SimpsonScarborough Adds Creative Division

by Deb Gere on November 5th, 2014

by Elizabeth Scarborough

Since our company’s founding in 2006, we have worked very hard to build a reputation for being truly committed to our clients’ success. We’ve worked on branding research projects for more than 150 colleges and universities in less than a decade and are proud to say that many of those clients have come back to us multiple times, digging deeper as they build their marketing strategies.

But there’s always been a challenging moment for us, that point where we’re asked, “What should we do with all this great data? Can you help us build out a creative concept that brings to life the brand strategy you helped us create?” And many clients have been disappointed we couldn’t keep moving forward together, nervous that something may get lost in the hand-off to another firm or that the momentum built by bringing stakeholders together might be lost.

And that is why we’re excited to announce that SimpsonScarborough is adding a new division focused on developing creative strategies, marketing and communications planning, branding, advertising, digital media and content creation.

Adding a creative division is a natural extension of who we are and positions us to provide an even higher level of service to our clients. This isn’t new territory. All four of our company’s partners have played senior roles in agencies that developed creative. And Vice President Jason Simon, who will head the new division, was the 2013 AMA Higher Ed Marketer of the Year. He led notable creative work and marketing strategies at multiple campuses and prior to that with corporate clients. We recruited Jason for the express purpose of helping the company move in this direction.

We will continue to do amazing market research work and are as delighted as always to work with clients who need only those services. But the research and strategy work we do will now give our team and clients an unmatched confidence in the creative process. Our creative work will not be based on two-day discovery sessions or drop-ins on campus that scratch the surface of our client challenges. There will not be unexpected leaps of faith or ho-hum outcomes. The integrated process we are building will truly allow us to deliver work that leads to real results.

We are going into this audaciously with intentions to do work that sets a new bar for our industry. That’s part of the reason that bringing The D4D on board was an easy decision. Not only has the firm done amazing work, but Creative Director Matt Checkowski and Jason have done that together previously. They developed an award-winning video series on University of California researchers that led to more than a million video views and major awards.

You can expect some updates in the near future on our own brand identity, website, social media and other ways we regularly stay in touch and keep you updated on higher education trends. We look forward to continuing to be your best partner.

Read the press release

Suffolk University applies the brakes to bold new marketing campaign

by Deb Gere on October 3rd, 2014

by Elizabeth Scarborough

Last Friday, Inside Higher Ed reported on a “Provocative Ad Campaign on Pause.” This is an absolutely fascinating case study in the marketing of higher education, and the writer did a great job of capturing many of the thoughts I shared when we spoke last Thursday. But I have a few more observations about the Suffolk University ad campaign that I’d like to share.

Suffolk University is not a SimpsonScarborough client, but I would assume that the very sophisticated marketers at Suffolk went through a lengthy process to determine their brand and campaign strategy. I would not be surprised if they spent a great deal of time and money researching their key audiences to identify Suffolk’s authentic differentiators. I would guess they did not simply hire DeVito/Verdi, their ad agency, and let them run amok with any wild and crazy idea they thought would “get attention.”

After reviewing the campaign, I don’t think getting attention is what it’s about—it’s about shaping the Suffolk brand and communicating the true identity of the institution. If branding is all about differentiating, Suffolk University’s campaign gets an “A.” Sure, they have taken a bold stance akin to the Pepsi Challenge that may be uncomfortable to some, but what’s an institution located in the most competitive higher ed market in the world to do?

The campaign “puts down” other institutions in an attempt to shine a light on Suffolk’s differentiators. I can understand that makes some uncomfortable, but let’s keep in mind which institutions we are “putting down.” I think the Ivys can take it. They’ve been taking a lot worse for a long, long time.

You’ve got to admit that the Suffolk University campaign strikes a chord. It has a distinct tone and personality that I understand is very true to the University and its culture. Suffolk’s marketers and their agency partners seem to have accomplished what so many other universities have failed to do: carve out a brand strategy that is appealing to external audiences, authentic to internal audiences, and different than competitors. It’s a branding trifecta, if you ask me.

All of this is not to say that I would ignore criticism from my new president and others if I were in charge of marketing. But surely, any campaign can be tweaked without losing the core strategy altogether. I would hate to see the campaign watered down to the point that it loses all of its flavor and punch.


