Should University Brands Be Franchised? (And Other Exciting Ideas with Steve Kerge of Spark451)
[00:00:00] Zach: All right, Steve, we are live. Welcome to the show. Hey, Zach. How are you? I am doing excellent. I am very excited to be chatting with you because actually, I don't even know if you know this, Steve, but I remember seeing spark for 51 at my very first higher ed conference that I ever went to. And it was actually, it was the NAGEP conference, uh, NAGEP's graduate enrollment management conference.
[00:00:40] And I just remember being it. Being really overwhelmed in like a positive way by, by your all's booth and your colors and how vibrant it was. And I remember thinking, Oh, Spark is such a like great name for a creative agency. So that was my first impression of your brand.
[00:00:56] Steve: Oh, that's such a nice memory.
[00:00:57] Thanks for sharing that. You know, when we [00:01:00] founded Spark 451, there were three of us, three of us co founders, and we went through a naming process. And we love the word spark in terms of what we do. We spark energy, we spark creativity, we spark results. So we really latched on to the word spark and 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the burning point of paper, a little nod towards Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. And for us, it's, it's a nod towards being in a digital era. So we love those two things and we
[00:01:27] Zach: combine them. Yeah, no, I, I think it was a really, really like well done naming process. And there's also a lot of versatility. You, it's like a layered brand, right?
[00:01:37] You got. Spark. You've got the 451, which anyone that's seen that movie Fahrenheit 451 understands at least to some degree what that means. So it's a good playoff of that. Yeah. I'm just impressed. Anyways, I wanted to pick your brain about several different things. First and foremost, I definitely want to hear a little bit about the spark story, but I really want to understand just from a broader perspective, a little bit about your.
[00:01:59] [00:02:00] Your perspective on enrollment management and enrollment marketing as you've been in the industry for a while, and you've observed a lot, and you are one of the leading agencies in the space recently acquired by by Jen's bar, which is exciting in and of itself. So I feel like you have a lot to offer us in this conversation today.
[00:02:20] But I thought, I thought we'd start by just hearing a little bit about a few things, maybe two or three things that you think have changed about how enrollment management kind of functions today, as opposed to what it was like when you were working in admissions a couple of decades ago. So,
[00:02:39] Steve: yeah, at risk, Zack, at risk of sounding old and stodgy, which I try not to, I really try to stay very current on a whole number of levels.
[00:02:48] But I started in this field in 1986, and I spent my 1st, 22 years in 4 different college campuses, all in the New York metro area and then made my move in 2000. 7 over [00:03:00] to the partner side, and I've had this great opportunity over all that time to assist, you know, scores, maybe hundreds of of different institutions.
[00:03:09] I recently calculated. I've been on the college campuses in 46 out of the 50 states in the country. And and so, so I've had this really awesome opportunity to just experience so many different institutional settings and meet so many incredible people along the way somebody and learn so much along the way to, but I have spent my entire professional career in the school of fueling colleges.
[00:03:38] To help fuel students futures. That's that's what I feel our role is. That's what I feel my role has been. I feel the stronger we can make higher and the stronger we can make the institutions that we work with the stronger. They will make the students who they work with and launch careers. And those careers change this world.
[00:03:58] When I think back over, [00:04:00] you know, over this 30 years or 35 years, whatever it is, when, you know, you mentioned a few things that have changed. I think the speed of things have changed dramatically. I joke around about in, in early times, if you wanted to, even on an inter office level, get something done in a university.
[00:04:18] You drafted up a memo, you put it into office mail, day later it was received, routed to a person, routed back, and so forth. And now we, you know, we send a text message or, or, or a Slack message or an email. And, and if we don't hear back in 30 seconds, we're, you know, we're, we're picking up the phone. We're like, what's up?
[00:04:36] We're so the speed of things have changed and, and the availability of information has changed. Whether that availability of information is. Is consciously produced by an institution and consumed by by students and families, or if that information is coming from 3rd party, social sources and so forth.
[00:04:59] Just [00:05:00] the, the. The amount of information about a school about the opportunities of the school throughout the nation are that it's really it's just I can't tell you from, you know, however, you know, from 3 decades ago to now, the availability of information and then I'd say the 3rd 1 that I can't help but think of is the, you know, probably the obvious, but the use of data and technology platforms is.
[00:05:28] Just night and day, you know, what, what we did in the, I was at an engineering institution in the early nineties, and we were on the forefront being at engine engineering school. We're kind of on the forefront of technology, just being introduced to email on our on our desks, right? Just getting that in the early nineties.
[00:05:48] To now where so many of our schools are working with us on some really elaborate data scenarios, analytics, data augmentation, and the platforms that they're [00:06:00] using and we're using to, to do that. And one of the reasons I'm really proud to be part of GenZivar, I think the platforms that we offer to higher ed are cutting edge and they will, Actually work to produce a school's efficiency of schools, enrollment and schools, retention and efficiencies.
[00:06:18] Zach: Yeah. Yeah. There's a really interesting insights. I I'm curious to get your thoughts on on sort of the, the teams, the enrollment management teams, right? So you just talked a lot about how you've seen this remarkable change in speed, right? This remarkable change in technology adaptations, what schools need to do to, to compete, right?
[00:06:38] Uh, to, to. Yeah. Attract the next generations of students, right? So much of that has has changed very, very dramatically over the last couple of decades. What about like the team itself? Do you think the the kinds of people that higher ed attracts the roles and the skill sets? How have you seen those adapt?
