Simpson’s marketing campaign targets students and parents

by Sharon Albright

Whether you’re driving to work in Des Moines this month or relaxing at home cheering on your favorite college teams in the basketball playoffs, Simpson plans to be there.

Simpson’s testimonial-type commercials and billboards are out again in full force for the month of March, as potential students get ready to make their final choices for higher education.

Simpson’s recent addition of a marketing division has allowed the college to promote its name and image more aggressively than in past years, according to Michael Adams, vice president of public relations.

“This is the first year that Simpson has embarked on a significant media campaign to market the college,” said Adams.

John Kellogg, assistant vice president of marketing, is part of the force behind the college’s new approach.

“What we’re actually trying to do is create more name recognition and brand identity for the Simpson name,” said Kellogg.

The marketing team defines the ‘Simpson brand’ as being one that “shows a sense of tradition, while at the same time, delivering innovation and an experience that can only be found at so-called colleges,” said Adams. Personal attention from faculty, mentoring and the sense of community at Simpson all contribute to the ‘Simpson: what a college should be’ slogan.

“College does something to an individual,” Adams said. “We want to create this notion that Simpson is a good place to achieve, learn the liberal arts and be prepared for a career.”

Currently, the majority of marketing remains in-state because of cost issues. Direct mailings from Admissions are used to reach out-of-state students.

Simpson uses various methods to deliver their message across Iowa and into surrounding regions. As of now, television ads, radio ads, a weekly “Datebook” series and various types of billboards are used extensively to target the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids areas.

Two large-scale rotating billboards have attracted a lot of attention in these two cities, according to Kellogg.

“These billboards are set to move every two months, and we have been able to choose high-traffic locations in which to place them,” said Kellogg. “These are good pieces for us that are seen by potential students, parents, alumni and donors as well.”

Along with targeting the expected market for college advertisements, Simpson is trying to supplement its efforts with putting a stronger focus on the pre-college demographic, according to Kellogg.

“We’re trying to reach out to the 12-17 year-olds that weren’t represented well enough in our previous campaigns,” Kellogg said. This mission led the college to purchase more time on television stations such as Fox and Warner Brothers, where these kids tune in to watch shows such as “The Simpsons” and “Dawson’s Creek.”

“We hope to spark discussion between parents and students,” Adams said. “It’s actually a very interesting balancing act for us to get in these different radars.”

Looking at the big picture, Adams said that marketing is based on the understanding that a strong advertising campaign is indicative of a well-functioning institution.

“There’s something about a healthy advertising campaign that suggests that the place is healthy, dynamic and moving forward,” Adams said. But, he acknowledges that ads can only do so much in getting a student to come here. Campus visits remain essential in the students’ deciding process and finding their own chemistry with Simpson.

“I guess what an ad campaign can do is show some energy. If you’re out there in Mason City or Cedar Rapids, for example, and you have 29 private colleges and 3 regent institutions to choose from, and all of a sudden there’s one of them that’s making some noise and showing real energy, you may take a closer look at that place,” Adams said.

These messages are also meant to reach Indianola community members, potential faculty and employees and beyond.

Adams said that the reshaping of the Simpson brand makes him feel good about the college.

“When I drive down Fleur Drive on my way home from work and see this enormous Simpson billboard staring me in the face for a mile, it is a bit of a point of pride,” he said.