90s Feelings & Campus Visit Ponderings: CIVSA 2019

Noteworthy: Doc Martens & pain medicine buffet

Noteworthy: Doc Martens & pain medicine buffet

If you lived through the 90s, you may be wondering where you can still get away with listening to Smashing Pumpkins while also rocking a No Fear tee shirt and Doc Martens?

Enter Portland.

CIVSA (the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association) held their annual conference in Portland, OR last week, and we're still processing all the good conversations, brilliant colleagues and fun times. A big shout out to CIVSA, the Executive Board, the Conference Committee and our colleagues - we've been honored to sponsor the CIVSA Annual Conference since 2008, and we thank them for their partnership and support.

Don’t you love this backdrop? So PNW!

Don’t you love this backdrop? So PNW!

During our sponsor presentation, we gave three rants/trends we’ve seen over the past year on the road.

Break the Ice. Generation X parents and Generation Z students have little desire to interact with anyone during the campus visit. You MUST break the ice to get people talking. During introductions, ask students to introduce who they’ve brought with them so parents feel included. Pack your lobby with staff and ambassadors ahead of the start of the visit to mingle. Don’t just ask families “Do you have any questions?” but really talk to them - what shows are they watching, are they sticking around to eat in the area, any vacations coming up? If you show some interest in them as people, it’ll help start the visit out on a sociable tone.

The Best Offense is Data. If you’re pondering cutting Saturday visits, go to your data. If you’re being asked to add 5 more open houses in the fall, does your data support that idea? Registration numbers may look good, but no-show rates, conversion, and yield can be your best offense when looking at how to best distribute your resources. Spending time and money on visits that aren’t positively impacting your goals is a waste (and burns your on-campus partners who often participate). Use. Your. Data.

Super Star Ambassadors Aren’t Always. We love having overly involved current students become ambassadors. The notion is they have tons of experiences to share with families because they’re doing so much on campus. But are they? Super involved students usually are 1. pressed for time (because they’re overly committed and just getting the tour done), 2. aren’t thoughtful about providing a meaningful, conversational tour (see #1), and 3. have in-depth experiences in their area of interests but not generally. If we had a nickel for every SGA President that doesn’t have time to go see an on-campus play or do an internship off-campus or attend a basketball game… The next time you’re in ambassador selection, consider the student who has more time to give you and campus and is really into meeting families.

We also took questions via text from the audience. Here are some of the questions and brief responses:

”What’s is the most common mistake you see ambassadors make?
Walking backwards and reciting a tour script word for word.

“What are guests least likely to forgive?”
Bad wayfinding on their arrival to campus, a lack of available parking, and the absence of “fun” (i.e. college is a fun experience, why shouldn’t the visit also be?)

“How do you get RSVPs to attend events? We have so many no-shows!”
Lots of communication ahead of time. We also never give guests an easy out like “Can’t attend this event? No worries. Let us help you reschedule by emailing this person.”

“How do you get ambassadors to remember this is a JOB (ours are paid)?”
By having clear expectations and accountability. Nothing gets the attention of paid ambassadors more than putting them on performance evaluation plan (if they’ve violated expectations) and/or firing someone.

“Have you ever worked with a Canadian university?”
We haven’t, but we have passports and love all things maple!

Image from iOS (3).jpg

Wrapping up, we invited our clients attending CIVSA to Wake Up with Render! We hosted three client breakfasts during CIVSA and loved the conversation we had at each surrounding the campus visit. We asked our clients to compare this past year of their life, their campus, their visit, or higher education in general to a 90s song. For your listening pleasure, we’ve compiled the songs into a Spotify playlist! Lots of feelings in this playlist.

Will we see you next year for CIVSA in Orlando, FL? Or at the CIVSA Student Development Institute in Albuquerque, NM?

Waking Up with Render! Not pictured: Nutella waffles that were consumed by the pound.