[00:06:58] If If at all, our [00:07:00] enrollment management teams, do they kind of look from a personnel standpoint? What how they looked a decade or two ago? Or are the people that are actually working in these jobs? Are their skill sets? Do their skill sets look different?
[00:07:14] Steve: Yeah, it's a great question, Zach. For my opinion, first of all, I'm so proud to be part of this industry.
[00:07:20] I see the talented professionals, those people that I've known for also for 2 or 3 decades, and how they've grown and many now are, are presidents of schools and or leadership positions, vice presidents and deans. And, and now I see, you know, I'm Newer newer or quote unquote, younger people coming into these roles and I see the same level of dedication, the same level of interest to learn the same level of interest to to continually evolve and change.
[00:07:50] So, I'm really proud of the people in this industry. I think so much to say where where I'm concerned is, I worry that schools [00:08:00] are. Are reducing the number of student facing positions to increase the number of internal operational positions. So I'll hear all too many times of a school bringing on a new C R M, whether that's C R m, is slate or Element 4 51 or Salesforce, um, or Jenzabar Relationship Management.
[00:08:24] So one of those, and they now need somebody to, to make that thing run. And as opposed to, and they could, by the way, they could bring in a partner like SPAR51 or others like an underscore who help schools do that. Right? So that that's really good. But, um, what they tend to do in a very tight budget environment is they say, hey, here is this.
[00:08:50] Admissions counselor, here is this associate director, and we're going to get them to be the internal pro for the CRM. And when that person was [00:09:00] spending 70, 80 percent of their time actually working with students and families, and now they've reduced it to 10 or 15 percent of their time. So that that's a fearful thing for me for the industry in terms of.
[00:09:14] I think schools should otherwise be making the investment to properly staff and keep those, those consumer facing roles as consumer facing roles. It really does, it really does make a difference. It pays for itself in their, in their enrollment. It pays for their self, itself in, in their retention. So, you know.
[00:09:39] Are there, I don't really see too many, um, too many sort of luxury roles. I see more and more people wearing, like I said, multiple hats and I don't know. I, you know, I, I get that. We can all build up efficiencies and we all do those things every, every week. But at the end of the day. I, my, the schools [00:10:00] that I see as being successful sort of protect and support a core group of people that stay focused on working with students and families, and that be undergraduate or graduate.
[00:10:13] It can be, you know, when I say students, prospective students, of course, I mean, traditional freshmen transfer adult learners, graduate prospective students at all levels.
[00:10:24] Zach: Yeah, uh, that was a there. I mean, there were several really, really incredible insights in there, and I want to call a couple of them out and just elaborate on them for a minute here.
[00:10:34] One of the things that came to mind when you talk about schools reducing the number of human facing roles, right, is one of the things that happens in across industries, right? When budgets get tight, Uh, and or the growth outlook isn't as great, right? The first things to go are often like sales and marketing, right?
[00:10:50] Like those get cut, right? And in exactly, exactly. And whatnot. And what's really interesting about that, especially in this dynamic marketplace that we find ourselves in within the context of higher [00:11:00] education is like marketing is one of those things and sales. We call it admissions here, right? Those are things that you can never really turn off like you should never turn off.
[00:11:10] And in fact, when things are tough, you've got to ramp that up. You also need to ramp up efficiency, right? But efficiency doesn't mean cut spend necessarily. It just means how do you take the spend that you were spending over the last three years? Spend the same amount Be really hyper focused on where every dollar is going and ensure that it's being efficiently and effectively allocated, right?
[00:11:32] And it is really sad when you see these human facing roles eliminated, and or even if they're not eliminated, right, or staff isn't laid off, all of a sudden the staff also needs to do 50 percent of additional roles and responsibilities that they hadn't actually signed up for. And your smartest people, like, your hardest working people, might do it for a bit.
[00:11:52] Out of love for the institution and a belief in what your organization is offering, what the institution is delivering to students, [00:12:00] a lot of smart people also at some point will realize. This is too much. This is ridiculous. Like I was doing this. I was taking a pay cut to work in this sort of environment versus a traditional sales or marketing environment for a different sector because I love higher education because I love right working with students and now I don't get to work with students that much and I'm not being paid as competitively as I might be able to be paid in a similar role in a different industry and that is very worrisome.
[00:12:28] I wonder too if like We're going to see a model emerge if it's not already emerging where what we really need within the context of an institution are really good administrators, really good managers, really good leaders. But a lot of the actual. You know, independent contributors, the specialists, all those roles, well, will they all be outsourced to agencies like spark for doing in an effort to in an effort, because being able to compete for those roles within the [00:13:00] context of.
[00:13:00] Of higher education proper higher higher. I just won't be able to like pay these people what they want and or even if it's not paying people what they want and or give them enough time to do the things that they want because the business case just no longer makes sense. Like, what do you think about
[00:13:15] Steve: this?
[00:13:17] I do believe in terms of efficiencies. I believe that there's investments that we're able to make as a partnering firm. In both in terms of our human resources and our technologies, where we are doing a certain process all week long for multiple institutions, and we're just faster at it. So, when, when somebody comes and says, hey, we need to set up a new dynamic, a new dynamic content communications, nurturing stream, it might take.
[00:13:48] A person, an individual at a school to get it written proofed edited and then loaded into the system in a dynamic format X amount of time. It probably takes us 0. 5 X at that [00:14:00] time. So, in terms of efficiency, I think the, the partnering firms that are just doing it all week long, all month long, all year long.
