All posts by Issa DiSciullo

Lessons from Agency Culture: Tips for the Perfect Company Retreat

My journey with Converge, and my foray into agency life, has introduced me to many things including the joys and challenges of working in a distributed team. This term means team members are working remotely as opposed to a collocated team, where everyone comes into the office at the same time and is physically located in the same place. (Quora, 2015).

Converge is one company with two locations—Philadelphia, PA, and Cedar Rapids, IA. Since many of our team members work remotely, we have implemented and relied heavily on technology with tools like Slack and Zoom to keep in touch, and Basecamp and Trello to manage our projects and internal deadlines.

With any distributed team comes challenges. I noticed it was hard to “read” the person on the other side of the phone and so we often missed some non-verbal cues, like when someone wanted to say something, but didn’t know how, or if we simply just needed a break in the discussion. We were missing that human interaction.

Research has shown that “communication is the key to the success of project teams in a distributed environment; many virtual team issues such as conflict management, trust or team cohesion are rooted in team communication behaviours and processes.” (Weimann, 2010)

To address some of these recent gaps in communication, our senior leadership decided to bring the whole team together for an all-company retreat. It was a jam-packed two and a half days filled with reflection, celebration and brainstorming. I wanted to share three simple, but important aspects of the retreat that I believe led to a successful experience.

 

1. Get out of the office.

We got out of the “stress box” (Agrawal, 2016). Although we convened in Cedar Rapids, we didn’t conduct all activities at our company headquarters. Whether we mean to do it or not, many of us associate our work space with the stress of deadlines and deliverables. To encourage our team to “leave the stress behind,” we explored other meeting venues to host interactive and creative sessions like the local student-run hotel and even the downtown library’s rooftop.

ConvergeAgency

 

2. Reflect and celebrate.

We took some time during the first few hours of the retreat to look back at the last few months to consider what we’ve done as a company and where we can continue to grow and improve. Once we had this break for honest reflection, we celebrated our success and the opportunities to come. Our leadership rolled out the red carpet for us at the local country club. The price of admission – an index card explaining one great achievement we experienced these past few months. Our leaders took the time to read all the index cards and we all tried to guess who wrote them. Not only was it fun, but it was inspiring and uplifting to hear these stories.

 

3. Make it personal.

Finally, we took the time to learn about each other’s personality preferences. Not only is this crucial for each team member’s self-development, but it is just as important for the continued growth of the company. As a certified Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) practitioner, I made a convincing argument to use this assessment tool to help us better understand our communication preferences and pave the way towards clearer team and company interaction moving forward. We took the time to learn about those innate predispositions and discussed how we can strengthen our internal and external communication with this knowledge.



It has been a few weeks since our retreat and I continue to receive positive comments about the MBTI session. The Myers-Briggs Foundation says that “type is a journey” so it is re-assuring to hear that team members in Philly and Cedar Rapids continue to think about their MBTI preferences and how that affects their interactions with others on their team. In my follow-up with team members, it has been interesting to hear about their observations and experiences moving forward now that they are armed with this knowledge.

Team-building experiences on campus.

What cool and innovative ideas have you implemented in your retreats? Have you worked with the MBTI? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and  if you’re interested in exploring the MBTI assessment for your next retreat or team-building exercise, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. We’d love to share our expertise.

4 More FAQs About Digital Advertising for Higher Education

Many of you might remember my post on frequently asked questions about digital advertising in higher education from a few months ago. During my on-boarding at Converge and transition from admissions to agency, I had several enlightening conversations with our digital strategy team. As I wrapped my head around acronyms that are new to me and reflected on everything I learned, I found answers, but I also discovered new questions.  

My last post focused on navigating the digital space and understanding ROI on a more macro level. Naturally, I wanted to hear what it all meant on a more micro-level. I want to know how this information can help marketing and admissions professionals better understand the value of the digital space. What can digital really do to help admissions offices achieve their goals? Once again, my old friend John Staak stepped up to the plate and didn’t hesitate to find time for us to connectdespite his busy life as an MBA student and part-time Converge consultant.

