’s Chat This Week


Spark451 Media RelationsBy Spark451 Media Relations|September 21, 2020

These days, we often find ourselves wistfully humming that classic Rod Stewart song: “Wake up, Maggie, I think I got something to say to you. It’s late September and I really should be back at school.”

Well, here we are, in late September, and many of us are still not in our “normal” routines of being on campus or out recruiting for 2021. For us at Spark451, we’d normally be heading out to the annual NACAC conference for a few days of meetings, meals, and energizing conversations with higher ed industry colleagues and friends. We’re really going to miss seeing all of you in person this year.

Even though we can’t exchange a hug, clink our glasses, or even extend socially distanced elbow bumps, we don’t want to miss out on a chance to catch up this week. That’s why, if you’re attending NACAC virtually, we hope you’ll pop into our virtual booth at NACAC’s virtual Exhibit Hall for a direct chat with our strategy team. We would love to:

  • Hear how you’re doing
  • Discuss how recruitment season is going so far
  • Brainstorm tactics to help you achieve your goals, regardless of the circumstances

Know that our hearts go out to everyone in our industry who has been impacted by COVID-19. Like you, we’ve found these last several months to be challenging, but we remain optimistic that this too will pass, and we’ll all be stronger on the other side. We hope you’ll stop by our virtual booth this week, and we can’t wait to see you in Seattle in 2021.

The Key to Effective Virtual Recruiting Events


Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|September 8, 2020

It’s September, and you’re probably feeling added pressure to provide prospective students with a variety of engaging and meaningful interactions from afar. Even though your recruitment season is well under way, you still have a little time to ensure that your institution’s virtual recruitment presence resonates with students. We’ve got your back.

Whether you’re gearing up to participate in a virtual college fair, prepping for an online Open House, or simply trying to craft a remote info session that will pop off the screen, Spark451 can help. Our Virtual Experience Support Package contains everything you need to capture students’ attention in a digital environment. Best of all: We can pull it off in a short timeframe.

Check out the details, and then reach out to discuss specific plans for your school. We’re here for you!

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Name That September Tune


Steve KergeBy Steve Kerge|September 1, 2020

It’s September first—cue the music…What do you hear?

Maybe: “September,” by Earth, Wind and Fire?

Or: “September Morn,” by Neil Diamond

This year, it’s more likely: “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” by Green Day

Regardless of your preferred musical genre, there’s probably a tune that sums up that feeling of putting the summer behind to focus on building a prosperous future for you, your family, your school, and its students. Over the past six weeks, I have taken the time to connect with enrollment managers at more than 40 campuses, and I thought I would share a few common themes and positive solutions so you know you are not alone.

Mental Paralysis

More than half of those I spoke with discussed some level of mental paralysis in their division or within their campus. COVID’s forced shift to working remotely since March (which still continues for many of you throughout the nation) has resulted in a state where long-term strategic planning has fallen in priorities. Senior leaders on campus were forced to work on the urgent as opposed to the important for too long, and now everyone’s having a hard time getting back on track. Let’s face it, it’s easy to procrastinate the tough decisions.

If you can relate to this sentiment in some way, I would suggest you check out this quick article from Psychology Today, titled: How To Get Unstuck From (almost) Anything.

Campus Pride

I’m equally excited to report that, in spite of all the challenges over the last several months, the vast majority of you remain fiercely proud of your campus, your colleagues, and your students. So many of you defend your campus’s decision to open or close as an effort to balance safety with the importance of your school’s role in fostering a productive future for our world.

You all also have a wide range of stories, from herculean efforts to deliver exciting virtual visits, to assisting families impacted by COVID-19. Those examples are incredibly relevant to our world of enrollment, and I know there are a multitude more that touch almost every corner of campus. It makes me wonder why more of these stories are not in the media each week.

I’m sure you have a cool “campus story” to shout about. Guess what? It’s worth it and it will make you feel great. So use the hashtag #ProudCampusMoment and get the word out on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.