[00:14:10] We probably, we are more efficient at it. And once we're more efficient, then that's more cost efficient. Uh, I, you know, I agree with, I love the way you're phrasing it. It still needs, it needs oversight. It needs management on the university side, but I think there is opportunity for, for shifts in those roles to, to partnering firms.
[00:14:33] Zach: Well, it happened again. Prospect Paul is excited about attending your institution, but is getting consistently confused by all of the information and tasks he needs to complete to enroll, creating friction and, even worse, possible melt. You knew this would happen again, which is why you've been flagging the need for a Come to Jesus meeting with leadership from Marketing, Admissions, and IT to audit the digital experience for prospective students.
[00:14:58] Here's the problem. You're not going to [00:15:00] convince Mark from marketing to let go of his marketing automation software. Adriana from admissions just got set up with her new CRM and Isabel from IT is still working through ticket requests from last Christmas. But what if you could come to the table with a solution that didn't require anyone to let go of their software while at the same time ensuring a frictionless experience for prospects and current students?
[00:15:23] Well, my friend, guess what? Today is your lucky day. Meet Pathify, an innovative higher ed engagement hub that puts students at the center of their college journey. Pathify sits at the center of your school's digital ecosystem, becoming the single. User experience interface, tying together all systems, content and communications, their engagement hub elevates the information that matters most and pushes systems like your S.
[00:15:49] I. S. Behind the scenes where they belong, which makes it simpler for students to discover and engage with the opportunities you're interested Institution provides at every step of their higher ed journey from [00:16:00] prospect all the way through to alumni What's even better is that pathify has a mobile experience that provides 100 parity with the responsive web app So your campus app is always in sync Pathified is a platform that every stakeholder on campus from marketing to admissions to student affairs to it, etc can get equally excited about.
[00:16:20] You can learn more about how Pathify is uniting strategic units across campus and bettering the entire student experience by visiting Pathify. com. And be sure to tell them that Zach from the Enrollify podcast sent you their way. Again, that's Pathify. com and be sure to mention that you heard about them on the Enrollify podcast.
[00:16:40] All right, folks, back to the show. And from my observation and knowing a lot of the The leaders at these, you know, these well respected firms in the space, I think one of the, one of the biggest gripes is actually that there's not enough like true management and oversight in the context of the [00:17:00] institution until there's a crisis.
[00:17:01] Once there's a crisis, like our campaign goes awry, of course, leadership jumps, jumps in, right? But the reality is oftentimes you can't get the, you can't get the attention that you really want or need the guidance from management. Until again, there's something that is until the house is burning down, because these people are really, really, really busy oftentimes.
[00:17:21] And yet I actually think one of the things higher ed, you know, can can do well, right, is is govern and and and, you know, is manage. And maybe maybe there's an opportunity for schools for people who are working within the context of an institution. If you really love management, right, and you really love.
[00:17:40] Efficiencies and, and really believe in like the, the purpose of higher education, maybe you take that management track and you do, you do climb the ladder, but you always make sure you have great relationships with people on, on the outside, on the partner side to actually do. A lot of the creative work a lot of the technological work [00:18:00] so that right you can do what you're really good at and and you don't have to worry about doing spending time doing the things that you're not good at right and obviously there's always an ebb and flow of like how much work is brought in house versus how much work is like given to partners and a lot of that just depends on the current economic situation.
[00:18:16] But I do wonder if we're getting to a point now. Especially with all the other kind of like talent crisis happening in higher ed in, you know, with respect to people wanting to work remotely and not have to come in every day and yada, yada, yada. I do wonder if the most talented creative people in higher ed and the most technologically savvy people in higher ed might might wind up looking outside, might look to a partner agency simply because it really is at the end of it'll become increasingly.
[00:18:50] A much more attractive place to be, which is not to say that, like, you have to leave your love fully of the value of higher education, but, like, I wonder if this, like, natural [00:19:00] separation, which I already see happening, I wonder if this will continue to happen. Yes, I,
[00:19:06] Steve: in general, agree with what you're saying, and I think it will continue to evolve in that direction.
[00:19:11] I think the, the employees at Spark 451 as a division of GenZivar and the employees at GenZivar, I feel very connected to higher education. Most most of us have come from higher education. I had something to do with higher education along the way, and they feel very connected. They feel as if they're expansions of a campus team when they're working with campuses.
[00:19:33] So, I agree with what you're saying that they still get this. They still get this energy that they are. In some way, positively impacting. A college campus, and they're able to celebrate wins with them and and sharing struggles with them along along the way. So, I do think that from both a stability from a growth potential, it's yeah, we [00:20:00] offer a strong path for professionals in the field
[00:20:03] Zach: with with all that said, like, from your.
[00:20:06] Vantage point and whether it's a partner school that you work with, whether it's just a friend of yours in the industry, like who, what are the enrollment management teams? Who are the enrollment management teams and or marketing and communications teams for that matter that you think are? Are really crushing it as a team.
[00:20:22] Like they've got a great leader. They've got a good, like, you know, strategic unit in place. Like any examples come to mind?
[00:20:29] Steve: Yeah, definitely. So, you know, too many examples. So we work with some really talented people, but I'm going to name two, two or three of them, Moravian university in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
[00:20:40] They've got. A really great integrated admissions and marketing team. They view themselves as as 1 team working together, both undergrad admissions, grad admissions and marketing communications. They are school. By the way, I, I really gravitate towards schools that that own not only [00:21:00] own their brand. They, they know who they are.
