Episode #17

Pharmacy school marketing and what the future holds

Featuring Stephen Woodward Marketing & Communications Manager, East Tennessee State University Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy
Pharmacy school marketing and what the future holds
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In This Episode

You’ll hear from Stephen Woodward who is the Marketing & Communications Manager in the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy at East Tennessee State University.

You'll hear him talk about:

  • what the state of enrollment marketing is for pharmacy schools and what the future might bring
  • what it's like being a department of one
  • how they're differentiating their program from others
Stephen Woodward

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 17 of filling seats. And this episode you'll hear from stephen woodward who is the marketing and communications manager in the bill Gatton college of pharmacy at east tennessee state university

[00:00:44] Host: You'll hear him talk about what the state of enrollment marketing is like for pharmacy schools

[00:00:49] Host: and what the future might bring. What it's like being a department of one and how they're differentiating their program from others let's meet stephenmy background is mainly in writing. I've had experience in journalism and teaching English and those kinds of things. So I come from more of a, sort of a creative background in that regard, and I got into the PR and marketing side and just realized I really found a love for it. And. Loved crafting a message for an institution and especially for an institution, that's got a great mission and that has a really good purpose.

[00:01:24] Host: Tell me about what you do currently and how you would describe your school and your program.

[00:01:30] Stephen Woodward: . I serve as the marketing and communications manager at east Tennessee state university, bill Gaton college of pharmacy, and we're located in Johnson city, Tennessee. We are a really a unique college. We're a private college housed in a public university. So it's, I don't know of another college.

[00:01:46] Stephen Woodward: Like it, we may be the only one in the country, but we are solely supported by tuition dollars and donations. So it's really marketing is really important for our college, cuz we, we have to fill seats as the title of the podcast says, filling seats is very important for everyone, for sustaining the college.

[00:02:04] Stephen Woodward: So my job is the Jack of all trades marketing communications guy. I do everything from designing and creating digital ads and the campaigns that go with that. crafting social media posts, managing our social media writing, press releases, ghost writing for our Dean and administrators,writing a magazine, other publications, just really anything that falls into Marco would fall to me.

[00:02:29] Host: . So are you the sole marketing and communications person?

[00:02:33] Stephen Woodward: I am that person in our college, but luckily I have there's teams at the university. We have a university marketing and communications office that is there to support us. We have the there's a design office. And so we get a lot, I get a lot of support if I need it. And I think that's one of the difficulties of my job is kind of knowing when to know my limit and to say, I can't really design.

[00:02:57] Stephen Woodward: A brochure as good as somebody else could. So knowing when to hit the brakes and hand it off to somebody else. And that's one of the things that in this role, I'm still figuring out because sometimes, know, as marketing communications folks, we like to control everything and have, high degree of control.

[00:03:12] Stephen Woodward: But knowing when to kind of pump the brakes and hand off to somebody else is really important.

[00:03:17] Host: Do you report directly to the Dean?

[00:03:19] Host: I do. Yeah. in a, stem discipline, are there ever challenges. Communicating Marketing initiatives or does your Dean kind ofunderstand that world a little bit?

[00:03:32] Stephen Woodward: She totally understands the world. She, when she worked at another university, she, she did some of the marketing there and part of an earlier role that she had. So she's got a background in it and she really understands how important it is. and one thing I forgot to add about my job is I also serve as the chair of our recruitment retention and marketing committee for the college.

[00:03:53] Stephen Woodward: So I'm the team leader for. those efforts and just the college wide effort to recruit. And I don't know how familiar you and your audience are about the state of pharmacy colleges and this and the, the demand for pharmacists, but we've seen a big decline in recent years just.

[00:04:09] Stephen Woodward: because we're so dependent on the job market. Luckily we're seeing that kind of, boost back up last year, we saw an increase in jobs and we're starting to see, they're offering signon bonuses for pharmacists, but that's one of the challenges that working for a professional school versus working for a liberal arts college or working just out of a big university is that you're really dependent on job demand for that profession.

