Enrollment Insights Podcast
Enrollment Insights Blog

Enrollment Insights Podcast #56 – RJ Thompson and It’s Time To Level Up Enrollment Marketing

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In this episode:

In the Enrollment Insights Podcast, you’ll hear about novel solutions to problems, ways to make processes better for students and families, and the questions that spark internal reflection and end up changing entire processes.

In this episode, you will hear from RJ Thompson, Director of Digital Marketing in the Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration at the University of Pittsburgh.

Before joining Pitt, he was a tenured Assistant Professor of Graphic + Interactive Design in the Department of Art at Youngstown State University. Previous to Youngstown State, RJ taught at Carnegie Mellon University, La Roche University, and Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Continuing his career in education, RJ has been an Adjunct Professor of Graphic & Interactive Design at Point Park University since 2019 where he was responsible for writing and teaching the interactive design curriculum. In 2020, he began teaching at the Community College of Allegheny County.

Outside of marketing, design, and teaching, RJ is also the Co-Principal and Creative Strategist for +Public, a Pennsylvania-based social enterprise that focuses on cultivating community and economic development impact through the creation of branded communication platforms, creative place-making, and storytelling initiatives for communities-in-revival.

Throughout his career, RJ has received many accolades for his creative works: In 2015, he was one of several recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant, valued at $100,000, for the INPLACE (“Innovative Plan for Leveraging Arts & Community Engagement”) project. In 2017, RJ received a “Best of Marketing Award” from the Ohio Economic Development Association for his efforts in rebranding the City of Youngstown, Ohio. In 2018, RJ was accepted into the prestigious Cohort 2 of the National Arts Marketing Project, a program supported by Americans for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. In 2019, RJ also received a scholarship to join the National Arts Strategies Executive Program in Arts & Culture Strategy through the School of Public Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2019, RJ was honored with the Ohio Governors Award in the Arts in Community Development, the state of Ohio’s highest recognition in the arts sector.

Recently, RJ was the recipient of a certification scholarship from the National Institute for Social Media and received accolades from GDUSA and the University & College Designers Association for “Pitt Business Backstory” and “Business.Pitt.Edu” websites. RJ is presently the President of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Marketing Association.

0:00 – Introduction
1:37 – Reusing failure to capture success
6:35 – Putting on your student hat to build campaigns
7:48 – Starting campaigns with keywords and emotions
9:49 – Leading design thinking charrettes
10:45 – Even if you’re not “student-facing” you should be engaging with students
12:43 – Digging into emotion-first marketing “Artists don’t want to create art because they want to. Artists create art because they have to.”
15:18 – How do you give students a “why”: Why should they care, why should they take action, why are you different?
19:20 – “No one wants to go to college alone.”
19:58 – Why you may not need, or want, to tell students to visit for programmatic recruitment
22:29 – Students aren’t interested in online education, but what about online with dorms as living/learning space away from home?
23:43 – Professor Thompson teaches us about persuasion using self-concept
28:53 – Want to be a better marketer? Spend more time with students.
31:41 – Where best to use storytelling in comm flows
35:32 – Marketing continues after enrollment
38:15 – Let’s frame budgets and digital spending differently
40:04 – Using proof points in marketing
44:56 – What happens when outcomes aren’t defined in a program
46:47 – How does the comm flow change post-application and enrollment to make it more welcoming
49:11 – The “Helpers” in higher ed and what has kept RJ in education
54:18 – The overlap of marketing places and institutions
57:59 – RJ’s 3 goals
59:26 – Where to invest resources to support students further, regardless of role
1:01:24 – A Ron Swanson appearance
1:02:26 – One thing marketers should stop doing
1:03:47 – It’s time to level up – we’re wired to learn so why do we need to advertise?
1:05:28 – Lean into ABCD – Asset-Based Community Development, your location and community
1:07:24 – Get in touch with RJ

Prior to coming to Niche in 2019 Will served 9 years at Manchester University in roles as an Admissions Counselor, Associate Director for Admissions Operations, Social Media Coordinator, and ultimately as Digital Strategist. Will surfaces tactical insights from user behavior and surveys to help higher ed build recruitment strategies. In addition to the Enrollment Insights blog, webinars, and podcast; Will is a frequent conference speaker and podcast guest. He has presented at NACAC, AACRAO-SEM, AMA Higher Ed, CASE V, EduWeb, and EMA. Will's work has been featured in Forbes, Inside Higher Ed, CNBC, CNN, the LA Times, and The New York Times among other outlets.