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Case Briefs and Resources

Case Briefs from Your Peers to Help You Take the Next Step  

The following case briefs are tried and true examples of successful marketing initiatives undertaken by your peer institutions.  Each brief is approximately two pages and offers advice on how you can better market your program.  You are free to contact the representatives who have offered the case briefs to learn more about their initiative and how it could work for your school.


Using GRE Test Lists to Search, Find and Contact Prospective Students:  George Mason University


The GRE Search Service is a direct marketing recruitment tool and has been used to enhance and complement our other traditional recruitment tools. We use these GRE lists because they are a relatively inexpensive way to "hit" many students at once. The Search Service can be used to target a specific audience, mail search output promptly, personalize and customize mailings, send the right message, make application materials, respond promptly to inquiries from prospective students, and continue to communicate with prospective students who have been accepted.


We find that this service is effective, even though there is a slight cost to using it.  There is an annual participation fee of $200 for using the GRE Search Service; users also pay per name for results that are generated. The first set of output is 29 cents per name, additional sets of output are 13 cents per name. There is also a charge of 6 cents per name when rosters are ordered, plus the cost of shipping.


Action Items

  • Register and use the GRE Search Service.
    • Start by visiting the GRE Search Service at https://gresearch.ets.org/gress/. From here, you can register a new account or log into an existing one. If you are registering a new account, click on the “Not Registered?” link from the login screen. You will need to read and accept the terms and conditions in order to create a new account and perform online volume projections. You will then be prompted to provide some basic information, such as your name, your GRE institution code, e-mail address, and mailing address. It will take one to three business days to approve your account and to send your user name and password via e-mail.
    • Once registered, in order to participate in the search service, you will first fill out the request report by selecting various search criteria based on the needs of what you are looking to search for, called “Volume Projections.” These can include: personal information (state of residence, gender), geographic information (postal code, world region), educational background (current level, undergraduate major), education objective, etc. You are also able to search students not only by their GRE scores, but by GRE scores in combination with self-reported undergraduate grade point average. As you enter search criteria, you can find out along the way how many students your search will yield and adjust your search criteria accordingly. If you need assistance with this, visit the GRE Search Service handbook.  Click here to view article.
    • GRE allows you to select how you want your results delivered. Electronic results are typically ready within 2 hours after you place your order. GRE will deliver your lists electronically either in a comma-delimited or no delimited file. You can then use these lists to send out emails/letters/etc to potential students.  In addition to the electronic lists, you can request mailing labels should you want to send out hard-copy mailings. GRE also offers a printed off roster to keep a paper trail of prospective students.
    • We have not been able to directly correlated the use of GRE lists with outcomes or admissions’ applications because it is one of several tools we use and we cannot isolate the success of each initiative.  Nonetheless, we find the GRE list to be of value and continue to use the service to supplement our other recruitment efforts. 
    • For more information, consult the GRE Search Service home page (http://gresearch.ets.org/).  The FAQ list (http://www.ets.org/Media/Tests/GRE/pdf/GRE_SS_FAQs.pdf) may be able to answer many questions that you have.

Leslie Levin
Assistant Dean of Graduate Admissions and Marketing
School of Public Policy, George Mason University
(703) 993-8099


Branding in an Academic Setting: A Case Study on Harvard Kennedy School

For many people in the academic and nonprofit arenas, the word “branding” means little more than a corporate buzz word that describes the process of duping consumers into buying their products.  So why does the John F. Kennedy School of Government – which is affiliated with one of the most recognized brands in the world – care about branding? Because an organization’s brand is one of its most valuable assets, and that’s true whether the organization is a for-profit company, a nonprofit organization or a school. And effective management of that important asset is critical to building and maintaining an organization’s reputation.

Simply put, your brand is more than a logo or tagline. It’s the promise of your mission. It’s the collection of perceptions people hold about your organization. And it is how they think and feel about the work you do and how you do it.

A strong brand can help:

  • Attract high quality students, faculty and staff;
  • Educate and attract prospective donors and volunteers;
  • Build greater loyalty among alumni, donors and affiliates; and
  • Help differentiate you.

While the Kennedy School is fortunate to have a strong brand among government and public administration arenas both domestically and internationally, we knew we could do more to build upon our brand and reach a wider audience. Those who have been involved with the school understand fully what an exceptional and transformative place it is.  For those who have not, who we are and what we offer is less clear.

Part of the reason for this lack of clarity was that the Kennedy School was communicating a multitude of different messages – both verbally and visually. This all-over-the-map approach muddied our message and hindered our ability to effectively demonstrate the school’s collective strengths and unique value.


We sought to improve on these efforts through the Strategic Communications Initiative, which aimed to solidify the school’s positioning, strengthen its brand and more effectively tell the Kennedy School story.


