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Episode #10

University marketing and storytelling with a VP of Marketing

Featuring Megan Moloney Vice President for Marketing and Communications at Transylvania University
University marketing and storytelling with a VP of Marketing
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In This Episode

You’ll hear from Megan Moloney who is the Vice President for Marketing and Communications at Transylvania University, a private liberal arts university in Lexington, Kentucky.

You'll hear her talk about:

  • the collaborative, working relationship between university marketing and enrollment marketing
  • what channels are most effective at different stages of the funnel
  • how she uses her background in federal public affairs to navigate on-campus politics
Megan Moloney

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Host: You're listening to filling seats, the state of enrollment, marketing, and higher ed. Hosted by StudentBridge. In this podcast. You'll learn, what's working to grow shape and sustain enrollment. At colleges and universities directly for marketers thought leaders and ed tech innovators, because anyone can design a brochure, but not anyone can fill seats.

[00:00:30] Host: Welcome to episode 10 of filling seats. In this episode, you'll hear from Megan Moloney, who is the vice president for marketing and communications at Transylvania university, which is a private liberal arts university . In Lexington, Kentucky. You'll hear her talk about the collaborative working relationship between university marketing and enrollment marketing at her institution.

[00:00:53] Host: What channels are most effective at different stages of the funnel. And how she uses her background in federal public affairs to navigate on campus politics. Let's meet meghanthis is actually my first foray into higher education, but I have a, probably much longer than I'd like to admit career in communications and public relations. I, came out of Miami university and started working in television and radio. both in production and in the journalism side of things.

[00:01:26] Megan Moloney: And, my first sort of big career transition was moving from the journalism side to the public affairs, public information, public relations side for the government. I decided that I didn't want to be doing journalism anymore and packed up and moved to Washington DC and in DC, had a career that took me through, a number of federal government agencies.

[00:01:53] starting at the department of transportation, working on a presidential campaign and inauguration and, landed. Very early in my career at the white house and the white house press office and working as the director of radio and television production for president Clinton. After that, I stuck with the government and worked for 13 years at the U S secret service and another five years at the us department of veterans affairs, where I narrowed my focus from.

[00:02:23] Megan Moloney: Public affairs into digital media and digital media engagement. And from there had the opportunity to make that jump over into the higher education field, where I'm now at Transylvania university in Lexington, Kentucky, and, um, oversee the university's marketing and communications efforts.

[00:02:43] Host: Typically when people come from outside of higher ed into higher ed, it's through corporate marketing and then, and do university marketing. So really interesting, but also that gives you such a great.

[00:02:55] set of experiences having that public affairs background, especially, for such huge stakes, like you said, president Clinton and I'm sure you had some things to deal with.

[00:03:04] Megan Moloney: I was in the second administration,it was a live in person case study and crisis communications. but really anyone that's worked, at the white house really is dealing with that on a daily basis. And transitioning from there to the secret service, it's still a very high stakes mission focused,career.

[00:03:24] and the work that you're doing. Constantly revolves around what's happening that day, as well as the strategic elements of it. I worked at VA, at the period of time that they were also dealing with a lot of, negative publicity and crises, which again provides a really interesting background when you come into higher education, because while you're not dealing with that necessarily on a daily basis, there are certainly times.

[00:03:49] Megan Moloney: At the administration level in higher ed, when you have to deal with things that are, pretty remarkable and pretty,Serious when it comes to communications. And,I like to think that nothing that I've come across yet, and I hope I'm not jinxing myself, quite measures up to some of the things that I've previously dealt with.

[00:04:08] Megan Moloney: So I can stay pretty calm and focused and, we're able to work our way through whatever issue is being presented.

[00:04:17] Host: Let's talk a little bit more about your current role. so tell me, how long have you been in the position and what all do you ever.

[00:04:23] Megan Moloney: I currently am serving as the vice president for marketing and communications. I'm actually only the second vice president, at Transylvania in that area. my predecessor was the first person to sort of bring all of the functions of university marketing and branding and communications and public relations and internal communications and all things, integrated communications under one roof.

[00:04:46] Megan Moloney: And, she did such a wonderful job setting up the organization that I've been able to kind of step in and take that. A Baton from her and continue to work, specifically in a lot of the community relations, public relations,getting to know the folks in our local media, national media and focus on raising awareness and telling Transylvania story.