Waking Up with Render! Not pictured: Nutella waffles that were consumed by the pound.

FCNY18 & The Campus Visit: DryBar

Alli Webb and Brittney Joyce: FCNY16

Alli Webb and Brittney Joyce: FCNY16

Render followers know we're fans of the Fast Company Innovation Festival. This past October, Render's Brittney Joyce and Dani Napier spent a week in NYC traversing the city to pick up lessons from the world's most innovative brands.

We often use DryBar as an example of the evolution of The Experience Economy: getting people to pay for something they didn’t know they needed AND being able to charge a premium price for that product/service.

What has Co-Founder Alli Webb learned among the way? Here are a couple lessons we thought were useful for you & the campus visit:

Brittney Joyce: Mid-blowout with hair that was 90% dry shampoo.

Brittney Joyce: Mid-blowout with hair that was 90% dry shampoo.

  1. There are a lot of copycat studios that have cropped up over the years offering blowouts. Alli said she used to be obsessed about what those studios were doing and how much they emulated the experience staged at DryBar. After a while, she stopped caring. She realized that although they offer a similar service, they’ll never be able to fully understand the thought and intentionality within the DryBar experience (ie: how they hang mirrors on the walls directly behind chairs for a customer’s turnaround reveal).

  2. The people of DryBar are everything to their experience, and hiring the right person is critical. How does Alli ensure the people they hire are the right people? She does a “cultural interview” where managers just hang out with candidates for a while and talk. If the candidate seems friendly and cool, then they get to blowout someone’s hair.

What does this mean for the visit?

  1. Stop being obsessed with the school down the road or your major competitor. We often share best practices with our clients, but no one approach to the campus visit is right for all institutions. You have to be true to your culture and design a visit that authentically reveals your campus DNA.

  2. Usually campus visit coordinators or staff members hire students, and we often find that staff members hire students who share their own personality traits (aka, we hire people just like us). Involve as many people in the hiring process to ensure you’re getting the right person for the job, and think about ways to include more rounds in a selection process other than an interview.

TL;DR: Just be you and think psychographics (not demographics) when hiring or selecting tour guides.

DryBar Co-Founder Alli Webb dishing all things authenticity.

DryBar Co-Founder Alli Webb dishing all things authenticity.

FCNY18 & The Campus Visit: Nordstrom Men's Store

Render followers know we're fans of the Fast Company Innovation Festival. Last October, Render's Brittney Joyce and Dani Napier spent a week in NYC traversing the city to pick up lessons from the world's most innovative brands.

In the coming months, we'll be publishing a series of blog posts with lessons from #FCFestival. What did we learn that can be applied to the campus visit? First up, the new Nordstrom's Men Store!

Standing tall on W 57th Street, Nordstrom has opened it's first store dedicated to providing men a tailored (pun intended) shopping experience.

Based on their research, priorities for this store included:

  • Providing opportunities for customization and personalization
  • Making convenience and efficiency a priority
  • Elevating services to high-end amenities

Sound familiar? These are all priorities we see in research about the campus visit and anecdotal observations of family behavior during visits.

How did Nordstrom translate these priorities into a new physical space?

  • Personalization/Customization
    • Levi's Tailor Shop
    • Build-your-own-suit experience
    • Complimentary personal shopping
  • Convenience & efficiency
    • Express return (customers can process their own returns at a kiosk inside the main doors)
    • Store-to-door (free same-day delivery in NYC for online orders)
  • Elevating services
    • Shoe shine bar (serves cocktails, food)
    • Full cafe and bar in clothing area (they'll bring you a cocktail to the dressing room)
    • Tailoring services
    • Barber, shaving "shop"

TL;DR: Nordstrom is elevating on-demand services and making the shopping experience all about YOU.

Translation: What can you be doing on a daily basis that allows guest to customize their campus visit experience and make it all about them? And when they do have a request on the day of their visit, are you able to make it happen?

