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What to Look for When Hiring a Higher Education Marketing Agency

What to Look for When Hiring a Higher Education Marketing Agency

The way we market continues to evolve, so do the platforms we use and the audiences you try to reach with a message that evokes trust in your institution. And when you're in such a high-stakes industry, you can't afford to appear unprepared, untrustworthy, or sound like a pushy salesperson to an audience that's pegging their future on what you're offering.

It's common, then, for even the most well-established higher education institutions to toy with the idea of hiring a higher ed marketing agency to make a first and lasting impression. Statistics show that American higher education institutions spend between $429 and $623 per enrolled student annually on marketing as of 2019. One can imagine how that number has increased as a result of the pandemic-fueled enrollment declines. A staggering $870 million was spent in the first quarter of 2021 alone.  

The defining question is, how do you know which agency makes the cut? Here are five ways to find out:  

1) Experience in Higher Education Marketing

Experience here means three things: 

  1. You want to be sure that they've served higher ed institutions like yours, 
  2. have the social proof to prove it 
  3. and have a strong industry reputation. 

For instance, the standard marketing agency has varied experience in marketing different industries and understands how to move a lead through the sales funnel. 

On the other hand, a higher education marketing firm knows the unique structure of the students' admission funnel and what prospective students need to nudge them into a favorable conversion. 

Social proof and a strong industry reputation are like two sides of the same coin. A competent agency will display testimonials from clients they've served, and reviews from trusted sources can tell you more about the agency's track record.

Go beyond the positive reviews and look for negative reviews to gauge what you may be signing up for. They may have done an excellent job for clients X and Y, but a negative review from client Z may reveal a working culture that will make it hard to work together.

2) Focus on Goal Delivery

Your goals and KPIs determine the right marketing strategies for your institution. 

Case in point: A start-up may have brand awareness as one of its most important goals. A more experienced institution looking to enroll more students for the upcoming year may be more interested in engagement and driving enrollments. The right marketing agency knows which strategies to use to deliver on the client's goals in both cases. 

More importantly, they know how to transcend brand awareness and engagement to increase enrollments and student retention

3) Specialized Team Members

The collective expertise of an agency is made up of whatever specialized skill sets they have onboard – graphic designers, strategists, tech gurus, content creators and writers, web designers, etc.

Each of them serves a function in the multiple moving parts that make up an effective marketing strategy. As such, a full-service agency is better placed to attend to each of your needs.

Ask about who's on the team before you hire the agency. Better yet, find out how the specialists fit into the education marketing plan they'd use for you. It'll save you having to spend extra money on a freelancer to work on a critical service they can't satisfy.

4) Invest in Cutting-Edge Tools 

Say you've found a marketing agency with a glowing website - but do you know which tools they have to help them achieve anything they are promising?

The truth is technology evolves faster than the weather. Even when the tech update is fairly new, using outdated tools gives a competitive advantage over you.

You also need to know which tools they'll use to communicate with you. Email may work for weekly reports on their progress, but tools like Slack are more efficient because they provide 24/7 communication and keep everyone involved updated. 

5) Reasonable Pricing

Cost-effectiveness is not about meeting marketing goals on a shoe-string budget or a budget worth a king's ransom. It's about getting what you need for a reasonable price tag which equals a positive return on your marketing investment. 

The average marketing retainer for an SMB costs between $1,000 and $15,000 and above. If an agency's pricing is way out of that range, you should investigate how they'll deliver quality results while paying their bills.

On the flip side, top dollar isn’t always a guarantee for stellar results. Be on the lookout for cunning agencies that sneak in packages with services you don't need but have to pay for. 

Determine available pricing models too. Some agencies work on monthly retainers, while others charge you per project. Retainers are predictable and allow you to retain the agency for the length of your project. Paying per project is ideal for short-term gigs and will enable you to test out an agency as a candidate for more projects. 

The Bottom Line

Using these five factors when hiring a marketing agency, will help position your institution where you want it to be.

Also, understand that your needs are not static and will be affected by many factors as you grow and expand your portfolio. The agency's ability to scale with you is vital, especially when you're considering a long-term partnership.

Study their services and how they meet your unique needs long before you contact them to learn more. That way, you can ask the most important questions before you sign on the dotted line. 

The Sonority Group was created with educational institutions in mind. We are a passionate and results-driven team who've invested in the tools and skills needed to take your institution from surviving to thriving. Let's chat!

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