[00:05:11] Transylvania university is, a liberal arts college in Lexington, Kentucky. we're actually the 16th oldest. institution of higher learning in the country. And we were the first west of the Allegheny mountains. we were in Kentucky before Kentucky was even Kentucky, uh, was actually founded by the, legislature in Virginia, charted us in 1780.

[00:05:36] while I didn't attend Transylvania. So very many of my family members did, including, my grandmother, back in the 1920s. And it's kinda neat to be sitting in the building , I have a picture of her standing on the front steps of in 1926 when she attended the school.

[00:05:56] Host: That's awesome.

[00:05:57] Host: That's really cool.

[00:05:58] Megan Moloney: Yeah, our office, does all of those things that I mentioned, we, it's a really an integrated communication shop that oversees everything from, graphic design elements, web design elements, writing, digital media engagement, publishing just about anything that you could think of. Comes through our office and hopefully we're good stewards of the university's resources and, good storytellers when it comes to letting folks know about.

[00:06:26] Host: In your role what's your mix of. Focus between donors and prospective students, current students, alumni, all the different stakeholders and populations that you want to communicate to when you oversee marketing for a university.

[00:06:44] Megan Moloney: Yeah. actually, that's one of the challenges that I have found. but it's also one of the things that's fun about doing what we're doing for. Marketing the university, because there are So many distinct audiences, right? You have that perspective student audience, you have the current student audience, you've got alumni.

[00:07:01] Transylvania, as I said, has been a long time part of the Lexington community. And so our community is a very valuable audience to us as well. each of those has their own, specific needs. Each of those has their own, specifically. Really,messages that we want to convey, but at the same time, the university has a pretty clearly defined mission and vision.

[00:07:28] our values are something that, all three of those things are elements of the way that we communicate with every single one of those audiences. our. Leadership at the university has developed a strategic focus that looks at what we want to highlight over the next two to three years.

[00:07:47] Megan Moloney: And we've been very methodical and we've been very deliberate in making sure that as we communicate what our leadership wants, that's something that each of those audiences, that prospective students and current students and alumni are all getting that message.

[00:08:05] Host: Let's talk a little bit more about your relationship with the enrollment folks. So at a lot of institutions, enrollment is the one that's coming up with the strategy. For both enrollment and then marketing. And then the central marketing office has, the designers, the writers, they oversee the website and they take direction from enrollment and they, like an agency do what is asked of them.

[00:08:27] Host: And then sometimes it's a little more collaborative and then sometimes it's central marketing, providing direction to enrollment. So I'm curious, what's that mix like for y'all

[00:08:36] Megan Moloney: Can it be all three things, our goal is to do exactly that our goal is to be the folks who provide the services that are asked of us for our enrollment team and our admissions team, because when it comes to.

[00:08:50] Megan Moloney: Connecting with students. when it comes to the operations of running an admissions shop, they are absolute experts. And we recognize that and we respect that. they're going to bring us ideas that they've seen within their world and say, Hey, is this something we can do? And we want to work with them and collaborate with them and get those elements into sort of that overall strategic messaging that.

[00:09:16] Megan Moloney: I would like to see across everything that we do so that we have, again, that integrated way of communicating across all of our various platforms. So yeah, in a number of instances, the direction is coming from those folks who every day are dealing with students. in some instances, the direction is coming from that working partnership that we have where, we can together develop. For example, a communications flow that reaches out to a particular and targeted group of students. And what's the best way to do that. And then sometimes absolutely, it's going to fall on us as the universities, chief branding office and chief messaging office to say, Hey. Here's some of the things that we think as a university, we want to make sure. that students know about. So how can we work that into the publications that we're getting? How can we work that into some of the digital media that.

[00:10:15] Host: For sure. So let's talk recent wins or successes. well, we were actually pretty, fortunate. I, for the first time, since I started here in 2018 and for the first time since I started here, cause we found a few things going on the last couple of years that distracted everybody. But we entered, some of the collegiate advertising award program offerings that were there and we put some of our work in and we were really excited because after not entering any awards,just in the last week we were notified that we.

[00:10:47] Megan Moloney: Received four awards, three of their gold awards, one of their silver awards, and a lot of the material that we put in was the stuff that we had collaborated with our admissions office on. being able to see industry experts, take a look at what you've created and how you've done it, and then say, Hey, this is gold standard.