Reflecting on CIVSA 2018!

Another year of learning and hugs... and this time we had cheese curds!

CIVSA (the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association) held their annual conference in Milwaukee earlier this month, and we're still processing all the good conversations, brilliant colleagues and fun times. A big shout out to CIVSA, the Executive Board, the Conference Committee and our colleagues - we've been honored to sponsor the CIVSA Annual Conference since 2008, and we thank them for their partnership and support.

IMG_5669 2.JPG

We asked our clients at our annual client shindig, Hooch and Hors d'oeuvers, about the biggest issues facing the campus visit today. Based on what we heard and discussions, here are our big three takeaways from CIVSA this year.

Visit programs are stretched thin. Middle and elementary school groups are eating up a lot of valuable energy and resources in visit programs. We understand that children who connect with a brand in their youth have a higher affinity for brand loyalty...but a one hour campus tour isn't going to develop that level of emotional engagement. It's time for other offices on campus to start hosting those groups to allow admissions to focus on who they need to recruit - high school and transfer students. Or ponder - is a tour really right for these groups? How about a student panel with guides for 30 minutes, lunch on campus, and a science demonstration? Get creative to free up for your visit program for your higher priority students.

More isn't better; better is better. We get it. Some VPs, Deans, and Directors think more people and more events equate to success. When in reality, the data often shows that huge open house events aren't converting students. At the other end of the spectrum, an event with 5 students and their guests can be a waste of resources, time, and energy. If you need to go back to the basics to reset your events, do it. One open house in the fall, one in the spring, and accepted student programming as needed.

Faculty, faculty, faculty. What do we do with them? What's the right level of engagement? How do we get them involved? That's a question for your faculty. Every campus is different. Sometimes, the classroom visit can be really successful (if executed as active engagement, rather than passive). At some campuses the dining hall is the central gathering place on campus, making it a perfect meeting spot for faculty and visitors to interact. General presentations at the conclusion of the tour can be given by faculty. 1:1 meetings with faculty for seniors, applicants, and admitted students only. There are limitless options. But you have to do what's authentic for you and your culture. Start by asking them.

Hope to see you next year for H&H at CIVSA 2019 in Portland, Oregon!

Hope to see you next year for H&H at CIVSA 2019 in Portland, Oregon!

Want to chat with us more about these? Shoot us an email, find us on social media, or track us down at our next conference.

PS. Congratulations to our colleagues from several client campuses who were honored as recipients of CIVSA annual awards at the Greased Lighting closing dinner at Harley Davidson!

Nick Kovalakides Outstanding Member Award

Lindsey Darling, Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

Individual Acheivement Award

Barbara Loftus, Rutgers, The State College of New Jersey

Foot Award

Ashley McDermott, Louisiana State University

Lessons from Fast Company Innovation Festival

Render's Brittney Joyce recently attended Fast Company's annual Innovation Festival in New York City and spent a week trotting around the city to learn from some of the world's greatest brands.

Read on to learn what she learned from #FCFestival that you can apply to your campus visit!

It's all about me.

Ever wondered what your consumer behavior would look like if translated into a map? A stop at Pinterest's NYC headquarters showed us how choices for our boards, pins, and searches all connect toward predicting future behavior on their site and app. Searching for how to build your own backyard deck? Don’t be surprised if you see suggested posts in a few months about summer barbecues and patio furniture. Nursery decoration on your mind? You’ll be seeing some suggestions for Vegas vacations in about a year.

It’s a move toward a deeper dive on consumers rather than simply aligning them under one brand message or marketing campaign. It’s less about processing the masses, and more a move toward intentional targeting.

Creepy, I know. But here’s the point.

We’re all guilty of allowing prospective students to walk in the door, sending them on tour with a random tour guide, and hoping they get something out of it. Shouldn’t you know your visitors better to more accurately prepare for them? Can you take 10 minutes of every day as a staff to prepare for the next day’s visitors, learn a little bit about them, and intentionally match them with a tour guide with complementary interests?

