I feel a little more tired every time I get a glimpse of your daily schedule and task list, Kyle. You’re such a workhorse and consistent, positive force for change in our team and with our clients. Thanks for all you’re doing around North Star. I’m eager to hear more about the highlights from your second year with us because I know there have been some big developments.
Kyle: Yes, the last year for me has been the kind where you have a foot in two different worlds. For the first six months, I continued on in my senior marketing manager role, but then I’ve been transitioning into a new leadership role over the last six months as our new director of client engagement.
What were the best parts of your marketing manager experience?
Kyle: By far, it has been working directly with great clients, building strong relationships, and creating value for them through solid results.
I know you joined North Star after a long tenure in a staff leadership position at a college. I’m sure that’s been a help in your role with us, right?
Kyle: Absolutely. Trust is so important in these relationships and I believe that I have been in a position that is very similar to many of our clients. I know the challenges they’re facing, whether it’s a Board of Trustees that is asking the world of a very small team; a leadership team with unrealistic enrollment (and fundraising) expectations based on the timeline and budget; or tons of pressure to show ROI for every marketing decision they make without access to key enrollment and financial data.
What I enjoy the most is helping our clients learn to set goals based on data and develop and implement strong marketing campaigns to achieve those goals.
At the end of the day, I really want to be seen as an extension of our clients’ teams, where they see and believe that I have a shared interest in their success, not just what’s good for our firm. I’m invested in what they are doing because I care about their institution’s mission. I care about education and getting the right students for their school.
What about the new director of client engagement role for you? How has that changed the nature of your work?
Kyle: One of the best parts is that I’m getting to collaborate with even more of our team internally and dig even deeper into the value we create for our clients. My new role has allowed me to be in a teaching or coaching role more often, and I love that. One of my strengths is seeing where people have talents or where I can push people to be better without being prescriptive about it. The right question at the right time can really help a team member to think differently about how we provide marketing leadership to our clients.
Being a part of the leadership team at NSM — especially during our recent conversations about repositioning the agency — has been probably one of the most exciting things I’ve done in my entire career. Initially, I wanted to work at NSM because I saw that they did great things for education clients. It has been very rewarding to revisit the vision and purpose statements of our company as they relate to education. This is making a deeper connection with why we do what we do on a daily basis. We’re really providing our team with a vision of where we want to go. Clarity of purpose and vision can inspire our team to come to work and innovate, not just get stuff done for a profit margin.
In your experience and frontline conversations with our education clients, what are you hearing? What do schools need right now?
Kyle: This was already surfacing before the COVID-19 crisis, but almost everyone is recognizing that higher ed, in general, is going to have to change. I think we will see massive shifts in the next three to five years with continued innovation around how educational institutions teach and how students learn. Brick and mortar campus expansions that have been on the forefront for a lot of institutions are going to take a backseat as personal health and safety and digital expectations change.
We’re already asking and beginning to answer questions like, “How can you create an awesome student experience that’s not necessarily on-campus? What could that look like? Are students (and parents) still willing to pay a premium tuition if students are not physically on campus?”
Personally, I see huge opportunities in this space for community colleges to thrive. From a mission and affordability standpoint, there is so much value for students there. With well-crafted messages that truly connect with people and their challenges, we can break down some of the stigmas that have sort of overshadowed these institutions for decades now.
Who is getting it right these days? Any hopeful trends?
Kyle: I think institutions who can pivot quickly and remain nimble stand a better chance of thriving right now. I mean, everyone is worried about enrollment for the fall. Even more so than they usually are — it’s a major concern. But those schools that were already invested and operating in the digital space and have the infrastructure to do it well aren’t as concerned right now.
Schools aren’t sure what things will look like in six months, a year, or two years. They aren’t sure where to invest their marketing budget (or if they will even have a marketing budget). Especially schools that rely on state funding and might have a budget freeze currently. How can they market when they don’t have funds? They are trying to figure out ways to increase visibility, drive leads, and enroll students in unique and innovative ways.
The big tendency at this point is to fight fires instead of sitting down and having a discussion about a longer-term strategic plan — this should include taking a hard look at your institution’s position in the marketplace and deciding what you should and should not continue to offer your students. That’s so important, moving forward.
More often than not, leadership and enrollment teams are always coming to marketing with the same, consistent fire year over year — we need more students immediately to meet our budget goals. One of our clients struggled for a long time to generate new leads for their admissions team. In addition to paid search and social campaigns, we have invested a portion of their budget in significant improvements to their website: stronger copy, SEO optimization, things that will yield long-term gains, and boost their ranking. Their organic traffic and leads are starting to outpace paid campaign results. And that’s so key to strengthen organic funnels for long-term enrollment success, not just small, short-term wins.
What are you excited about on the horizon, Kyle?
Kyle: In my personal and professional life, change is coming rapidly and it’s exciting to me. I don’t see change as scary. More often than not it can be an opportunity for creativity or innovation. A chance to learn and grow as a team.
In times like this, we’ve all had to pivot. I took on a new leadership role at NSM. My wife and I moved into a new house this year. COVID-19 hits. My wife is pregnant and we’re busy learning about what to expect as new parents.
Change is constant.
As I progress in my career, I see that change is the work of leaders — it can’t be seen as something to fear.