Brand Strategy Deep Dive: Inside Drexel’s “Ambition Can’t Wait” Campaign

Inside the origins, strategy, and execution of Drexel University’s ongoing brand awareness campaign.

By: Higher Voltage
featured-image

Drexel University’s Craig Kampes and Joseph Master join Higher Voltage to dig into the origins, strategy, and execution of the school’s “Ambition Can’t Wait” brand awareness campaign, which has been the school’s marketing backbone since 2016.

Go back to 2015 or so, and Drexel University was aware of the looming enrollment challenges that confronted all of higher ed. But the Philadelphia institution also faced its own distinct challenge: Long known for it’s co-op program, the school wanted to branch out from that identity.

“It came to a point where that’s all we truly talked about, is Drexel and co-op,” said Craig Kampes, Drexel’s assistant vice president of communications & marketing.

So Drexel dove in, working initially with Ogilvy to do the research and develop the concept of the campaign that would launch in 2016, bent on positioning the school publicly as a comprehensive research university and a leader in experiential education, not just a co-op school. The end result was a campaign (and eventually a microsite) that would tell the story of an adaptable school that creates future leaders in industries of all kinds.

Of course, the first, most obvious hurdle to audience acceptance of the campaign is that first word: ambition.

“Ambition’s kind of a wonky word,” Kampes said. “We’re very careful about that. Darth Vader is ambitious. Scar from ‘The Lion King’ was ambitious. But we believe the our students at Drexel are really driven and smart.”

Three images from Drexel University's
The campaign launched in 2016, and lives on today. The campaign is 'not about butts in seats,' but rather brand awareness.

Today the campaign lives on, and the school recently shot two new TV spots to support it, following stringent COVID protocols to do so.

“I have to admit, I didn’t think it was going to happen,” said Joe Master, Drexel’s assistant vice president of marketing and digital strategy. “We started planning these commercials last spring, right around when COVID hit. So to be there on campus, watching the crew and our teams, wearing our masks, doing everything according to COVID code, I definitely had a moment where I was like, ‘This is incredible.’”

Read the full transcript:

Heather Dochtel:
Hello, and welcome to Higher Voltage. Our podcast explores the ins and outs of higher education marketing and touches on all aspects of the business of higher education. My name is Heather Dotchel. I’m a Philadelphia based marketing and communications professional who most recently led the MarCom division at two area colleges. Today, we are speaking with Joe Master, Assistant Vice President for Marketing and Digital Strategy and Craig Kampes, Associate Vice President for Communications and Marketing at Drexel University.

Heather Dochtel:
We are speaking to them about Drexel’s brilliant and lasting campaign, Ambition Can’t Wait. Welcome to the show, gentleman. Can you give our listeners a snapshot of yourself? Craig, why don’t you start?

Craig Kampes:
Sure. Hi, everyone. My name is Craig Kampes. I have been working at Drexel University for a little over a decade now. Previously, my experience before then was with advertising agencies, both small shops to large global agencies in New York. I took the job at Drexel thinking that this would be my standby until I find a new agency job in Philadelphia. Again, decade later, I’m here working with Joe, but it’s been a very good decision and not just that, it’s been a blessing to work on a project like this, Ambition Can’t Wait, which we are going to talk about today, and I couldn’t be more excited. Thank you.

Joe Master:
Hi, Heather, long time-

Heather Dochtel:
Hi, Joe.

Joe Master:
Long time listener. First time caller. It’s great to be here. So, my name is Joe Master. I come from the writing side. I was in publishing. I wrote rock and roll reviews, restaurant reviews and found my way into higher ed around a decade ago, and I guess I’m a lifer now. Working on this campaign with Craig and the teams that we represent has been the highlight of my career, for sure.

Heather Dochtel:
Excellent. Well, before we get into the episode, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that Higher Voltage is brought to by Salesforce. Today’s higher ed marketers are faced with new challenges and must expand beyond their traditional tactics to engage with constituents. Learn how Salesforce empowers institutions of all sizes to unify first party data, built in measured targeted campaigns and deliver personalized messaging across channels. Visit salesforce.org to learn more about how Salesforce can help your institution meet its goals.

Heather Dochtel:
Okay. So, rather than start at the chronological beginning of the campaign, and we’ll get to that, tell me more about the commercial you shot last week. Craig, why don’t you start?

Craig Kampes:
Sure. So, one thing we’re trying to do with the campaign, is we were trying to tell specific and detailed student stories. At Drexel University, when we first ran with the campaign, we went with a big large philosophical approach about what Ambition Can’t Wait meant and now we’re telling the detailed stories, the proof of the messages that we’re providing. Last week we actually shot two commercials. Truth be told, back to back, which was a bit of a challenging experience in this wonderful world of COVID and social distancing. We had a great team and we worked with a great director and we were able to pull it off and we’ve already seen some of the first cuts and we’re really excited about sharing it.

Heather Dochtel:
Oh, that’s a really nice turnaround. Joe, how was it for you over the slog of two commercials back to back?

Joe Master:
I have to admit, I didn’t think it was going to happen. All in all, during COVID, we will have filmed three commercials. We started planning these commercials last spring, right around when COVID hit. So, to be there on campus watching the crew and our teams, wearing our masks, doing everything according to COVID code, I definitely had a moment where I was like, “This is incredible.” As marketers, we always have those moments whenever we’re doing something creative that we came up with. But distinctively, this time around, it was pretty special. It was so hard. We had to do the day before, COVID testing. When your fingers are crossed because if anyone was to test positive for COVID there would be no commercial, so it felt like the stars aligned. Those things happen sometimes.

