Episode 85: When to bring PPC in-house & How to Market a B-School with Brian Connelly

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Shiro Hatori
Everyone, welcome to the higher ed demand podcast hosted by concept 3d. If you like our content, please follow and subscribe to us on Apple, Spotify and Google. And if you’re on Apple specifically, please drop us a comment. I’d love to hear what you think about us. My name is Shiro Hatori. And I will be your host today. And I’m really looking forward to talking about when to bring PPC or media buying in house, as well as marketing and advertising for a business school. And for the conversation. I’m very excited to have Brian Connolly join us today. He is the director of marketing and advertising at the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business. Welcome to the show, Brian.

Brian Connelly
Thank you, Shiro it’s, it’s a pleasure and an honor. And yeah, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you and learn more about higher end demand. John, so excited to share a few minutes with you.

Shiro Hatori
Yeah, I’m excited as well. I know, I have like a few business school guests coming on in next couple episodes. So like, it’s gonna be really interesting to hear your thoughts and the other guests thoughts specifically, because it’s a very interesting topic. And I do have an icebreaker for all my guests, Brian, so please tell me what you love about higher ed.

Brian Connelly
Higher Ed? It’s a simple answer. I love being on campus. So I’m on the beautiful University of Notre Dame campus every day, you get to see the golden dome when I walk in, and the students are exceptional. And that’s probably one of the greatest things interacting with student faculty staff on this beautiful setting. So it’s kind of a dream job for me. And I’ve been, you know, prior to this role, I was in consulting, and I’ve been to many business school, and university and college campuses. So they’re all different. They’re all exciting. They’re all wonderful places. Right? So that’s my favorite part about higher ed.

Shiro Hatori
That’s, that’s amazing. And, you know, kind of along the same lines, can you first start by describing a little bit of your role and how you got here?

Brian Connelly
Yeah, so my current role is I am Director of Marketing at the Mendoza College of Business. And in my role is probably similar to other directors of marketing. I’m responsible for everything that has to do with the way that we present ourselves to prospective students. So that’s primarily what we do. We also manage the website, and some of our communications. So been in this role for about four years. And like I said, prior, I was in consulting, one of my clients while I was in consulting, who is a professor here, well, a highly respected professor was at Georgia State. Robinson College of Business at the time. I consulted with him, we did some really good work became of you know, friends and colleagues. And when he came here to Notre Dame, he asked me to come in and help him and with some of their marketing. So that’s how I ended up here.

Shiro Hatori
That’s awesome. And can you elaborate a little bit more on the consulting aspect? Like, what exactly what kind of consulting were you doing?

Brian Connelly
Yeah, so I worked for converge consulting, which was a boutique firm that specializes in helping business schools in Crete find enroll, retain best fit students for their business programs, primarily MBA programs. That was a startup type venture that was eventually bought by ruffle Oh, no Levitz, who’s also a consultant, and probably a provider of most things that have to do with higher ed. So work there, they absorbed us or bought us and brought us in and worked in their paid media activities, division, consulting in business development, and project management and development as well.

Shiro Hatori
That’s awesome. So you went from the agency side of your your currency into actually working internally? So that’s pretty interesting. That’s great. Well, yeah, I know, in our prior conversation, we talked a little bit of kind of the state of in terms of the graduate schools, or graduate schools and colleges have right now. What’s kind of what are some of the challenges going on right now at the graduate school level in colleges of

Brian Connelly
Shiro, how long do you have? I thought, this is 15 minutes. We have many challenges, right? So but good challenges, you know, the reason why we’re all employed, I think in this space is because there are shifts and trends in in higher education. As far as recruitment and I also interest in programs, right, depending on job markets and types of programs and technology. Right now, I think our biggest challenges is probably just is forecasting where we, where we think the interest will be for the MBA programs, specifically. So you know, as we’ve had translate, we kind of were ramping, like slowly sustaining and slightly ramping up into the global pandemic. And then we had a tremendous rise in interest for the program. And then it kind of dropped right after, where people started going back to work. And now we have a little flux in the economy. So we have all these external factors that impact the way that we position ourselves to our prospective audience. So I think those are the big challenges. And then higher ed, you know that there’s a, this is my first time in higher ed and everyone jokes around like it’s slow to move and slow to change, and to be able to adapt to shifts and in external market factors, you need to be nimble, you need to shift quickly, and you need consensus by a lot of different people. When you’re dealing with in higher ed. So those are some of my biggest challenges. Right? It’s, it’s for us to like think ahead, move quickly, and then kind of make impact shifts that will help us you in a very competitive market right now.