How much are colleges and universities spending on marketing?

by Deb Gere on October 3rd, 2014

The Chronicle of Higher Education and SimpsonScarborough recently partnered to conduct a study of higher education marketers. We asked how much you are spending, what your teams look like, and what you are planning for the coming year. The results are in. More than 350 of you participated, allowing us to provide results for institutions in each of three categories: 1) Doctoral-granting universities, 2) Master’s colleges and universities, and 3) Baccalaureate colleges. The official report will be released at this year’s AMA Symposium in Austin, Texas on November 10-13 (register by October 13 to take advantage of the early registration discount). If you aren’t planning to attend the AMA, sign up to receive a copy of the report when it becomes available.


CASE accepting nominations for 2015 SimpsonScarborough Scholars program

by Deb Gere on October 3rd, 2014

CASE is currently accepting nominations for the 2015 SimpsonScarborough Scholars program. Established in 2008, the program honors our founding partner, Christopher Simpson, who passed away that year after a short battle with cancer.  Well-known in higher ed for his work in the fields of media relations and crisis communications, Christopher was strongly committed to serving as a mentor for young advancement professionals. The SimpsonScarborough Scholars program seeks to carry on Christopher’s legacy by supporting the professional development of promising communications and marketing professionals in the education advancement profession. Visit the CASE website for complete details, including scholarship benefits, eligibility requirements and application instructions. The application deadline is Friday, November 14.

In addition to the SimpsonScarborough Scholars program, CASE offers a wealth of other resources for higher education marketers, as detailed in this blog post from May 2014.

Genesis of a Brand Platform: Wheelock College “Tough Enough”

by Deb Gere on August 1st, 2014

Inside Higher Ed recently featured Wheelock College’s bold new “Tough Enough” marketing campaign in its article “Boston institutions try to grab attention with provocative marketing efforts.”

A SimpsonScarborough client, Wheelock had never before engaged in a comprehensive advertising or marketing campaign in its 126 year history. But leadership knew that competing in the crowded Boston higher education landscape—on the heels of a recession and faced with the demographic reality of a shrinking national pool of high school students—meant taking action.

If those challenges were not enough, Wheelock—a former women’s college primarily known for its programs in the helping professions, particularly early childhood education, child advocacy and social work—wanted to attract a more diverse student body in terms of race and ethnicity, geography, socioeconomic backgrounds and learning styles. And while not the primary goal, they also wanted to attract more males. Despite being a coeducational institution for 60 years, males still represented less than 10% of students, a figure leadership seeks to double by 2020. Meeting these admission goals would mean not just finding more students, but finding the right students, those who shared a passion for the school’s mission to “improve the lives of children and families.”

But there was concern that this focus on improving lives was too narrow and limiting. To find out, Wheelock turned to SimpsonScarborough in 2011 for extensive qualitative and quantitative research. Instead, the research revealed that current students, faculty, staff and alumni all identified this as the institution’s most distinctive attribute. According to SimpsonScarborough CEO Elizabeth Scarborough, “Wheelock College is one of very few colleges or universities I have ever worked with where every single person you talk with can recite a portion of the mission statement.”

This mission statement also resonated strongly with prospective students, who identified it as the most appealing attribute in their decision where to enroll and who strongly associated this attribute with Wheelock. In other words, this mission was not only a point of pride for the Wheelock community, but a clear differentiator in the Boston higher education market. The implication was clear—keep the brand intact and market it more. But how?

The answer came through Wheelock’s work with creative firm Mindpower in late 2012 and 2013. “The Mindpower team told us that in interviews, they were consistently being told that outsiders didn’t understand the extent of the challenge faced by practitioners in the helping professions,” said Wheelock marketing manager Stephen Dill. Wheelock had the opportunity to reinforce its mission and elevate the helping professions. They could show what it means to be “tough enough” to inspire a world of good.

