Metropolitan College: Selling a Revolution
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Holmes Report
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Metropolitan College: Selling a Revolution

1998, Weber Shandwick was asked to develop and launch a marketing program to fully introduce Metropolitan College to target audiences throughout Kentucky and attract 900 students into the program during its first year.

Paul Holmes

 

Metropolitan College is a revolutionary partnership between business and higher education, enabling students to attend college classes tuition-free between 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., and then work the night shift at United Parcel Service (UPS). In 1998, Weber Shandwick was asked to develop and launch a marketing program to fully introduce Metropolitan College to target audiences throughout Kentucky and attract 900 students into the program during its first year. In less than four months, Metropolitan College met its goal of recruiting 900 qualified students into the program for the fall 1998 semester. Metropolitan College continues to be a tremendous success, enrolling more than 2,100 students into the program in 2000. This enrollment figure far exceeded expectations. In fact, an enrollment figure of 2,000 was the program’s goal for its fifth year. This goal was met and exceeded in year three.

CHALLENGES/OPPORTUNITIES

This revolutionary concept, which was largely responsible for luring an $860 million investment into Louisville, Kentucky’s economy, enables college students to attend school tuition-free during special evening hours, while earning a good salary as overnight package sorters at UPS.  In late 1997, UPS announced plans to build a new automated package-sorting hub in Louisville, ultimately resulting in the creation of nearly 6,000 new full- and part-time jobs. A key factor in locating the hub in Louisville was the creation of Metropolitan College, a unique partnership that includes UPS, the University of Louisville, Jefferson Technical College, and Jefferson Community College.  UPS needed thousands of new employees, but the jobs were part-time hours from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. UPS research showed that college students were best suited for these positions, which primarily involved sorting packages, but working an all-night shift made attending school at traditional hours difficult. 

RESEARCH

Weber Shandwick used existing research from Metropolitan College partners – UPS and the University of Louisville. Both had extensive research regarding students and student workers. This research led to targeting primarily students who had graduated from high school in 1998 and those who would graduate in 1999, along with their parents, high school administrators and guidance counselors. Further research, including statewide unemployment reports and statistical data on higher education, helped target specific geographic areas in which to find the largest number of prospective students. Research also investigated the most appropriate avenues for reaching the target audiences, including media, direct mail and special events.  Informal focus groups and surveys are a regular part of the program. Typically these surveys are conducted once a semester and include students currently enrolled in the program and prospects who have shown interest. 

STRATEGIC APPROACH

The program objectives were:

  • Communicate to the target audiences what Metropolitan College is, what the benefits of the program are, and what one needs to do to become a student at Metropolitan College
  • Create a positive image of Metropolitan College and encourage enrollment

The initial announcement regarding the UPS hub expansion project and creation of Metropolitan College received excellent media coverage in Louisville, and to a lesser extent, throughout Kentucky. The focus was primarily on the economic impact of the expansion and not the development of the unique educational opportunity Metropolitan College provides.

For several months following the initial announcement, no marketing or communications efforts were made. Weber Shandwick’s challenge was to focus attention on this revolutionary program and create awareness and interest among the target audiences. A campaign was developed that would create excitement and enthusiasm among potential recruits. Key messages included: a free college education; high-paying, desirable jobs at UPS, the state’s largest private employer; college classes scheduled at the convenience of students; a simple, easy application process; and the life-changing potential of earning a college degree while making an unusually high salary at a part-time job. 

EXECUTION 

An initial news conference let the public know more about Metropolitan College and alert them of the upcoming recruitment fairs. A series of recruiting fairs, supported by an extensive media relations and advertising campaign that included print, radio and television, was planned. Recruitment fairs were identified as the best tactic because they enabled introduction of the concept to a large audience quickly. The objective of the fairs was to explain the complex Metropolitan College program, provide booths were students could investigate each participating institution and allow students to sign up for interviews on-site. The first recruiting fairs were held in Louisville, followed by fairs in several contiguous counties, then branching further into Kentucky and southern Indiana. All were held during the evening to encourage maximum attendance by both interested students and their parents. An aggressive media relations and paid advertising campaign drew attention to the recruiting fairs and other methods of getting information and applying for the program. 

A news conference was held in September 1999 to provide a “year in review” report and to announce additional program benefits including money for books and housing. Two news conferences were held around the construction and then completion of a housing unit located on the University of Louisville campus for Metropolitan College students. A large-scale recruiting trip, which extended into the eastern part of the state, was planned in January 2000.  

Collateral materials were created and produced to help sell the program. Supporting materials including a logo, letterhead, business cards, fact sheet, frequently asked questions informational sheet, application and other materials were produced.  Later, a colorful brochure was created which enabled Metropolitan College recruiters communicate better and more on par with competing institutions.

RESULTS
The marketing program met its objectives of introducing the Metropolitan College concept and attracting applicants to the program. In the first three months of the marketing program, Metropolitan College went from relative obscurity to reviewing more than 1,600 applications. The campaign began in May and by mid-July, 500 students had been accepted and registered for the fall semester and 1,000 more were still going through the application process.  Currently, more than 2,100 students are enrolled. The enrollment growth rate has gone from 51% to 64% in two years.  Of special concern to UPS, the retention rate is up to 66%.

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