Craig Kampes:
I think there is such a fear, too, in terms of what the final product was going to look like because I think we learned the lesson of compromise, especially when you have a commercial like this and what you’re trying to get across. We’re just very grateful for the team that we worked with and everyone just being flexible to try and make it happen and doing it in a safe and responsible way.

Heather Dochtel:
The few behind the scenes photos I saw, looked really interesting and made me quite nostalgic to get back into those sets and build some of that myself. That aspect of our job has been pretty quiet.

Joe Master:
You know something, Heather, so there’s something that I was thinking about. Just getting on campus, I had another moment driving in. I was like, “Yeah, this is the brand. This is it.” Seeing the Drexel flags on Market Street and walking in the main building. When you’re working remotely for so long, it’s not that you forget. You don’t identify as much that, “Oh my God. This is a big deal. It’s Drexel.” But seeing how big it is.

Heather Dochtel:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Joe Master:
It made it a little bit more meaningful.

Heather Dochtel:
Okay, so Ambition Can’t Wait. Let’s rewind then. We talked a little bit about the commercial and go back to the beginning. Can you give us a general overview of what Ambition Can’t Wait is. Joe, you want to pick this up?

Joe Master:
Okay. So, Ambition Can’t Wait is not an enrollment campaign, was never meant to be and if we have our druthers, it never will be. It is a reputational, elevation campaign. It is about awareness. It’s not about butts in seats now, as much as it’s about moving the needle forward for later on. So, it is to get people to know who we are and what makes us special, what our differentiator is, so that maybe perhaps down the road, we could then have a message that has to do with enrollment, but that’s not the point now.

Heather Dochtel:
Why did you pick that then over a sheer numbers game? Craig, you’re ensconced or embedded in the admissions unit. Why brand elevation over numbers? Especially right now.

Craig Kampes:
It’s a great question and I think that it really starts with, again, at the very beginning, as you had mentioned, “Why are we doing this? What’s the why?” I feel at Drexel, motion reverses have a pretty solid direct marketing campaign, where we’re reaching for ambitions, particular in terms of converting students and getting them interested in Drexel and bringing them needs and getting them to apply to university. So many, many years we were considered, we were very famous for a proper education school and we’re known for co-op. Well, that’s the number one reason that students really fall in love with Drexel is our educational model. It came to a point where that’s all we truly talked about, was Drexel and co-op, Drexel and co-op. I think we lost a little something with that over, and I’m talking a hundred years or so.

Craig Kampes:
Also, we have a very strong background in engineering, which is great and we still have wonderful engineering school and we’re producing wonderful students and graduates, but I think the campaign itself is really more about positioning Drexel and raising that brand of elevation that Joe mentioned, in terms of making sure that we’re being seen as a comprehensive research university, but also as a leader in experiential education.

Craig Kampes:
We’re not just a co-op school, and I think that’s the part that’s missing from a brand perspective and awareness perspective. Yes, we have our direct marketing campaign reaching the students, but we wanted to make sure that the public knows who we are, what Drexel is, across multiple audiences, and that’s why we looked to influencers in this campaign to say, “Okay, exactly what is Drexel trying to do and who are they?”

Craig Kampes:
But also in addition, is that we’re very aware of the enrollment challenges that’s coming in the near future, particularly on the East Coast and the Northeast with the changing demographics that are happening in populations. It’s important for us to, while we believe that we have a strong national reach and global reach, as we continue to move forward and expand our targeting markets, we have to make sure that we’re getting a good impression of who Drexel is before we really start to look at it from an enrollment perspective and an admissions perspective, who we’re talking to. We believe this campaign is positioning us correctly, so we have our admissions officers traveling around the country and our direct marketing plans activated that people have a sense of who we are and what we’re about.

Heather Dochtel:
We’ve talked about how this is a brand elevation campaign and not enrollment numbers campaign. What is the audience that you’re hoping to reach?

Joe Master:
Well, we’re targeting your IP address right now. Tell me if you’ve got the ad I just sent you.

Heather Dochtel:
I’m sure I have.

Joe Master:
We’re not targeting students. We’re not targeting teenagers. Our target audiences are people aged 35-64 in our target markets, Philadelphia, DC, Long Island, Westchester, central Jersey, median household income of $150,000 or more, and then specifically, contextually, high school guidance counselors, teachers, C-suite executives, and then we actually are digitally targeting Drexel alums. So, very different than your enrollment campaign. So, because that’s our target, we’re aligning our media mix with the places that index high with that target audience.

Joe Master:
That’s why we made a point to be on NPR: Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace, to be in New York Times Sunday Magazine, to be on those television stations that people are watching for their news, and then for instance, with our display advertising, we want specifically to contextually target people who are reading news items that have to do with the subject of the advertisement. So, by that, what I mean is that it’s really important to us that, for instance, our fashion ad, Because Style Can’t Wait, which really highlights our wonderful fashion program, is going to show up on fashion related content on the internet and also we’ll have a print insertion during Fashion Week this year.

Heather Dochtel:
And the end game for that, is what?

Joe Master:
Awareness.

Craig Kampes:
I think when we look at the people who we were targeting, we call it an influencer campaign because the message that we’re trying to get across, again, is how Drexel is preparing for a changing world, and we have a unique model. Again, executive model that’s built for what the future is going to throw at us, so we want to make sure that the influencers who are reaching students and talking about students are also sharing that message in terms of a sense of an agreement with our approach. We look at some of the world leaders that are out there today. We’re talking about how we’re preparing the next generation of leadership to go out in the world and make a difference. We want to make sure those world leaders of today are well informed about the work that we are doing here, and the assets that we have in a work force that’s ready for them to come from Drexel University. I think that’s the influencer part, too, that’s really helpful to us.