Shiro Hatori
Got it in terms of business schools as a whole around the country. Do you think that, you know, MBAs are a lot less sought after with students? Or like, is any of the demand there changed at all that you know, of?

Brian Connelly
Yeah, I mean, I think to man, I don’t know, you know, I don’t want to speak to everyone, it’s easy for people that are responsible for getting, like selling our products, like, oh, you know, the demand is going down? I think it’s just people’s preferences are changing in their position is are changing. And you see in the news, there’s a lot of speculation about like, what, what is the value of an MBA, and we all know, like, how wonderful it is in higher education, it’s life changing and transformative. But the bottom line, the way that MBAs are ranked, and the way they’re perceived is what you get when you get out, right? Like, what is your outcome, right, you go in a certain way, and you come out a certain way. So there are some shifts in that. I think the international like we’re, we’re always seeing trends up in the international market, because they want to get they want to get a work visa, they want to kind of change their lives in one of the most amazing opportunity markets there is, which is the United States right now. When it comes to domestic, that’s where we’re having challenges. And that’s where we’re seeing some changes in interest. The good part is we’re seeing some positive movement with veterans, right. And we’re also seeing some positive movements with underrepresented groups as well as female groups. So those are kind of offsetting some of the domestic demand. But it’s very unclear right now, I think, from my perspective, even with a lot of data, like where this could go, and I think it’s up to us to kind of think about curriculum, and positioning, to get more people interested in these programs understand, like, it’s not just what you get when you get out, it’s like, it’s how transformative the experience is for you, is, you know, that that working professional that wants to up their game and build an, you know, an exciting and amazing network of people that are like minded, right, and tap into faculty and tap into resources at a major institution. So those are all the things that we’re kind of grappling with there. But to answer your question directly, like that’s, that’s one of the things is like really understanding like the trends have been kind of was, like I said, going up, it went way up, and then it’s been flat. And we need to figure out where it’s going to move in the future.

Shiro Hatori
Sorry, there’s a bit of a pause there. This won’t be on the I’ll cut this part out. But my internet was just tweaking out a little bit. But we’ll get started here again. Yeah, feel

Brian Connelly
free to short line that was really long winded, but no,

Shiro Hatori
I mean, trust me, like, this is off off camera, but there’s people will give much longer answers than you. And I say that in the nicest way. You are, you are much more to the point than most of my guests. Oh, good. Yeah. That so yeah, we’ll jump in here and three and I have a comment to make your so yeah. It’s really interesting. You mentioned curriculum, right in programs and, and working maybe together more with the the faculty, faculty side of the house, around, you know, what, what’s what’s seeing demand, I guess, in your perspective, right, what pages are seeing the most views and what ad campaigns are is getting the most clicks? Do you think there’s an opportunity to do it? To partner and more increasingly with faculty and people who do develop curriculums and certificates and new programs?

Brian Connelly
Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s probably the one of the most important questions for us on the marketing side is to one of the, you know, I said before the challenge, the challenge is probably not as much the external market, as I said, it’s like, it’s us collaborating as a institution, or coalescing with faculty, staff, and marketing and admissions. Right? It’s, we need to be cohesive, because the students see that right. It’s like, and they understand like how an institution thinks and grows and breathes. And it’s like it, it’s everything from the message that the Dean makes about, like, where the future is, and to how we we propel that throughout all of our different channels and mediums. So yeah, I think it’s super important. And that’s where that’s where the magic happens, I think is when you when we’re working with faculty. So for example, we work with one of our faculty to put together experiential learning for marketing majors where they can actually build their own digital marketing campaigns. So my team goes into the class sponsors, individual groups, and then we actually help them build campaigns. And then we build them put up dashboards, and they kind of compete. And they, and they absolutely love the experience, right. And it improves, not only does it improve their chance of getting a job in marketing, and pay digital, but it also improves the faculty scores with the students, right, so they have a better experience. And then the students talk about the program on social media. And then people come to the program because it’s progressive, right? It has an experiential learning element of it. So I think those are some of the ways you can collaborate is like think more strategically, about, we’re not all in silos. The hard part is we’re in marketing. And usually, you know, how marketing works is like, everyone looks at marketing, and they’re like, What do you do, I could do your job better than you. And I have more time to think about this than you. So those are so like, collaborating, kind of builds that relationship with faculty, staff, and internal and external partners, so that you can have better conversations, better relationships, and identify opportunities to increase those things we talked about before, to differentiate your university or college or business school, I guess, in this case.

