Marketing talk

With more than 30,000 undergraduate students and nearly 9,000 graduate and professional students, the auxiliary marketing team at University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, has a lot of prospective clients to market to. Not only is UA among one of America’s Best Colleges and one of the Best Western Colleges, it’s auxiliary marketing team is also known to be quite the powerhouse.


Dana Robbins-Murray Assistant Director, Marketing Residence Life

With more than 30,000 undergraduate students and nearly 9,000 graduate and professional students, the auxiliary marketing team at University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson, Arizona, has a lot of prospective clients to market to. Not only is UA among one of America’s Best Colleges and one of the Best Western Colleges, it’s auxiliary marketing team is also known to be quite the powerhouse.


Melissa Hall, MIA Marketing & Communications Manager UA Bookstores

Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, Academic Initiatives & Student Success (SAEM/AISS) is the division at UA where the campus auxiliaries reside. The divisional mantra is to Recruit, Retain, and Graduate to Career or Grad School. As such, SAEM/AISS is a very large division on campus.


Sara Rohde Assistant Director, Marketing & Event Services Arizona Student Unions

Given the growth of the division over the years, Dr. Melissa Vito, SVP, had the vision to create a centralized marketing team for SAEM/AISS. Given the very different needs of the auxiliaries, each of them has their own marketing teams. The SAEM/AISS marketing team provides guidance to the auxiliaries as they work independently to accomplish the their specific goals.


Tara Watson Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications Campus Recreation

College Services spoke with the marketing directors from UA’s auxiliary departments to get their perspective on the latest marketing tactics and techniques, successful campaigns they’ve launched, social media best practices, and practical advice. Read on to learn the auxiliaries marketing directors’ answers to the most-asked marketing questions.

Q: What Is Your Team’s Philosophy When It Comes To Marketing?

Hall: As an auxiliary to the university, we exist to support its mission. Our audiences are students, parents, staff, faculty, alumni, and the Wildcat community. It essential we are strategic in our approach and understand how our campaigns impact the big picture. When we develop campaigns, we ask ourselves a list of questions: Does this fit within our mission, who is our target audience, what is our objective, what feelings are we evoking, and how do we quantify success. Questions such as these help us drill down to the core of the project and ensure we stay focused with our messaging and stay true to our organization and overall brand. Our marketing must be relevant, tell stories, and create an emotional connection.

Rohde: As a non-academic division of UA within Student Affairs, the Student Union adheres to UA’s brand standards and the “Boundless” creative platform to strengthen the university’s mission, vision, and positioning through its materials. The Union’s sub-branded restaurants have creative flexibility to express individual dining concepts in a huge variety of ways. It’s the best of both worlds.

Watson: Campus Recreation (CREC) is striving to get 100 percent engagement of the student body through visual, electronic, and word-of-mouth/outreach marketing. We try to focus heavily on targeted marketing efforts (knowing the program’s demographic market and reach) versus more broad-based strategies. Although we still do many campus-wide marketing programs through popular media outlets (The Daily Wildcat, UASavvy, plasmas about campus, etc.). CREC is looking to become a one-stop shop for UA students and members, offering a community center atmosphere that encourages health, wellness, education/lifelong learning, and social interaction/engagement.

Q: How Is Your Team Structured?

Murphy: Our Residence Life marketing team consists of three full-time staff (assistant director, media platform designer, and program coordinator). The designer oversees all creative work including collateral, videos, photos, and website layout. The program coordinator oversees interactive (website, social media, eblasts) and manages projects and traffic flow. We also have two part-time student staff—one helps with projects and admin and the other does videos and design.

Hall: We employ a combination of students and traditional full-time staff. Our graphic design team currently mentors one student, and our marketing manager oversees a student social media specialist, a student copywriter, as well as a full-time event coordinator. Having students involved not only allows us to gain insight on our target consumer, they are able to gain valuable real-world experiences that align with their academic pursuits. Our office culture is based on focused brainstorming sessions and collaborative efforts. For major campaigns, we all weigh in on developing creative briefs so our marketing collateral and event logistics are well planned.

Rohde: In August 2014, the Arizona Student Union created a new department—Marketing & Event Services—to merge the talents of a newly hired marketing team with resources of event planning and catering. The marketing director supervises the assistant director/manager trio, and together, 12 full-time staff and 149 students proudly provide and promote ‘abounding hospitality’ to the UA community. Marketing creates strategic campaigns to support the $34 million Student Union operation, with its 39 dining units around campus serving 26,000 meals a day, plus student programming and retail operations. Event Planning and the Arizona Catering Co. manage 1,000 meetings and events every month, 600 of which are catered. Marketing also provides trainings to enhance sales, service, and customer satisfaction.