Craig Kampes:
We want the people who’re listening to NPR, reading publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and watching news programming, because they are in tune with what a changing world is, and that’s where we have our media, and that’s where we have our message that we are producing students who are well prepared, ready, and able to not make a difference also in the future, but also, right now with co-op, too. They’re doing it as we speak with experiential education, so I think that’s a pretty strong message and I think that’s the new person that we’re trying to take, especially as we enter new markets, and try to reintroduce or introduce Drexel to them.

Heather Dochtel:
How long has Ambition Can’t Wait been live? When did it originate? Where did it originate?

Joe Master:
I was at Temple at the time. It launched in 2016. I remember catching up with Craig the month that it launched at the AMA Conference that year, and him asking me if I saw the ads in the airport, and I did. So, I think, Craig, you can probably speak to genesis of campaign.

Craig Kampes:
Sure, yeah. Once it was decided that we were going to develop a new branding campaign or brand awareness campaign, my team as well as a couple of other teams got together and we worked with Ogilvy in New York to develop what would be mostly Ambition Can’t Wait. We did the typical agency process. We met with them, we did surveys, we did our research, and they provided a few concepts to us and the one that was chosen, essentially, was Ambition Can’t Wait, what they wrote. We felt that that felt like what Drexel was all about.

Craig Kampes:
Ambition’s a wonky word. We’re very careful about that, with the word ambition. Darth Vader is ambitious. Scar from the Lion King was ambitious. We believe that our students at Drexel are really driven and smart, and for them to take advantage of this model in which we had, that embraces that. We can look at that. When we saw that campaign and that idea, we wanted to make sure that we really took that word and owned it. It came with a really bold and vivid art design approach, which was these really dramatic images of students and just these really vivid design layouts that were really, really eye catching and when we went live with that campaign, people thought it raised eyebrows.

Craig Kampes:
Number one, that Drexel was advertising, because not many schools do advertise, and we haven’t in years. It was very vivid and I don’t have an example for you, but I think what happened was with the campaign, when it started to run, we had it for about a year or two, but we realized it didn’t have the necessarily strong detailed message, except for the fact that it was just bold. It spoke to that giant Ambition Can’t Wait message, so when Joe came on board about two years after we started to run, we said, “Okay, let’s sit down and relook at this again,” and we evolved the campaign to what it is more so now, which is really telling stories based upon our founders of philosophy, in terms of what Drexel’s about, in terms of essentially, Drexel preparing students for a changing world.

Heather Dochtel:
It’s certainly one of those campaigns I remember seeing as it gained visibility in the Philadelphia market and going, “Oh, that’s so good. Damn it,” which I think might be the highest compliment you can give to your colleagues when you’re immediately impressed by, and then you’re just mad that it’s not yours.

Joe Master:
I was at Drexel the first time around when Temple Made launched, and we were all like, “Damn it. That is an incredible campaign.” We’re all watching, aren’t we? We’re all looking over at each other …

Heather Dochtel:
Absolutely. Absolutely. So, this originated within the enrollment division. Does enrollment still own it? Is it a shared vehicle? Does the campus embrace it? How has that evolved?

Joe Master:
Oh, that’s a lot of questions there. I’ll take a stab at first question. This is a complete collaboration, so we are a centrally decentralized university. We have 14, 15 colleges and schools that have their own marketing comms teams, and then we’ve got some central marketing comms teams. Craig’s shop, which is enrollment management team’s success, the shop I work for which is university communications, and then there’s a whole other central marketing for advancement. Craig’s team and my team are jointly running this from the creative, the execution, down to the media planning, we do have an agency that we work with to plan the media, a great partner, LevLane here in Philadelphia.

Joe Master:
It’s a complete collaboration, which is, in higher ed, I would say it can be tough with all the silos on our teams, to make these things work, because my division’s role is to be the keeper of the brand. Craig’s doing marketing efforts to attract and retain students. A lot of times, those two things can clash. They don’t here. We’re completely aligned and it’s taken some really good people getting together and we made an aura chart for the Ambition Can’t Wait team. That’s what people ask me the most when I see them or when I used to see them at conferences. It was, “How did you guys do this yourselves?” A lot of work and really believing in the vision.

Craig Kampes:
Just to jump on what Joe is saying, and I knew you had mentioned about how does the university embrace it and what do we do about that, but before, I would say that Joe’s team and my team, and I think the experiences of really all the members on the team, really complement each other really well, and I think we have a variety of different specialties that really come together to form one team. I think because we all believe in the vision of this campaign, it hasn’t been difficult at all, and we’ve been very clear to set down our priorities and make sure our value proposition is clear and that’s been really a guiding principle to make sure that we all stay on target. So, there hasn’t been a lot of changes. Yes, of course, we’re always screaming at each other to say what we think’s the best creative and what’s the best message, but it’s been in good fun and I think that’s been the beauty of this campaign.

Craig Kampes:
You talked about, again, how does the school get behind it, and I think getting people to buy into this idea was really important for us, and I’m sure Joe will share this, too, but we made sure once we had the idea that how we’re going to evolve the campaign to what it is now, that we presented this campaign and this idea to literally everybody at the university. We’re very grateful to our leadership for letting us take the reins here, and, of course, we share that with them what we wanted to do, but then we shared it with faculty, staff, students, with the people who run the coffee machines downstairs in the basement. Anybody who would listen to us, we were sharing this campaign with, because we wanted to make sure that everyone understood the why, what we’re trying to do and what, the purpose of the campaign was.