[00:21:01] They embrace their brand and they live up to it. They. You look at the things that, that we work with them, but for, you know, for disclosure, they are a partner of ours. They, we, we, and they produce materials that promote things that are going on in that, in the school and they deliver on that, right? They, they live up to it.
[00:21:22] So, I think Moravian in Bethlehem is doing a really great job. They've got a student experience program called Elevate. Uh, I think, again, when you look at a school from its leadership, that makes a A true investment in a, in a student experience program, and then admissions and marketing can go promote that program.
[00:21:44] That's where you start seeing a school that's prospering and doing very well. Another 1 Longwood University is a 4 year public in Virginia. They're over in Farmville, Virginia, a similar story. When you see that you have [00:22:00] a, and they're, they're a public. And you see that they have a really well integrated marketing and admissions.
[00:22:08] You know, function, let's call it, I'm going to call it offices. I wouldn't actually say they're one office. I do believe they're, they're two separate offices, but they're, they consult, they meet with us together and, and we, we, we work with them both on their admission side and their overall marketing side.
[00:22:26] And when we, we form this 1 large team, and you can see this. How the school has done really well in the last 3, 4 years, they, they to have a student experience program called and it has so much they they've embraced their brand. They, they are taking the modern day liberal arts approach and and firmly grasping it to say.
[00:22:48] We use this and we make students successful in careers from it. That's what does and with co taught classes and just lots of other, they blend a lot of creative energy and this [00:23:00] really good focus on creating citizen leaders. So that's being very well received in for their, their perspective pools of students and.
[00:23:10] It's again, it's paying off. So these schools that that own their brand, they live up to it. They create student experience programs. Another 4 year public that comes to mind is a New Jersey Institute Institute of technology and they are focused on delivering a top quality. Technical engineering, mathematics, science, education, they, they are owning that and they're and it's showing up.
[00:23:37] It's showing up in the rankings. It's showing up in their facilities, their labs and and yet as a, as a public in New Jersey, even for an out of state student, they remain really 1 great cost affordability. So, when you come up with these 3 or 4 things that they can latch on to. And and we can all go promote.
[00:23:58] It's great. When I see schools that are [00:24:00] trying to be everything to everyone, that's where I find that they water themselves down and they struggle. Yeah.
[00:24:07] Zach: Yeah. No, I couldn't agree with you more. I mean, one of the things we've talked about several times on this podcast is like the unique challenge, right?
[00:24:14] That higher ed has where it is in many places, like some of like one of the most diverse. A college campus is like one of the most, in many contexts anyways, like one of the most diverse places that you'll ever be, right? And many, many students, for the very first time, right, whether you grew up in the rural Midwest or, you know, in the heart of, you know, New York City.
[00:24:37] It's where you're, it's where you're exposed to people from all sorts of backgrounds in a very, very, very, like, close way, right? And that's, and that's actually one of the beautiful things about higher education. And so higher ed has this, like, unique branding challenge of trying to position itself as inclusive, right?
[00:24:55] And, and accepting of, of everybody, no matter like where you come from and what [00:25:00] your story is. But I think that the downside to that is every freaking like ad you see or video promo is like a little bit of everybody, right? But not a lot of anybody. And I think that that that's the problem, right? Is like We're living in a world now where, like it or not, you really, really do have to segment and you really have to be specific and you have to be willing, I think, to take major risks of pissing certain populations off if you've realized and done the work of, this is actually who we are.
[00:25:32] Help succeed the best like we are uniquely qualified to help this particular segment of students succeed The other students that come there will still come just really really focus on The population that you're uniquely qualified to serve.
[00:25:49] Steve: Oh, no your brand own it I, I gravitate towards the word cool.
[00:25:55] I, I love the word cool because the word, the word cool has actually [00:26:00] transcended generations, right? You can say, you can think of other, other terms that were, you know, when you were in the 80s, that maybe was, it was like awesome and fab and things like that, but cool, whether it's been the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, 20, 2022, 2022.
[00:26:16] Cool is has, has really sort of transcended decades when schools actually find out what makes them cool. And then they go promote that. It can be little things. It doesn't have to be, it doesn't have to be, you know, massive, massive things, but these little things that they can own that, that make themselves cool.
[00:26:40] Students and families love to
[00:26:41] Zach: learn about. Yeah, I love that. I love it. That's a really, really good, very simple, easy like framework to think through. I do. I do want to follow up on something you said to the examples that you gave Steve seemed like there was this sort of like true deep partnership between marketing and admissions.[00:27:00]
[00:27:00] And you know, we've talked about this before. I think that there's this debate that's happening in the larger community about like how integrated these departments should be. I like to think about it as like outside of higher ed, right? You're seeing you see growth teams and under the growth team, you've got marketing and sales typically, like if you're if you're working at like a sass company, right?
[00:27:21] Or like any tech firm, like they've it's not just the marketing team and not just the sales team. There's now whether it's kind of like this This revenue team or this growth team that sort of sits on top. And I think the reason for that is because people have realized like, Hey, marketing and sales really do have to work very, very, very closely together.
[00:27:40] Uh, otherwise problems happen. Right? So we've wrapped them up in this beautiful world called growth. We haven't seen something like that. Happen in the same degree, I think, in higher ed. I think that we've seen an increasingly more close collaboration between these strategic units than ever before. But but what are I guess?
