4 Methods for Test Driving New Ideas

Piloting ideas can lead to innovation, creativity and a rediscovery of the joy of learning.

4 minutes
By: Melissa Horvath

Recently, I started working at New York Film Academy (NYFA), a film, media and performing arts college. Important aspects of the role have been learning the program offerings and keeping a keen eye on media mentions.

So it’s no surprise that I got excited when NYFA’s summer filmmaking camps, held at Harvard, were mentioned by filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert in interviews for their award-winning film “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” Kwan and Scheinert were camp counselors at an NYFA summer camp when they collaborated on their first film. 

The campers inspired Kwan and Scheinert. According to the filmmakers, they “got jealous of the kids” and all the fun they had making films. They decided to make a short film after hours, thus starting their creative collaboration that eventually led to the success of their most recent film. Much like the campers practiced filmmaking while attending camp, the “Daniels” practiced collaborating by making a short film. 

This connection sparked a reflection about trying ideas by conducting a pilot or a test drive to ensure something is working or is a good fit before fully committing. This can apply to summer camp and filmmaking or higher ed and marketing, among other areas. 

In my marketing approach, I am a big proponent of the pilot campaign or trying out a new platform or vendor with a smaller targeted project first. It’s a small, calculated risk with a big payoff when successful. Even if the project is unsuccessful, I still learn important lessons. Either way, it’s a win.

What follows are a few ways to introduce pilot programs into marketing for higher education.

1. New Platform or Medium

New social media platforms seem to pop up every few months. There are many tools and software options available for marketing, customer engagement, analytics and more. If possible, use a free trial or run a pilot campaign to test these out before committing to a full contract. Focus on one degree, program or campus to test things on a smaller scale. Then, you can expand the program if you see positive results.

2. Agency Partners

When bringing on a new vendor or agency for collaboration, I often ask them to propose a pilot campaign or program. By doing so, we can test the working relationship, and I can sample their work before committing to a long annual service agreement.

3. Ad Campaigns

I’m sure most of us have implemented A/B testing in full campaigns, which is a great tactic to use. However, some small-scale pilots can be conducted with a single ad or ad type to gain metrics before expanding to a full ad campaign. Running an internal one-off ad directly through your ad manager or business platform can help test creative, message and ad format aspects before applying these to a larger campaign.

4. Students and Majors

One of the unique program offerings at NYFA is the variety of workshops, short-term programs, one- and two-year programs (some of which can be applied toward degrees) and camps for teens and kids. The various programs allow students to try a variety of majors and interests. I think more colleges would benefit from providing opportunities for students to take short-term programs and workshops as teens or entering students, as well as during summer semesters. In this way, they can explore different areas of study.

Many students do not know what major or program to choose or which college to attend. And it would seem that if they had the opportunity to try something out first to see if it’s a good fit or just for the pure joy of learning something new, it would help with their commitment and motivation to pursue a chosen area of study. 

I have heard from some NYFA students that after attending camp or taking a shorter program, they knew they loved what they were learning and decided to return for a Bachelor’s degree program.


For students and seasoned professionals, test-driving new ideas allows us to be innovative and creative while limiting the risk. In many cases, we can also rediscover the joy of learning new things and the challenge of pushing ourselves to explore new areas.

In our current environment, many people are afraid to take risks. The student-aged population has declined, financial stability is in flux; the career and job landscape has drastically changed; and the value of a degree is being seriously reconsidered. Many institutions may face closing programs or even closing their doors. It is just this type of environment that requires us to take risks and find new and innovative approaches.

The status quo will no longer work. Doing the same old thing will not get us back to a healthy and stable position. Taking small, calculated risks, even making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, will allow us to explore new ways to engage with prospective students. More importantly, we will provide the programs, culture and environment these students seek in an ever-changing society and post-college landscape.

Melissa Horvath

Melissa Horvath


Melissa Horvath, PhD, is the senior director of marketing at NYFA, New York Film Academy. Prior to her current role, she was the assistant vice president of marketing and communications at Ramapo College of NJ, an assistant professor at Boston University and a graphic designer at New York University. Dr. Horvath holds a PhD in Educational Communication and Technology from NYU. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on social media and college choice, access and transition.

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