Craig Kampes:
What was helpful was it originated from our founder, he has a famous quote. AJ Drexel, or Anthony J Drexel, that said, “I know the world is going to change, and therefore, the university must change with it.” When Joe and I saw that, we were like, “That’s the hook. That’s the place it should be.” There wasn’t a whole lot of people can say that it wasn’t on brand, because it was the founder’s idea, and I think what we’re doing is we’re just trying to make this concept come to life of the fact that we are a university who can change the world as the world changes, and therefore, when people saw that and heard that, it was easy to get that behind, so people believe in it, and they’re excited about it.

Joe Master:
Yeah, that quote, Heather, it’s such a big deal. It’s on so many walls at Drexel, and any Drexel employee, faculty, and staff and students have seen that quote and know it. It really means something. It’s not just co-op, it’s that our founder really didn’t want to tie down the school in the charter to go any one way. He wanted to make sure that the school could stay attuned and aligned with industry. A lot of universities have traditions. We don’t have a kissing rock. Our tradition, quite literally, is change. Our oral history is co-op. Our folklore is innovation, and that’s where get to the ambition. It’s packed in the charter.

Heather Dochtel:
Excellent. So, you’re talking about how your teams are very aligned to do this, to keep it moving forward, to evolve it, to execute the campaign. Who else is involved? Do you get randomly pitched by members of the community each day?

Joe Master:
Yeah. I would say the best example is when memes start showing up. Students are making memes about ambition. Drexel students love using the word ambition. But yeah, people do come and say, “Hey, this would be a great ad.” It happens on a weekly basis, so then, it’s our job, really, to mine those stories and find the way forward with new creators, so it’s a lot of fun. It’s good to be at a point where people are coming to us, rather than us needing to go on cover stories on our own.

Heather Dochtel:
Oh, this is a dream.

Craig Kampes:
Yeah. One thing that we’re excited about the design of the campaign is, again, I keep repeating this, but we talk about the campaign speaks about a changing university for a changing world. If you’re familiar with the campaign, one of the subheadlines is that we put a lot on our communications, is Because Ambition Can’t Wait. That idea shifts a lot, so it’s because whatever’s important in the world and what we believe is important in the world, should never wait. So, what we do is we shift that line, Because Ambition Can’t Wait, to a variety of things, because courage can’t wait, because innovation can’t wait, because technology can’t wait, because the holidays can’t wait.

Craig Kampes:
That concept had lots of legs and what it does, is it gives us the ability to shift the campaign and the imagery to what we’re trying to say, to really any part of the university, because health can’t wait, because style can’t wait when we think about our [inaudible 00:22:31] Design Group, because creativity can’t wait, so that in itself is giving the university a badge. It’s just not about Ambition Can’t Wait, but they get full representation about who we are and what we’re trying to do at the university as one, and that’s been when you ask about people if they’ve been able to pitch ads to us, and Joe talks about memes, that’s the point is that people feel a part of it because they have their own what we call “Because” line. That’s been the best part about getting people excited and buy in is because they can own a piece of it.

Heather Dochtel:
Which is excellent, and the flexibility is obviously going to bring a huge genesis of ideas forward when you’re all screaming at each other in the rooms, as you referenced earlier with your pitch. So, when you have this breadth to work on and you almost have so many choices that it’s hard to pick, how do you figure out what to focus on? What are the guiding principles that says, “We have these five new Becauses that we’re talking about, but we really need to focus on one or two.” How do you narrow that? What guides you to pick the one or two messages out of the larger pool?

Joe Master:
I’ll take a stab at this one first, and Craig, you pick up where I fail, all right? We always make sure to exhaust all possibilities when it comes to finding stories to tell. That happens when the campaign’s on, in flight, and in down times as well. We’re always searching out new stories, and the real important here is we as part of our strategy, the media is part of the strategy here. We want to align our creative with key moments, marquee times, dates, through the calendar year, when certain issues and things going on in the world are part of that national conversation. Think about Autism Awareness Month, Election Day, Thanksgiving. All these times during the year that, for instance, social media managers have a content calendar for, we have the same for our media.

Joe Master:
For instance, we have a voting ad. We wanted to make sure that was 100% volume on Election Day in all markets. Same thing, we’ll have an Autism Awareness Month ad, so matching the media with the medium’s really important, and then, if you take it a step further, when our commercial runs, we want to be on those places where people are consuming news. When we come to television, we’re on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, and our local 3, 6, and 10 in primetime, and we want to be on NPR. We want to be where people are getting the news of the day with our message.

Craig Kampes:
Joe really outlined our media strategy, which part of this campaign has been something that we’ve been really looking at with a feather in our cap for, because we have a really creative media strategy by aligning our media to big moments in the calendar within itself in terms of holidays and important moments in time. But also, our creative strategy, which I think is equally as interesting in the sense that, if we’re defining, if we believe at Drexel our educational model, particularly co-op and the balance of academics and spiritual education, is really a model for the future and for the future of a changing world. Everything that we do with this campaign really focuses on how Drexel is going to prepare their students for a changing world. What’s to come? What’s the future of work? We have a really significant rule when we start to look at “Because” lines or imagery that it must reflect something that’s changing in the world. It can’t necessarily just be something that’s status quo. We needed something that reflects something that can tell a story with an image.

Craig Kampes:
For example, like a polar bear grasping onto an iceberg, we know it’s about climate change and what Drexel’s doing to support that. Another campaign that deals with the advancement in biomedical materials, and we have a runner who’s running with a prosthetic leg. We’re very clear that when someone sees these new and arresting images, that they really speak to that changing world and how Drexel can support that. That’s always a rule for us when we look at an ad. Does this reflect that?