[00:27:58] What are your thoughts on like [00:28:00] the future of this?
[00:28:01] Steve: I think we're both in agreement on the. On the organizational structure, where I'd also like to point out, though, is the, the platforms and data analytics that actually integrate those areas. So many times that where we see schools saying, yeah, I'll use a very.
[00:28:22] General, general example of the enrollment office uses slate and they generate their reports from slate marketing office uses a Google studio and they generate their, their reports from Google studio, the advancement office uses razor's edge and they generate their reports from razor's edge. The retention office for continuing students uses, you know, Jen's a bar, J1, and they generate their continuing student moments and and they come together at a president's cabinet and.
[00:28:52] It's the Tower of Babel. Everybody's speaking on their own terms, right? There's, there's no, so, so we focused a lot of our [00:29:00] efforts. We, you know, you know, a bit of a promo, but we focus a lot of our efforts on a thing that we call EnroLytics, and it's the ability for us to take data from all those sources.
[00:29:11] And make it in reportable in 1 dashboard and say, hey, here's what's going on on your web with web users. Here's what's going on in your digital media spheres in terms of spending impressions leads. And then when it is a lead, here's how it's going through your slate. And here's how they're turning out.
[00:29:29] For those sources, and when they enroll and they retain, here's how here's how far they're retaining. So the idea that a president can can look at a singles and the whole cabinet can look at a single source of truth. And that is actually what will start to blend those growth offices without that. I think you're still going to have some real, real strong, sort of.
[00:29:55] Strong sort of walls up between even the best of teams that want to work together, but they. [00:30:00] They need to actually combine their data together, too.
[00:30:02] Zach: Yeah, no, I couldn't agree with you more. And to me, like, that's like, and I think that that's step one. Step two, though, and I do see from people I talked to, there's definitely like more collaboration.
[00:30:13] And there's more, there's more insight than there ever has been of people understanding, like, Oh, wow, okay, so this is how my Google search campaigns actually performed for these particular programs with respect to butts and seats, like, It's work, and it's not as easy as it should be, but there are smart people in the space that know this, right?
[00:30:35] There are these deep collaborations between marketing and emissions teams that have that sort of insight. But I think insight is step one. Understanding is step one. But then the application of that, and I think that that's where I see a lot of folks really struggling. And I think the reason why there's...
[00:30:49] There's still a lot of struggle here is that oftentimes the people that have done the work to realize the insights are not necessarily in positions of power to move it into application, meaning [00:31:00] admissions and marketing teams say, Hey, look, this is what we're seeing. This is what we need to do. But They still report up to a VP or a president who doesn't necessarily want to merge advancement and marketing and admissions into sort of like a growth team, if you will.
[00:31:14] And I think that that's, that is actually, from my perspective, an even larger problem is like, I think that the data is like, there's enough data. Again, it's work, but there's enough data that's there. That you can do the work to figure it out. I think that the reason that doesn't happen more at scale is because there aren't the systems in place to actually apply any of these insights into a meaningful way that drives any sort of
[00:31:38] Steve: change.
[00:31:39] Well, I, you know, again, having this broad view and working with literally scores of institutions, I see a full range. I do see the schools that are making a great effort from, from senior leadership down of. Organizing coordinate and coordinating efforts. I give you a few examples. There's always room for improvement.
[00:31:59] I [00:32:00] think the schools that. Are not willing to evolve are going to struggle. They're, they're going to struggle the schools that are going to rest on there. You know, this has been our organizational structure for 30 years and this is our structure. They are going to struggle. They're going to be the ones who are who will not sustain us as well as the others.
[00:32:22] Zach: couldn't agree with you more. What are your thoughts on like, let's take a smaller school, right? Maybe a smaller liberal arts college. Do you see in terms of kind of structures and end team, end teams, like, does it make sense to have separate marketing and admissions? Like, are we getting to a point where at least for some subset of institutions, these strategic divisions really should be like, Consolidated, like, is there, is there a good reason why not to, from your perspective,
[00:32:54] Steve: you know, I'll, I'll, I'll use a large university in Northwest Ohio, just outside Toledo, [00:33:00] new president just started there recently, really hugely, massively competent individual.
[00:33:06] And when you look at what that. That individual is doing, they really working hard to integrate marketing and admissions, but still having having somebody responsible for admissions when there's when you have a goal and you have somebody who's going to own that goal and be responsible for it in terms of this, in terms of that goal being.
[00:33:29] Undergraduate freshman enrollment and all year long. They're thinking about I'll call freshman transfer all year long. They're thinking about undergraduate freshman transfer enrollment. And then you have somebody who has the marketing of the school and they're thinking about. Well, there are. community pressures on us being present in the community.
[00:33:49] And there are, there's a couple graduate programs that need some exposure. And there, you know, it's easy to have an institution, even a small institution, wants to have [00:34:00] tentacles growing in different ways. And therefore, I do think that it's, it's worthy of having separate individuals. Looking and handling those separate functions, but we're working together.
[00:34:14] So, in that example that I've given you, the President has flattened the organization and has a head of admissions and a head of marketing and they're both reporting to him. So, he's taking ownership of that. Right? So I love that. I love that type of, you know, they, they unify in their, in their overall goals.
[00:34:34] They know what each other do, and they know the support they need to give each other. But at the same time, they have to, I'm not even going to call it day to day. I'm going to say week to week and hour to hour. They're thinking about what they need to get done in their areas, especially the enrollment person, especially the admissions person.