Shiro Hatori
Yeah, no, this is this is great. I’m learning a lot. So this is incredible. You know, kind of along the same lines, you know, I know, we’ve had a conversation around, like, what are some of the things that are working today? And I know one of the things you’ve brought in in your four years, with Mendoza is bringing some of that media buying house? Can you tell us a little bit more about that, as well?

Brian Connelly
Yes, so the meeting we, we have a digital media buying agency. And one of my experience for many years was doing exactly that, and consulting. So when I came here to Notre Dame, the person that brought me in Tim bowling, like very good marketing, mind, he, him and I talked a lot about potentially in sourcing the paid media aspects. So it was basically we would just place our own media, and take that, those fees and commissions and reinvest that into gaining more, right, like getting more media market, having higher control, and then buying some systems that would hopefully make us more efficient, more productive, in the way that we’re converting through the funnel for our 1111 graduate business programs. So, you know, after careful consideration, and kind of thinking these through we hired, we got lucky with some, like really good hires of people that kind of in the space but didn’t have direct paid media experience. But we put together I put together onboarding document processing plan. And then we had a person here named Lucas who had some experience and he was instrumental in like getting this team up and running. And we were able to, you know, thankfully, it was kind of it was a bit of a gamble. But within the first three months, we were at benchmark for the agency, with our internal team, and we’re saving, you know, probably like 70 to 80% of the fees. Wow, that were Yeah, just, you know, we’re we had FTE, but the fees were gone. We were reinvesting a lot. And and actually, we’ve been able to eclipse benchmark, because we’re just, we have so much more in market than we could, if we were, you know, caught in that 20 30% out of 20 cents per dollar out of the media spend. And then the ability to send some respond and control things very quickly, has shown some tremendous benefits. Wow. So and it’s been a very good experience.

Shiro Hatori
Did Did any of your your budgeting for like specific channels change at all, like the spread of where money goes based on like, you know where you are today? And do you like inefficiencies of before?

Brian Connelly
Yeah, that’s another good question. So we yeah, we were like, if you, if you think about, if you pay someone to generate leads for you, they’re gonna focus on the top of the funnel and generate a lot of leads. What we start is part of this process, we built a centralized data warehouse, we brought all the different platforms into the data warehouse, integrated that with our CRM, slate. And they can talk back and forth to say, not only how many inquiries we generated, as far as like form fields, but how many people are actually starting apps and completing applications and being confirmed and committing to the program. So we started to go through full funnel attribution. And we started to see, hey, maybe, you know, some of our I’m not gonna name platforms, because I just, I’m loyal to some of these. But some of the platforms weren’t converting all the way through, they were getting us a lot of leads. And we started like, have to start to rethink our inquiry strategy, right, because we’re getting way more inquiries than we could almost handle and we needed to call in, we still do, we still need to call them down and focus on the quality of contact through the conversion.

Shiro Hatori
Gotcha. And just taking a step back, you know, and forming this media buying or PPC team in in house, you obviously come from a background working on the consulting side. So you’ve seen a lot more of this in what it looks like for other institutions or other partners? Like, how can someone without your background and experience know when? Or if it’s the right choice to bring a Media House media buying house, into the internal team instead of an external partner?