Mindpower began the work of delineating the personality, values, promise and creative expression of what it means to be “tough enough.” Anything new involves a transition,” said Beth Kaplan, communication and external affairs manager at Wheelock. “We had some alumni who were really supportive and some who were very critical. But whether feedback is negative, positive or neutral, it’s important that everyone’s thoughts are heard.” This feedback was essential in refining the strategy over the course of the year leading to the fall 2013 brand launch. In preparation for that launch, the leadership and marketing team worked diligently to explain to the Wheelock community how they arrived at “Tough Enough,” the emotion and intent of the brand platform, and what it meant in terms of creative expression of the brand. Wheelock “tough,” they explained, isn’t about being rough, mean or aggressive, but rather about the inner strength needed to work in the helping professions. As Wheelock President Jackie Jenkins-Scott explains, “It takes resilience, persistence, and patience to help a child learn to read, to advance human rights, or to steer a teenager back on track.”

As noted in the Inside Higher Ed article, the campaign is already showing results. While not wholly attributed to marketing, as the branding changes were being made as a full rebuild of the undergrad admissions process was instituted, campus visits have increased 60% over last year, the class entering in fall 2014 is 35% larger than the fall of 2013, and male applications are up 20%.The influence of the design and implementation of the “Tough Enough” campaign cannot be denied.

“When we started working with Wheelock, the leadership was worried that the focus on ‘improving the lives of women and children’ was too narrow and limiting,” said Elizabeth Scarborough. “But we discovered the opposite. By focusing even more on this positioning, Wheelock opened itself up to so many more people. That’s Great Branding 101—focus your positioning so that people who share your passion and vision can find you.”

To see more of the campaign work visit


Data analytics, digital metrics and brand integration just a few of the hot topics coming to 2014 AMA Symposium

by Deb Gere on July 10th, 2014

Get into a “Lone Star State of Mind” and join us at the 2014 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, slated for November 10-13 in Austin, Texas. This year’s Symposium features 48 general lecture sessions on topics ranging including digital strategy, marketing in action, marketing operations, brand strategy, marketing intelligence and more.

Look for these presentations featuring clients and friends of SimpsonScarborough:

Monday, November 10 (Pre-Conference Tutorials)

Basic Marketing for Higher EdTom Hayes, Chair and Professor of Marketing, Xavier University

The Power of Data: Using Research to Build a Brand and Track Performance. Christie Harper, Assistant Vice President for University Marketing, California Lutheran University; Rachel Reuben, Vice President, Communications, Colgate University

Digital Metrics 101: Analytics, Search and Social. Tim Jones, Associate Vice President of Marketing, Clarkson University; Nick DeNardis, Associate Director of Web Communications, Wayne State University

Digital Marketing Strategy: Skills for Thriving as the New World Continues to Emerge. Bob Johnson, Bob Johnson Consulting LLC

Tuesday, November 11

Convergence: Marketers as Masters of the Mix: Charlie Melichar, Senior Consultant, Marts&Lundy; Andrew Careaga, Director of Communications, Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T)

Brand vs. Campaign? Or Brand + Campaign? Balancing Short-Term and Long-Term Goals in Higher Ed Marketing. Teri Lucie Thompson, Senior Vice President University Relations & Chief Marketing Officer, University of Arizona; Bill Faust, Senior Partner & Chief Strategy Officer, Ologie

Using Brand to Build Community: Honesty and Authenticity to Overcome Adversity: Luanne Lawrence, Associate Chancellor, Strategic Communications, UC Davis; Cynthia Hall, Associate Vice President, Strategic Communications, Penn State University; Moderator: Tracy Syler-Jones, Vice Chancellor for Marketing & Communications, Texas Christian University

Brand Yoga: How Far Can You Stretch a Brand Before it Breaks? Ram Kapoor, Executive Director, Marketing and Digital Communications, UC Berkeley

The PreparedU Project: The Integration of Brand, Thought Leadership & Content Marketing. David Perry, Chief Marketing Officer, Bentley University

The Art of Joyous Disruption: Regis University’s “Break-the-Rules” Brand Launch. Soon Beng Yeap, Assistant Vice President for Marketing Communications, Regis University

Crystalizing Internal Communications—You Can Do This! Gregory Carroll, Vice President, Marketing, Stetson University

Wednesday, November 12

Blockbuster Results on a B-movie Budget: Getting the Most out of Your Video Dollars. J. D. Fite, Senior Director of Communications, Agnes Scott College; Jon Milavec, Owner and Producer, Mixed Bag Media

Early Adoption in Higher Ed: How To Be Strategic About Social Media Instead of “Savvy.” Aaron Jaco, Digital Media Specialist, Drake University; Kyle Gunnels, Senior Strategist, TVP Communications

Download the Symposium program for the full list of presentations.