What we did


  • Communications audit
  • Industry audit & analysis
  • In-depth interviews with faculty, staff, students and alumni
  • Stakeholder focus groups with faculty, staff, students and alumni
  • Strategic planning sessions with Kennedy School leadership



What we learned


The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University has tremendous name recognition in key parts of the world, but we were not building on that foundation as effectively as we could. An audit of the school’s communications and marketing efforts, found the following:


  • Under-leveraged affiliation with Harvard


  • Inconsistent message, image and experience

o   More than 20 different logos

o   Multiple mission statements, positioning statements and taglines

o   Far flung collection of brochures, publications and websites that did not reflect a common institution


  • Lack of a clearly articulated value proposition that described the unique benefits we offer and answered the questions: Why the Kennedy School? Why now?


  • Built-in limitations of our name

o   The Kennedy School is one of the few schools at Harvard University that does not have “Harvard” in its name

o   “Government” is an important part of what we do, but it does not give the full picture

o   The result? We have to work even harder to convey who we are and what we do.


  • MPA What?

o   Lack of marketplace understanding and appreciation of our degrees


  • Multiple brands

o   Need for a more-effective co-branding platform for the school’s research centers, programs and Executive Education.


Shaping the campaign


Armed with this additional insight into the current state of our brand, we developed a branding campaign that:


  • Leverages our relationship with Harvard more effectively
  • Taps into President Kennedy’s legacy and his iconic call to serve
  • Embraces additional forms of public service, notably nonprofit activities
  • Creates a more consistent visual identity and helped simplify and enhance the school’s logo
  • Allows for successful integration of our research center “sub-brands”
  • Serves as a call to action


Key takeaways:


  • Branding should never be done as an exercise, but rather as a means to an end – to achieve your organization’s objectives.


  • An organization’s brand consists of three parts:  message, image and experience. You can position yourself anyway you want, but if people experience your organization differently, it’s not likely to stick.


  • Think about what makes your organization truly unique?  Can’t think of anything that sets you apart from the rest? Try thinking about it in the context of a new category.


  • Should you decide to go through a branding exercise, don’t assume at the outset that you know exactly what your brand conveys. Focus groups and other market research efforts can help you identify the negative attributes you need to overcome as well as how and when your organization is at its best.


  • Perception as well as reality must be addressed. It may not be true, but if a segment of your population perceives something about your brand, then you have to work to overcome it.


  • Whatever you do, be authentic. The most effective branding efforts are those that tap into and capitalize on what’s best or unique about your organization.


  • All branding is “inside-out.”  Fifty-percent of success in branding is not what you do on the outside; it’s what you do on the inside. From the dean, faculty and staff to students, alumni and volunteers, everyone owns the brand and serves as your brand ambassadors.


  • Afraid to use the “B” word in your organization? Then don’t, or simply ease into it. In most academic settings, branding is still considered to be nothing more than light-weight puffery. Rather than argue with faculty over its merits, give your project a more benign name and channel your energy instead into the project itself.





Melodie Jackson

Associate Dean for Communications & Public Affairs

John F. Kennedy School of Government

Harvard University





Podcast Series:  University of Michigan




The Graduate Career Services unit at the Gerald R. Ford School, University of Michigan views the dissemination of relevant and timely information to current and prospective students as a core function.  For school year 2007-2008, Graduate Career Services in collaboration with the Communications and Outreach unit developed and implemented a podcast series featuring interviews with Ford School alumni, employers recruiting Ford School students, and Ford School staff.  The objectives of the interviews included:  provide snapshots of the spectrum of careers possible with a Ford School MPP, outline the on-the-job value of the skills gained through the curriculum, create a sense of connection between past, present, and future students of the Ford School, and utilize a tool that allows users access to information regardless of hour and location.


Process and Implementation


The planning and execution of this podcast series required an intersection of creative and technical abilities.  Graduate Career Services functions as the “talent” or creative arm, while Communications and Outreach provides the technical capability.  In all honesty the creative arm requires far less skill than the knowledge and abilities necessary to make the “talent” appear talented, and actually produce a quality output.


Assistant Director of Graduate Career Services, Tom Phillips, acts as the host and inspiration for the title of the series – “Tom Talk.”  His role is to identify guests, develop questions aimed at eliciting information important to the intended audience, and conduct the podcast interviews.  One interview a month is posted to the Ford School website.  A challenge faced in this initiative is the availability of guests.  The series relies on alumni and employers to be physically present at the Ford School and this limits the variety of sectors and policy areas that have been covered.


We record the episodes using Garage Band on a Mac laptop. It is possible to record directly through the microphone on a computer, but we purchased and use lapel microphones and a portable mixer to give the episodes a cleaner and more professional sound. Our webmaster has audio recording and editing experience, but we also plan to use student help on the technical side and expect to be able to find qualified students fairly easily given the growing popularity of podcasting and the ubiquity of the required software. We export the audio files from Garage Band as MP3s and upload them to the school's website and RSS feed so that users can either listen to the episodes from a web page or subscribe to have new episodes automatically download to their iTunes. The University of Michigan recently established a presence on iTunesU and Tom Talk was one of the podcast series available at launch.