[00:34:53] Zach: Yeah, yeah, no, and I love that. That's a really, really, really good example. Couldn't agree with you more there. The other thing too is [00:35:00] like, and maybe you've, maybe you have experience with this and or know people that have entertained this idea. Like in higher ed, right, we group marketing and communications together sort of like by default.
[00:35:10] Like have we ever thought about just like splitting off communications? Meaning like in, in my mind, right, you could, you could make a strong case. And maybe communications actually just because, just, just becomes like a community. Right. And, and, and community is sort of this like organization that handles internal communications.
[00:35:25] Hey, we've got to be at this event or we've got to, you know, make sure that we, you know, please these stakeholders and that, you know, whatever, and, and community of course has marketing and communication components to it, but it is quite separate from like the core objective of, Hey, how is, how is our brand overall?
[00:35:44] Increasing. How are, how is the dollars that we're spending across social, across search, across our agency partners? How are those turning into butts and seeds or, or, you know, new donors or whatever it might be. And do you know anyone that has, has tried to like [00:36:00] make that split and whether that has like worked at all?
[00:36:04] Steve: I actually, no, I would not say I do. It sounds really interesting. It sounds like something that some schools should
[00:36:10] Zach: consider. Yeah, I have no idea. Maybe it's a horrible idea, but like, yeah, it could be interesting as marketing has evolved because again, marketing was just communications like Terry Flannery from, you know, who wrote the book, how to market university talks about this all the time.
[00:36:25] Marketing was a dirty word in higher ed, right? So it's a relatively new, it's a relatively new word. We loved communications, the industry loved communications. And so, you know, maybe Since that distinction has already historically exists existed, maybe, maybe there's a way to kind of like, separate and now I don't know, you
[00:36:43] Steve: know, where, when, when we dig in and we see that marketing communications is also handling the public relations of the school and, and the internal.
[00:36:53] The internal sort of communications on the school, right? So the 1 of the other factors I [00:37:00] love of schools that I identify schools that have a common thread of success is once they own that brand and they know that brand and they promote that brand. They 1st make sure there's buy in. On the campus community, and they promote that brand internally for us.
[00:37:17] It's like a Starburst, right? You start with the, you start with the internal community. Make sure there's buy in. Then you add on your, your influencers in the market. Then you add on the general community and that's what promotes that's what promotes a really strong brand. So. I, I love the fact that that's originally what the communications office was doing.
[00:37:35] Right. So they, they still have that responsibility.
[00:37:38] Zach: Yeah. Yeah. It'd be really interesting if anyone's listening to this and their school is experimenting with something like this, or they know a school that that is, I'd, I'd just love to talk to them and see how, see how it's going. Yeah. Uh, Steve, I have a couple of final questions for you.
[00:37:51] One is just around. From your perspective, right, you've, you've been in the industry for a while. You've led Spark 451 to where it is today, right? You guys were [00:38:00] acquired by Jen's bar. You're doing great, great work in this space. What are some things that like you're just thinking about? Or what are the things that maybe, I don't like to say keep you up at night, but get you excited about like where we're at in the industry.
[00:38:12] You know,
[00:38:13] Steve: it doesn't keep me up at night. I'm not sure the, the, the, the piece I'm going to discuss with you really gets me excited. But I think it's, I think it's a reality. And when people look at something on at a macro level, I think there's a reality to it. So allow me to. To step back and use an analogy and maybe even a little bit of a history lesson, but I'm going to compare, I'm going to look at our banking system in the United States.
[00:38:37] A lot of people, yeah, I was actually a banking and money management undergrad. So I've always sort of followed the banking system. So, you know, in the, in the 1800s, Alexander Hamilton, he wanted a national bank and it was Thomas Jefferson and Alexander and Andrew Jackson. Rather, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, who fought heavily against it.
[00:38:57] And they said that that would create an unfair monopoly. So, [00:39:00] so the US, unlike other countries, we don't have a national bank. We have this really capitalistic, well distributed banking system. Probably, I think a lot of people would concern strongest banking system in the world. By the 1980s. Zach, I'll give you, just take one guess and we move along.
[00:39:18] How many banks do you think there were in the United
[00:39:21] Zach: States? By the 1980s? I would guess, oh geez. Uh, a few hundred, a couple thousand.
[00:39:29] Steve: Okay, so in the 1980s we had 14, 000 banks. 14, 000! 14, 000. That's followed by, by the way, Russia, which has a maximum about 400, the UK about 350. We have 14, 000. That industry from the 80s to today for the U.
[00:39:48] S. has gone through an incredible shrinking, merging acquisitions. Unfortunately, some falling out of business. We know the stresses and the highlights, but [00:40:00] today from 14, 000 in the 80s to today, there's about 4, 100 banks in the country. 14, 000 to 4, 000. That's a 71 percent decrease. However, the banking industry today, by any means, you can speak to any accountants is far stronger today in 2023 than it was in the 80s.
[00:40:23] It serves more people. It handles more deposits. It has more. They offer far more tools. Such as, you know, in terms of credit, in terms of banking, far more tools. So it's just an overall healthier, larger servicing industry, 14, 000 to 4100. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. Unfortunately, higher ed does need to go through.
