Digital advertising in #highered: Strategy, tactics and results at Ithaca College

November 5th, 2012 Karine Joly 5 Comments

While I was doing research for my latest UB column about digital advertising in higher education, I interviewed a few great professionals working in institutions. As usual, only a fraction of what was mentioned in these interviews ended up in the final article. Yet, everything was really interesting (I only get 1400 words for each column, so I have to make tough choices ;-).

Since I know some of you are interested to find out more how some institutions handle digital advertising, I’ve decided to publish these interviews.

Rachel Reuben, AVP Marketing Communications at Ithaca CollegeSo, let’s start with Ithaca College, NY in the first post of this short series. Rachel Reuben, AVP for Marketing and Communications, answered my questions in late August 2012.

1) What were your strategic goals for Ithaca online advertising program?

The primary purpose for our advertising program is to build brand awareness – it is not a direct response program. We have a number of strategic goals that we outlined in our institutional strategic marketing plan, which tie to data we collected in our fall 2010 perception study market research. These specific metrics can be lumped under the generalization of how we’re looking to ‘move the perception needle’ by fall 2014 when we do a follow up perception study.

2) What kind of online advertising did you use and why?

We do retargeting; PPC with Google AdWords & Yahoo/Bing Search Alliance; and Facebook. In the past year we have also advertised on marquee sites such as Pandora, YouTube, and

We chose to do retargeting because of its unique abilities to show our banner ads to people who have been to our site ( before, as a subtle reminder to not forget about us, and hopefully strengthen their impressions. 

Our PPC campaign has been very general for the college, but we are working on an enhancement for this fall that will be more program-specific. Before we started that campaign we realized a large amount of our traffic to comes from people on those search engines typing keywords that brought them to our site, and there were a lot of missed opportunities. We are also taking steps to build SEO practices in to our web content development as we strengthen our organic search results.

We’re using Facebook because of the granular targeting options available. was selected because of the demographics we were looking to target. We used Pandora to target prospective students with a general brand awareness ad, and we did a pre-roll video on YouTube with very specific targeting.

3) How successful was online advertising compared to more traditional forms of advertising?

As a brand awareness campaign, we can’t immediately tie to “success” as a measurement. We’ll know if we’ve reached our goals of moving the perception needle in the fall of 2014. In the meantime, we look at traffic to our site, sources of traffic, CTRs, number of impressions, frequency, number of visits to campus, number of applications, etc. all as secondary metrics that give us a bit of information, but don’t define success at this stage. I will say that most online advertising that we’ve done is far more cost efficient for the number of eyeballs we get in front of. We do not do TV or billboard advertising at this point. We have been underwriting spots on NPR in select markets, and have done some print advertising.

4) With social media and all the other ways to reach target audiences, why does it still make sense to do advertising?

It’s largely about the audience. Not everyone uses social media. You can’t target tweets at specific demographics, and even if you could, only a small percentage of our audience are there. We certainly use Facebook and Twitter as part of our overall communication program, but we are looking to build awareness of Ithaca College far beyond their reach.