Here are four more FAQs about digital advertising addressed for higher education:

 

1. A few months ago we talked about terms like ROI, CTR and CPL. I learned a lot,  but also realized I needed just a bit more information to help me put things into context. What data should colleges focus on when determining ROI?

There are a few things that all higher education institutions should really consider and know when calculating return on investment for digital advertising spend.

  • # of enrollments from digital advertising: this can be determined using a CRM or manual ‘match back’ process through identifying duplicate records in Excel
  • Avg. revenue per enrollment: better yet, lifetime value of one enrollment (this would include alumni contributions)
  • All costs associated with running a digital advertising campaign: including ad spend, management and implementation costs.

 

2. You mentioned “all costs associated with running a digital campaign.” What if a school hasn’t run a campaign before. What kind of data can they use to see if entering the digital space is a good idea.  

If your institution has not run any digital advertising and is considering this option, you can use the following information to calculate a projected ROI based on a specific budget. Here’s an example for context:

  • Proposed budget: Let’s say $20,000 for ad spend and $15,000 for management & implementation.
  • Cost-per-Lead: Assume your CPL will fall between $150-300
  • Lifetime Lead-to-Application Rate: Use your institution’s internal data to estimate your rate of matriculation from program lead to application. 5-10% is a common range.
  • Lifetime Application-to-Enrollment Rate: Use your institution’s internal data to estimate your rate of matriculation from application to enrollment. 10-20% is a common range.
  • Avg. revenue per enrollment: For simplicity, total lifetime revenue from tuition is a good place to start.

At $20,000 in total ad spend, a $200 average CPL, 7% lead-to-application rate, 15% application-to-enrollment rate, and $100,000 revenue per enrollment – projected ROI would be:

$10,000 spend / $200 CPL = 100 Leads

100 Leads x 7% Lead-to-Application Rate = 7 Applications

7 Applications x 15% Application-to-Enrollment Rate = ~1 student

1 student = $100,000 in revenue

$100,000 revenue  – $35,000 cost  / $35,000 cost = 1.86 or 186% ROI

 

3. What factors should colleges and universities take into consideration regarding the timing and pace of their digital marketing campaigns?

We highly recommend a year-round digital presence because recruitment never really stops. However, there are certainly periods throughout the year that merit more aggressive ad budgets. Strategic budget allocation by month will also depend quite a bit on the trends your specific institution observes. It is always best practice to review Google Analytics data over the past few years to identify which periods throughout the year tend to see more traffic – particularly, more traffic to ‘admissions’ related pages.

Traffic to your site will reflect patterns in enrollment and application activity observed by your admissions team. When students are in ‘application’ mode (as reflected by web traffic and data from your admissions team), we recommend being more aggressive with digital ad spend to encourage consideration of your institution. Test dates are also important to pay attention to when planning advertising budgets.

And finally, leverage your application deadline with digital advertising campaigns that specifically call out the date. We particularly encourage ramping up ads that call out the deadline among your remarketing and email lists, as these prospects are already considering your program. This helps create some urgency and provides the nudge some prospects need to start their application.

 

4. Colleges and universities are usually on a tight budget. What suggestions can you give them on how to stretch their budget and still use digital to make the most impact if they can’t be “live” every month?

If your institution is on a tight budget, which I would consider $500-$2,000 per month on ad spend (depending on your market), there are a few channels and tactics I would recommend employing first. Remarketing and email list targeting on display networks and social channels is the most cost-effective tactic in terms of reaching an already engaged audience. If your institution already has strong brand awareness and you are looking to supplement your enrollment efforts with digital, remarketing would be a no brainer. If you are a lesser-known school that needs to focus on generating awareness on a limited budget, I would consider running the following tactics in addition to remarketing:

  • Display campaigns on the Google Display Network targeting highly relevant topics such as ‘Legal Education’, relevant ‘display select keywords’, law-related websites (placements) and custom affinity audiences for law schools.
  • Facebook campaigns with a traffic or brand awareness objective (this setting will allow you to reach more individuals for your budget). Facebook is the most widely used social platform and is reasonably priced compared to Instagram and LinkedIn – so if you have one social channel to go with, make it Facebook.