Craig Kampes:
One thing for our commercial, for example, a quick story that I’ll just tell is that one of our new commercials is going to feature a Drexel student who was a photography major. She had a photography project that she had to design and during COVID, and during the social distancing, she was, “How do you do that?” How can you art direct a shot that included people, art direction and materials when she was stuck at home? She used the power of Zoom, FaceTime and her friends in different areas and crafted an image that was actually about the feeling of COVID. The students actually designed an area of them sitting together with masks and celebrating 2020 as being this year of COVID, and she did it all remotely. That shot was celebrated that actually found its way on the cover of Time Magazine. That’s an amazing thing, and that’s when we look at ambition, being able to affect change and to work through these obstacles of a changing world and that was a really good example. I think you’ll see some of that with our campaigns moving forward.

Heather Dochtel:
Yeah. Actually, let’s dig a little bit more into that, because I remember when that was on Time, and I know that you’ve been working on the commercial that’s related to that, and Ambition Can’t Wait is a fantastic piece of text. It’s really evocative, but is just as evocative in what you’re doing is your imagery. You mentioned the one with the runner and the prosthetic legs. To me, that’s the one I always think of, when I think about Ambition Can’t Wait. I remember seeing that and there was just something about that image that really resonated, and I think about it periodically, I have to say. Can you tell us a little bit more about the process that you go through to select those images, because they really arrest the eye, they allow you to take in Ambition Can’t Wait, and whatever your “Because” line or how you’re tying that in, and that makes you want to go in and seek out the further content that’s there. So, let’s talk a little bit about the importance of the images and how you get there, if you don’t mind.

Joe Master:
The selection of those images, man, Heather, it can be like Thunderdome. We get heated. How about I’ll give my answer first. I look at it, I always equate things to Beatles. I’m a Beatles fanatic. I look at it as your A sides and your B sides. I think we go into each year, trying to seek out those stories that we’re going to actually photograph on our own. Those are the ones that are a little easier almost, because they can be art directed, we can be there and make sure things are working, although, COVID got in the way of that this year. And then, there’s the concepts. We’ll say, “We want to address this issue.”

Joe Master:
Craig tells a great story, which Craig, you’ve got to tell in a minute, about going to a School of Biomed event and having them talk about what they do, and that was the genesis of that one ad that you saw. But we’ll take a concept, something like a runner with a prosthetic leg, and actually, both my team and Craig’s team, will go out and try to find that image, high end stock sometimes, so there’s a mix of the photo shoot images that we know there’s a story behind them, that there’s an actual person who we know, and then there’s the idea of the concepts like that. Craig, you’ve got to tell that story.

Craig Kampes:
So, don’t build it too much. But Joe’s right, and when we first went to campaign, we started to evolve it. We look at universitys to be people who can support change, or again, prepare people for the future. We’re always thinking about that, and when we first went off the campaign, we didn’t want to necessarily start with student stories, because many universities tell their student stories. There’s a lot of great student stories, but no one really starts off with a philosophy, and Ambition Can’t Wait is itself that philosophy that we wanted to make sure that came across. When we were thinking about that, we wanted to go with images in the very, very beginning that were more towards that, and broad, and almost metaphors of what we were trying to say as we applied the “Because” line to it. Joe talks about that conversation, as we’re looking for images and thinking about what parts of the university wanted to highlight, and we have a great School of Biomedical Engineering. I went to one of our open houses and I was listening to one of our faculties speak, and he opened up his presentation with, “We know how Darth Vader was made.”

Heather Dochtel:
That’s great.

Craig Kampes:
I heard that, I was like, “Wow.” That made me think a lot about that, and think about what the world’s becoming, and how Drexel can lead in that space. We brought that back to the team and said, “How do we represent that? Not necessarily a student, but the work that’s being taught to our students and preparing them to get ready for the future.” We looked and thought about shooting it ourselves, and then looked at some really nice imagery and other things, and we found that image. Actually, we didn’t find that image, we found an image like it and we said that’s the way we wanted to go, because that’s what the work is. That’s why people want to learn more about biomedical engineering. Let’s support that. Let’s focus on the end result of why people go to college, not necessarily the rock walls and the beautiful campus. Every school has that and we have our benefits there, too, but what is the purpose of going to college, and that’s hopefully to graduate, to have a job that people can be inspired by what they do. That’s why that image in particular came, because of that one professor saying, “We know how Darth Vader was made,” in the year 2020. That’s why we took that approach.

Joe Master:
I’ll say, Heather, you’ve been there. We’ve all been there as higher ed marketers. When you get an idea like that, so I remember Craig saying something about what he heard at that open house. There’s this great, creative spark that happens where all teams go, like everyone went and started searching for the perfect image. You never know quite how you got to that point. I can’t even remember how we decided on that image, but I remember vigorously searching between meetings every day for a week, and when you find the right one, you know it’s the right one.

Heather Dochtel:
Yes, absolutely. Of these different iterations, Joe, what is personally your favorite?

Joe Master:
My favorite actual creative to execution?

Heather Dochtel:
Yes.

Joe Master:
Oh man. I like so many. I do have to say that an image that I always go back to would be a voting image. It is an image of a woman wearing a hijab voting, and the “Because” line was “Because Opportunity Can’t Wait.” What I loved most about that image is seeing it in print the week before and the week after this past election in New York Times Magazine. To think back to when we were strategizing, when we took the creative in house for the campaign about what we were trying to do with the brand, and then seeing this a few years later, was one of those aha moments. This is exactly why we set out to do this.