Brian Connelly
Yeah, that’s a good question, too. I, I don’t I think anyone that’s committed in this day and age, if you’re committed enough to doing something, and you know, it’s the right thing to do, I think you can accomplish it right, with the right, a good, good amount of support. And the right people, I had some really, you know, I mentioned, you know, this gentleman, Tim and Lucas, and we hired three great people, Vasily said, Chase, and I’m going to just going to name names because they’re awesome. And Fernando, but we had a ton of support, we had support from our leadership team from our Dean Kraemers. And we are able to make a very good decision based on data. And based on return on investment, that this was the direction we needed to go. And we put together, you know, you always want to a strategy brief or an action plan. That makes sense, right, and it just made sense. So then we had to fill in the gaps. And like I said, a lot of those good people helped out in the process to get that done. And in a lot of people, we just made some really good hires to support it. So I think if you feel if you if you can put it on paper and say this is the right strategy, I have the right support from my, from my institution, you know, the dean and whoever’s making the decisions when it comes to finances. Right, you need to make that financial case, then I think and we also did, I think you can, there’s enough data out there and information you could get, you get certified on all our Google certified, you can get Facebook certified, and LinkedIn certified. And then you need a programmatic partner. And you need to think about some other elements there. But those are the those are the big rocks are the big, the foundational things that you need done. If you feel like you can handle that. I would definitely consider it. The other piece that the big piece that’s missing. That’s like the science of lead generation, right, the art part where it’s positioning and creative. That’s a whole nother thing, right? Is that you need strong, either need strong resources there or you’re also going to have to outsource that. But yeah, shorts. The short answer is, I think anyone can do it if they feel if you feel inclined, and you know, it’s the right decision. But there are some great agencies out there that can do this very well. And I’m not saying that. And that could be a combination. You know, you can you can try it for a couple years and learn through your agency. And I think in some cases, most agencies will be open to that as like being transparent, about like kind of giving you the training wheels to try it out yourself.

Shiro Hatori
That’s fantastic. Well, congrats to you. Your team, the new hires that made this all happen. I know you mentioned this a little bit before around how you’re actually getting almost too many inquiries. And so you’re trying to figure out ways to create more filters. So you get more quality prospects or leads, like, what are some of these, you’re actually doing that? I’m wondering? Yeah, so

Brian Connelly
there, there used to be lead scoring and non new, knew exactly what lead scoring madness of the person that embedded it, but it has to be used, it has to be used directionally right. So it’s like you don’t want to throw away a bunch of stuff may convert just because someone deemed not worthy from a lead score. We’ve been using a lot of different scoring, though, as far as engagement rates. So when we, when an inquiry comes in the system, we look at the source, if it’s a really good source, like PPC, you know, like paid AdWords, or keywords, we probably just let it through. But if it’s, you know, a display, network type thing, we’ll put it in a queue, and wait for someone to engage with it. So we’ll look for an engagement score before we pass that along to our pipeline team and our enrollment team. So those are some of the tactics like hot, very high level that we’re using. And we’re constantly trying to calibrate those scores, so that we get the best possible result. We also are trying to like get ahead of some of the some of the major platforms like Google, I think everyone is listening to this, including, you know, it’s like, the more you buy from them, the more they want to give you in the shuffle, the quality gets, and you start to get just like a lot of waste. So we’re trying to like work with them as a strategic partner, we were just there with them in Chicago yesterday. And we’re trying to make sure that we get a very clear line on what they’re seeing, right? If they don’t disclose everything, but they will they usually credit or not even credit, they don’t even charge us for like a majority of our leads, but we don’t know it, because they never give us a reconciliation on it, right. So we need to kind of like, triage those and make sure that when they go to the right place, and we understand what sources that they are coming from, wow,

Shiro Hatori
I’ve had a much different relationship with Google. I mean, we’re probably not spending as much as you are at. So we might get a lower Tilsit, lower tier sales rep. But usually the conversation goes around, hey, you should expand your audience and put more money here. And it’s like, no, I’m not going to do that. You’re just trying to get me to spend more money on your platform, by opening up my targeting, which is going to get me more bad traffic.

