Outside firm: UNA needs a marketing plan

Officials gather to hear Big Communications’ marketing report for the university Jan. 15. The firm determined UNA is in need of a sound marketing strategy for its future endeavors.

MyUNA! billboards are popping up around the Tennessee Valley, all in hopes of increasing enrollment, and officials are now rethinking UNA’s marketing strategy.

During fall 2014, UNA outsourced Big Communications, a firm tasked with assessing university branding and marketing, to offer its recommendations of improvement.

Founder and president of the agency John Montgomery and Chief Brand Officer Mark Ervin visited campus Jan. 15 and confirmed UNA is in need of a sound marketing strategy.

“Higher education is much more financially dependent on enrollment these days, and marketing has been ratcheted up to a very important piece,” Interim President John Thornell said.

Ervin said improvements in UNA’s marketing strategy could help increase enrollment after the university’s five year decline.

The firm has worked with schools including Jacksonville State University and the University of Montevallo and has seen enrollment spike.

UNA faces many challenges with its retention rates, which could be in part to the seismic shift in mobile and tablet-based interaction from the Generation Z crowd, Ervin said.

The firm offered several suggestions for a UNA marketing strategy, and determined the university possesses the skills to develop it internally.

Several audience members, mostly UNA faculty and staff, voiced concern about how long the plan would take.

Big’ marketing recommendations

are as follows:

1. “The university marketing department needs a champion, a leader.

2. Develop an admissions strategy that reflects market shifts, like expand its geographical footprint, assess adding admissions staff and overhaul customer relationship management software.

3. Create and implement a marketing budget and an annual marketing plan to provide vision needed to clearly communicate UNA brand.

4. Develop an annual media plan and strategy to articulate the right message to the right person at the right time.

5. Establish a widespread, long-term internal engagement around marketing, because each department within the university utilizes marketing.

6. Determine the ideal student profile (target audience) to govern all marketing and recruiting.

7. Discover and clarify a long-term brand strategy to articulate UNA’s unique selling proposition.

8. Analyze and improve digital experience to communicate the defined UNA voice.”

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” Ervin said. “This isn’t going to happen overnight.”

Director of Institutional Research Andrew Luna confirmed his office is currently in researching enrollment and retention to better implement a marketing plan to gear toward incoming students.

President Pro Tempore of the board of trustees Marty Abroms said this plan should take effect as soon as students step in the door.

“It’s not just the marketing, but it’s the implementation of institutionalizing the ideals of this plan, so once we get the students here we can keep them,” Abroms said.

He said declining enrollment is not UNA’s only issue, but that retention rates needed a boost as well.

Vice President for Enrollment Management Thomas Calhoun said he thought the findings were spot on.

Calhoun said the firm can help with identifying the students UNA needs to market itself to.

“They seem to have a finger on the pulse, and they were helpful articulating who the current students are,” Calhoun said.

He said the university decision makers need to decide two things: who will lead and how to pay for the endeavor.

“This isn’t going to be an overnight thing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get started,” he said.

Thornell said it is ultimately up the university to drive this project.

“We’ve done the audit; we have the recommendations and momentum — we’re going to make this work,” he said.