If your institution has a strong brand presence and you have some additional budget after remarketing, I recommend focusing on a search engine marketing strategy the uses strictly branded search terms (users searching for your law school). You will see much lower cost-per-clicks, and this will without a doubt be the best use of your limited budget. From there, go ahead and expand to some more general search terms as the budget becomes available.

 

THE ROI OF DIGITAL FOR COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES

At a glance (and without past experience) the value of digital can be tricky to define. But a sound mix of digital advertising strategies will increase brand awareness, drum up interest and engage prospects in the enrollment journey. I hope these insights help you gain a better understanding of why digital is vital to EDU marketing campaigns. If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can contact me directly or tweet us @convergeorg.

Coffee with Converge: What’s New & Next in EDU Content Strategy

It’s official. We hosted our first video Q&A and lived to tell the tale. Thanks to everyone who joined in and added to the conversation. Our director of content strategy, Brittney Dunkins, and I grabbed our coffee and shared thoughts on trends, tools and tips for navigating the complex world of content strategy for higher education.

We covered a variety of topics and answered questions like:

  • What does content strategy mean and why is it valuable in #highered?
  • What is being done well and what can be improved upon in our industry?
  • What are some of the new tools and techniques coming down the pike?
  • How do you even begin thinking about creating exceptional content?
  • And how do you go about sharing it across campus?

Watch the video recap.

We had some great questions come through during the live session. Thanks to our friends at Brandeis, Creighton, Drexel, DePaul and more for adding to the conversation and following along with #ConvergePresents on social media.

Like what you heard? Join us for a one-day workshop.

We’re hosting a workshop on Content Strategy for Smarter Stories in Philadelphia on October 26 at the DoubleTree Center City. Brittney and I will be leading a full day of intensive sessions where you bring your own data and leave with an action plan to improve communication.

Visit EventBrite to reserve your spot or contact me directly with any questions.

5 FAQs About Digital Advertising in Higher Education

As a former assistant dean of admissions at the Kline School of Law, Drexel University, my world revolved around calculating NTR (net tuition revenue), FTE (full time enrollment) and discount rates for over 20 years. Daily, I interfaced with acronyms to manage my business portfolio and my students.

 

In my current role as a senior consultant at Converge, my paradigm has shifted to deciphering the true meaning of ROI, CPCs and CTRs in digital campaigns. Still a lot of acronyms, and much like my admissions days, I’m helping our client partners use data to measure the effectiveness of their digital marketing and enrollment efforts.

 

As a part of my on-boarding process, I’ve spent a lot of quality time with our team learning the ins and outs of digital advertising. Along the way, I’ve asked tons of questions, and taken lots of notes, in order to help colleges and universities tie all of this together. Here are FAQs addressed by one of our digital account managers, John Staak, that I know other enrollment and admissions folks will find extremely helpful.  

 

Q1. What do the terms impressions, CPCs, CPLs and conversions mean in layman’s terms?

  • Impression – Any time an ad appears to an end user
  • CPC – Cost per Click (Total Ad Spend / Total Clicks)
  • CPL – Cost per Lead (Total Ad Spend / Total Leads)
  • Conversion – Typically this is a form submission on a landing page, so the term ‘conversion’ is used interchangeably with ‘lead’ in the context of digital advertising for higher ed.

 

 

Q2. How can colleges and universities determine ROI on their digital campaigns?

Before starting any type of ROI calculation, it is important to understand two limitations.

