Advertising Campaigns: Alverno College - Gold Medal

Category 39A: Advertising Campaigns
Alverno College, The Alverno Art Campaign

Contact: Michael Harryman, Marketing Director, 414.382.6169,, 3400 S. 43rd Street/PO Box 343922, Milwaukee WI, 53234-3922

Program Objectives: Alverno College is in a unique market for a small, Catholic, women’s college. According to a study by McGill University, Milwaukee has the sixth highest concentration of institutions of higher learning in North America, and includes two women’s colleges. Alverno, long revered by the academic field as a leader in learning, student outcomes, and assessment practices, did not enjoy this same level of fame and critical acclaim among the general public. Why? Academics and our respect for the individual learner are our core attributes – no final four basketball team, no Rose Bowl. Coming off of a five year campaign focused solely on the new high school student, this campaign needed to broadly market the college and all of our programs to a broader audience. This included the need to expand our marketing efforts to the graduate and the adult undergraduate market, the latter a market we used to own exclusively just two decades ago. The previous campaign, while successful in meeting the goals against the new high school market, did not focus on the adult market at all. To complicate matters further, because of the geographic divide that exists in Milwaukee, Alverno, firmly planted on the historic working class side of town, was heavily considered a school for young women not of financial means. The primary objectives were to:

  • Increase awareness of Alverno and build audience traffic to the college Web site
  • Continue to bring in record-setting high school classes
  • Develop awareness with and inquiries from adult women 25 – 49 considering an undergraduate degree
  • Develop awareness with and inquiries from adult women and men considering graduate programs
  • Represent this highly diverse campus (34 percent women of color enrollment) and create a feeling of inclusiveness that represents Alverno’s Franciscan values
  • Create one campaign that reflects the highly unique approach to education Alverno pioneered (focus on individual, no letter grades, respect for women) while firmly integrating the college’s recruitment brand.

Planning: This campaign effort began with an internal review of past campaign objectives/successes/weaknesses, and a comprehensive agency review process. An internal recruitment ad campaign committee was formed by the marketing director, and was comprised of representatives of admissions, advancement/alumnae, faculty and student services. This team developed the criteria and objectives for a successful campaign, created an RFP process for an agency review, and developed an approval process for any decisions made that would ensure transparency and buy-in from everyone from the board of trustees and president’s office down through the staff and faculty.

Once a new agency was hired, focus groups were assembled with current students, alumnae groups, faculty groups, graduate school staff and faculty, the board, and key recruitment offices. Over several months, our team developed a plan to reach our key audiences, created key messaging platforms, and honed in on one highly original, modular and strategic campaign concept.

Program Description: Alverno boasts a highly diverse campus. From cultural heritage to religious make-up to age and life experience, Alverno is a melting pot and this campaign needed to reflect that. Short of looking like one of those old “United Colors of Benetton” ads from the 1980s featuring one person from every imaginable culture, lifestyle, age and fashion background, the options for a creative concept seemed limited. Until our agency creative, a one person boutique, proposed a radical idea: commission original art from women artists asking them to create a self-portrait and answering one question – how do you see yourself? From this one question, the Alverno “art” campaign was born. The concept is simple really, art is subjective and while it’s difficult to find a single piece of art everyone loves, it is possible to find various pieces of art that most people can see themselves in. That was critical, we heard it over and over again, people need to see themselves here on campus, they need to see themselves in the campaign, and they need to feel this is a place where they belong.

A major aspect of this work is that this campaign really isn’t about us, it’s about you. This college is unique, the students who graduate from Alverno are the first to tell us that, this campaign needed to build off of that credibility and remain credible in the marketplace. Everyone expects the “sell,” and imagine how they feel when it simply never comes.

The tactical beauty of this campaign is in its modularity. We sought five pieces of art to launch, ranging in taste and appeal so we could target young and old, undergraduate and graduate, a variety of cultures and ethnicities, and do it with a palette of artistic styles. The headlines are a major part of the campaign in both print and television; they too are highly modular and can be rotated freely. As we introduce new programs, focus on a key demographic, move into new geographic regions, or as tastes shift, we can add new artwork and new headlines. As the campaign ages, new art and new headlines can be added. Phase II of the art will be rolling out in Summer 2007.

The campaign executions include:

Out-of-Home rotated often in creative and location to keep campaign fresh
Highway Bulletins: Strategic billboards placed in concentric circles around the campus and our main ZIP codes of student origins to launch, the circles are being shifted out to expand our geographic awareness and to capitalize on seasonal festivals and local destinations.
Urban Billboards: Small and midsize format billboards were bought throughout Milwaukee’s various neighborhoods to reach pedestrian traffic and maintain a different level of visibility in residential areas. The art was received very positively in some ethnic communities whose local billboards seem perennially infested with liquor advertising.
Transit Shelters: Shelters were bought adjacent to Milwaukee’s main business centers downtown, on competitive college campuses, and near two-year campuses. The shelters create the feel of “street art,” with a more polished sensibility.
Mall Kiosks: In the spirit of being everywhere, everyone shops, especially young people. The malls, with rotating boards, have proven a highly strategic venue for this campaign.