[00:11:07] Megan Moloney: Or this is something that we recognize as top of the industry, is just so exciting. and some of, for example, I think that we have seen Unlike a number of other universities. We have not seen our applications go down over the last two years of a pandemic. We have not seen the sizes of our incoming first-year classes, go down over the course of a pandemic.

[00:11:29] Megan Moloney: And I think that in large part, that is because of the partnership we've built across the university, from. Our admissions team to our faculty members, to our staff members who work with students on an everyday basis, engaging with them and keeping them in the forefront of what it is that we're doing.

[00:11:48] Megan Moloney: And I'd like to think that a little bit of that is because of the messaging and the stories that we're sharing with them. I would consider those to be really integral wins. If you want to call them to, to the mission that we have.

[00:12:02] Host: On the flip side, what are some things that you all struggle with in terms of enrollment market?

[00:12:08] I think there's so much that changes and. What do you do to keep up, right? You want to find what is working best for your prospective student base. You want to find what's working bus, in terms of retention in terms of your current students, but not necessarily jumping on a bandwagon that isn't going to.

[00:12:33] Megan Moloney: Payout over the long haul. looking at digital media is something that I've been in, not only with higher ed, but oversaw a team in the federal government. And there are platforms that are time tested and proven, and then there are platforms that post. And you jump in and is it worth, we like to use the phrase, is the juice worth the squeeze, Right.

[00:12:56] Megan Moloney: Is it worth the time and effort you're putting into it, is using some of the social media channels really the best way to reach out with prospective students or is it other tried and true ways that you found the problem is. That changes with each generation of students. And if you're talking with students and you're talking to their parents, you have to use completely different ways of communication to do that.

[00:13:23] Megan Moloney: So

[00:13:23] Host: . , a thought just came to me that, an e-commerce brand, like I like to use Nike all the time. They've got, let's say 365 opportunities to get you to buy a pair of shoes. every day of the year in enrollment, you've got. One thing that you're trying to get them to do.

[00:13:42] Host: And it pretty much only happens one time a year, and then you have a new group of students. So let's say you aggregate results for how this one platform worked over two to three years. that's two to three years of the platform then behaviors change , It just, it's so difficult to collect that data because it's not, everybody's buying a pair of shoes every day.

[00:14:05] Host: They enroll one time a year, and then it's a whole new group of students.

[00:14:08] Megan Moloney: And it's really an interesting challenge. It's one of the things that, I think we're constantly evaluating, we're constantly tweaking. We're constantly working with our colleagues here at the university who have backgrounds in student search who have backgrounds in, as I said, the operational side of admissions, and then trying to find ways where we can work with them to take the expertise that we have.

[00:14:34] And make sure that we're executing the Right. strategy for this group and for the next group and for the group that's coming three to four years down the road.

[00:14:46] So what channels do you find currently to be the most effective?

[00:14:51] we have a very robust, direct email. Campaign and communications flow that our admissions office has that we've worked with our admissions office to stand up and that they execute. That has been very effective. Our team manages digital, advertising. we manage our social channels.

[00:15:13] Megan Moloney: We manage news channels. the university's blog and such, that gives us a great opportunity to constantly be. creating content, telling stories, sharing stories across all of those audiences. the digital advertising piece of it, obviously, not a single one of us in our life goes anywhere online without getting digital advertising, from .

[00:15:37] Megan Moloney: A number of,sources. We see it every day to the fact that we've become immune to it. and then obviously the standard, your print publications and dropping stuff in the mail. but then also knowing that, Hey, this group of students wants to get mailed.

[00:15:52] Megan Moloney: This group of students doesn't want to get mail. when you've just started that college. It's cool to get all these things in the mail, but by the time you've now narrowed down your list and by the time you're making your college decision, a lot of that mail just becomes white noise.

[00:16:06] Megan Moloney: So trying to have elements that are designed better, reaching out. Where students are finding them where prospective students are finding them, where their parents are and communicating with them in the way in which they want to be communicated with is part of the challenge. Now, ironically, that's something that we did in government as well.

[00:16:31] Megan Moloney: And working at the department of veterans affairs, , finding veterans where they are and talking to them interacting with them, where they were is something that we, we're pretty successful at. And now having the opportunity to find a completely different audience and do that again is, it's always a daily, weekly, monthly challenge, but it's one that I think keeps all of us invested in and mission.