Heather Dochtel:
Craig, what about you? What has been your personal favorite?

Craig Kampes:
I hate being that guy to say it this way, but I don’t know if I do have a favorite, because they’re all so personal to me, in terms of, and it sounds so stupid to say it like that, but we put so much energy into each one, and because there’s not one ad getting one specific message, they all have their own unique message, which is, again, part of the campaign. I agree with what Joe said, but I also feel like that with all of them. Joe mentioned the one about autism treatments. We have a whole autism research center at Drexel, that I don’t know if many people know about, and we were able to tell the story about how we’re making a difference in that space personally affects so many people. The runner one, that is obviously pretty emotional. We started off our campaign with a rocket. We have alumni working and co-ops, mind you, working on SpaceX. They’re all in their own unique way, tell a story about Drexel that I don’t think has been told very well, and I think that’s the part that I get really excited about. I think that we’re telling a story about why colleges exist, and I think that’s a lot of fun to me. So, sorry for the cop out answer, but [inaudible 00:36:05]

Joe Master:
It’s a tough one.

Heather Dochtel:
You ended so nicely. I was going to make a joke about you being the dad that tells all three of their sons that they’re your favorite, right?

Craig Kampes:
Well, I mean …

Joe Master:
There’s been so many. Last year’s run, because we’re smack dab in the middle of this year’s flight, but last year we did 17 different creative executions. It’s so hard to pick a favorite.

Heather Dochtel:
Have you seen data that shows how the community is reacting from this shift from philosophy to more concrete student features?

Joe Master:
So, there’s a few measures. Since we’re dealing with brand and awareness, a big measure that every year is that we do have a brand study. We partner with Forrester to measure awareness in the markets where we’re running. That’s our backyard, of Philadelphia DMA, Washington DC and northern Virginia, Long Island, Westchester, New York. This year we added in Central Jersey to North Jersey, that I-95 corridor there, and we have a few times since the campaign’s launched, done a brand study. So, on that front, we’re aware that 97% of Philadelphians know Drexel. We’re aware that 78% of respondents in New York are aware of Drexel. 79% of respondents in DC are aware of Drexel. What we’re looking for, Heather, which is a very, very, very slow game, is to see if we can push the needle forward in those markets. Craig talked about that cliff that we all in higher ed know is coming in 2025 and thereafter. That’s why we’re doing this, so one thing that I’m pretty stoked about is we’re up 7% from our first study to our last study, which happened after our last run last spring.

Joe Master:
In awareness in DC, for instance, we have seen incremental increases in awareness. We know that’s not it, so then we are looking at website data. That story’s a hard story to tell, so we do have a microsite that all digital ads are sending people to, Drexel.edu/ambitioncantwait, and we’re looking, not only for sessions to the microsite, it would be incredibly reductive for us to just say, “We want to see year over year increases.” We want to see more new users. We want to see people engaging with the site more, so we’re constantly changing the content on the site. If you go to it, you’ll see it. It looks like a news center, because if we’re going to have a rocket, we launched this campaign with a rocket, we have to back that up. The rocket ad really doesn’t really say, “This student is working with NASA,” or “This alum was just tapped to reinvigorate the space program.” We had that on the microsite, and we wanted to be able to guide that user journey, so it’s a very long winded answer to the question, because there is no real easy answer.

Joe Master:
When you’re dealing with brand work, people always ask about this, you have to take everything into account. Something else that we look for, is we’re looking on social to see if what people are saying about us in terms of Ambition Can’t Wait, and we’re seeing more people share these incredibly inspiring stories, being first generation college students who come from immigrant families and how they align with the ethos of Drexel University. You have to take that into account, too.

Craig Kampes:
Yeah, if I can jump in a little bit, too. Joe’s right about that. The beauty of the campaign to me, also, is the fact that it’s an umbrella message, something that I guess Drexel hasn’t too much of, and what we’ve done is we’ve integrated the theme and the content, all the way through to our pretty sophisticated and robust, again, direct campaign for enrollment. So, all those messages and those concepts trickle all the way down to all of those pieces, too. Now, again, it’s not the campaign in which we’re spending the media dollars on is not the enrollment campaign, but we do believe that the messaging is lifting the Drexel brand.

Craig Kampes:
I know we’ve seen gains in quality of students in terms of student applications, and over the last couple of years, we’ve seen volume creep up a little bit, too, but the quality is something that I’m pretty proud of, is because I believe that we’re attracting a different kind of student and the student who believes in the philosophy in which we’re trying to put out there. Again, this is a long game and it’s not to bring in students, it’s about changing the elevation of the Drexel brand. What Joe said is true, we are really most interested in engagement. We want people to understand what Drexel is and what we believe, again, truly, is that we are a comprehensive research university, and again, the leader in experiential education, because of this model that we have here is the pathway to what we believe is the future of education.

Heather Dochtel:
Tell me about your hopes for the sustainability of Ambition Can’t Wait.

Joe Master:
I feel incredibly lucky that work for an institution that is making an investment in this kind of work and as long as we’re able, we’re going to keep doing this. I don’t see it ending anytime soon.

Craig Kampes:
Yeah, it’s one of my favorite topics. I think working in advertising, too, I had a close look at watching campaigns start and end and change and evolve through a variety of different types of fields. Once we started this campaign, everyone was asking me, “When will it end?” or “When do we do the next thing?” I always come back and say, “State Farm’s been a great neighbor.” A good neighbor, right? I messed that up.

Joe Master:
That was great, Craig.

Heather Dochtel:
Rehearse that. Start over again.

Craig Kampes:
Yeah.

