2018 Conference

Stop Taking Your School so Seriously

Presented by Melissa Dix and Bonnie Willison

A few years ago, Beloit made a big mistake. A 30,000-person email-wide mistake. 30,000 high school sophomores and juniors received an email with the dreaded salutation,  Dear {first name}.

Twitter blew up with students pointing at the glaring error. Parents weren’t having it either. But, Melissa didn’t let the sarcastic #dearfirstname hashtag phase her — she acknowledged her mistake immediately on Twitter. Then, Melissa and her team decided to work and turn around their mistake. They sent out an email with the subject title “Our Bad.” And the replies flew in. This time, in favor.

The number of opens for the apology email was roughly the same, but Melissa saw nearly four times the number of clicks on the link in the apology email than the original — seemingly correct — email. It was then that Melissa realized human, engaging tactics could actually work. She first showed how this could work with their “Mike’s an Idiot” video.

Based on insights, Melissa and Bonnie learned prospective students wanted to learn about roommates at Beloit. Bonnie came up with the idea to bring old roommates back together a few years after they roomed together as first-year students.

She also learned that these students are interested in knowing more about what the students at Beloit are like. With that in mind, Bonnie called up the local pet store for…a turtle? Hang on. What?

Bonnie was inspired by Buzzfeed and asked students at Beloit…”So, what do you think about turtles?”

Melissa and Bonnie were inspired to continue creating authentic, fun, but still useful content for their prospective student audience. Some include dogs, or squirrels, and walking backwards.

They also tackled the admissions process, and used the concept across social media as well as repurposed for email campaigns.

Well, what about professors?

“Professors can be pretty serious” Bonnie explained, “and don’t always love the ideas we give them.” Bonnie wanted to avoid professors only sitting and talking about their research, and chose a new approach that also showed the relationships between students and professors.

It’s not all videos for Melissa and Bonnie. They chose to tackle gifs in an email contest – asking prospective students to simply send their favorite Halloween-themed gif. They had 50 responses — that’s 50 new touchpoints for counselors.

Bonnie explained that Beloit has just jumped into vlogging. Right now they’re working on a “Roommate Q&A series,” where roommates sit in front of their own laptop’s camera and answer questions about their Beloit experience and living together. Authentic, funny, human.

To recap, Melissa gave key words of advice:

  • be genuine
  • be innovative
  • be creative
  • be real
  • be clever, but not silly.


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By Jackie Vetrano

Jackie Vetrano is the assistant director of MBA prospect management & marketing at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She manages and implements the lead-nurture strategy using email as well as other important touchpoints to encourage prospective students to apply to the top-ranked MBA program. Outside of work, you’ll find Jackie participating in hot yoga, out on a run, or watching reality television. She also enjoys traveling, petting her cat, and spending time with her partner trying new foods and experiences.