[00:16:52] Host: Thinking back to that time prior to coming to Transylvania, what were some of the, misconceptions that you had about higher ed and, what were those like big aha moments.

[00:17:05] I don't know that there were necessarily misconceptions about higher education. I like to joke that coming from having worked in government, I went from the world of big P politics to the academic world of little P politics, but it's still politics. but I also think that's applicable across whatever industry that you work in because wherever you work, whether it's in the commercial sector, whether it's in a public service sector, you're always going to be interacting with other organizations and other industries.

[00:17:35] in a higher ed setting, it's oftentimes offices within universities that have differing, focuses in terms of serving students. And, is there one that is primary versus the other? depending on who you listen to. Yes, but from our perspective and a communications office, it's all.

[00:17:54] Megan Moloney: One group working towards a common goal, which is to inspire students to not only come to Transylvania, but once they're here really,throw themselves into the education that we offer and then go out from here and make a difference. that's been really. A great opportunity For me, coming into this is having that interaction with students.

[00:18:17] and a lot of that too also influences, how we're communicating with, for me, it's individuals that, would be of the age that, could be my children. That's not something I've had the opportunity to do in terms of a marketing opportunity before, but talking with students and we have students working within our office who are very much involved in a lot of what we're doing, because they're who we're trying to talk to and being able to.

[00:18:42] Megan Moloney: Walk out the door of your office and say, Hey, what do you think about this is, not something that I've ever done in my previous careers. but I think it makes a big difference here.

[00:18:53] Host: When you look at other institutions across higher ed, what are some things that they're doing that you think are really great

[00:19:01] Megan Moloney: I think that it's important to, when you have your story to tell, you can tell it with consistency that you tell it in a way that your community gets to know you. And again, that community is everyone from the prospective student all the way through the year alums and your.

[00:19:20] Megan Moloney: Actual immediate community of people that live in and around the university. And those that I think are doing a really good job are being authentic to who they are. they're telling really good stories about the people who make up the university, the students. The personalities, as well as their commitment, to the civic goal of, being good stewards of resources when it comes to being a public institution or being,responsive to your community's needs, if you're a private institution or, and ultimately, what are the people who've been part of your community going out and doing that makes our world a better place. I think those that can communicate that and share that well, I think are doing a great job, in terms of that type of market.

[00:20:13] Host: And what are some things that you think other institutions could be doing better?

[00:20:17] Megan Moloney: telling those stories. I think that. W when you have the opportunity to know who you are, to know who your community is, and you can on a regular basis, use all the platforms at your disposal to communicate that. But that's, to me as a communications, Public relations and marketing professional.

[00:20:40] Megan Moloney: That to me is the ultimate goal. and so if you're not necessarily thinking in those terms,, maybe that's a way that you could start to look at how you're telling the story of your institution.

[00:20:53] Host: What do you see as the future of higher ed mark?

[00:20:57] Megan Moloney: I think that's an interesting question because, and I think we spoke about it a little bit briefly earlier in that so much of what we are seeing across our lives every day is this integration of. Digital personalized interaction. I don't know what we've said in our conversation today that the devices around me have heard and I'm going to start seeing ads in my social media feeds for some of the things that we might've mentioned in our conversation today.

[00:21:31] that level of micro-targeting, based on, remarketing tactics based on some of the technology that's out there. That will, I think saturate what higher education marketers are doing because that's, what's happening every day to everyone across the world. I don't know what level that has in terms of its value.

[00:21:57] Megan Moloney: I don't want to say, I don't know if it's a good thing. Because it could very well be a good thing, but it's also something that we, as, as the folks who are trying to communicate to an ever more advanced, some might even say calloused group of individuals who are used to seeing this every day. what level of personalization are we talking about?

[00:22:19] are we trying to put their name on everything or are we trying to say, okay, what is it that our university can offer you as an individual? that makes us stand out from others. I think you'll see more and more of that sort of customization of the approach to our prospective students.

[00:22:38] Megan Moloney: And trying to find that balance of, how much is too much and how much is just enough.

[00:22:44] Host: Do you think that's something that will happen? Using internal staff within the university or outsourced to like an agency model because in a lot of these conversations, time and time again, it's what do you struggle with time, resources, money, it would have to be okay, we're no longer going to do this thing and we're going to take this team of five people and they're now going to focus on.