This one seems unavoidable. Beyond COVID-19, there is so much happening in the world now, and it has us all on edge. But I like to keep these blog posts directly related to our industry. This is normally a celebratory time in our cycle with classes starting, admissions recruitment travel kicking off, national conferences for rekindling professional relationships, and so much more. However, like most of 2020, this September is quite different and many of us are feeling anxious as a result. It’s important for you to know that this is a very common feeling among your colleagues, and I believe your strength and professionalism will carry you through.

In the meantime, allow me to share a low-commitment method for reducing stress at work. Check out Entrepreneur’s 5 Science-Based Tips for Reducing Work-Related Stress.

Looking Ahead

In my next blog, I will offer you a number of supporting points to illustrate that private colleges and universities throughout the nation are actually better positioned to flourish now than they were prior to COVID-19. Stay tuned and, until then, check out the Top 20 Songs About September.

Reality Check: 5 Truths About Digital Marketing for Higher-Ed Enrollment


Spark451 Digital Media TeamBy Spark451 Digital Media Team|August 25, 2020

Updated August 2020

As you finalize your plans and begin launching communications for Fall 2021 recruitment, now is the time to make sure you’re getting the most out of your digital marketing efforts. When it comes to digital marketing, there are many myths that other agencies may spout in order to attract new clients. Here, we set the record straight and debunk some of the most common myths about digital marketing, specifically in regards to higher education enrollment. Below are five key considerations to keep in mind when discussing your digital media strategy with a new agency partner.

1. Immediate Tinkering is All Smoke and Mirrors

According to digital advertising giants like Google and Facebook, all campaigns require a learning phase to allow the systems to properly optimize. In most cases, this can take two to four weeks beyond the launch. Facebook, for example, needs 50 leads to come in for the campaign to complete its learning stage. It makes sense though; the platforms need to accumulate data points on what performs best in a campaign, and the more data you have, the more precise the picture will be of your audience, the creative that resonates, and who will be more likely to take the desired action.

We want our campaigns to perform based on data-driven optimizations, and this can only occur if we give the platforms time to learn, which doesn’t happen overnight. While we know it’s scary to not see immediate results, we find that campaigns tend to perform better after being given some time to optimize. At that point, we can confidently make adjustments and optimizations that are in the best interests of your campaign.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that every change to a campaign restarts the learning phase. While the new learning phase may not be as long as the initial one, the platforms are constantly learning and re-learning, which is why immediate tinkering is never recommended.

2. Don’t Let Impressions Impress You

It’s easy to get impressions, but it’s hard to get qualified clicks, and it’s even harder to get high-quality conversions. Many other digital marketing agencies will inflate their reports with impressions garnered through one of many display networks. While these display networks can provide some value, they’re also often wrought with fraud and bots that contribute falsely inflated numbers of impressions. Display ads are an important element to a digital branding campaign, but unless you’re receiving clicks and conversions, there’s no way to truly know that you’re reaching the right people.

The moral of the story here is that impressions are the least critical element of a digital media campaign. Anyone can get impressions, but it takes truly skilled marketers to get clicks and conversions.

3. Less Is (Sometimes) More

We’ve run thousands of campaigns exclusively for our higher education partners (not many agencies can say that!) and we’ve learned that there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for a successful campaign. In fact, we’ve been saying this for years.

While there may be a hot new platform suddenly garnering a ton of buzz, that doesn’t always mean it’s the right fit for your audience or goals. For example, we use Snapchat to engage younger audiences with a branding message, but we know from our experience that those campaigns will rarely lead to an action being taken on your site. Keeping that in mind, despite Snapchat being “hot,” we may recommend other platforms to get you leads, applications, event registrations, or prevent melt. It all depends on your audience, goals, and budget.

Sometimes, both we and our partner institutions would like to run ads on every platform, but we just don’t have the budget to do so responsibly and still garner results. This is where our experience comes in. We can take a look at similar campaigns we’ve run in the past and suggest the platforms that are most likely to achieve your goals while staying within your budget.

4. Every Flight Needs a Safe Landing (Page)

In order to achieve the best results on a digital media campaign, it’s important to focus on where your ads are driving. In almost all cases, your ads should drive to a strong landing page. The page should be designed in a manner that’s user-friendly and cohesive with your ads. It should render quickly on a mobile device, provide the visitor with an incentive to submit their information, and the embedded inquiry form should only have three or four required fields.

