Can You See Me Now?

Four schools use videos and other innovative marketing techniques to promote their programs, reconnect with stakeholders, celebrate milestones, and set themselves apart.
Can You See Me Now?


Sometimes management can seem like a dull and stuffy major, particularly to a teenager first thinking about college. So when the College of Business at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond was developing a new recruiting tool aimed at 16-to-18-year-olds, it wanted something that would make them see business—and the business school—in a whole new light.

“Three years ago, we gathered focus groups composed of students and alumni,” says Koshia Silver, former director of public relations and communications at the UCO College of Business. “The consensus was that the College of Business felt outdated both figuratively and physically.”

To give itself a fresh makeover, the school invested more than US$1 million in building renovations and launched a new campaign: “Let business take you there.” Central to the school’s campaign was a music video called “#BusinessBack,” based on a popular Justin Timberlake song. It’s anything but dull and stuffy: It features students and professors dancing in lounges and classrooms. Among the UCO staff who make humorous appearances are the College of Business dean Mickey Hepner, assistant deans Suzanne Clinton and Lisa Miller, and associate dean K.J. Tullis.

Says Silver, “With the video, we were able to take our viewers on a journey. We made the video funny enough to keep viewers engaged, but still offered valuable takeaway information in the lyrics.”

The video was created during the summer break of 2013 and released once classes resumed in August. Decals placed at all the college’s entrances and exits promoted the "#BusinessBack" video and encouraged students to join the conversation about it on Twitter. To heighten anticipation the week before the launch, the university used social media channels to release bits of information and screen shots of the music video. During this same week, the school hosted its annual Business Bash event, where representatives from each department staffed booths and answered questions about various majors.

All the effort paid off, as the video was viewed more than 2,800 times by June 2014.

Response from the targeted demographic was largely positive—which certainly wasn’t a sure thing, Silver admits. “This definitely was not your typical and safe business ad, so we were a bit worried about the type of feedback we might receive,” she says. But a wide range of stakeholders loved it, as evidenced by the answers given to a survey that asked how individuals viewed the school before and after seeing the video. Some respondents said the video made the school seem hip and “super awesome.” Wrote one incoming student, “I was dreading school, but after seeing that video I’m excited.”

That kind of enthusiasm is a pretty good return on a promotion that, at US$3,000, wasn’t particularly expensive. In fact, given how many times the video has been watched, it cost about $1.07 per view. “This is comparable to the price of direct mail and other promotional pieces,” says Silver.

The school is already considering its next campaign. “This video allowed us to break the mold, and I think our students will expect us to do something similar in the future,” she says.

Her advice for other schools thinking about a video shoot? “Really consider your target demographic. What attracts them? What will make them want to find out more information? Our world is more diverse and technological now, and it is our job to keep up.”

See the video at


Earning accreditation from AACSB International is something many business schools like to promote to their constituents, but the College of Business at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith went about that promotion in its own distinctive way when it received initial accreditation in June 2013.

In addition to releasing the usual press announcements, the college developed a campaign suggesting that accreditation meant its students would have splendid future prospects. The promotion was tied to a 1986 song by Timbuk3 titled “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” The school printed and distributed 500 shirts with the “Future’s So Bright” theme on the front and AACSB and university logos on the back. It also distributed sunglasses that displayed both the AACSB seal and the university logo.

The whole campaign was built around a two-minute video recasting the Timbuk3 song as a celebration of AACSB accreditation. The school hired a local aspiring performer to record the song and participate in the video, which also featured recent alumni, faculty, and current students. The whole promotion cost $3,200.

The goal was “memorability”— creating something that stakeholders would remember and talk about for months—says Steve Williams, who stepped down as dean in December 2013 after seeing the school through the accreditation process. He admits that some faculty and administrators were worried by the unconventional approach, so he made sure to involve them in preliminary discussions and planning sessions, which allayed most concerns.

And even the doubters were won over by the finished product, he says. “It was a big hit with everyone, from the business community to the university administration.”

To increase the impact of the entire campaign, the school held events like “T-Shirt Tuesdays,” where the classes with the most students wearing the promotional T-shirts received candy bars. “Students still wear their sunglasses and shirts,” says Williams.