Joe Master:
Don’t cut this.

Craig Kampes:
So, it’s true, it’s what people do. They come to you all the time and say, “When’s the campaign going to end?” I say, “State Farm’s been a good neighbor for 100 years or so, it’s been so long, because it works for them.” That concept and that message speaks to what State Farm is as a brand, and we believe that this message works for us and what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to get across, so I’ve very little to no desire to change it, but I do have a desire to continue to evolve it and make it stronger. Just like we’re doing now, going from big, broad message to a student message and to whatever will come next. We do have a few ideas, not one we’re looking to share, but have to be more engaging with the campaign to make people feel even more prouder to be a Drexel Dragon, but also, understand what the message is about higher education and the value of it, which is, as you know, also, sometimes in question, too. So, we believe that this campaign is good for us, just like a good neighbor is.

Heather Dochtel:
It does seem highly sustainable.

Joe Master:
Now it’s in my head.

Heather Dochtel:
I can sing it.

Craig Kampes:
Yeah, I’m not singing. We’ve had enough of that. I can barely speak.

Heather Dochtel:
So, what haven’t I asked that you really want our audience to know about Ambition Can’t Wait? Anything?

Craig Kampes:
A lot of people ask, “How can we do this?” Or “How can we start our own campaign and build it up?” No one gave us a pile of money and resources and said, “Make this happen.” We just had an idea, and when we had that idea, we put it on paper and we made the deck, and showed it again to anybody and everybody who would look at it. We said, “We think there’s something here.” And because we got people to think about this and understand it, let us try a little bit, and try this a little bit, and push it forward, and continue to push it forward. Once people started to believing and buying into it, we started to see more resources opening up. We started seeing more people saying, “Yeah. Let’s invest in this,” or “Let’s think about this.”

Craig Kampes:
Again, me and Joe aren’t even on the same team, and that’s complicated, too, but in this case, we’re going to make it work because the idea was good and we thought it through and so, the one thing I might suggest is that for people who do ask, “How are you able to get this off the ground?” Is really think through your value proposition really, really well, and then stay true to it, and I think that’s something that we’ve done here, is that we said it’s structural, a changing university for a changing world. We never tried to go off path with that, and because of that, we’ve been able to stay on message and people start to believe in it. I think that’s the one thing is, you don’t necessarily have to start with all the resources in the world. You just need a good idea and the motivation to continue it. Work late at night, work on weekends just to push it forward and luckily, now we’re at a good position where every day’s a joy to come to work.

Joe Master:
The first thing that I thought, Heather, is that Craig and I, our job is to get up in front of the room and to pitch it and to share progress reports. Put the pin and the suit on. What we represent, around 30 people on two separate teams, who are all doing such incredible work, from the web positions we have, who are constantly making updates to the site, to an SEL analyst, for instance, on my team, who is doing some great work on that front. To so many people on Craig’s team, from strategists down to project managers.

Joe Master:
These are people who, despite their role, despite their hierarchy, are coming up with creative sometimes, who are sitting around the table when we’re able to do that, or on Zoom calls, and ripping new creative apart, trying to make the campaign better, and that collective work, from all those people, is really special. It’s been a professional development opportunity for both of our teams, for people who historically maybe wouldn’t be part of something like this, to really dig into a brand campaign like that, and I think that there’s something to that. I don’t quite know if even Craig and I can quantify the impact until we’re much farther along in our years. For the record, Craig’s much older than me, so he’ll be older sooner.

Craig Kampes:
That’s great, Joe. Thanks. So, anyway, the campaign started with a line from Ogilvy, which is one of the largest and most successful agencies on the planet, and it was also on the [inaudible 00:46:43] I’m grateful for to, and even though Joe’s a pain in the ass, is that our teams are able to take something that started with a global agency, which at the end of the day is a really great line, and then really bring it to life and make it work for Drexel. My only regret right now is that I can’t have our teams on the same podcast with us right now, because me and Joe I’m sure contribute a lot, but there’s never been a definition of team effort more than this campaign continues to be, as Joe noted. We’re very lucky to have the team that we do and the ideas that they put forth.

Heather Dochtel:
I have to say, when given an open question that the both of you immediately focused on ideas and team, is fantastic, because I do think we all know that when you get that team that works well together and that has the freedom to transcend their job title, that it makes for a really special environment.

Craig Kampes:
I appreciate that, but again, it’s not hard when everyone’s on the same mission and everybody wants to do the work, so we’re just very lucky in that sense.

Heather Dochtel:
We’ve all been finding ways to keep sane in the pandemic, and I know that both of you have found some fun outlets. Craig, tell us about your great pizza quest and your amazing boys, please.

Craig Kampes:
You mean the Wyatt 2020 Pandemic Pizza Tour, is that what you’re referring to?

Heather Dochtel:
Indeed.

Craig Kampes:
Thanks, yeah. So, I have three little boys and they’re all under 11. You can imagine, just like everybody else, we’re all struggling with being home all the time and not being able to get out and do things. My middle child, Wyatt, who I think is going to turn into John Belushi, he’s on that track, is really big fan of pizza. My wife and I also spend a lot of time in New York and in the city and Philly, just walking around and exploring, and we couldn’t do much of that.

Craig Kampes:
We came up with this idea of since we’re going to be home and can’t really do much, why don’t we drive to some of the best pizza places in the city and get takeout, and document it on social media? We went to some of the great pizza places in Philadelphia and places I’ve never even been to myself. It was great to explore a lot of the new places, and he was the captain of the plan and the program. Every weekend on a Saturday, we would drive to a certain location and try out the pizza and write a little review about it. We made it a little stupid thing to do on Instagram, but people seem to really like it. He’s like John Belushi. He’s the funniest kid in the world. We’re so blessed to have three kids who like to do the things that me and my wife like to do, so that was it. I highly suggest it. It’s a good way to pass the time during COVID.