We have yet to conduct comprehensive analyses on how many people are listening to Tom Talk, however, we do have some data that reflects that people are tuning in.  During “Spring Preview,” the Ford School’s recruiting event for admitted students, about 15% of students who completed a Graduate Career Services survey indicated that they had listened to and were familiar with the podcast series.  Additionally, during the initial week of the University of Michigan launch on iTunes U, Tom Talk was consistently ranked in the Top 10 of podcasts listened to.

“The popularity of "Tom Talk" is spreading as it was recently featured in a Teach for America newsletter as a helpful resource to find out more about careers in public policy and further learn the Ford School and our program here.”



Action Items

  • Select an alumni to record what he/she learned from his/her MPA/MPP education and how it is relevant to his/her career.


Bright Ideas

  • Connect with your school’s technology department for help or advice.


Tom Phillips, NCC
Assistant Director, Graduate Career Services
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
University of Michigan
735 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109


Increase Student Enrollment with Customer Service:  University of Colorado-Denver


As there are no university wide personnel dedicated to the recruitment of graduate students, no technology available to departments in terms of automated recruitment software and only limited marketing support, all recruitment efforts are based within the School, primarily through a full time staff member who divides her time among recruitment, alumni affairs and marketing responsibilities.  Although working with limited resources (like most in higher ed), the School has been successful in turning around declining enrollment.   Enrollment has increased in each of the last five semesters and SPA posted the highest percentage increase in new students of any school at UCD last fall (6.3%) by combining a high standard of “customer service” with electronic communication and community outreach.


Personalized Service

Give the prospect an experience that exceeds their expectations

  • Initial response within 48 hours
  • Personalized response while utilizing available technology
  • Don’t try to be everything to everyone/be honest about programs’ strengths and


  • Many “touches” in many different formats


Example:  Students receive an initial phone call or email based on the way they contacted the School.  This is followed up by receipt of an information packet containing a research publication, viewbook, application and scholarship information (packet sent within 48 hours of inquiry).  One week later they receive a follow up letter reiterating our “selling points” and inviting them for a visit.  After that they will receive periodic emails inviting them to events at the school, giving them information on current faculty research and grants and providing them with information on the School and jobs in public affairs.


Campus Visit

Give the prospect the feeling of being a student

  • Spending the time
  • Faculty Access
  • Lunch
  • Student and/or class interaction
  • Sell your location (see example page from viewbook)


Ask Yourself:  What appeals to people involved in public affairs and what is important to students (this will depend on the specific demographic features of your student body):  outdoor amenities/recreation, climate, number of nonprofits in area, size of federal workforce, % of alumni who stay in the area, statistics on the downtown/cultural amenities, proximity to the capitol/policy positions, childcare, etc.


Example:  If I have an out of state prospect coming in, I will give them a tour of our building as well as the campus, take them to lunch, set up time beforehand for them to visit with a faculty member and/or visit a class, show them our downtown and possibly take them about 10 miles west of Denver so they can get a sense for the proximity of the Rocky Mountains (and some killer views!).   My hope is to give them a sense of what it is like to live in Denver as well as what it is like to be a student of SPA.


Community Involvement

Making yourself known in the community pays back dividends in positive word of mouth, referrals and opportunities to market the school.

  • Attend association meetings that match the work of the School and support professional development events and conferences

                        Young Nonprofit Professionals Network

                        State Nonprofit Association

                        State Managers Association

                        Municipal League


  • Collaborate and co-sponsor events


Examples:  Bell Policy Center – panel on current CO fiscal policy; Colorado Nonprofit Association – splitting the cost of bringing in national speakers; University of Colorado Denver – partnering with student life and anthropology on public policy/social issues.


  • Be of service (internships/capstone research projects)
  • Invite the community to School events free of charge
  • Be IN the community


Examples:  Holding and advertising events in public venues….social issues film festival at local bar frequented by patrons that match the School’s demographics, career panel at local bar/restaurant increases exposure in our “backyard.”

Using Alumni

  • Ambassadors Program


Explanation:  Each year we ask “super star” graduates if they will stay connected to the school via our Ambassadors program.  Ambassadors agree to be contacted up to five times per calendar year by prospective or current students who are similar to the Ambassador in terms of career aspirations, demographic information (distance student, single parent, etc.).  This allows prospective students to get the “real” story on the School while allowing us to have some measure of “quality control.”


