Recently on the Higher Ed Marketer podcast, I had the privilege of interviewing Jaime Hunt, Miami University’s (Ohio) vice president and chief marketing and communications officer.

Along with my co-host, Troy Singer of ThinkPatended, we spoke with Jaime about what is was like transitioning from Winston-Salem State University to Miami, how she led their marketing team during the reopening, and how they used their creativity to increase enrollment by 9% over the past year during the biggest medical crisis in higher education history.

Leadership Challenges in the Pandemic

Upon arrival at MU, Jaime had to deal with the branding, recruitment, and marketing crisis caused by the Covid-19 situation.

But in the midst of that, she also had to learn how to lead virtually during the pandemic.

I told people I had a 30-minute honeymoon because at 8:30 on my first day, I was just diving straight into the COVID situation on our campus.

It’s really a new challenge to lead a team you’ve never met in a pandemic. The academic year was just starting, and all of the issues that come up at the beginning of the academic year in general – plus all of the issues that come up when you’re bringing 13,000 college students to campus during a pandemic – just hit.

Jaime Hunt Senior VP of Marketing at Miami UniversityJaime had to deal with the same issues many education marketers are facing in the virtual office setting.

Individual meetings used to be spontaneous and easy in person as people would just stick their heads in the door to say something.

But now they take more organization and time to get all the technology to work just right.

Too often, it just makes you want to avoid the meeting rather than getting your questions answered.

To combat virtual meeting fatigue, Jaime created a virtual open door policy.

I’ve had to make sure that my staff still understands that I have an open door policy – and that open door looks like Slack. It looks like making a phone call and getting on my calendar to have a conversation or a virtual face to face interaction.

Jaime says that making sure people understand she’s still available to be a resource for them and to have a relationship with them despite the pandemic “has been really powerful.”

Navigating the Unpredictable Nature of the Reopening

Miami University was going to return to full in-person classes in the fall of 2020.

However, they ended up having a five week delay in which students studied via online classes.

No one knew the scope and scale of the influence of the pandemic on higher education.

It shocked Jaime to discover how many students wanted to come back to in-person classes.

I personally didn’t predict that we were going to have as many students who wanted to be back. And as many students who really didn’t want to be back, it was sort of like a 50/50 mix of what students and parents wanted. And that divide has been really challenging to navigate, I think, for most of us in higher education.

On top of the stop-and-go nature of the reopening, Jaime found an unfinished rebranding project on her desk that had been slated for the year 2020 before the pandemic hit.

Prior to the pandemic, Miami was poised to roll out a new brand platform. When my predecessor left and Covid-19 hit, that effort was put on pause. And now that I’m on board, I decided to kind of continue that pause to give us an opportunity to do a little bit more brand research.

Specifically, Jaime wanted to understand how Miami’s pandemic response impacted the school’s brand perception.

Before rebranding, she also wanted to better understand how the pandemic had changed people’s mindsets about:

  1. What is important to them about the college experience, and
  2. What concerns they have about the college experience.

This kind of active listening is an important piece of the success Miami University is experiencing in their education marketing.

Getting Creative

It’s critical to understand this mindset shift so you can come up with innovative ways to still reach your target audiences.

Education marketing has gotten a lot tougher for Miami and schools across the country.

You can’t bring students physically to campus for large group tours or for big events – and traditionally, that has been essential to education marketing.

We’ve tried to be pretty innovative with our marketing tactics this fall.

We can’t have admissions counselors on the road and there’s no college fairs occurring. But we have to get in front of students.

The ways we have done that have had to change because we have students who have “Zoom fatigue.” We don’t want to fill the rest of their days up with more Zoom meetings.

So what did Jaime and her team at Miami do?

They invested in some “AI retargeting.” [I’ve got a post about that here.]

Another cool thing they did was rolling out some “connected TV” campaigns.

“Connected TV” is basically any television connected to the Internet.

Via this channel, Miami placed advertisements in front of their primary audiences by choosing the streaming services and shows that most appealed to their marketing personas.

They’re also looking into more influencer marketing strategies that leverage the social media presence of alumni, celebrities, and staff who’re connected to the Miami brand.

To see more on influencer marketing, check out my post here.

Right now, [education institutions have] to rely more on marketing than the “sales side” of things because we can’t get on the road. We can’t [bring] people to our campuses.

This is our time.

In her parting words during our podcast, Jaime left us with some inspiring thoughts.

Rather than focusing on all the things we can’t do in recruiting students, we should instead focus on the opportunity.

Jaime Hunt of Miami University encourages education marketers that the COVID-19 pandemic is a major opportunity for marketing.

Now really is the time to start thinking outside the box. I know the stress of the pandemic is wearing on all of us. Generally that means creativity suffers.

But I really encourage the listeners to see the future as a blank slate and see filling that blank slate as something that feeds the soul rather than something that drains energy.

Right now, marketing has never been more important to meeting institutional goals.

We are the front door. The “sales team” is having to do all kinds of new tactics that aren’t as front and center as they’ve been in the past. So we really need to be out front and doing creative things.

This is our time to shine.

This is our time to show leadership how much we can move the needle. It’s our time to show [school] leadership the value of marketing and how marketing can drive sales.

Of course, there was so much more in the podcast interview that I simply can’t fit in here.

Please, listen to the podcast to learn how Jaime and the Miami team:

  • Strengthened parent relations,
  • Leveraged print marketing during the pandemic, and
  • Boosted awareness of their pandemic response.

You’ll also learn why turtles make the best pets.

Why?

Take a listen, and you’ll find out. 😉


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Featured image by peshkov via Adobe Stock
Woman with Mask image by Antonioguillem via Adobe Stock

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