Your New Degree Program Launch Checklist

by Belfort Group | Launch PR
June 13, 2016


Graduate schools are in a state of constant innovation to match degree program curricula, format and timing with an ever more demanding and time-starved population of prospective students. When a school makes a big move, like formulating a new condensed timeframe MBA or creating a hybrid program drawing on two disciplines, there are a myriad of launch considerations to ponder.

Below is a checklist based on our experience creating launch campaigns for graduate degree programs at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities:

1 iconDo you have administrative support and empowerment?

New degree programs require a lot more care, nurturing and marketing than existing programs which are already known in the marketplace. Depending on the degree of “newness” and just how different the program is from competitive offerings, recruitment can require a herculean effort. Educating the public about why this program is well suited to candidates and employers is a job in itself. Launching programs that are new to the market—and new to the school—require resource and budget allocations above and beyond what is needed to market existing programs.

2 iconDoes the Dean support it? I mean really support it?

In addition to time and attention from administrators and faculty, the dean must be fully invested in making the new program launch a success. By fully invested, we mean making a substantial monetary investment in publicity and marketing to reach prospective students
and alumni.

3 iconDo you have the right marketing partner?

There’s no doubt that launching new programs requires unique campaigns to generate attention and inquiry. Both the internal and external marketing teams need to have a deep understanding of the personas that would be most attracted to the program. Without fully understanding the prospective student, it’s virtually impossible to choose media channels that will yield the requisite number of prospective candidates for the first cohort. When done well, a strong enrollment marketing campaign can build a pipeline of candidates for years to come. Done poorly, failed enrollment campaigns can lead to a lack of confidence by the administration, discontinuation of the program and a negative perception of the school by existing and prospective students.

4 iconDo you have strong media relationships?

Third party coverage of new degree programs not only helps build awareness but also provides excellent third party validation that can move candidates from lukewarm to filling out an application. If you do not have dedicated media relations support, or the central communications department is too busy to devote time to the program launch, retain an outside marketing communications agency to secure coverage in mainstream consumer media and education verticals.

4 iconGot Creative?

Your new degree offering is unique. Now is the time to launch a creative idea that builds awareness and generates word of mouth. When we launched the new MS in Innovation degree for Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, we developed a content marketing strategy that included an innovative idea—The Whiteboard Innovation Challenge—which included a giant sprinter van wrapped in whiteboard material that prompted people to draw their ideas for improving everyday life around the city of Boston. People then submitted photos of their ideas to a Facebook contest page where winners received a smartwatch and dinner with the Dean and faculty to pitch their ideas. We drove the van to high traffic venues and engaged with people around the city, all the while capturing leads and distributing program information. This particular campaign, along with many additional campaign tactics, filled the inaugural class in just four months and led to a double-sized cohort in year two.

6 iconHave you conducted market research?

Understanding the marketplace, trends in employment and education, and the emotional drivers of your audience is vital to developing new degree programs. To be competitive, if your program is priced above comparable schools by as little as 10-20% without any real differentiators to support the higher price , it could mean the difference between a successful or unsuccessful launch. In addition, if you are unsure of what benefits prospective students are seeking and you are communicating the wrong benefits— campaign performance will be negatively impacted.And that is why market research is essential prior to launching any new program.

7 iconDo You Have Enough Time?

It always seems that no matter how much time you have to launch a new program, marketing always feels up against the deadline. Yes, the first class is coming right up, but so is the next class and the one after that. Take a step back and reflect on what you’ve created to make sure it accomplishes your goal—attracting students to a new program. Also take a look at typical timeframes for consideration by prospective students, which are typically 18 months or more. If your program is not a perfectly suited match to needs in the marketplace, you may need the full 18 months to recruit the first cohort.

8 iconAre your web pages optimized and mobile friendly?

Strong landing pages have a significant impact on time-on-site as well as conversion metrics. If a candidate is visiting your landing pages from a cell phone and the pages are not mobile friendly, you will most likely miss the recruitment opportunity since consumer attention spans are so short. In addition, all pages must be SEO friendly to improve search marketing performance. Be sure to provide candidates with great information and content about the new program on a regular content update schedule to help get excited about enrolling.

9 iconDo you have process measures?

Surprisingly, many organizations do not have an intermediate step between interest (visiting a website) and ultimate conversion (filling out an application). To help filter “lean forward” candidates (those likely to apply) from the more passive “lean back” candidates, we always create downloadable forms featuring all the key program information , as well as other content assets like guidebooks or webinar recordings . By collecting information on leads as a process measure, you can then include those leads in a nurturing campaign and also tie the thread from campaign traffic to leads to applications.

10 iconHave you nurtured your leads?

With lead capture mechanisms in place, you now have the opportunity to regularly send content and information to prospective candidates. We always develop custom content that is engaging, entertaining and/or informative and then create regular editorial calendars for content delivery to candidates. We also leverage preferred communications formats, whether that is email, phone or text messaging. This helps to ensure that you stay in the consideration set and brings candidates further down the proverbial funnel from awareness to consideration to conversion.

If you answered “No” to three or more of these questions, you’re a “C-” or below.
Reach out and schedule a call – we’d be happy to provide you with some free advice. Email connect@thebelfortgroup.com

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