Brian Connelly
It’s taught Lily me I, I get that and I’m sure I’m we have a wonderful partner or partnership with Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. And we’re using a programmatic group. And I think it’s we do we spend a decent amount, and we are obviously a good brand for them, we take the time to give it back. And I get it, it’s a little different for you as an agency, in a provider, but good luck on that. But I think they, you know, the other side of that, too, is I worked at LinkedIn and their Education Solutions Group. And we always did talk about expanding targeting, because it is kind of a catch 22 If you go to, if you’re too specific, you’re gonna pay a lot, you’re gonna pay a premium to get a small amount of traffic, if you open it up. You let the platform do the work. And you should see, you know, in their, in the opinion of the platform, and probably in some cases, unless you’re really savvy, they’re probably right, like they do give you decent advice, but it’s just hard to let go of that being super specific. So yeah, it’s not an easy thing to buy media, right. That’s why we get paid a couple bucks to do it. But it is good to get reps and get guidance. And that’s another thing when we go back, it’s not. It’s not like super easy just in sorcerer paid media. Because you do you do need to think about those things like targeting filtering, the rules that change, you know, industry factors that come into play. And those are things that you definitely want to have someone to consult with to do if you don’t have experience, because it’ll get you ahead of the curve. And there’s, you know, there’s so many different rules with Google for higher ed, that might throw you off. So definitely do your due diligence and before you kind of take a jump

Shiro Hatori
Yeah, it’s I love talking about all these, the super detail parts of running paid media, so I appreciate you sharing all that. I’m wondering, taking, you know, a bigger picture at the Business School. specific lens, you know, do you have any advice for other marketer marketing roles within the business school space in terms of like, you know, if you’re just getting started, do you have any advice to give to them?

Brian Connelly
Talk to Shiro I think no, that’s a good question. I mean, I, I think it’s be strong, the most important thing I think about being hired as marketers, is believing in yourself, like getting yourself in a position where you feel good about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. And it’s hard work. Like, you probably the one thing I don’t do enough of, and I’m starting to do it, again, is a strategy briefs. And when you’re starting to do something, think about the objective, what you’re thinking about, what is the key objective, what are you really trying to do, and then build a strategy that addresses just that, like standard leads, and then roll in the tactics, right. And stay true to that and help educate people around you on how to meet those objectives and why they objectives are important. Because you awesome marketing and higher ed, it’s like, everything’s on the table. It’s like, from a very, you know, a million dollar digital marketing campaign to like the poster that’s outside of the Student Union. People believe you’re responsible for that, because you’re the marketing, right? For part, sustain, staying very clear, and very focused on what’s gonna really impact based on your resources and your time, and your staff, and the goals of the institution and your goals. It’s, it’s super hard to stay focused, but that’s where you want to live. So that’s my advice. I don’t know how to fix it, like, get there working on it. But we do use a very strict OKR strategy, and we try and adhere to it and educate everyone around us to do so as well.

Shiro Hatori
Yeah, thank you. And I know, thanks for sharing that. I know, I like this thing. You said last time in the previous call that you know, a lot of the business or business school demand is driven by rankings, peer or peer review, or let’s say word of word of mouth. And then also outcome driven. So I really liked how you kind of laid out into those three, easy to understand categories as well.

Brian Connelly
Yeah, those are big, especially for traditional MBA programs. It’s, you know, it kind of raises all ships. When you think about rankings, it not only does it help with student recruitment, but faculty recruitment, staff recruitment, kind of overall positioning. It’s very important, but it’s not the only thing. You know, we talked about before the the student journey, I think is the most important, it’s, it’s in the people that are involved in that is like, we’re shaping people to go out in the world and change it right. So it’s, it’s, it means a lot of things. But unfortunately, or fortunately, those rankings are really sought after, right? And in what what that relies on is how peers perceive you and how the outcomes that the students get the experiences they have in the program, among a lot of other other things as well.

Shiro Hatori
Brian, this has been a fantastic conversation. I’ve learned a lot already. I’m wondering where our listeners could reach out to you and understand some of the work you’re doing.

Brian Connelly
Yeah, so please, reach out to me on Facebook. That’s where the majority of my information is, and I’d be happy to connect with any of the listeners and talk about higher ed marketing.

Shiro Hatori
Awesome. Thanks again for joining the show today, and thanks to our listeners for tuning in. Catch us on the next one.

Brian Connelly
I’m sure I’ll take care of Thank you.

Shiro Hatori
Thank you, Brian.

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