Marketing Investments Benchmarking Study

by Elizabeth Scarborough on July 9th, 2014

I’m thrilled to announce that SimpsonScarborough and the Chronicle of Higher Education have partnered to conduct an important study of higher ed marketing investments. In our work around the country, we are constantly asked if any benchmarks exist regarding marketing budgets, staff, priorities, and responsibilities. Our clients (which are mostly VP level marketers on college/university campuses) want to know how much their peers are spending, how they are organized, how many staff members they have, and how those staff members are allocated across the various roles on their team. A few studies have attempted to get at this information but the findings are hampered by low sample sizes when you break down the data by institution type.

We have been working with the Chronicle for months to develop a strong survey instrument to gather this information once and for all. I can’t say the instrument is “short.”  It will require about 15 minutes to complete. But, the questions are reasonable and can be answered off the top of your head.  You will not have to open any of your budget documents to participate. But, participation is critical. Good data will only come from a very strong response rate.  So if you are fundamentally in charge of marketing at your institution, be on the look out for an email inviting you to participate in the study.  Data collection will most likely begin late next week.

Our industry NEEDS this data so please participate. Those who do will receive a special copy of the findings.

If you want to absolutely ensure that you receive an invitation to participate, please send an email to Wanda Hoath at

SimpsonScarborough is Hiring

by wandah on May 9th, 2014

SimpsonScarborough, a market research and strategy  firm that works exclusively with colleges and universities, seeks a Project Strategist for its Old Town Alexandria, VA headquarters office. Preferably, candidates should have at least three years of project management experience. Interest in market research and higher education is preferred.
The Project Strategist is responsible for start-to-finish project management including maintaining effective communication with clients, establishing and maintaining timelines, preparing client correspondence, drafting moderator guides and survey instruments for qualitative and quantitative research, working with external data collection vendors, coordinating and conducting focus groups, writing reports, and presenting to clients.
The Project Strategist will be expected to travel to client campuses. Travel time is estimated at 10% of the position’s time.  Salary range is $40,000-$45,000, commensurate with experience.
Please submit cover letters and resumes to Wanda Hoath at on or before May 30, 2014. For additional information about SimpsonScarborough, please visit our website at

CASE Resources for Higher Ed Marketers

by Deb Gere on May 2nd, 2014

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) offers the following resources for Higher Ed Marketers

Conferences and Training in 2014

Track sessions at CASE-NAIS, district conferences, Congreso, APAC, CEAC and Summit, as well as conferences and workshops for communications and marketing:

  • Jan. 8-10: Annual Conference for Media Relations Professionals, Washington D.C.
  • Jan. 23, 2014: Directors Debate 2014, London
  • Feb. 13: Alumni Relations in Times of Crisis, online
  • Feb 18: #EdNews: Making Twitter Work for Small Shops, online (Community Colleges)
  • Feb. 19: Media Training Workshop, Naples
  • Feb. 24: Writing for Fundraisers to Achieve Impact and Outcomes, Singapore
  • Feb. 26: Writing for Fundraisers to Achieve Impact and Outcomes, Melbourne
  • Feb. 27: Refresh and Relaunch Your Institutional Brand, Online
  • March 12-14: Multimedia Workshop, Washington D.C.
  • March 19-21: Social Media and Community, Marina del Rey
  • March 20: Best Practices for Online Advertising, Online
  • March 25-26: Engaging Community College Alumni: A Virtual Conference, Online
  • April 2-4: Editors Forum, New Orleans
  • April 15: Constructing a Student-Focused Community College Website, Online
  • April 24: Do-It-Yourself Market Research and Data Analysis, Online
  • April 30-May 2: Annual Conference on Marketing and Branding, Baltimore
  • May 15: Balancing Academic and Athletic Brands
  • June: Advertising & Media-Buying Workshop (also Marketing)
  • July: Summer Institute in Communications & Marketing

CASE Books

There are currently 14 books under Marketing in the CASE Store, with books on branding, assessment and benchmarking, student recruitment and information, and online recruitment. There are also 18 books in the store under the Communications category, with books on assessment and benchmarking, communications plans, communities and social media, crisis management, media relations, online and electronic communications, public relations, site design, web writing, writing and editing, government relations, internal communications, media training and site management. Available titles include:

  • Advancing Small Colleges: Strategies for Success
  • Archive of Re-imagining Your Brand Manual
  • Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas
  • Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 Exercises to Wake Up Your Brain
  • Archive of Changing Demographics & How This Affects Your Business, Today & Tomorrow
  • Competing for Students, Money and Reputation: Marketing the Academy in the 21st Century
  • Archive of Creating and Sustaining a University-Wide Integrated Marketing Culture
  • Archive of Growing Brand and Enrollment through Social Media: Tips for Community Colleges
  • Handbook of Institutional Advancement
  • Archive of Higher Ed Marketing Metrics
  • Independent School Advancement Series: Student Recruitment
  • Integrating Marketing Communication: A Practical Guide to Developing Comprehensive Communication Strategies
  • Integrated Marketing Workbook for Colleges and Universities
  • Archive of Introduction to Communications and Marketing
  • Marketing Colleges and Universities: A Services Approach
  • Archive of Measurement Matters: Tracking the Productivity of Your Marketing Effort
  • NAIS Handbook on Marketing Independent Schools
  • Net Proceeds: Increased Revenue from Enrollment and Advancement—Guaranteed!
  • New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly
  • The Real U: Building Brands that Resonate with Students, Faculty, Staff and Donors
  • University Marketing Mistakes: 50 Pitfalls to Avoid
  • Weathering the Storm: Protecting Your Brand in the Worst of Times

CURRENTS Articles (Selected)

More CURRENTS and BriefCASE articles can be found in Browse by Professional Interest under Marketing.

Other Products

Communities and Social Media

2014 AMA Symposium Call for Proposals

by Deb Gere on March 6th, 2014

Have innovative and effective higher ed marketing strategies to share with your peers? Then it’s time to work on your paper proposal for this year’s AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, slated for November 10-13 in Austin, Texas. Co-chaired by SimpsonScarborough’s Jason Simon and mStoner’s Deborah Maue, the Symposium is the largest professional development opportunity for higher ed marketers. It will feature 48 general lecture sessions falling into one of the six tracks described below:

Digital Strategy
(social media, content marketing, web, crowdfunding, search/inbound)

From Google search, to tweet, to mobile website visit, marketers have to plan for every way our increasingly connected audience is finding us. Proposals should cover cutting-edge strategies for creating consistent and compelling digital communications.

Marketing In Action
(undergraduate and graduate recruitment, nontraditional student recruitment, emerging markets, alumni engagement and philanthropic marketing)

For higher ed marketers, this is where the rubber meets the road. How can we do a better job of enrolling highly qualified students, identifying new markets, inspiring alumni and courting donors. Proposals in this category should showcase the innovative ways you’re engaging constituents to achieve results.

Marketing Operations
(staffing, budgeting, organizational structure, teams, tools, and tricks of the trade)

People, processes, budgets, data…managing successful marketing operations has never been easy, and it’s becoming increasingly complex. Proposals should cover innovative approaches and tools to help marcomm professionals elevate their work and take their organizations to the next level.

Brand Strategy
(positioning, market planning, identity, voice and messaging, integrated campaigns, advertising, measurement)

How do you find your institution’s voice, brand position, and bring it to life? Proposals in this category should cover innovative approaches to developing university brand strategies from broad strategies; bringing it to life through integrated campaigns, advertising and more; and  maintaining and evolving your institution’s brand.

Marketing Intelligence
(market opportunity, web analytics, data mining, competitive intelligence, dashboards, research, measurement)

From Google Analytics to Big Data, marketers have never been more accountable for assessment of market opportunity and measurement of marketing activity. Proposals should cover innovative ways in which you are using data, intelligence, and research to determine who your key audiences are, the best ways to reach them and the results of those activities.

Austin City (No)Limits
(student affairs, career services, the kitchen sink, unleashed creativity)

Proposals should highlight solutions and strategies to answer every marcomm professional’s worst nightmare/challenge: “Can you just … ?” One session will be a repeat of last year’s 9 x 5 Open Mic Round Robin: The steering committee will pick 9 proposals that each can showcase one best practice in under 5 minutes.

Download the call for proposals for complete submission guidelines. Proposals are due April 19.