Q&A with Kathy Drake: University of California Urvine

Q&A with Kathy Drake: University of California Urvine

An interview with Kathy Drake, Previous Executive Director of Marketing & Communications at the University of California Irvine, Paul Merage School of Business.


The Paul Merage School of Business at The University Of California Irvine offers three dynamic MBA programs, plus specialty master’s programs in Accounting, Business Analytics, Finance, and Innovation and Entrepreneurship. While the Merage School is relatively young, it has quickly grown to consistently rank among the top 5% of all AACSB-accredited programs through exceptional student recruitment, world-class faculty, a strong alumni network and close relationships with both individual business executives and global corporations.

We talked to Kathy Drake, the previous Executive Director of Marketing & Communications at the Merage School to get her take on higher education marketing in the ever-changing digital landscape, and how she made sure the school’s brand stayed relevant.

Converge (C): You’ve been in #highered marketing for more than twelve years. What attracted you to this profession?

Kathy Drake (KD): I am passionate about the mission; it is a privilege to help open the door to the possibilities and opportunities that higher education provides students. An education is something that can never be taken away or “lost” and it can always be leveraged to change your life and the lives of others.

(C): Tell us more about the Merage School brand story. What are you doing to shape that narrative?

(KD): The Merage School relaunched its brand in 2017 and worked with the Converge team to do some primary research with our constituents. “Leadership for a Digitally Driven World” aligned our unique strengths with what is required for success in today’s continually disrupted economy. My team and I have infused that message throughout our communications bringing the brand to life with examples of the impact our alumni, students and faculty are having in the digital economy. That message is also being infused in our physical space, how we recruit and engage prospects, and in how we deliver course content and community programs.

(C): You are in a competitive market in Southern California. How do you make the Merage School brand stand out?

(KD): Competitive indeed! We have very strong brands locally, and other national brands have established weekend programs in our area. Add to that the number of top programs available online, and it can be exhausting! The good news is that we have a unique space with our brand. We are the only business school to have embraced the brand so holistically. We also provide high personalization in a very collaborative environment, meeting the needs of our students while providing opportunities that are highly valued by employers.

(C): How are you using the marketing tools and technology (like Slate and the Converge University dashboards) at your disposal to analyze performance through the funnel?

(KD): The dashboard that Converge created is invaluable. We have all of the data at our fingertips and can adjust campaigns as needed to optimize our results. We can also share this information with our internal partners/clients so they understand the campaigns better and see the ROI for their marketing investment.

(C): You have a background in both the corporate and non-profit sectors, before moving into higher ed. What are the differences you’ve encountered? How are you addressing these differences?

(KD): The biggest challenges I’ve encountered between corporate marketing and higher ed/non-profit marketing are the increased bureaucracy and the constricted budgets. The bureaucracy slows down the speed with which you can bring new products (programs) to market or enhance your offerings. The budget issue, however, actually makes you even better at what you do because you can’t afford to make big mistakes. That’s where working with Converge has been especially valuable. We can draw upon their experience with other (non-competitive) clients to better inform our decision-making about campaigns, mediums, etc. We test, measure, analyze and revise just like when I was in corporate marketing, we just do it with smaller budgets.

(C): How has your partnership with Converge specifically helped your enrollment marketing efforts? What strategies do you feel are performing best for UCI and The Merage School?

(KD): Converge has been a great partner; we’ve called upon their expertise with redesigning our website, relaunching our brand and now with our enrollment marketing campaigns. Working with one partner, like Converge, ensures there is synergy across our efforts so that we present a consistent experience for our prospective and current students, and our partners in the business community.

(C): In your opinion, what is the next big New & Next opportunity for UC Irvine and the Merage School?

(KD): UC Irvine is a campus on the move; it is only 54 years old and already the No. 7 Public University as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. The Merage School is rising in the rankings and is one of the few business schools ranked by all five major ranking entities. This is a dynamic environment shaped by the entrepreneurial and innovative culture of Orange County, California. What’s Next? Stay tuned; something you’d never expect…!

(C): At Converge, we ask all new team members to introduce themselves and answer three key questions. Tell us your first concert, favorite movie and something unique that we wouldn’t guess about you.

(KD): I believe my first concert was Elton John; one of my favorite movies is Sliding Doors (Gwyneth Paltrow & John Hannah). Fun facts? Few know that I’ve been an entrepreneur, a homecoming queen, hitch-hiked across Europe and am always eager to learn new things and tackle the next opportunity.

Blaine Phillips
Blaine Phillips
July 2, 2019