Television, strategically bought, make us look like we’re everywhere
:30 spots
were created for each of three designs, but assembled with an endless array of custom tags to keep them fresh and timely.
:10 spots were created in the same fashion to take advantage of bonus schedules and web applications, plus they allow the financial flexibility to spice up schedules.

Radio isn’t a visual medium, but it is an important call-to-action vehicle
It wasn’t enough to create spots that referred to this visual campaign, or turn a clever phrase in trying to support the visual elements. So a sub-campaign was born. Based on many discussions with alumnae and students who cited how Alverno changed their lives, how they didn’t think they could return to school but did, a series of letters were written; simple letters such as those from a grandmother to her granddaughter, a husband to his wife, a father to his daughter, a boss to a clerical staffer. Each letter, read simply, with no sound effects, no music bed, no shouting announcers. Tags mention upcoming events, but in a soft, helpful manner. The radio remained different, but complementary, to the campaign.

Print Advertising was largely eliminated, but used for niche programs and call-to-action
This campaign eliminated roughly 80 percent of all print advertising from the media, focusing only on niche publications and used to promote very specific events and dates. Some branding is being done through broad print media such as the Business Journal and local “Playbills,” but call-to-action support for campus admissions events, and industry-specific publications such as nursing periodicals are the major target.

Web and Interactive Media is the workhorse for the campaign
The Web site is the ultimate destination for this campaign. Mass communication simply can’t tell a complex story and move a consumer in thirty seconds, or while driving past a billboard doing 70 mph. We decided that the campaign would best serve our various needs by directing those interested, for any reason, to the Web site. From that point, we can tell visitors about our academic programs, our performing arts series, our noncredit classes, information sessions, special guests and programs, and more. And because interactive media is so dynamic, once visitors are trained to head to, all of our stories can be neatly packaged and told on the Web. Campus visits and the unending quest for inquiries are both handled on the Web, so our admissions staff can follow up personally by sending out information, e-mailing or phoning prospects. In addition, strategic buys for online advertising have proven critical and effective.

Collateral materials, while not mass communication pieces, needed to carry the theme
From viewbooks, financial aid pieces and all of the usual collateral, this campaign needed to continue producing printed materials for influencers, namely parents. This phase of the campaign, enacted once a prospect requests materials or shares her data with us, is critical because this is the point where some urgency in messaging begins. The search piece created is actually a series of “rave” cards, each with a media quote on the back, with a reply card neatly tucked into a little folder. The viewbooks, all larger format, feature art on the cover, however a series of non-staged photos was taken for each book, showing life on campus, real students in real settings, and information on the college is provided in a neatly designed top-down format infused throughout each. Because there are several “sensitive” issues at play with Alverno (women’s college, no letter grades, abilities-based curriculum, assessment as a core attribute, etc), the ability to disseminate information in context, and in a strategically developed manner is critical.

Public and media relations a necessary part of the branding shift
Public relations
continues to play a major role in the campaign efforts. While no one can control media interest and timing, the Alverno campaign launched precisely as a large national and local media surge was taking place. Our office started the effort with a hard pitch to the local daily to consider a deep feature on the college, its curriculum, our push for accountability in higher education, and our national role in the use of assessment in the classroom. That feature appeared on the cover of the Sunday paper the very week the campaign itself launched. From there, the college was featured in Time magazine, U.S.News & World Report, The Chronicle of Higher Education and, via an AP wire service story on the Arthur Levine study titled “Educating School Teachers,” Alverno was featured in dozens of daily papers as one of four national examples of a superior teaching college.

Staffing/Budget: Following a series of focus groups and a campus task force effort to examine adult and graduate programs on campus, the college administration approved the creation of a new recruitment campaign with one caveat: the budget would be no more than the previous campaign budget of 2001. Through solid strategic planning and targeted audience profiling, the campaign team and our agency partners were able to develop a boutique approach that saved tens of thousands of dollars, saved many thousands more on media commissions, and provided a clear vision which helped ensure early consensus and less rework as the campaign progressed. The marketing department at Alverno is quite small, no new employees were brought in, and the agency selected is actually a shop of one with a wide vendor/partner network, resulting in no overhead.

Results: The primary and more logical objective of this advertising campaign was to generate interest and ultimately inquiries and applications. The first step is to fill the funnel. Though this campaign was launched in late summer 2006, the campaign has only been in the market for 5 months. From the very first day of the launch, the Web site visits escalated far beyond expectations, and far beyond historical trends. Web traffic in August soared 50 percent over July numbers, another 25 percent in September, another 10 percent in October and November, and fell off sharply in December when the media was brought down for the Holidays. The numbers soared again when the media hit in February and continues strong. Adult registrations for the Spring 2007 class surpassed goals, actually climbing above goal for the first time in five years. Graduate and adult undergraduate numbers are above projections for Fall 2007, and new high school for Fall 2008 (the first class marketed to under the new campaign) show double digit increases in inquiries over previous years.