March Madness lifts MU exposure

March 31, 2018 GMT

HUNTINGTON — Looking at social media engagement figures in the week since the Marshall University men’s basketball team made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Senior Vice President for Communications and Marketing Ginny Painter wondered what else could have generated the amount of positive exposure the tournament run did for the university.

“Not to be flippant, but unless we had someone here cure cancer, I couldn’t come up with my wildest imagination what could get us the coverage we enjoyed over those eight days,” Painter said.

Especially after beating fourth-seeded Wichita State University, being the underdog gave Marshall exposure no one was counting on but was definitely welcome. Whether it was head coach Dan D’Antoni

“If (a game) gets our name out there in front of people who didn’t know much about us and makes them say, ‘I want to find out more,’ that’s priceless.”

Ginny Painter MU senior vice president for communications and marketing

speaking on ESPN or a story about Ot Elmore’s “dad bod,” being a part of one of the biggest college sporting events in the country will help the university in its recruiting efforts.

“What Tammy Johnson, the director of admissions here, says is that probably no family, no prospective student is going to make their decision to come to Marshall based on watching a basketball game or a football bowl game, but if it gets our name out there in front of people who didn’t know us or know much about us and makes them say, ‘I want to find out more,’ that’s priceless,” Painter said.

“We probably won’t see it this fall, but Tammy’s theory is, over the next two or three years, we will see a bump (in admissions) based on that,” she said.

During a typical week, Marshall gets about $300,000 in earned media, which is word-of-mouth marketing from news stories or social media posts, for example. During the week Marshall won the Conference USA championship and entered the NCAA Tournament, the university derived $75 million in earned media, Painter said. The day after the Wichita State win earned $16 million alone.

The bump is similar to when the movie “We Are Marshall” airs on TV.

“The recruitment office says they can tell whenever it’s been on TV,” Painter said.

Marshall President Jerome Gilbert also used the experience to bolster his high school recruiting efforts, visiting two high schools around Frisco, Texas, where the C-USA championship was held.

He said he would like to hire a regional recruiter, and he thinks the Dallas area would be a good place for the position.

“I think our efforts will pay off eventually,” said Gilbert, who has so far visited 37 high schools throughout West Virginia this school year. “We’ve got increased applications this year. We don’t know how many will choose Marshall and come in the fall. . . . Our showing in the tournament will help us. We’ve got to not let up.”

He said he isn’t sure if his goal of increasing enrollment to 15,000 by 2021 is possible, but he is encouraged by an increase in the university’s graduation rate, which is up 2 percent. That might not sound like much, but from one year to the next, 2 percent is actually a large increase. The graduation rate at Marshall is now 49 percent.

It’s cheaper to keep students at Marshall than to recruit new, he said.