Ask The CMO: How The CMO of Georgetown’s Business School Navigates Higher Education Marketing

Engagement Strategies


Welcome to our second interview in the latest edition of Marketo’s Q&A Series with Mashable—“Ask the CMO: Lessons Learned.” I found this interview particularly compelling because it tackles an industry that people don’t historically think of as requiring a lot of marketing—education.

If you have a great school name—like this edition’s interview subject, Chris M. Kormis, CMO of the Georgetown McDonough School of Business—students will always want to apply and attend, right? To an extent, but in an increasingly noisy digital world, everybody—including premier education institutions—has to compete for attention.

What you’ll learn from Chris is that the education industry, and specifically higher education, has been inherently changed by the growth of digital. Like all other vertical markets, digital is now the central thing that education marketers need to use to ensure their institution stays relevant and continues to grow. As we heard in the interview with Charlie Metzger of the Detroit Pistons, it doesn’t matter if you’re selling tickets, products, or an education; everyone needs to think about ongoing engagement—it is the key to the new era of marketing. And as Chris reminds us, this digital era doesn’t give us permission to forget about the human element of what we do.

Emotional engagement is still ever-present, especially in the world of marketing automation—no matter what your industry. How does digital become the thread that ties it all together?

Read on to find out more.

The following interview originally appeared on Mashable


Over the past two decades, higher education marketers have greatly transformed the methods they use to contact and inform potential students, parents and alumni. Whereas past higher ed. touch-points were based around direct mail and live events, today’s higher professionals need to also incorporate email, mobile, webinars and social media into the marketing mix.

While they build out multi-platform marketing strategies, university CMOs are also tasked with beating the competition. Today, the battle between schools to attract students is as competitive as the college admissions process.

To get a feel for how drastically academic marketing has evolved, we spoke with Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business’ CMO, Chris M. Kormis about what she’s learned after two decades in higher ed. — and how she and Georgetown are communicating with an increasingly digitally savvy and globalized audience.

Q&A with Chris M. Kormis, CMO of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business

1. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self that pertains to your career in marketing, what would it be?

If I could travel back in time, I would tell my younger self to speak up and share my ideas — even to those in higher roles.

2. What’s the most unexpectedly important skill from your past that you’ve found plays into your success?

Be nice. Be honest. Work hard. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Pinkie, taught me those three rules, and I live by them every day.

3. You spent nearly 20 years at George Washington University before decamping for Georgetown. How has higher education marketing changed since you started at GWU, and how has it changed while you’ve been at Georgetown?

Technology changed marketing over the last 20 years. There are more engagement opportunities, and they call for operating at a substantially faster pace. At first, digital communications operated alongside traditional media outlets, like newspapers, radio and television. Media channels have redefined themselves over the years.

We still have newspapers, but we also receive news online. We listen to local radio stations, but we also listen to Pandora and other online music providers. As the delivery of information has changed, we need to adapt to this changing environment. Now, we are able to better define our audiences and send them targeted and re-targeted messages. Plus, we have the tools to measure the effectiveness of our campaigns.

News is immediate now. Two decades ago, we would publish school news once or twice a month in a newspaper. Today, our audiences want their news as it happens. Our websites now enable us to push out news immediately. We still need to gather, sort, and report, but we can report it faster.

4. What are the three biggest trends that you see in higher education marketing today? What’s unique about marketing for a post-graduate degree?

  • Targeted newsletters are providing readers with the content they want to read.
  • Re-marketing to prospective students who have clicked on our ads or visited our website helps maximize ad dollars.
  • In-person information sessions are highly valuable. People still want to talk to other people — face-to-face. Technology will not replace personal interactions.

When you market an undergraduate program, you basically have two really different audiences: 16- to 18-year-old high school students and their 40- to 50-year-old parents. Those two groups like to receive their information in very different ways. When you market for a post-graduate degree, you can better define your audience and develop targeted messages for them, enabling your program to attract and build a diverse global class.

5. Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business is one of the top business schools in the country. Why do you still need a marketing strategy? What business problem are you trying to solve — won’t MBA candidates apply to you regardless?

All brands—both well-known and new—need marketing. This is especially true in higher education, where we add new audiences every year as students explore how they will achieve their career goals.

Post-graduate education is a competitive marketplace, offering different types of programs and experiences. Prospective students are savvy about what they are seeking in a graduate program. It’s important for Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business to tell its story about providing transformational experiences to educate and develop principled leadership — with a global mindset to be in service to business and society. If that’s a match for what prospective students are seeking, then both the school and the student will be successful.

6. A lot of people don’t always associate data, metrics and algorithms with academic marketing. Can you discuss why higher ed. CMOs need to leverage technology just as much as, say, retail CMOs do? What can higher ed. CMOs glean from technology-infused marketing?

Higher education CMOs have a duty to responsibly use the university’s funds wisely. We don’t have the large budgets found in the for-profit world, yet we still need to target our audience and share our message to attract students. Technology can help us measure our results and quickly adjust our plans so we are not wasting dollars.

7. As you mentioned above, print is far from dead when it comes to higher ed. marketing. In fact, you said, it’s one of the more effective ways to target students and their parents. How do you create a compelling print marketing strategy in 2015 and how does it tie into your digital strategy?

We still print view books and an alumni magazine because people ask for them and read them. Our view books contain fewer pages than they did in the past because we post a lot of the detailed information online. When prospective students attend a college or graduate school fair, they want a takeaway that tells them about the school and its programs. Later, when they leave the fair and look through their stack of promotional materials, they want to see your school there and to have it stand out, or it could be forgotten.

For our magazine, we print two issues a year and mail them to all of the school’s alumni. This is a personal way of contacting each alumnus as they remove the magazine from their mailbox and set it aside to read later. When they pick it up again, the school has reached them again. This happens until they finish with the issue. This contact is important. People touch and use magazines and other printed materials. They’re lasting, unlike emails, which are often deleted before they’re ever opened.

8. One of the distinct aspects of B-school marketing, as you mentioned, is that you’re not only talking to wide-eyed students — you’re also talking to mid-career professionals who have very specific goals and requirements, as well as alumni and donors. What tools do you use to reach them, how do you engage each group and how do you keep the conversation going?

We communicate through multiple channels: publications, advertising, digital communications, dynamic website content, social media and press outreach. One of the most effective ways to communicate, though, is still face-to-face discussion. Georgetown McDonough’s Office of Alumni and External Relations reports up to me. Our assistant dean for that area, Justine Schaffner, has developed deep connections with our alumni to engage them in our efforts to recruit students, bring in career opportunities and financially support the school’s initiatives. This is a high-touch strategy that is critical in higher education.

9. How do you bring your social and digital initiatives to a live audience, and how does Georgetown University McDonough School of Business differentiate itself from other B-schools? Can you describe a particularly successful social or live initiative?

I am active on Twitter, and social media is a big part of our engagement strategy. Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business is distinguishing itself as the premier destination for global business education through its classroom content, experiential learning, faculty experiences and interactions with alumni from around the world.

We engage our students and alumni through social media every day through our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and YouTube content. One of our most successful campaigns is our Global Business Experience Photo Contest during which our students post photos from their consulting projects abroad on Instagram. We then publicize the contest and invite people to vote. The photos with the most votes win, and then we share the winners again via social media. It’s a great way to interact with people on social media and to share our students’ global experiences.

10. How will higher ed. marketing change in the next decade? Will we see less live events and more mobile interactions? Less traditional ad placements and more targeted social campaigns?

We will always need live events — at the school as well as around the world to reach our global audience. Nothing replaces human interactions. We also will continue to see increased mobile engagement through interactive social media, webinars and online chats. Advertising still plays a role, but it needs to appear where the audience is online and be creative to engage prospective students.

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