Watson: The CREC Marketing Team is currently comprised of an assistant director for Marketing/Communications, two student marketing assistants, three student graphic designers, one to two student graphic design interns, and this year, possibly a student videographer intern. We are tasked with marketing CREC as a whole entity to the UA community. The assistant director determines the marketing strategy for the department and oversees the workflow of design and communications. The marketing assistants handle much of the social media, publicity writing, and in-center information outflow. GDs/GDIs create all the creative and lead the branding of CREC. Each program area (aquatics, outdoor adventures, etc.) is responsible for marketing their own individual programs—their target markets, and reaching out to those markets using the CREC brand and strategies determined by the marketing team. We strive for a consistent CREC brand while still maintaining some individuality of the program areas. All marketing pieces must be approved through the marketing team before going outside the Rec Center.

Q: Can You Share One Of Your Most Successful Marketing Campaigns?

Murphy: One of our most successful marketing campaigns was our recruitment efforts for Fall 2014 to fill our residence halls. We incorporated a multi-platform campaign, allowing us to reach students and their parents in several ways. We produced a brochure, offered the brochure in magazine format on our website, created a website splash page just for interested students, sent out eblasts, utilized social media, created a new video, mailed an oversized postcard with an augmented reality app, and worked with Admissions to use the same language and info on their marketing about housing. Our halls filled up by early summer, which was early for us. This year we have added a Spanish language component to the campaign—where we’ve offered the brochure in Spanish and on the website.

Hall: One of the most important seasonal marketing strategies continues to be our football campaign. This year, we were able to create a consistent look to promote our merchandise in-store, on social media, in print, and through email. We utilized student staff as our models, which helps increase excitement internally, as well as externally, with their friends and associated groups. Additionally, we had a strategy and laid out plan focused on “if-win” scenarios for big games. This allowed us to coordinate timely emails and social media posts, not just from our organization, but also by key campus partners. Utilizing various social media outlets across campus allowed us to maximize our reach and capitalize on the excitement.

Rohde: UA auxiliaries collaborated for a hugely successful Finals Survival Week this past fall. The Student Union, Library, Think Tank, Campus Health, Residence Life, University Bookstore, and Campus Rec all used one style sheet provided by the Divisional Marketing Team to unify the look of our materials. We shared slides on each other’s plasma screens, combined content on a shared website and signage, posted/shared/retweeted each other’s social media messaging, and distributed “Coming up” leaflets at each other’s events throughout the week. Our joint kick off event on the mall and the union’s late-night free pancake breakfast at three locations set the stage for a wonderful week of stress-busting fun.

Watson: CREC’s annual event, Meet Me at the Rec, at the start of the Fall semester is our signature marketing opportunity for CREC. We showcase CREC activities, sports, health, wellness, and engagement opportunities available through CREC as well as on campus (our campus partners) and in the community (sponsors and partnerships). Our sponsorships have allowed us to increase the size and success of this event each year and provide the students with greater access to information and avenues to achieve/maintain a healthy, happy, and engaged lifestyle. The fun, active, and upbeat carnival atmosphere creates a welcoming environment for students and allows them to explore all that CREC offers in a less intimidating or competitive setting. We target the areas that students frequent on campus with our messaging: Student Union, Residence Halls, Greek Life, The Daily Wildcat, social media, fliers around campus, word-of-mouth, pre-event outreach activities, as well as use our collaborations with our campus partners to extend our reach. We offer prizes/free food for attendance and have an incentive program for visiting large quantities of the tabling/activities at the event.

Q: How Have You Gauged Success And Measured ROI?

Murphy: We use a number of different components. We track traffic on our website and individual pages, use QR codes in some of our collateral, and watch shares/tweets on our social media. We also work closely with our customer service group, meeting weekly, to determine what type of questions they are getting and how we can tweak our messaging to better answer those questions.

Hall: As an institutionally owned campus store, our successes are directly related to our ability to financially support student organizations and scholarships, as well as campus initiatives. In addition to traditional revenue measurements, we also value the importance of student engagement and participation, which can manifest itself on social media, attendance of in-store events, and capturing important digital data including site visits and email open rates. As both academics and retail continue to shift towards digital platforms, so do much of our efforts to measure our success.