Side note: Isn't this wall the coolest? It has physical "pins" you can take with you highlighting fun, interesting places in NYC.

There’s an app for that, right?

We are constantly being asked if a mobile application for prospective students is worth the investment. I spent some time with some prominent members of the Homeland Generation (also called Generation Z) at the Lower Eastside Girls Club in partnership with School of Doodle. When an attendee asked a panelist why she’s so addicted to her phone, she replied “Well, it’s the only thing in this world that I can control completely.”

Whoa. Mind. Blown.

She went on to describe that kind of control: Her phone only has apps she wants, organized in the way she wants. She can control who she follows on social media, what she sees, what she doesn’t. When we asked if brands should still be building apps, she shrugged. But she did say:

“You can build it. But it’s up to me if I want it. Don’t force me to take up room on my phone for something I may use up once or never. That feels like an invasion of privacy.”

Double mind blown.

TL;DR: You can build them, but don’t have grand expectations that they’ll use it unless it’s an active daily part of your visit, and you, your students, and campus community are using it too.

Anheuser Busch logos greet visitors outside.

Anheuser Busch logos greet visitors outside.

The new aspiration is wellness.

If you think back 10 years ago, aspiration meant luxury items. A Louis Vuitton handbag, a sports car, a big screen tv. Today’s consumers are now obsessed with equating aspiration and wellness. A $300 juicer. A complete collection of Lululemon's latest line. SoulCycle classes. It’s our way of showing off wealth but showcased into how we’re taking better care of ourselves. It’s why we heard Michelob Ultra is the fastest growing brand at Anheuser Busch, and one of America's oldest beer brands is focusing on... you guessed it, wellness.

Are you pondering if this is happening on college campuses and impact's recruitment and retention of students? A recent piece by the Wall Street Journal suggests we're all in the midst of this renaissance.

Interested in learning more about Fast Company Innovation Festival? Watch our Facebook Live recap from 2016 and holla at us on social media.

3 on Thursday: Wrapping up CIVSA!

We learned. We hugged. We cheesesteaked!

CIVSA (the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association) held their annual conference in Philadelphia last week, and we're still reeling from all the good conversations, brilliant colleagues and fun times. A big shout out to CIVSA, the Executive Board, the Conference Committee and our colleagues - we've been honored to sponsor the CIVSA Annual Conference since 2008, and we thank them for their partnership and support.

Whether you were there or missed out, we're ready to break down our three big takeaways from the conference for you.

  • Campus Visit Growth. There has been tremendous growth and momentum to the campus visit industry. CIVSA has grown to over 1000 members and had approximately 600 campus visit professionals in attendance at the annual conference this year. The campus visit has steadily been gaining the recognition it deserves and is now seen as one of (if not THE) the most importance pieces of the recruitment and enrollment of best-fit students. What does this mean for the industry? More and more of our clients are hiring dedicated campus visit professionals. No application reading, no traveling. Just all campus visit, all the time.
  • Prior-Prior = Chaos-Chaos The introduction of Prior-Prior financial aid packaging is hitting the campus visit hard. We're seeing an increase of students visiting 4 - 5 times, especially if they committed back in the fall. By the spring, they're already looking for orientation-esuqe programs. What does this mean for you? You may need to think about adding early orientation programs, moving up your accepted student programming earlier in the year and/or adding a spring program for students that deposited in the fall.
  • Ambassador Struggles are Real. Conversations, how to handle difficult parent questions, what to wear, how to behave... you name it, they're struggling. If you're still training your tour guides now like you did 5 years ago, it's time to change. Think beyond customer service training. Improv training, networking hours, and even demonstrations on how to shake someone's hand properly may go a long way with this generation.

Want to chat with us more about these? Shoot us an email, find us on social media or track us down at our next conference.

