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4 steps for navigating the transition to a new enrollment marketing partner

Ending an OPM partnership? Consider these 4 tips.

April 8, 2024, By Val Fox, Senior Director and Principal, Adult Learner Recruitment

When I was a higher ed CMO, one of my responsibilities was managing relationships with external vendors like online program managers (OPMs) and digital marketing agencies. A decade ago, the landscape wasn’t nearly as complex or challenging. Competition was not as fierce, and vendor options weren’t nearly as varied.

Now, despite longstanding relationships with OPMs and/or agency partners, many university leaders are struggling to meet graduate enrollment goals amid changing demographics, the rise of stealth applicants and non-academic providers, and soaring digital media costs. In this new era of graduate enrollment management, institutions are finding their OPM partner’s inflexible revenue share agreements, lengthy contract terms, and lack of visibility into campaign performance degrade their return on investment. And as such, they are seeking alternate pathways to growth.

If this sounds familiar, here are four steps your team can take to navigate the end of your OPM or agency relationship and set your institution up for future marketing and recruitment success.

1. Plan your transition

The first step charting your post-OPM course is to develop a transition plan workstream. When possible, develop your transition plan at least three to six months before notifying your OPM or agency that you plan to end the partnership. Some providers tend to scale back their marketing support once the contract termination process has begun, and you don’t want to be left high and dry.

Planning the exit from your OPM relationship can be complicated and typically involves several workstreams. Make sure you’re planning for each of the following:

  • Enrollment marketing transition
  • Contract negotiations
  • Learning environment and infrastructure transition (e.g., CRM, LMS)
  • Internal and external communications

And as always, make sure you’re involving the right people in the transition plan, from your legal counsel to your CMO to program directors and managers.

Watch our webinar: Secrets of successful enrollment marketing teams

2. Conduct a marketing and recruitment gap analysis

Next, it’s critical to identify any gaps in your marketing and recruitment strategy that will exist without the help of your external partner. You could use a simple gap analysis framework like the one below to determine gaps and prioritize how you will address them:

Example of a gap analysis framework table


This exercise can help also help your team reach a shared understanding of high-priority needs—which can, in turn, help inform which marketing and recruitment capabilities you want to bring in-house and which you will want help with from an external vendor.

3. Identify which capabilities to insource vs. outsource

Once you’ve identified gaps in your marketing and recruitment capabilities, you can turn your attention to the “build vs. buy” decision. At this stage, you can also create buy-in from your in-house enrollment marketing and recruitment teams—what processes do they think would be best brought in-house versus outsourced?

The “build vs. buy” decision was one I often grappled with when working on campus. For many institutions, it makes sense to hire staff who can manage strategic assets like your website, brand, and social media accounts. On the other hand, few institutions’ marketing teams have the budget or staff to achieve the scale and specialization that some vendors can provide, so it often makes sense for universities to outsource expertise in specialized areas like SEO, digital media buying, and user experience. External partnerships can also help expose in-house marketing teams to best practices and grow their skills, ultimately benefiting your team in the long run.

Explore our new staffing model playbook for university marketing teams

4. Gather key program, admissions, and marketing performance information for your new partner

Now that you’ve identified which marketing capabilities you want to bring in-house and for which you’d like external support, it’s time to select a new partner. Once you’ve selected that partner, your in-house marketing team—and their ability to provide essential program and performance information—will be critical in ensuring a successful transition to your new partner. Your team should be prepared to share a prioritized list of all graduate, online, and adult-serving programs that require support.

Program information: For each program, share links to relevant program pages, brochures, and landing pages. Ensure your new partner also has a clear list of selling points for each program, and information about enrollment goals (informed by current enrollment, capacity limitations, and class-shaping goals).

Admissions information: Share information about application deadlines, admissions requirements, scholarship availability and requirements, and student demographics like age, gender, industry background, and required years of experience.

Marketing performance by program: Provide an overview of your recruitment strategy from lead generation through to enrollment, including a breakdown of what work your team owned in-house and what was owned by your previous partner. Information about your top-of-funnel marketing metrics will be especially important, such as insights into spend, leads, conversion rates, lead demographics, and any tests or new channels that you piloted across the past six months. Lower in the funnel, information about applications, app completion rates, and cost-per-enrollment will be useful to your new partner.

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 Marketing operations: If there are any campaigns or tactics that your team has always managed in-house, be sure to share those with your external partner to avoid duplicating efforts.

While ending an OPM or Agency partnership can be overwhelming, it’s a natural moment to build more responsive, efficient recruitment strategies—the kind of work that will be necessary to compete in this new era of graduate, online, and adult enrollment.

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Val Fox

Val Fox

Senior Director and Principal, Adult Learner Recruitment

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