Pro tip: When it comes to campaigns running on Google Ads, the landing page is a critical element of a successful campaign, as it actually impacts the performance and delivery of your ads. In order to achieve maximum success with Google text ads, you want to have your keywords appear not only in your keyword lists, but also in your ads, and of course, on your landing pages. (Plus, a quick load time will only improve your Google quality score!)

In select instances, you may opt to use an in-platform lead generation form in lieu of a traditional landing page. When used under the right circumstances, these in-platform lead generation forms are also safe places to land. In fact, we’ve seen much higher conversion rates using these forms, so it’s important to discuss this option with your account team when planning your digital strategy. However, these forms aren’t right for every occasion. Each campaign has unique goals, and it’s important that we align our strategy in a way that helps you best achieve your desired outcomes, whether that means driving to a landing page or lead generation form.

5. You DO Need a Partner with Strong Higher Ed Experience

When you partner with us, you’re not getting a generic agency that works in multiple verticals or areas of “expertise” (a jack of all trades, master of none, anyone?) — you’re getting an agency that specializes in higher education, with professionals who have worked in the field. We have higher ed specialists across departments who have been on your side of the desk, including former admissions counselors, directors, and even VPs. They work together to develop relevant customized digital campaign strategies for every one of our college and university partners. Have you met another agency partner that can say the same?

Enrollment strategy is what we do, day in and day out. From balancing domestic vs. international populations and high-performing vs. low-performing academic programs, to lifting a university brand, we have you covered. Additionally, our real-time reporting dashboards will provide you with essential data, available at your fingertips, at any time. Our university partners can also rely on the fact that we’re here to advise and support your goals as an extension of your internal team.

Don’t sell yourself short with an agency that won’t understand your enrollment goals and vision.

If you’d like to discuss potential digital media campaign strategies that will support your institution’s goals for Fall 2021 and beyond, please reach out. We’d be happy to help you pinpoint the tactics that will help you achieve optimal results.

Dollars and Sense: Examining the Real Cost of Recruitment


Steve KergeBy Steve Kerge|August 14, 2020

August 2020 has arrived, and as fall semesters begin throughout the country, the stage is set with four undeniable enrollment management facts:

  • The profound effects of COVID-19 will linger in the upcoming year—forcing admission offices to communicate, think, and work differently.
  • Admissions and enrollment officers who have been laser focused on this fall’s class will be rapidly shifting their attention to the Fall ’21 start.
  • The vast majority of institutions are beginning the recruitment cycle with a deficit in Fall ’21 prospects due to the lack of spring recruitment and summer campus visits.
  • You are likely being asked to accomplish more than ever on the tightest budget you’ve ever seen.

With traditional in-person recruitment tactics still largely off the table for the next several months, you’re going to have to rely even more heavily on strategic marketing tactics to build your Fall 2021 class. While the thought might seem daunting at first—we know your overall budget is likely down—it is possible to get the results you need by simply reallocating some funds you might normally set aside for your road warriors’ travel expenses. Here, I’ll break down the true costs of in-person recruitment and demonstrate how you can get as much, or more, bang for your buck with the right strategic enrollment marketing efforts.

Analysis: Dissecting the Real Cost of an Inquiry

Over the years, I have been asked an all-important question by presidents and senior enrollment leaders: How much should we be spending per inquiry? To answer that question, the Spark team took a mathematical approach with a focus on the inquiries traditionally achieved through in-person recruitment. Below are the typical costs associated with three common scenarios, and an average of the three:

Note: Some of the numbers we present, such as cost of personnel, are based on industry standards and confirmed by a few institutions. For the sake of brevity, we have chosen to omit those details here, but we’re happy to discuss how we arrived at any number we present. Just reach out and chat with us.

Scenario 1: Regional High School College Night (Goal of 25 Inquiries)

In this scenario, a regional association in your state is hosting a college night. Over the past few years, your institution has participated by sending a counselor. Your goal is to achieve 25 inquiries. The high school is 100 miles from campus and will not require overnight accommodations.