Heather Dochtel:
And the winning pizza was?

Craig Kampes:
So, it was a hard one. I was afraid I was going to get a lot of hate mail from it, but it was Circles and Squares in Fishtown. It’s an amazing pizza, and I highly recommend it. You have to order well in advance, because they know they’re good. They’re very popular by that. That was the winner, according to Wyatt, all of nine years old and making these key decisions. Circles and Squares in Fishtown.

Heather Dochtel:
I’ll have to mark it on my list of things to try. So, Joe, you are a very talented musician, and you also had a bit of a project over the pandemic. Can you elaborate for our listeners what you did, because I certainly loved it.

Joe Master:
It’s nice to know that somebody saw it. No. So, you’re referring to Neil Young, aren’t you?

Heather Dochtel:
I am.

Joe Master:
Okay. So, around a month or so into the pandemic, those were some long days, we can all recall. It occurred to me that I hadn’t picked up a guitar in nearly seven years, and in a previous life, I was in bands and wrote songs, and used to cover Neil Young songs. I had been listening to him again and it was a Thursday afternoon, and I said, “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” because I was feeling a little down. I really enjoyed just teaching myself something new that somehow was something old to me, as well, and I recorded it. I did it again the next week, and the next week, and I did it for 24 weeks, and each week, I had parameters that I would learn a new song that I had not played before, the way that Neil played it, so I would watch YouTube videos and get some guitar tabs and figure out his alternate tunings, and give myself one day to practice, and then record it.

Joe Master:
It was a way for me to do something for me during a time when I was just working nonstop, and it was really helpful. It got me back playing music and writing songs. It also was a way for me on my own to address what was going on in the world, so there was certain weeks where I picked the songs purposely, because I didn’t want to say the things myself, and it was actually quite cathartic. Thanks, Heather, you were really kind. You wrote some great messages when I was doing my Neil Young experiment. It’s over now and I’m writing songs again, so …

Heather Dochtel:
That’s great. It’s funny, because while I can appreciate that Neil Young is a legend, he’s not my personal cup of tea, so let me just say, I enjoyed your covers more than the originals.

Joe Master:
Oh, thank you. I’ll let Neil know that, too.

Craig Kampes:
Please don’t give any more of a big head.

Heather Dochtel:
Don’t hurt his feelings.

Joe Master:
I’m sure he’s okay. He’s going to be fine.

Craig Kampes:
You just gave Joe the biggest head ever, by the way.

Heather Dochtel:
Well, now you have something to yell about in your next meeting.

Craig Kampes:
Aye yi yi …

Heather Dochtel:
Okay, well, everybody. We’re looking forward to more great conversations with higher ed thought leaders in the weeks and months to come. Joe and Craig, where can our listeners find you online? Joe, go first.

Joe Master:
You can tweet me at JosephJMaster. And also, I’m on LinkedIn and you can find me there.

Heather Dochtel:
Craig?

Craig Kampes:
Same as well. I’m certainly on LinkedIn and basically all the social sites. When you’re marketing to high school students, you gotta know what’s going on. I just haven’t launched a TikTok yet, and I’m very nervous about that, but I gotta say that I [crosstalk 00:53:18]

Heather Dochtel:
Oh, come on, you can do it.

Craig Kampes:
You might see a dancing Wyatt with pizza soon on that site coming soon, so …

Heather Dochtel:
I will hit follow so fast. All right, to our listeners, if you’d like to explore our topic further, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at HDochtel.

Higher Voltage

Higher Voltage

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Newsletter Sign up!

Stay current in digital strategy, brand amplication, design thinking, and more.

Graphic design of a man in a suit, and the shape of his head is filled with people sitting at a cluttered desk working on laptop computers.

Uploading the Brand: How to Onboard New College Presidents

Marcomm teams must play central roles in onboarding institutional leaders, whose jobs now include the role of chief brand ambassador.

Donor & Alumni Relations /
By: Chris Romano
A graphic design of a higher ed building with images of an car, a bank sign, a sneaker, a laptop, and a Gatorade bottle in the background, overlaid with a question mark.

Product Brand or Service Brand? The Higher Ed Hybrid

Why higher education brands are blends of both, and what that means for how they should be executed.

Marketing & Branding /
By: Christopher Huebner
Graphic design of a man looking at a smartphone, with a distorted mirror image beside him, all against a purple background.

You Are Not the Accounts You Run

Social media managers have separate themselves from the accounts they run, for their own good.

Marketing & Branding /
By: Jon-Stephen Stansel
Graphic design of a man in a suit, and the shape of his head is filled with people sitting at a cluttered desk working on laptop computers.

Uploading the Brand: How to Onboard New College Presidents

Marcomm teams must play central roles in onboarding institutional leaders, whose jobs now include the role of chief brand ambassador.

Donor & Alumni Relations /
By: Chris Romano
A graphic design of a higher ed building with images of an car, a bank sign, a sneaker, a laptop, and a Gatorade bottle in the background, overlaid with a question mark.

Product Brand or Service Brand? The Higher Ed Hybrid

Why higher education brands are blends of both, and what that means for how they should be executed.

Marketing & Branding /
By: Christopher Huebner

Are Your ‘Welcome Back’ Activities Falling Short?

Return-to-campus initiatives should be more than entertaining – they should be strategic.

Donor & Alumni Relations /
By: Kevin Tyler