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What do Michael Phelps & MBA Recruitment Have in Common?

It was one of the biggest upsets of the 2012 Olympic Games and it came early.  Sixteen-time medalist Michael Phelps was defeated in the 400-meter individual medley by rival and teammate Ryan Lochte who took home the gold for Team USA. It was the first time Phelps didn’t win an Olympic medal since the 2000 Sydney Games and it didn’t take long for speculation to begin.  Why did Phelps come in fourth? Did he not practice enough in the past two years? Perhaps he trained too hard in the weeks leading up to the competition. Or, was he distracted by all interviews and attention since Beijing?

This type of widespread conjecture isn’t limited to the Aquatics Centre in London’s Olympic Park.  All across the globe, MBA Admissions officers are keeping their eyes focused on a different kind of scoreboard – this one to do with MBA enrollment numbers – and many will be analyzing the reasons behind the results.  Whether or not your business school takes home a medal in this year’s recruitment competition, there are actions to improve the speed, style, and size of student enrollment in the coming year.  Here are five suggestions (one for each Olympic ring) to get in shape for the next race.

  1. Sure, the global economy is still struggling, but there may be other factors impacting MBA enrollment numbers.  How do you find out?  For starters, MBA students and alumni are a powerful source of word-of-mouth advertising both positive and negative.  Get a pulse on what they are saying about your MBA program in their companies and communities.  They have influential voices that can have a big impact on enrollment trends, particularly for regionally-based EMBA and Part-time MBA programs.  Embark on a student or alumni survey.
  2. Reach out to candidates who declined or deferred admission this year to gain market intelligence.  Learn why they chose another program.  If they postponed an MBA due to financial concerns that will provide important data as well to incorporate in next year’s marketing strategy.  For example, you may need to implement or expand a scholarship program or launch a virtual marketing communications campaign with financial aid advice.
  3. Analyze all of your MBA admissions yields – application, acceptance and enrollment – to determine the biggest challenges and opportunities at each point in the admissions pipeline. For example, if the enrollment yield is high, you’ll want to focus on marketing strategies to boost inquiries and applications on the front end of the admissions pipeline. Use this information to make data-driven decisions for the best ROI of your marketing budget.
  4. Do you have the right organization in place to position your MBA program for success next year?  How are your MBA Admissions operations structured?  Are your systems designed for optimal responsiveness?  Many business schools struggle with limited resources.  Consider using a combination of internal and external resources for affordable and flexible way to accomplish all of your marketing goals.  With the right organization and resource plan, peak performance is within your grasp.
  5. Olympic athletes seldom get the finish line by themselves.  They benefit from a dedicated coach who keeps them focused and pushes them to be their best. Keep your eyes on the competitive landscape and learn best practices from peer programs who are “de facto” coaches.  MBA programs with innovative marketing strategies create a current, like Phelps, to carry competitors farther than they ever could otherwise. Monitor the Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts of other business schools for new ideas.

After his initial defeat, Phelps splashed back with historic wins that placed him as the most decorated Olympian of all time.  This kind of redemption can happen out of the pool as well.  Another MBA recruitment race is coming up – and much sooner than Rio. Dive into next year’s MBA admissions cycle with an Olympic-worthy marketing strategy to take home the gold next time.

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