Cost Analysis

Average fair registration fee: $150
Counselor’s time (9 hours including travel): $299.97
200 miles @ .575: $115
Dinner allowance: $25
Recruitment materials allowance: 25 @ $3: $75
College swag (pens or giveaways): 25 @ $1.50: $37.50
Card and data management: 25 @ $2: $50
Total Cost $752.47
Total Cost per Inquiry $30

Scenario 2: Out of State, Secondary Territory (Goal of 55 Inquiries)

In this scenario, a counselor is planning to travel to Virginia from New York to visit several target high schools during the day, as well as participate in the VACRAO College Tour, Week 7, evening college fairs. The counselor will require travel, lodging, and meal accommodations for the week. The counselor’s goal is to secure 55 inquiries between the 12 high school visits (4 per day) and the 4 evening college fairs.

Cost Analysis

Total fair registration fees (3 events): $500
Counselor’s time:

  • Depart Sunday, October 20 at 10:30 a.m. (12 hours)
  • Return Thursday, October 23 at 4:30 p.m. (9 hours x 4 days)
    • 48 hours @ hourly rate of $33.33
Car travel allowance for 950 miles: $546.25
Tolls estimate: $55
Food (Per diem rate: $55) x 4 $220
Recruitment materials allowance: 55 @ $4: $225
College swag (pens or giveaways): 55 @ $2: $112.50
Recruitment support infrastructure: 55 @ $13.63: $750
Total Cost $4,008.59
Total Cost per Inquiry $72.88

Scenario 3: National College Fair, Remote Distance From Campus (Goal of 60 Inquiries)

In this scenario, a school in the Boston regional area is planning to attend both the Orlando and South Florida National College Fairs in one weekend. The counselor representing the school will require air travel, car rental, lodging, and meals from Friday through Monday. The counselor’s goal is to secure 60 inquiries between the two events.

Cost Analysis

Total fair registration fees: $1,000
Counselor’s time:

  • Depart Friday at 8 a.m.
  • Return Monday at 5 p.m.
    • 4 work days @ 9 hours per day (42 hours)

  • BOS to MCO: $200
  • MCO to MIA: $150
  • MIA to BOS: $200
  • Luggage fees for suitcase and recruitment materials @ $75/flight
Rental Car

  • Rental Car 1: Orlando @ 2 days: $200
  • Rental Car 2: Miami @ 2 days: $200
Gas: $60
Food: (Per diem rate = $55) x 4 $220
Recruitment materials allowance: 60 @ $4: $240
College Swag (pens or giveaway): 60 @ $2: $120
Recruitment support infrastructure: 60 @ $13.63: $800
Total Cost $5,014.86
Total Cost per Inquiry $83.58

Solutions: Transforming Analysis into Action

Now that we’ve established the average you can expect to spend per inquiry, you have a metric you can use in discussions with your president, CFO, or board to establish the budget you’ll need to get back in line or even above last year’s pool size. For example, if you are down roughly 1,000 inquiries, you’ll require a marketing investment of roughly $70,000 to get back on track with where you might have been in a season in which typical in-person recruitment efforts were possible.

Of course, the figure mentioned above is elastic. If your need is much greater than 1,000 inquiries, we should experience efficiencies that bring the average down. At the point of 3,000, we should experience an efficiency of about 10%, which would bring the average down to $63 per inquiry.

Alternatively, if you are seeking a smaller increase of 100 to 200 inquiries, the average is likely to increase dramatically. (Marketing costs are always less efficient on micro populations.)

To be clear, by recommending these marketing investments, we are not suggesting a reduction in staffing to afford it. (Keep in mind that once your prospects are generated, someone needs to nurture them, whether that be in person or virtually.) Rather, we are suggesting that you will likely see a significant decline in your travel and recruitment costs this year, and you would be well-served by reallocating those funds to cover your increased marketing needs.

Weighted Average of the Three Scenarios:
$69.82 per inquiry

We Can Help

As strategic marketers, the experts at Spark451 have a vast set of tools and programs at our disposal to generate real prospects for your school—without your team having to travel at all. From direct marketing to digital media, we are confident we can quickly construct and implement a strategic solutions package that will help you achieve your goals. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with you and prescribe a set of actions that will build your confidence for the Fall 2021 start. Reach out to start discussing your options.