Selling GW through ads

In the next few months, GW graduate Jose Hernandez-Rebollar’s face will be plastered around the city. Hernandez-Rebollar, who invented a glove that translates sign language into spoken English as a graduate student in engineering, will be featured in advertisements promoting GW’s graduate programs.

The University has been creating magazine, newspaper, radio and television ads to increase its name recognition and attract more prospective students for at least 15 years.

Ads for various GW programs are not difficult to spot around town. The University logo appears on the sides of buses, on park benches and in the pages of dozens of publications including The Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report and The Economist.

“What we’re trying to do is help the school as much as possible to broaden our reach,” said Michael Peter, director of advertising. “We’re trying to get our name out there, to make ourselves known.”

In the competitive world of higher education, colleges and universities are constantly looking for ways to stay ahead of the pack. While schools have always used commercial marketing techniques, print- and television-based advertising has become more prevalent in the last few years.

“Ten or so years ago … very few institutions had television commercials or took out ads in newspapers or magazines,” said John Pulley, assistant money and management editor for the Chronicle of Higher Education. “These days, you’re seeing more and more of it.”

Pulley compared the trend to similar movements within the health care industry, citing the increase in advertisements for hospitals. He said the approach is an indication that schools have become more corporate-minded.

“The fact of the matter is, colleges and universities, whether they’re public or private, are running themselves like for-profit businesses,” he said. “And they are businesses. They have revenues, they have expenses – it’s a big, complex industry.”

GW typically limits its marketing campaign to the D.C. area. The University’s ads frequently run in local newspapers and magazines such as the Washington City Paper and The Washingtonian.

Peter said that while the University does some limited national and international advertising, a more regionally narrowed focus makes more sense.

“We try to make sure that the demographic of focus is the GW audience,” he said. “That’s huge because you don’t want to be throwing money into the wind. You want to be very strategic about where you place your ads.”

Peter works with the University’s individual schools to locate the appropriate outlets to promote their programs. It is then up to each department to develop its own campaign.

Some of GW’s larger advertisers include the School of Business and Public Management and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“Cost is a huge factor,” said Peter, who would not disclose the amount of money GW or individual schools spend on advertising. “There’s a time and place for doing just our locale, as there is for going national and international. It depends on the particular department and what they want to accomplish.”

The ad featuring Hernandez-Rebollar, which will carry the slogan “Achieve More Than a Graduate Degree,” is one of a series that will emphasize the achievements of GW graduate students.

The aim of the new advertising campaign is to link graduate programs from different schools to GW, said Janet Callies Foster, a marketing specialist for Graduate Student Enrollment Management.

“The association is with the brand of GW as opposed to just, say, the Columbian College (of Arts and Sciences),” she said. “Before I came to GW, though I lived in D.C. all my life, I didn’t know what the Columbian (College) was, but I did know what GW was. Part of it is reinforcing the brand of GW in a broad sense.”

While it may be effective, some experts are unenthusiastic about the advent of commercial advertising in higher education.

“I think there is a concern among some factions on campuses that these campaigns are a waste of money,” said Pulley, of The Chronicle. “There are those who think that this is just cheap advertising.”

But the current trend toward corporate-style advertising is not likely to disappear any time soon.

“There’s Georgetown (University) out there, and then there’s GW, and there are all these different schools,” Peter said. “You’re out there being competitive, and you’ve got to have advertising.”

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