  1. There will always be a portion of ROI that is impossible to track and attribute to digital advertising. For example, let’s say I see ads for a particular law program on my Facebook feed that captures my interest. I decide to click on an ad to explore a little further – but I do not fill out the RFI (Request for Information) form. Weeks later, I am reminded of the program after seeing a remarketing ad while browsing the web. I figure, it’s now or never, so I decide to get started on my application. Digital advertising without a doubt played an important role in my application, but since I did not fill out the RFI form on the landing page – there is no way for the advertiser to know this.
  2. The recruitment cycle may take months – even years. Let’s say that we ran digital ad campaigns from January to June 2017 in order to increase applications for the August 2017 start date of a law program. With such little time allowed for lead nurturing (2-7 months), it is important to understand that it will be common for leads received from January-June to matriculate into applications and enrollments for Fall 2018, 2019, and beyond. Keep in mind that there is short-term and long-term ROI metrics, and that you are never really finished calculating ROI – you should be revisiting this metric year-over-year. It is certainly helpful to understand the direct ROI of digital ad campaigns on the August 2017 start date, but it does not tell the full story of ROI – and that cannot be truly calculated for years down the road.

 

With these limitations in mind, an ROI calculation is fairly simple:

# of enrolled students from digital ads  X  Avg. revenue per student (tuition and fees for 3 years) = Total Revenue

Digital Ad Spend + Total Campaign Management Costs + Implementation Costs = Total Cost

(Total Revenue – Total Cost) / Total Cost = ROI

 

 

Q3. What are the education industry benchmarks for a good CPC, CPL and conversion rate?

Benchmarks for these channels vary greatly as they are influenced by a number of different factors such as the ad channel, region and audience. ROI depends quite a bit on internal admissions tactics and revenue per student from tuition. However, these are some general benchmarks education marketers would expect to see based on data from law programs we have managed:

 

 

Q4. How should these benchmarks inform campaign decisions? What does this information tell marketing and admissions teams?

Keep these benchmarks in mind when reviewing data, and look for opportunities to optimize campaigns if metrics are significantly deviating from the shared benchmarks. At the end of the day, ROI is the only metric that truly matters – all of the other metrics involved in digital advertising like cost-per-click, cost-per-lead and conversion rates are microlevel engagement stats. Breakeven cost-per-lead (CPL) should be the main benchmark used to determine whether or not campaigns are paused or budget reallocated. This metric will give you a benchmark to truly measure profitability.

 

Q5. When we give adspend recommendations to our clients, we break it down by low, medium and high. What does this mean, how can we measure it and does it factor into the ROI calculation?

Low, medium and high ad spend will mean different things in different markets. A $5,000 per month budget will put you in pretty good in shape in Topeka (and might even be too much budget to justify), but that would be an entirely different story in Los Angeles. There is certainly a point of diminishing returns on spend when it comes to lead generation from digital ads, but there is not necessarily a perfectly scientific way to find that point, especially considering the countless variables that affect monthly lead counts (seasonality and recruitment cycles, changes in competitive landscape, audience saturation, optimizations, etc.).

 

The best way to find the optimal level of spend for your program? Trial and error. Start with a reasonably sized monthly budget given your market, and slowly increase ad spend until you see drastic increases in cost-per-lead. Keep in mind that spend should always be tied to an enrollment objective, and that we recommend starting with a goal for applications and working backwards to determine your budget.

 

CALCULATING ROI FOR YOUR DIGITAL CAMPAIGNS

A huge shoutout to John and the digital advertising team for these insights into FAQs for digital advertising in higher education. Want more information on determining the ROI of your campaigns? Download our ebook on the real ROI of digital advertising for #highered.

 

Have more questions about digital advertising? Shoot me a note. I’d be happy to connect and provide more information from our team.