PS. Pardon our french, but our colleagues are kind of badasses in the campus visit world. Congratulations to our colleagues from several client campuses who were honored as recipients of CIVSA annual awards at the Roaring '20s closing dinner (hence the outfits)!

Olivia McGuckin, Randolph-Macon College, Inaugural Individual Achievement Award  

Olivia McGuckin, Randolph-Macon College, Inaugural Individual Achievement Award  

Wes Sullivan, California Lutheran University,       Nick Kovalakides Outstanding Service Award

Wes Sullivan, California Lutheran University,       Nick Kovalakides Outstanding Service Award

Terri Franks, University of Georgia Footprint Award

Terri Franks, University of Georgia
Footprint Award

Philadelphia Shoop, Flagler College,          Footprint Award

Philadelphia Shoop, Flagler College,          Footprint Award

3 on Thursday: What We Learned from CIVSA SDI

2017 marks our fourth year presenting at the Collegiate Information Visitor Services Association's Student Development Institute (CIVSA SDI)! We've been honored to meet hundreds of the best and brightest college student tour guides, ambassadors and professional staff over the years, and this year's SDI hosted at Arizona State University was no exception.

What did we learn? Here are our 3 things!

Higher education is a top career choice

15 years ago, a graduating senior would fall into admissions and recruit for a couple of years while they worked through graduate school or were looking for a "real job." In 2017, we, more than ever, are hearing from tour guides that are putting admissions as their top career choice. They have aspirations of being VPs of Enrollment Management, consultants, inventors of technology to aid the campus visit and more.

So how can we all mentor, nurture and educate them to the processes and resources? Students now view themselves as (para) professionals in their roles as tour guides and ambassadors and want professional development. Attending CIVSA SDI is a start, but how are we involving them in the decision-making process? Where is their voice?

Their desire for a more active leadership role within your area leads us to the second thing we learned: For many of today’s students, their involvement as a tour guide is not just for love of school but for career experience.

We are noticing many ambassadors are behaving more strategically in their thinking about the campus visit. They understand the soft skills they gain and value in being a guide: problem-solving, public relations, the ability to anticipate, active listening, we could go on and on. We suspect this is why many students filled the front rows of our breakout session assigned for the professional staff/advisors: “Hello from the Outside: Lessons from Outside Higher Education” This session talked about how you should look at banks, hotels, and other experiences to improve your campus visit.

Why is this all happening?

A recent editorial “The Last American Teen" about Homeland/GenZ in a special “Brand Story Telling Guide” of Adweek Magazine ponders:

"What we’re looking at is an entire generation coming of age during a period of cultural crashing, where the economic and social fabric of America seems to be fraying and tearing.

Being a classic teen requires safety and space for carefree self-exploration, and Gen Z is not registering the world as that kind of place right now.

It’s more important now to sprint to the apparent safety of at least the trappings of adulthood. 60 percent of the generation thinks that you have to start “making it” while you’re still in your teens, with many looking to get on their grind while still tweens.”

If students are more focused on how big brands are staging experiences, then we think you should (as well) look outside of higher education.

Don’t look to the school up the road for best practices; look at world class and profound experience stagers. (more thoughts on this topic can be found here)

Much of our discussion at the conference happened at and centered around the host hotel, Moxy. Moxy is a new concept by Marriott focused on making millennial travelers more at home. Call it hip, sexy or cool, it is a well thought-out experience. You don't check-in at a boring lobby desk; you check-in at the bar. Stressed out at the end of your day? No worries. There's an acoustic guitar hanging on your wall so you can let it all out. Don't want to feel so isolated while you're traveling alone? Every open space had communal seating to invite community-style conversation and activity. The Moxy gives its guest the tools to create their own stories memories and experiences.