[00:23:11] Megan Moloney: What we found certainly within our office, Transylvania is a fairly small institution. We have about a thousand students. And, part of what we very much pride ourselves on is being able to deliver a personalized experience and a one-on-one experience to our students, whether that's as a prospective student or whether that's, while they're here on.

[00:23:30] Megan Moloney: campus.

[00:23:30] Megan Moloney: And, they're taught by. are faculty members they're not taught by graduate assistants because we don't have graduate assistance. but we have also found that, in our instance, we have a very talented team on our hand, but in some instances there are times that you say, Hey, we need to have this tool at our disposal.

[00:23:51] Megan Moloney: And the best way For us to do that is to. Work with a partner, work with a vendor or a contractor to bring that in and to supplement what it is that we're doing. I think that's the same in higher ed as it is in really any industry, to find that specialized experience and bring that in. And we've had some pretty successful relationships with folks, who have done that for us.

[00:24:15] in a way that meets that goal, that I mentioned of finding students where they are and giving the messaging and talking with them in a way that they want to be communicated with.

[00:24:27] Host: What is an app or a marketing tool that you cannot live with?

[00:24:31] in reference to the last piece, one of the, one of the things that really just, gave us a huge boost and hit at the right exact perfect time for us was the fact that we worked with, student bridge on putting together our video view book and our campus maps. and then shortly thereafter, adding in our visitor platforms because.

[00:24:56] Megan Moloney: Those went live three weeks before the world shut down for COVID. And so we actually had a platform in place to be able to immediately pivot students who could no longer visit us. To in order to be able to conduct their virtual visits. And we found that being able to have a team come in and create the type of content that we needed out of the box really, was such a huge asset to us.

[00:25:28] Megan Moloney: And as a tool that we continue to use to this day, the other thing for our team really is, the digital platforms that we operate in. We do a lot of our content creation and WordPress. and so having that gives us a place to then base all of our social, interaction with?

[00:25:47] Megan Moloney: and having that tool to schedule and analyze and review.

[00:25:52] Megan Moloney: And For us, that tool is Falcon, which is one of the, tools that's used to do. Social media scheduling and analysis and engagement. And. I think without those platforms, without those three things that I mentioned, our work would be a lot more difficult and a lot,less successful in terms of the way that we're, accomplishing it.

[00:26:14] Host: And if you could go back five to 10 years and give yourself any advice, what would it be?

[00:26:20] Megan Moloney: Five years would be different than 10 years. if I went back 10 years, that would be right at about the time that I was making, the transition from being a generalist, really, to almost having a little bit of a specialty in this world of digital media engagement and,I constantly am amazed at the ways in which the digital environment, even what we're doing here in terms of podcasting has changed in the last 10 years and using really all of these various tools to be able to reach people.

[00:26:58] I think the advice that I would give myself is stay on top of the trends, in the digital environment. You don't have to be an expert in it because there will be?

[00:27:09] Megan Moloney: people who are experts that you can bring in and have them assist you with these things, but have an understanding of how digital marketing works have an understanding of how social media can be a useful tool in engaging and, continue to do the things that you were trained to do in any.

[00:27:31] Megan Moloney: You know of your various ways, in terms of telling stories, writing stories, doing videos, doing podcasts, it's all the same, way to share your, again, your mission to share your vision, to share the values of your organization or your institution. And I think that's what I would tell myself to do is just stick with.

[00:27:53] Host: If someone wants to connect with you, what's the best way to do that.

[00:27:56] I am on LinkedIn. so you can certainly find me there. I also teach Irish dance. And if you Google me, you'll probably find me having to do a lot more with my Irish dance than some of the university stuff.

[00:28:08] Megan Moloney: But, LinkedIn is a great way. and if anyone's wanting to reach out, that would be the best way to get in touch.

[00:28:14] Host: . thank you so much, Megan, for interviewing with us today. This was so great. I love chatting with you.

[00:28:19] Megan Moloney: it has been great to have a chance to really talk about, some of the stuff that we're doing here at Transy. And I do hope that folks will, check out some of the things that we've talked about in terms of our blog and our social media. Thank you.

[00:28:33]

[00:28:35] Host: thank you for listening to the filling seats podcast, hosted by student bridge. If you'd like to connect with this episode's guest. Check out the show notes. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a rating and review and don't forget to subscribe. For more information about the podcast or to let us know, you'd like to be a guest.

[00:28:55] Host: Visit student bridge.com/podcast. Thanks for listening