[00:40:48] A little bit of that. I certainly I don't don't want anybody to misconstrue me. I don't feel it needs to go through 71%. That would kill this industry. But 10%, if you think about, you know, [00:41:00] on a general level, there's 4000 institutions in the country, 2000 community colleges, 2004 years. Rough numbers, right?
[00:41:07] Really rough numbers, a 10 percent correction, a 15 percent correction is probably warranted in the industry. It's where the, it's the only industry that hasn't gone through that. And yet later, when you come out of it, when you come out of it, it will actually be a stronger industry with more opportunities, actually more opportunities for.
[00:41:28] The people working in those, at those industries, you know, at those schools. More opportunities for students going to those schools. Uh, so I, you know, I, I use that analogy for you just to say that every healthy sector of the us, if you look at the way I have just done that for you in banking. Every healthy sector has gone through based on efficiencies based on just based on overall evolution, uh, shrinking and higher ed probably doesn't need it.
[00:41:56] And I, while I certainly don't wish it on [00:42:00] any friend or any, you know, any, any person or any institution in the country, but it doesn't it doesn't have to mean all the by the way that people, you know, that goes out of business and lose jobs. But it can mean, um, look at healthcare, look at how you had. So many private hospitals all along the way, but now they're joining health networks and they're becoming 1 hospital.
[00:42:22] Think about your area. You might have had 4, 8, 12, 15 hospitals. Now it's 1 hospital under 1 name. They're all functioning on their own, like, when you go to a certain hospital, you get the feel that it's its own hospital, but for financial stability and sustainability. It's joined under a network and quite honestly, you said, does this energize me?
[00:42:43] It doesn't energize me to discuss it. It certainly doesn't. But at the same time, it doesn't keep me up at night because I think it's a natural evolution and higher ed does need to experience it a bit.
[00:42:54] Zach: Yeah. Like the word that comes to mind too is like, it's like a pruning, right? Like a pruning process of like [00:43:00] needing to kind of.
[00:43:01] go in, do it, do an audit. And if you want to grow, like every tree that wants to grow into something larger and more meaningful and more healthy than it is, needs to be pruned. Right. And I think the same thing might need to happen here. Do you, do you know, like if, and you know, at the risk of sounding dumb here, maybe there's an obvious example, but like, do you know if there's a If there are examples of like franchise, like brand franchising that has happened in this industry and like how effective, I can imagine like the for profit places this has taken place, but like, like have, has there been any sort of strategic, like move to try to franchise a, you know, well known university brands because franchising in a way could, like, it could be a sexier, like way to kind of package a merger or strategic acquisition.
[00:43:47] Do you, are you aware of any of these models?
[00:43:50] Steve: I'm not aware. I'm not aware. It's a great, that's a great twist, whether it's through franchising or whether it's through networking network. Yeah, I think of there's, there's a [00:44:00] lot. There's going to be people that will be that will come up in our industry.
[00:44:03] People who will get creative and creative ways to merge smaller institutions with larger ones or merge to smaller institutions together and and make their offering stronger as a group and and grow. It will happen and there will be creative people behind that creative business people who will come up with franchising who will come up with who will come up with education networks and and work to sustain those brands.
[00:44:32] Yeah, I
[00:44:32] Zach: love I love the like hospitality and travel space and, you know, You see these models, right? Like with like Marriott, right? And like what they've done as an example of well, not necessarily. It's a little bit. It's a little different, but they've essentially applied all these like soft brands.
[00:44:49] Marriott like doesn't own that much actual real estate, right? Which would be jarring to individuals, right? Like there there are owner people that own and operate these buildings, and they essentially [00:45:00] license the Marriott playbook, if you will, to operate as as a Under sort of like the Marriott brand, and obviously there are, you know, a lot of training that goes into this and standards and whatnot, but right from a consumer standpoint as a Marriott Bonvoy member, right?
[00:45:16] Like when I see the Marriott brand, I associate it with good things because I like Marriott. It doesn't matter where in the country I'm going, I'll always look to see if there's like a Marriott close by, right? And again, it's a different experience. Every hotel you go to is a different unique experience.
[00:45:32] Some are great, some are not so great, right? But there's this like, there's this brand, there's this level of like security that you have in the brand. And there are institutions that have incredible high like brand affinity still. And yeah, I just, I just wonder how, if and how we'll see sort of a model like this come to be within the context of higher ed.
[00:45:53] Steve: I'll put some numbers to it. Unfortunately, Zach, we're not going to be rooming together anywhere because I'm a, I'm a heavy duty Hilton person. [00:46:00] So, while you're staying, I'll be at Hilton, but I follow Hilton. You know, they have about a little over 6000 properties of which, like, 700 are actually owned and managed by, by Hilton.
[00:46:13] The rest are franchises. You know, like, 5500 are franchise properties, right? So I, I totally agree with your point. And is there opportunity for, for something like that to happen in higher ed to, you know, a great, great opportunity, great business for someone, someone to dig in and explore to see how that would work.
[00:46:32] Zach: Yeah, yeah. Well, Steve, this has been a really fun conversation. We've talked about so many different things. Yeah, yeah. But I am very thankful for your time. I'm very thankful for the great work that you and the Spark team do. Um, for folks that want to connect and learn a little bit more about you and if they were inspired by some of the insights that you had and are just in need of some creative support, some help with their respective CRM, what's the best way for them to reach out?
[00:46:59] Steve: Sure, they [00:47:00] can always email me at Steve at spark for 51 dot com, or you'll find me on linkedin. You can always shoot me a message on, you know, on any of the social media platforms, or just visit spark for 51 dot com and reach out and I'll be sure to get back to.