[00:04:31] Host: So ,pharmacists are leaving their jobs, more pharmacy jobs are becoming available. Tell me about that situation.

[00:04:41] Stephen Woodward: , I think there were, there were a lot of pharmacy schools founded,in recent years. And I think that we've had maybe an oversupply of pharmacists and I think there's a market correction going on. But that being said,like I said, there, there are an increase in jobs going on right now.

[00:04:56] Stephen Woodward: And I just, I happen to look today, cuz I was doing research for a magazine article and they're offering some on bonuses all over our region and the state. So that's really good news for the profession. So I think it's definitely bouncing back, but I think, that's been a struggle in recent years is trying to market in the face of that.

[00:05:15] Stephen Woodward: You.

[00:05:15] Stephen Woodward: And there's a lot. Every other pharmacy school is doing that as well. So trying to break through the noise is difficult.

[00:05:20] Host: . So how many pharmacy schools are there and when students apply to pharmacy school, are they only applying to pharmacy school or are they still at the place where they might also be applying to PA school or another advanced medical degree of some kind.

[00:05:37] that's a good question. So I think there's around 140,pharmacy schools in the country give or take, and part of marketing, the difficulty marketing is that yeah, we're competing against not only other pharmacy schools, but. Other professions and the appeal of does somebody want to go into pharmacy or do they wanna become a physician assistant or nurse or a medical student?

[00:05:58] Stephen Woodward: And that's, at our university we offer, we have an academic health science center and we offer lots of different medical professions that students can go to. So there's also that, students have choices at ETSU. So marketing, the profession is really important to the, to this job, not just the college, but marketing the profession.

[00:06:15] Stephen Woodward: And thatthat's one of the things that I find really difficult in my job is trying to make sometimes it's really hard to show all the exciting and amazing things that pharmacists do on a daily basis, because it's not always visual. it's hard to visualize. What those things are when sometimes they're more maybe behind a computer screen or just talking with a patient.

[00:06:37] Stephen Woodward: And sometimes it's hard to make those exciting, but, we're trying to think of new ways to do that, but that's one of the big challenges of my job that I see.

[00:06:44] What are some of the ways that you are attempting to cut through the noise and differentiate your program?

[00:06:50] a few years ago, maybe two or three years ago, one thing that we were trying to do is market not only our program, but where we are in our location. We're in the beautiful Appalachian Highlands were surrounded by mountains and it's just, it's a really pretty place to go to school and.

[00:07:07] Stephen Woodward: the ads that I'm seeing online from other, pharmacy schools are very similar students in clinics and pharmacies doing very similar things. And I thought, what if we took some our student pharmacists and put 'em out in the lawn, essentially, for lack of a better word. And the backdrop of the fall mountains are behind them.

[00:07:27] Stephen Woodward: And so we photographed them in their white coats in front of the mountains and the fall colors, and it really came out really cool, I think. And it kind. I think it distinguished, it put 'em in a unique setting, completely different from what was being shown. And I think it helped sell our location and kind of the home vibe that we are trying to communicate in our marketing.

[00:07:47] Stephen Woodward: That was something I was proud of,

[00:07:48] Host: . How many students do you typically enroll in a class each year.

[00:07:53] between.

[00:07:54] Stephen Woodward: 60 and 70, somewhere in that ballpark is where we normally are. We're a little bit lower. Like I said, with some of the enrollment challenges that schools are facing across the country. But, that's usually where we are.

[00:08:05] Host: Any recent marketing wins that you would share?

[00:08:09] we recently just shot a promotional video that I think turned out really well and, folks can find it on our YouTube page and our Facebook page. but we're gonna be rolling that out and trying some new outlets, like some streaming TV and streaming radio, and just trying some new things that we haven't done before and see how that works.

[00:08:25] Stephen Woodward: So I'm really excited to see where that'll go.

[00:08:27] we mentioned competition and demand. What other things do you struggle with in terms of marketing?