NAPLA Session Recap: Diversity Recruitment for Law Schools

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisors 2017 Conference. The event was a huge success! Pittsburgh provided fantastic summer weather and the planning committee brought amazing content and activities for over 180 pre law advisors and law school admissions professionals.  It was a great way to reconnect with my law school friends and colleagues from my admissions days. The icing on the cake, however, was the opportunity to present on a topic that has always been near and dear to my heart with two of my most favorite colleagues in the industry.

George Justice from Touro Law Center and Wendy Vonnegut from Methodist University joined me to talk about creative ways to introduce the possibility of law school to diverse and underrepresented populations. Our session came on the heels of LSAC’s report showing only 50% of African-American applicants were admitted to law school last year. Needless to say, the topic sparked some healthy conversation among admission professionals and pre-law advisors alike.

But the overarching themes of the day were: PIPELINES and PARTNERSHIPS. Here are the top three ideas that emerged from those conversations.

 

 

1. Pipeline Program Partnerships

It’s no secret that the key to successful diversity recruitment is the creation of pipeline programs and partnerships. Many students from underrepresented and low socio-economic backgrounds face a variety of barriers to entry and inclusion such as the pressure to stay close to home to take care of family members or to pursue a job right after college to earn money instead of pursuing graduate/professional school.  

It is extremely important to reach these students early in their college career and introduce them to graduate/professional school opportunities. With most law schools already running on a very lean admissions team, it is impossible to imagine developing and implementing yet another program that won’t have immediate ROI.  

Instead of starting from scratch, take a look at your home institution and see if there are existing programs that would make great partners.

The Kline School of Law at Drexel University partners with their own undergraduate Liberty Scholars, to get this young and promising group of students thinking about education options beyond undergrad. Information sessions with law school admissions professionals and meet-ups with their pre-law advisor are scheduled throughout their academic career at Drexel.  The cherry on top: if they up being admitted to Kline after graduation, they are eligible for a hefty scholarship.

 

2. Test Prep Partnerships

Admissions professionals always have their “counseling” hat within reach and one of the biggest pieces of advice offered is that the LSAT is a test that requires preparation. But many students are unable to foot the cost of these test prep courses that will help hone their skills, so they do not even begin to reach out. However, many of these test prep partners offer deep discounts for students in need but they are not all the same so it is imperative to help students find these programs. And what could be better than bringing these test prep programs to your campus!

Touro Law School partners with The Focus Approach and offers their law school as a location for classes. An added incentive: those who successfully complete the course and eventually matriculate at Touro are reimbursed the cost of the course in the form of scholarship.

Mike Vitlip, pre-law advisor at Drexel University, finds interesting ways to partner with test prep vendors. Instead of waiting for them to come to him, he sends out an RFP to local test-prep agencies inviting them to put in a bid to see who puts together the most comprehensive (and cost-effective) on-campus program for his students. You’ll be surprised how many of these agencies are willing and able to partner with you to help your students.

 

3. Regional Law School and Pre-Law Partnerships

The best thing about being a pre-law advisor (next to helping students realize their dreams, of course) is the friendships you build with many different law schools. Why not utilize those friendships to bring everyone together for a Diversity Pre-Law Day? You provide the students and the law schools bring their expertise along with funding from LSAC grants.

Wendy Vonnegut, Methodist’s pre-law advisor, wanted to give her students (and others in the North Carolina area) who couldn’t make it to LSAC’s Atlanta forum an opportunity to engage with law school representatives in their neighborhood.  She reached out to a dear friendthe Dean of Admissions at a local law schoolwho in turn reached out to his fellow admission deans and soon a program was being planned with little to no start-up costs.  


The law school provided the venue, the admissions deans created the sessions and the LSAC grant provided the funding for food and transportation.  All Wendy had to do was reach out to her student and pre-law advisor network. Viola! The North Carolina Diversity Law Day was created and turned into a huge success. Today, law schools take turns hosting the event and more and more NC students are introduced to law school as an option.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you leverage strategic partnerships to facilitate opportunities for students. Diversity and inclusion in education is one of my greatest passions and I love seeing how my law school colleagues are making this a priority for their recruitment.

