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Ian Feil Dec 2, 2020 7:45:00 AM 2 min read

The Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Ed Marketers in 2020

In the third quarter of 2020, Glacier surveyed 187 professional marketers at North American higher education institutions to gather a baseline understanding of their organization, the challenges their teams face and how the pandemic has impacted the social media and traditional marketing tools they’re leveraging today. 

Of 160 respondents, 72% hold a title of Marketing Manager or more senior. They represent a wide range of marketing budgets, varying social media channel performance and diverse target audiences. All respondents report using social media channels as critical components of their marketing budget.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, higher education institutions navigate uncharted territory alongside their key stakeholders, including prospective students. With changes to the student experience and the need to offer new, online course delivery models, higher education institutions are learning and responding faster than ever. Likewise, marketers must pivot and adapt quickly to ensure prospective high schoolers are converted into tuition-paying students, keeping bottom lines - and school spirits - healthy. Glacier surveyed higher education marketing professionals to uncover what’s changed, what matters now and how they’re optimizing digital media to succeed in the age of COVID-19.

Glacier looked at their teams, budgets, goals, challenges and how they leverage specific social media platforms and integrate with analog tools as to gain insight into their optimization processes.

Glacier learned that marketers must quickly adapt their strategies for 2020 and beyond to include or focus more on digital paid media; fine tuning their presence on digital channels in response to performance metrics is critical.

Most importantly, the survey confirmed that strategic and responsive digital media spend is marketing’s best defence in protecting their institutions against the varied, ongoing and novel challenges the pandemic presents. Failure to plan for a digital recruitment reality is an almost sure way to fall short of targets, and impact the organization’s bottom line in the already challenging environment of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Impact of COVID-19

Budget Cuts

About half of respondents are experiencing marketing budget cuts of up to 25%. About 17% report reductions of up to 50%, and - incredibly - three per cent report budgets that are up to 75% smaller this year. A fortunate 15% report their budgets are the same as last year. Across the board, the challenge to marketers is to do the same or better, while mitigating the impact of the pandemic with the same or smaller budget as in years past.

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Marketers may also be challenged to adapt to smaller team sizes, as 21% of respondents report layoffs in their department.

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Model for Fall 2020

77% of higher education institutions will be proceeding with a hybrid model, blending online services with in-person opportunities. 16% will move forward with fully online/virtual programs, while 5% will be back on campus with normal operations. The remaining 2% are still determining what model best fits their institution, but clarify that staff will only return on a voluntary basis.

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Risk of Closure

While 88% of respondents are confident in their organization’s ability to survive the pandemic, five per cent indicate concern that their organization may close as a result of it. Simultaneously, when asked about 2020 marketing plans, five per cent of respondents report an approach that does not include any digital engagement, or a 100% analog approach to recruitment marketing.

Back to Normal

Respondents indicated their anticipated ‘return to normal’ was generally unknown (53%), with 33% indicating that it would come in the fall of 2021 and 8% projecting it would be in the winter of 2021 or later.

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