  • Utilizing alumni panelists on employment panels
  • PhD students (mentoring for future PhDs and talking to prospective students)
  • Informational Interviews
  • Appreciation/professional development events for alums keep them engaged and help maintain current contact info


Utilizing Alumni Statistics

An alumni survey is given every other year to answer the questions below.  We use our database of both physical addresses and emails to get in touch with our graduated students.

Where they go

How much they make


            Job Satisfaction

            Lists of Job Titles



  • Emphasis on total campaign approach rather than individual ads
  • Targeted ads based on past prospects (each prospective student is entered into a spreadsheet.  At the end of each year we tally the prospects by zip code, allowing us to more effectively target our marketing dollars to areas with higher interest in our programs)
  • Limited budget means a fine line between frequency and variety of sources
  • Partnering with on-campus entities for more “bang for the buck” – International Admissions, CU Online, Marketing Communications, Student Affairs, other academic units


Example:  Sharing cost and coordination efforts of multi-day photo shoot with the university-wide campus communications department.  This allowed us to have SPA students in all the photos and use the material for SPA specific marketing purposes but the campus got pictures they could use for general marketing and allowed us to utilize the discount of full days with the photographer.

Annie MacLachlan
Director, Marketing, Community Outreach & Alumni Affairs
School of Public Affairs
University of Colorado Denver

New York University Case Brief





When the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University was founded 70 years ago there was no inkling of its future impact in the world. Begun with a NYC focus, it has taken its collective achievements to the national and international spectrum.


Wagner defines itself as a place that is reframing public service education and embracing YouTube is just another way that we grab every cutting edge opportunity we can. Physically located in the historic Puck Building at the intersection of SoHo and Greenwich Village in New York City, we are renowned for our research and our role as a convener and educator. Our faculty is committed to tackling issues such as education, healthcare, housing, economic development, transportation, infrastructures and related issues – with expertise in economics, finance, sociology, political science, law, planning, medicine, and policy analysis.




In the summer of 2007, we wanted to expose the eworld to our great faculty research – so we invited them to be videotaped discussing their current foci of research.  We initially posted them on our home site www.wagner.nyu.edu, to reach prospective and current students, alumni, scholars, important influencers, and others interested in public service issues.  



The faculty fielded questions on camera from a member of the school’s communications staff, explaining their motivations, methodologies, and findings. Research areas ranged from dying cities (Professor Beth Weitzman) to the lobbying industry (Professor Rogan Kersh) to microfinance (Professor Jonathan Morduch).


In the first stage [2007], we had a staff member conduct the 45 minute interviews of 10 professors. We did the video taping in-house in one of our conference rooms. We hired a consultant to do the taping for a very reasonable rate, but if you don’t have in-house capabilities, you can possibly find students or low-cost consultants who would do you a favor. This might even include editing and uploading the video. In fact, did you know that you can also use your Mac to film and edit?


We had our videos edited by our consultant, and then as the project evolved, interview subjects were broadened to show the school’s range of public service involvement.  In addition to faculty, we included a Reynolds Program speaker (Fazle Hasan Abed, BRAC founder and chairman), students discussing their Capstone projects, and public events, like the one sponsored by the NYU Wagner Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management.



In the winter of 2008, we thought it would be helpful to raise the profile of the videos among like-minded nonprofit organizations, and took the innovative step of posting them on You Tube. In this virtual realm, we are able to have more interaction with the school’s community at large, drawing viewer comments in response, and are pleased to be sitting among “related” web sites that focus as well on public policy issues.


We have subscribed to other YouTube sites such as the World Bank, C-SPAN, University Channel, Asia Society, and the 92nd Street Y, and have begun to receive subscribers to our site.

In addition to the videos posted to YouTube, we customized the design of our site by adding our logotype and messaging to the top of the page as well as an interactive navigation bar which links directly to key landing pages on wagner.nyu.edu. We have created playlists to direct viewers to particular types of videos, and we plan to refine these lists as the site expands.




YouTube offers a "nonprofit" channel for U.S.-based nonprofit with IRS 501(c)(3) tax status, this channel provides enhanced branding and promotion, increased uploading capacity, and options to facilitate fundraising.


In 2008, NASPAA requested and was approved as a nonprofit Enhanced Channel. This type of layout is much better in terms of both design and look and also usability. Check out NASPAA’s You Tube page here: http://www.youtube.com/MPAMPP.


You should see if your full University already has a YouTube Enhanced channel. If not you should suggest to your communications staff that would be a good idea to investigate and perhaps request this status for your University as well. This type of YouTube channel offers more control, more space to hold videos and better functionality. There is no cost. To request nonprofit enhanced channel status contact: Obadiah Greenberg at obie@google.com.



Useful links related to production of YouTube site include:

YouTube Handbook

YouTube Nonprofit Tip Sheet




Lawrence Mirsky, Robyn L. Stein

w: 212-992-9861


Sr. Director of External Affairs

NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service


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