 

What is your institution doing to move the needle on this topic? Contact me or leave comments below to continue the discussion.

 

 

Three Ideas to Shake Up Your Law School Recruitment Strategy

It has been a tough road for law schools. First year enrollment dropped more than 25% over the past six years. And, while the February 2017 LSAT exam showed an increase in test takers, it hasn’t translated in applicants. For many institutions, this has meant forced budget cuts and paring down, not only of programs and services, but even faculty and staff. However, there may be some light at the end of the bleak tunnel that was law school admissions these last few years.  

For the first time since 2010, when law school demand was its highest, the market is seeing an uptick in applications. Well, “uptick” may be overly optimistic since the raw numbers only reflect a handful more students. In reality, we should say the law school admissions market is stabilizing as application numbers are flat.

While this is indeed positive news, law schools certainly aren’t out of the woods. Our market is more saturated than ever with over 200 ABA accredited law schools fighting for the same students. The schools that win are thinking outside the box of what they’ve always done to recruit and enroll their classes.

Traditional tools alone, like attending law fairs and forums where students receive a viewbook and maybe a few minutes of an admission counselor’s time, just won’t cut it. It’s not just the landscape of legal education that has changedthe students have, too. Law schools are now faced with prospective students who divide their time between a plethora of devices, programs and apps, all competing for their attention.

Admissions offices need to cut through the noise and ensure that their recruitment emails and marketing pieces are actually reaching their potential students. If we want to make an impact with today’s savvy student, we need to disrupt the norm and change our old marketing ways. Here are three ideas to shake up your traditional law school recruitment methods:

 

1. Geofencing and the LSAC Forums

Law School Forums aren’t going away. While the numbers have dropped from the thousands into the hundreds, forums are still a cost effective opportunity to increase brand awarenessespecially in cities where you may want to expand. Instead of sending an email to your registered prospects on the CRS list, which every other law school attending that forum is also doing, why not use geofencing to serve prospective students ads and messaging about your brand? This strategy will increase visibility for your schools so that when and if they do open that traditional email, your content will stand out.

 

2. CRS and Retargeting  

Thanks to LSAC’s dedication to detail and reporting, CRS searches can be done really strategically. In my opinion, there should be no one in your immediate surrounding that is looking at law schools and not applying to yours. There may be some great value proposition that your school offers that they’re just not aware of yet. Don’t discount viable prospects  just because they didn’t initiate contact with you at the onset.

Retargeting will get you back out in front of these prospective students to remind them of your brand. Social media channels such as LinkedIn and Facebook allow you to enter email addresses and match them to a particular IP address so you can target their needs and interests, especially as it relates to your program.  

 

3. When All Else Fails, Go Back to Basics

Okay, so these are omnichannel consumers, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t throw a curveball in there once in awhile. As an enrollment manager in this competitive landscape, you should constantly be re-evaluating your content and your communication flow. While everyone has (for good reasons) prioritized digital, doing away with tradition notes and postcards altogether may not be in your best interest. Print is on the rise with millennials and incoming generations of prospective students. Mix up your communication sequence and surprise your admitted student with a personalized congratulatory card from the dean. You’ll be surprised how much that means to them!

Interested in more digital best practices for law schools? Connect with me on LinkedIn or contact me directly to keep the conversation going.

 

Sources:

http://www.nationaljurist.com/prelaw/why-flat-enrollment-great-news-law-schools
http://www.aals.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/State-of-Law-School-Admissions-2014.pdf
http://www.nationallawjournal.com/id=1202774844249/Number-of-Students-Enrolling-in-Law-School-Basically-Flat
http://www.law.com/sites/almstaff/2017/04/07/number-of-lsat-takers-is-up-but-law-school-applications-are-down/