[00:47:17] Zach: Wonderful. And we will go ahead and drop all those links that Steve just mentioned in the show notes.
[00:47:22] So if you're listening to this conversation, wherever you get your podcast, just scroll down and you can connect with Steve on LinkedIn. Find a Spark 451 at their website, et cetera. Steve, thank you so much for your time. Thanks Zach. I
[00:47:32] Steve: appreciate it.
[00:47:41] Zach: Hey, all Zach here from Enrollify. I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Enrollify podcast. If you liked this episode, do us a huge favor and hit that follow and subscribe button below. Furthermore, if you've got just two minutes to spare, we would greatly appreciate you leaving a rating and a review of this show on Apple podcasts.
[00:47:58] Our podcast network is [00:48:00] growing by the month and we've got a plethora of marketing admissions and higher ed technology shows. That are jam packed with stories, ideas, and frameworks that are all designed to empower you to become a better higher ed professional. But Enrollify is far more than just a podcast network.
[00:48:15] Enrollify is where higher ed comes to learn new marketing skills, discover new products and services, and find their next job. We're a growing learning community of 4,000 members, and we'd love to welcome you into the fold. You can access our free blog articles, newsletters. More or purchase our master course on how to market a university with Terry Flannery at enrollify. org. We look forward to meeting you soon and welcoming you into the community. Again, you can subscribe for free at enrollify. org.[00:49:00]
About the Episode
The what's what...
In this episode, Zach Busekrus sits down with Steve Kerge Co-founder of Spark451 & Jenzabar Vice President, Enrollment Marketing for a wide-ranging conversation on the future of enrollment management, marketing and communications, and higher education as a whole.
For more than 20 years, Steve worked in enrollment management for Adelphi University, NYU Polytechnic, Hofstra University, and NYIT. In fact, his strategic leadership at NYIT helped raise freshman enrollment by as much as 25 percent.
In this conversation, Zach and Steve riff on how the enrollment management and marketing and communications units of the future should be structured, what higher ed can learn from the banking and hospitality industries, and much more.
This Episode is Sponsored by Pathify
Meet Pathify — an innovative higher ed engagement hub that puts students at the center of their college journey. Pathify sits at the center of your school’s digital ecosystem, becoming the single, user experience interface tying together all systems, content, and communications.Their engagement hub elevates the information that matters most and pushes systems like the SIS behind the scenes where they belong, making it simpler for students to discover and engage with the opportunities your institution provides at every step of their higher ed journey, from prospect to alumni. What’s even better, Pathify has a mobile experience that provides 100% parity with the responsive web app, so your campus app is always in sync. Pathify is a platform that EVERY stakeholder on campus — from marketing, to admissions, to student affairs, to IT, etc., — can get equally excited about.Learn more about how Pathify is uniting strategic units across campus and bettering the entire student experience by visiting Pathify.com
About the Enrollify Podcast Network
The Enrollify Podcast is a part of the Enrollify Podcast Network. If you like this podcast, chances are you’ll like other Enrollify shows too!
Our podcast network is growing by the month and we’ve got a plethora of marketing, admissions, and higher ed technology shows that are jam packed with stories, ideas, and frameworks all designed to empower you to be a better higher ed professional.
Our shows feature a selection of the industry’s best as your hosts. Learn from Jaime Hunt, Allison Turcio, Corynn Myers, Dustin Ramsdell, Terry Flannery, Jaime Gleason and many more.
Learn more about The Enrollify Podcast Network at podcasts.enrollify.org. Our shows help higher ed marketers and admissions professionals find their next big idea — come and find yours!
About the Podcast
Zach is the Founder of Enrollify. He thoroughly enjoys building new brands, developing and executing content marketing strategies, and hosting podcasts. When he's not working on Enrollify, he enjoys discussing life's quandaries over coffee (or a good bourbon) with friends, building Sponstayneous (his travel brand side hustle), trying out new HIIT workouts, and adventuring across the globe with his wife!
For more than 20 years, Steve worked in enrollment management for Adelphi University, NYU Polytechnic, Hofstra University, and NYIT. In fact, his strategic leadership at NYIT helped raise freshman enrollment by as much as 25 percent. In 2007, Steve transitioned from his campus-based position to become a marketing agency executive. He has been consistently creating award-winning and results-driven strategies for many institutions ever since. Steve holds a B.S. in banking and money management from Adelphi University, and an MS in human resource management from NYU Tandon. His career-long commitment to helping students navigate the college search process also earned him the Margaret Addis Award for Outstanding Leadership from the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
We partner with the best, to provide the best information.
Meet Pathify — an innovative higher ed engagement hub that puts students at the center of their college journey. Pathify sits at the center of your school’s digital ecosystem, becoming the single, user experience interface tying together all systems, content, and communications. Their engagement hub elevates the information that matters most and pushes systems like the SIS behind the scenes where they belong, making it simpler for students to discover and engage with the opportunities your institution provides at every step of their higher ed journey, from prospect to alumni. What’s even better, Pathify has a mobile experience that provides 100% parity with the responsive web app, so your campus app is always in sync. Pathify is a platform that EVERY stakeholder on campus — from marketing, to admissions, to student affairs, to IT, etc., — can get equally excited about. Learn more about how Pathify is uniting strategic units across campus and bettering the entire student experience by visiting Pathify.comlearn more
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