Clarion, Pa.- In response to an enrollment decline in recent years, Clarion University has just undergone its first semester as collaborative partners in public relations and marketing with The Zimmerman Agency, a multi-service marketing and advertising firm based out of Tallahassee, Florida.
The Zimmerman Agency is a firm founded by Curtis Zimmerman, a Clarion alumnus from the class of 1979 who is very much attached to the weekly and monthly marketing efforts for the university. According to Marketing and Communications Director David Love, a large part of what drew the university to this firm is that it is a young, modernistic company that strives to bring creativity and a broad range of services to its marketing strategy.
“They have a lot of bright new ideas, and also they’re young, so they can relate more to the college student, which is kind of what we were looking for. We have a relatively small marketing department, and we needed some support to augment what we are already doing here,” said Love.
A collaborative relationship develops through an RFP, or request for proposal, which means that any agency interested in doing business with Clarion University for this purpose was able to submit a bid.
This RFP requirement is imposed upon all state institutions seeking a service in order to ensure fair and competitive practice. Nearly 10 bids were made to provide this marketing, public relations and advertising service, but the university ultimately decided to move forward with The Zimmerman Agency based upon the competitive pricing, creativity, ability of the firm and the ability to have a collaborative relationship.
The term “collaborative relationship” is used to identify that the relationship benefits both parties. The Zimmerman Agency is a firm that has a large amount of experience of working in various forms of business, but limited experience in higher education marketing.
Clarion University is a higher education institution with a modest budget that comes with being a state school, and is in need of marketing to improve student enrollment. So through this partnership, they are ideally working collaboratively to improve their respective businesses.
According to Love, there are three specific aspects of marketing where this collaborative relationship aims to benefit the university. These three aspects are online advertising, advertising through social media and advertising through earned media, which refers to publicity that is gained through no cost promotional efforts, such as having somebody influential publicly endorse the company or its product.
A recent example of what Clarion was able to achieve through The Zimmerman Agency was placing President Karen Whitney on the KDKA Sunday Show Business Page this past weekend. This resulted in thousands of people being exposed to Clarion University in the Pittsburgh area, a key market for the university.
The primary goal of this approach is to raise general awareness of Clarion University, rather than focusing on any specific category, such as a certain program or feature of the university. The idea behind this is to ensure that prospective college students in the target area, specifically a 500-mile radius around the university, will at least know about and consider Clarion University when they are deciding on where to pursue higher education.
The relationship formally began in November of 2015 and got up to speed at the beginning of this spring semester. The primary focus of The Zimmerman Agency this semester has been online advertising, including search engine optimization tools such as Google Ads and Ad Words that target prospective students in western Pennsylvania and nearby areas, which have traditionally been the biggest market for the university.
In the cost of agreement section of the contract between Clarion University and The Zimmerman Agency, up to $7 million is allocated to be spent in the next five years. Love referred to this large amount of money as simply “a ceiling that would be far enough up to attract bids.” He also stated that the university has no intentions of spending anywhere near this much, and that its purpose is to allow for a positive relationship that will continue long-term between the two parties.
Through March of this year, the university has spent just over $50,000 per month toward this marketing campaign with The Zimmerman Agency to cover the services that have been provided thus far, which are primarily invested in online advertising costs. This falls short of the $7 million maximum that was allocated in the contract. At the current rate, nearly half of that much will be spent in business with the agency when the initial contract could expire in 2020.
Results of the marketing campaign remain very much up in the air at this early stage, but Love points to several positive numbers in enrollment statistics that may be indicative of successful strategic marketing.
Undergraduate applications to the university are up 16 percent, and undergraduate deposits are up almost 7 percent according to Love. Recruiting for the next freshman class continues through the upcoming summer. With these early indicators, the marketing department is excited to move forward with this collaborative relationship with The Zimmerman Agency.