[00:08:34] for me personally, sometimes it, and I think probably everybody struggles with this. It's just. Breaking out of a routine. Sometimes I think we get into a routine of just, I'm gonna do these things every day. When I come in and make these social posts or do this marketing tactic. And sometimes it's just easy just to get in a routine and forget to think of new things to do.

[00:08:57] Host: I think it has a lot to do with, you're a department of one, so you don't have coworkers to bounce ideas off of you don't have people that delegate to you don't have a boss with the same, responsibility or department to say, Hey, what about this? Or oh, I was looking at our email analytics and let's try this.

[00:09:15] you have to be the idea generator and the doer.

[00:09:18] Stephen Woodward: That's spot on, cuz it's easy just to get in a routine. And if you're not, if you don't have that back and forth, sometimes it doesn't always, Yeah, new ideas don't always come about. But I, thankfully I do have a lot of folks around me who do have great ideas and are helping brainstorm.

[00:09:35] Stephen Woodward: but it is easy to get in a rut sometimes. , uh,

[00:09:38] Host: Peer networking that takes place among other enrollment marketing professionals within colleges of pharmacy, are y'all very collaborative in that way or not as much.

[00:09:49] I've not, I've been there about four years. I've been at the college pharmacy at ETSU and I've not, COVID hit and there wasn't a lot of traveling. And I've not had the opportunity to really connect outside with other pharmacy schools. But at our university, we have a, Marco com network that was launched in, I think, the past year.

[00:10:09] Stephen Woodward: So there's a lot. There's a lot of people like me around the university who are like the marketing person at the business college or in athletics. And so we are able to work, collaboratively in that way and bounce ideas off in it. So that's been very helpful.

[00:10:22] Host: What channels are most effective for bringing in the students that you need to bring

[00:10:28] Stephen Woodward: On social media, primarily we see engagement on Facebook and Instagram, and I feel like probably that's where most people are. or pulling in their traffic, at least for like a professional school. I do a lot of digital marketing ads, so we've run some pretty extensive digital campaigns.

[00:10:42] Stephen Woodward: And so I, one of my jobs is to track those leads. we pull those leads in, through, through forms that get into our CRM. And then we send emails out and we use things like tools, like student bridge, like our virtual experience and our interactive map to really help sell where we are and who we are.

[00:10:59] Host: just to help bring 'em down through the funnel. So that's primarily where I work to bring students in through. Mm.Do you do like interview days? What kinds of events and things, and is that your responsibility?

[00:11:10] Stephen Woodward: Yeah. So in my other role, where I serve as chair of the recruitment retention marketing committee, that's something that I also have a lot of input in and just helping, work with our team on that is we plan out open houses throughout the year. we try to do virtual, in person and virtual interviews. And yeah, they come to the college, obviously our, we wanna get, get them to the college cuz once they see how beautiful the area is and the building and the facilities that, I mean does so much to help sell. There's only so much you can do with an ad or a post or something, digital, but once you can get 'em to the college and meet folks and that kind of thing that I feel like that's the number one priority.

[00:11:47] are you drawing students in from like a national footprint, regional statewide? where are your students coming from?

[00:11:56] Stephen Woodward: , it's primarily around Tennessee and just, the Southeast region. We also bring in the, students from different areas throughout, like from California or Puerto Rico in different areas. But PRI we have a primary focus. We bring a lot in, from E TSU, from undergrad. And then, also from the state surrounding.

[00:12:15] Host: When you look at, other pharmacy schools and you see what they're doing, what are things that you feel that they're doing a really great job at

[00:12:26] Stephen Woodward: I'm pretty competitive. So it's hard for me to admit that another college is doing good, but there's lots. I've seen lots of good. Just really great photography, great design on landing pages and the digital efforts that I see. That's primarily what I'm seeing.

[00:12:41] I've seen some really good infographics and good marketing points that they're putting forward.

[00:12:46] Host: What are some things that you think that they could be doing better? Is.