Watson: CREC tracks usage statistics/analytics on the majority of our marketing efforts—website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, iContact for email/listservs. We also survey all our participants (using SurveyMonkey®) by activity as to how they heard about the program(s) and where they saw CREC marketing efforts. For our outreach portion, we track printed pieces via a “return for a prize” process or key code.

Q: What Are You Looking To Launch/Explore In The Near Future?

Hall: Social media advertising and social media marketing will continue to be an increased focus for us. We have begun to identify appropriate campaigns for advertising on Facebook and are making tweaks to when we post and how we post information based on the quantity and quality of engagement and reach. Our consumer is accustomed to receiving messages visually and much of our communication on social media is in this format. In addition to images, we are looking to increase our video usage on social media and our ecommerce website. Finally, we will increase our efforts in content marketing. It is important that we do not inundate our customers with a hard sell and find the right balance between content marketing and promotional sales.

Q: How Do You Best Utilize Social Media And Engage Audiences Online?

Hall: When we are able to spark collaboration across departments for social media campaigns, we see a large bump in terms of reach and engagement. One such example was our fall Secret Sale, in which we had five items priced at $7 each for available for only three hours in our flagship store. Which items were to be on sale remained a “secret,” except for the teaser images we sent out daily via a Facebook event posting. The UA social media team was able to share this event link, which prompted other departments to share it as well. The resulting reach for the Facebook event exceeded 18,000 people of which 588 indicated that they would attend. This represents a four-fold increase over our last Secret Sale’s social media numbers and subsequently, we had record attendance in-store for this sales event.

Watson: CREC believes strongly in social media in order to showcase healthy, active living/wellness opportunities and information that our membership can utilize in their efforts for lifelong learning and community/social engagement. We average three or more posts a day on Facebook/Twitter (maybe two to three posts per week on Instagram). We offer a variety of post styles…some announcements, some that seek engagement and response, and some that just post snapshots of activities for members to view and share with others. Our most successful postings usually involve photos of active students involved in recreational programs.

Q: What’s The Next Goal For Your Team To Accomplish?

Murphy: Our number-one goal would be to fill residence hall beds while supporting the new UA brand. To achieve this we will continue to talk to our students and parents on ways to reach them.

Rohde: The number-one goal of 2015 plans include successful launch of our newest endeavors: overhauling the union’s website, a food truck, rebranding one of the major dining units, and raising the profile of event planning and catering through stellar customer service, creative new menus by our award-winning executive chef, and detailed follow-through.

Q: What Are Your Biggest Challenges?

Murphy: We continually hear from parents that they don’t know what is going on—their students aren’t sharing, they don’t have the specifics for move-in, etc. This year we implemented an opt-in parent newsletter. It is emailed out during the summer and a few times a semester. We are also putting all the information on our website. We have received a bunch of positive feedback and thanks from parents for keeping them informed.

Watson: One of our hurdles is reaching those students that are not the “athletic type.” We have expanded our offerings into more community-center based activities to try and reach those audiences (ping pong, video gaming, foosball, lounge seating/tables), but still struggle to reach that market that considers CREC as “simply a gym.”

Q: What Is One Piece Of Advice You’d Give To Other Auxiliary Marketing Teams?

Murphy: Share ideas. There is no need to recreate the wheel. Take what other universities or departments are doing, and tweak it for your audience.

Hall: Continue to network and create mutually beneficial partnerships across the campus and community. Leverage those partnerships to increase your reach and educate your constituencies on your organization’s value proposition. If you can get others to understand the benefits of supporting your organization, you can essentially grow your number of brand ambassadors, strengthening your brand image.

Watson: Assess and know your markets and then target them first. But always keep the larger community in your vision for the 100-percent engagement strategic goal.

Q: What’s One Inexpensive High-Impact Strategy That You’d Recommend?

Murphy: Ask students their opinion. We frequently take our design ideas to our target audience (the students) and ask them what they think, what catches their attention, what makes them open an email, etc. We conduct focus groups on last year’s campaigns to get feedback and suggestions to make this year even more impactful.

Rohde: Collaborate with other social media coordinators, and create online ambassadors to share and retweet messages. Table toppers with crown ads have been effective in dining units as well.

Heather Williams
Heather Williams is a writer and editor who works with associations across North America on their communications programs. Heather is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

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