His team has discussed making another video—but not right away. “This isn’t the kind of thing you want to overdo,” he acknowledges. His other suggestions:

  • Choose an opportunity with a high possible payoff. Or, as Williams says, “Pick your shot.”
  • Involve multiple constituents, particularly students. “We were surprised at how our ideas evolved and crystallized as we brought more people into the mix,” he says.
  • Have fun. Says Williams, “We had a blast, and everyone loved the outcome.”

See the video at


Columbia Business School wanted to create a branding campaign that would highlight its location in New York City, one of the world’s most vital hubs of business. So in the fall of 2013 it created a new tagline—At the Very Center of Business—as part of an overall strategy designed to showcase the school’s strengths as defined by four key pillars: knowledge, access, community, and impact.

The heart of the campaign was a two minute video called “The Center.” Featuring circle-based imagery like a traffic roundabout and the human eye, the video reinforces the idea that the school is located at the core of the business world. To make sure all its target audiences got a chance to view the video, the school posted it in multiple places on its website, shared it across social media platforms, highlighted it in press releases, and used it in digital advertising.

As a result, awareness and recognition of the video and new tagline skyrocketed on launch day, says Iris Henries, the school’s associate dean and chief marketing and communications officer. The number of views has exceeded expectations, and both analytics and anecdotal evidence suggest the video has been well-received.

Henries notes that video has become an increasingly important part of the way the school tells its story. “It’s a medium that can be successfully promoted and easily shared across multiple channels. It’s also one that engages people through both sight and sound.”

Other schools considering a video should first define their goals and understand what motivates their audience, she suggests. Next they should craft a clear message. But most important, schools considering this marketing medium should ask themselves the right questions before proceeding, Henries says. “What do you want your audience to know? How should they feel? If, after answering those questions, you believe a video is the right format to tell your story, focus on executing it really well.”

See the video at

A Community of Entrepreneurs

What’s the meaning of entrepreneurship? And can a business school shape how the world views and values entrepreneurs?

Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts, considered those questions as it undertook a recent campaign to position itself as the “educator, convener, and catalyst for Entrepreneurship of All Kinds.” Internally, says chief marketing officer Sarah Sykora, everyone understood that “Entrepreneurship of All Kinds” encapsulated the idea that entrepreneurship is relevant in all types of organizations at all levels, but administrators knew that outside constituents might not understand the expression without a little context. Boston-based ad agency Connelly Partners pitched the idea of a crowd-sourced microsite that would invite visitors to submit their own definitions of entrepreneurship.

Thus was born the website Launched in January 2012, the site encourages visitors to submit videos, photos, or text blocks that contain their personal definitions of entrepreneurship. Users don’t have to be affiliated with Babson to participate.

Administrators knew that, if they wanted the site to be a success, they would have to seed it with a few examples before it went live. “In 2011, we did beta launches at events where we knew attendees would be highly engaged, and we focused on gaining user-generated text definitions,” says Sykora. The school also created a video that introduced visitors to the notion of providing their own definitions of entrepreneurship.

In addition, the school drove stakeholders and other interested entrepreneurs to the define.babson site through a multimedia ad campaign that consisted of radio, print, and out-of-home ads—such as those on street furniture or in airports. More than a year after the launch, the school still points users to the site through paid advertising as well as social networks.

By the close of 2013, the site had drawn more than 180,000 unique visitors from 180 countries. And define.babson also had achieved another mark of success: For the campaign as a whole, the American Marketing Association named the school’s marketing team the Higher Education Marketer of the Year in 2013.

Even so, the school has continued to tinker with the basic formula. By analyzing metrics of the website, says Sykora, “we found common themes in user-submitted definitions, and we used these themes to rework the layout of the site in late 2012. The homepage initially displayed a list of definitions of entrepreneurship in order of their submission. Now, we’ve redesigned the site around eight common themes, and we curate the best definitions to show users upon their visit to the site.”

Babson also is priming the conversation about entrepreneurship through its related website, That site includes articles, interviews, and videos about dozens of entrepreneurs and shows how they operate in a wide range of industries.

A marketing campaign that relies on websites to build community might be unconventional, Sykora acknowledges. But she thinks that’s why it works. “In a competitive and quickly evolving industry, there is a great need to differentiate your school with unique and meaningful positioning,” she says.

“For us, this site serves well as a brand awareness tool, because it’s about the cause of redefining entrepreneurship,” she adds. “This concept is applicable to people with entrepreneurial mindsets around the world, and, therefore, it has been a natural way for us to engage them.”