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How to Tell if your Higher Education Marketing Agency is Worth it in 2024

How to Tell if your Higher Education Marketing Agency is Worth it in 2024
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It's that time of year again...budget season (which seemingly never ends). And one of the biggest expenses on your ledger sheet happens to be the most difficult to evaluate: Your marketing agency. Here's a guide to help you decide if this key working relationship is working as well as it should be before you pay for another year.

Do you know that your marketing is working before your marketing agency tells you?

Most agencies are great at selling themselves and their work–and that extends to the work they’re doing for you. If they aren’t sending you clear data reports or maintaining easy-to-navigate data dashboards for your team, that’s a red flag.

Another red flag? If your agency is not operating ads, SEO activities, and data analytics out of your own institutional accounts. 

If they aren’t using your accounts, then they can pull out with all your data and marketing infrastructure. More importantly, however, it keeps your data hidden in their ivory towers. You should be able to see, in real time, how their marketing efforts are performing; and their set-up should be clear enough that you don’t have to grill them every time you want to understand their UTM structure. 

The reality is, between comprehensive UTM tagging and advanced tools like Google Looker Studio, you should never feel left in the dark.

Does your agency tie its efforts to enrollments?

An agency can’t be responsible for everything, and they shouldn’t be. Usually they are accountable to those top-of-funnel engagement metrics that can be tied directly to marketing. Impressions, pageviews, clicks, and lead generation are the areas where they should excel.

However, over time, you should see those specific interactions turn into enrollments. Their campaigns should be building a base of engaged contacts, applications, and enrollments multiple classes ahead. If they aren’t, then you probably have one of two problems:

  1. Your admissions team/website is dropping the ball when it comes to converting enrollments
  2. Your ad agency is generating useless traffic that doesn’t fit your ideal student profile

It’s not always easy to figure out which of these is true. However, an agency should be able to evaluate the strengths of your institution and target students that want what you offer. If it feels impossible to move your leads down your funnel, then there’s a good chance they aren’t prospects who fit seamlessly with your educational offerings and school culture. That’s a failure on the part of your marketing agency, and you need to address it.

And if you need help linking specific marketing campaigns to enrollments, Halda can help. We offer seamless integrations between marketing campaigns, lead capture, and CRM data, so that you can see how every dollar you spend leads to enrolled students. It’s the kind of data visibility that makes it easy to hold your higher ed marketing agency accountable.

Is your agency prioritizing quality over quantity?

There was a time when quantity was king in the higher ed marketing world. There was a formula: You put a certain number of names into the marketing engine and you’d get a certain number of enrollments out. It was predictable, stable, and schools were willing to pay lots of money to agencies to keep that engine running.

Now, thanks to a number of factors, things are suddenly different. Less standardized testing and tougher privacy laws, make it much harder to get high-quality leads via list-buying. And the Enrollment Cliff also isn’t helping an already difficult situation. 

The fact is, buying huge batches of names and pumping them into the marketing flow was never particularly efficient, but now it’s also ineffective. In fact, that age-old strategy is yielding around 70% fewer students at even higher price points.

In this brave new higher ed marketing landscape, more prospects are doing their own research, and more are being stealthy about it. Gen Z is 25% less likely to meet with a school before applying compared to Gen X and Millennials. That’s probably why, according to Halda’s in-house research, 38% of applications today are stealth applications–applications submitted by prospects that schools have had no contact with–and that number only projects to increase.

So what does all this mean? Look, pumping prospects into the top of your funnel will always be important, but traffic from paid ads is more expensive to drive and less likely to convert. For maximum efficiency and effectiveness, optimizing the experience for your organic traffic is the key to success. 

They’ve already arrived, curious and motivated, on your front porch. Creating an inviting, personalized website encourages them to knock on the door and get to know you better. 

That focus on the student experience for organic traffic, rather than just pumping your top-of-funnel numbers and hoping for students, is the new formula for enrollment sustainability. Your agency should be building that infrastructure.

Is your marketing agency always at your service?

We’re not saying marketing agencies need to be everything, everywhere, all at once for higher education. They still deserve to sleep like everyone else. However, even though they command a lot of resources, the responsibility to deliver is still yours. You deserve transparency and–most importantly–consistency.

You need to have regular check-ins that show the real data picture. If things aren’t going well, your agency needs to communicate with you well before a hiccup or trend becomes an existential problem for your school. And if they aren’t willing to stay flexible, hear your point of view, and respond to the market efficiently, then you’re the one who's going to take the fall for their incompetence.

Ultimately, what they know, you should know. And it shouldn’t be hard to get them on the schedule to tell you how things are really going.

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