[00:12:50] I think for me, one of the most important things about marketing and communications is the purpose behind it. And for me, it's if I see marketing that isn't, doesn't feel like it's purpose driven or mission driven, then I, then it feels false to me. I guess that's my pet peeve. So I like to see marketing that feels like it's got substance and authenticity behind it.

[00:13:10] Host: is there something that y'all are working toward as a pharmacy school?

[00:13:15] Stephen Woodward: Service is really important for our college. and I've not seen that a ton with other colleges or maybe they just don't talk about it as much with other colleges, pharmacy, but we really, part of our mission statement is to serve the rural and underserved. And we really focus on our.

[00:13:29] Stephen Woodward: Community and the folks that are in these rural areas that come to our pharmacy school that are first generation students. And, they wanna go back and work as pharmacists and serve their community, or maybe they go back to, their country and, become the pharmacist for their rural area in another country.

[00:13:45] Stephen Woodward: But that's really important to us. So we recently won the, a AAC P Weaver service award. And our Dean is going to accept that actually in July and it's the national service award for pharmacy schools. And we're just, it means a lot to us cuz we, we do a lot for service and to get recognized for that's really important.

[00:14:05] Stephen Woodward: And it's something that I've tried to integrate into our marketing and what we are telling students about our mission and purpose at the school.

[00:14:11] Host: , that's awesome. Any examples you would share of specific. That you've put together that kind of focus around service.

[00:14:18] each year we do an annual alumni print magazine or a GA RX magazine. And there's always lots of service photos and stories and infographics. And we always try to pack that magazine full of those things, cuz that's honestly, it's what our students are doing. Those are the stories that we're able to.

[00:14:35] that they're working on through the year and, they make great stories and it shows pharmacists in action. And that's always something I'm trying to showcase as much as I can.

[00:14:44] Host: . What do you see for the future of pharmacy education?

[00:14:49] Stephen Woodward: One thing that is really interesting going on now is that there's a big push to change the role of the pharmacist and to expand what the pharmacist can do, just because they're the most accessible healthcare provider. You know, someone could go to a Walgreens on the corner and actually go in and speak to a pharmacist.

[00:15:07] Stephen Woodward: Whereas they'd have to make an appointment with a doctor or, another often another provider. So there's a big push. At a national like legislative level and, to expand that role. So that's something I see really having a big impact on pharmacy schools and that'll trickle down to marketing as well.

[00:15:25] Stephen Woodward: How do we showcase that and show that role changing.

[00:15:27] Stephen Woodward: there's all different kinds of pharmacists, that, even work in hospitals and just help advise doctors and physicians like what they need to prescribe and then it gets through.

[00:15:37] And that's one, one thing about, trying to market the pharmacist profession is that there are all these different kinds of pharmacists. And I feel like most people don't know that. And I didn't know it when I started working at the college pharmacy, there's veterinary pharmacists, there's,online pharmacists that help folks with mail, water, pharmacy, there's clinical, and just all different kinds,

[00:15:57] Host: what is an app or a tool that you could not live without?

[00:16:01] I've recently started using Asana and I'm probably late to the game. I know it's not the most exciting, app out there, but for me, just being able to stay on top of things is a department of one where I just, I have a lot thrown at me that are a lot of different categories of things. If I can't stay organized and prioritize, then I'm just, I'm really gonna get behind.

[00:16:23] Stephen Woodward: So that for me, that kind of workflow management, app has just really been helpful.

[00:16:27] Host: . and if you could go back and give yourself advice, what would it be?

[00:16:32] Host: To have faith to trust God, to be patient and working towards things is not always the solution, but sometimes to just be patient and wait on things is also an important way to go. ,And if someone wants to connect with

[00:16:46] folks can email me. I'm at Woodward SC, a etsu.edu, if they have any questions. thank you so much for interviewing with me today. It was great getting to know you.

[00:16:55] Stephen Woodward: I really appreciate it. it was an honor to be here.

[00:17:00] 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.

[00:17:20] Host: Visit student bridge.com/podcast. Thanks for listening