As our client, Olivia McGurken (Randolph-Macon College) said about the Moxy, "I felt like Alice in Wonderland at the Moxy…. Everything I touched either led me to interact or do something else than I’d originally intended, or I was more curious at the end of my investigation than in the beginning…. I was left wondering and set up to keep looking for surprises during my stay.”

What can you learn from the Moxy to inspire your campus visit? (Hint: do you really need that big check-in desk?)

What did you learn at CIVSA SDI? Find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and email to keep the convo going.

"3 on Thursday" Wrap-Up - Resources, Links & Thoughts (Oh my!)


Render's Brittney Joyce hosted a Facebook Live event today, December 8th, and chatted with viewers about her experiences attending the Fast Company Innovation Festival (#fcny16)!

A replay can be found on our Render Experiences Facebook page (don't worry, it's only 30 minutes and you can choose to listen a la podcast if you want).

As mentioned during "3 on Thursday"...

Fast Company Innovation Festival (check out the schedule from the 2016 event, next year's info will be coming out in 2017)

Squarespace presentation-esque examples:

Leon Bridges and his journey

David Guttenfelder and his journey

Key & Peele Real Talk's live blogging/streaming event

Eataly's Adam Saper talks experiences and why food matters

We hope you had fun learning from Render Experiences and picked up a nugget or two of thought-provoking and useful ideas!

If you liked "3 on Thursday" and want more like this, let us know - email, tweet, comment on Facebook and Instagram, text, snap... you get the idea.

PS: As promised, below are the receipes for Eataly's Basic Egg Pasta Dough and Squash Ravioli with Butter and Sage (#yummmmmm). Buon appetito!

It was as good as it looks. :)

It was as good as it looks. :)

"3" on Thursday - December 8th at 3PM EST

Join Brittney Joyce on Facebook Live! Render's Senior Consultant will be sharing all the smarts from her recent trip to the 2016 Fast Company Innovation Festival (#fcny16) that you can apply to your campus visit.

She'll share 3 things - one big idea, one trend to consider and one ground-level tactic for your campus visit!

When: Thursday, December 8th at 3 - 3:30PM EST

Where: Render Experiences' Facebook Page

Who: YOU! Join in, listen and ask questions!

Note: This is not a formal webinar. Brittney will be at home - you may see her kitchen in the background or hear her dogs snoring. (She promises to do her dishes before broadcast.)

We hope you join Brittney for a quick 30-minutes of convo to inspire you for the last few weeks of the fall semester.

For more info, shoot Brittney an email at

Yes, there's more to learn from the Brooklyn Brewery than what beers are on tap. :)

Yes, there's more to learn from the Brooklyn Brewery than what beers are on tap. :)

Celebrating 10 Years of Campus Visit Consulting

This time 10 years ago, campus visit consulting began with our first client, Rider University (NJ). We've learned quite a bit along the way and have witnessed many successes with our hundreds of clients. Reflecting on those 10 years, here are 10 quick observations on how the campus visit industry has improved and changed in a decade:

1. The campus visit is now a priority
More savvy presidents, VP’s of enrollment/marketing, and Deans/Directors of Admission are investing in their campus visits with both budgets and people.
2. Campuses look better
Providing placed-based education means the place needs to look better. Investing in the aesthetic is the more the norm.
3. Better bathrooms
“Where are the restrooms?” is the most frequently asked question by visiting families—and now leadership knows it and is investing in making bathrooms better for guests.
4. Welcoming spaces/places
From application processing offices in basements to admissions offices that feel like a county government office, more and more schools have renovated or built facilities that are welcoming, hospitable, and comfortable for guests.
5. Full-time focus
"Director of Campus Visits” (or the like) is becoming more the norm: Professional, focused, non-traveling, non-recruiting positions that make the visit their only priority.
6. Millennial staffers "get it"
Raised on experiences, in the experience economy, and part of better campus visits themselves, millennial admissions staffers get the power and importance of the campus visit.
7. Stories, not scripts
When empowered and trained, student guides ambassadors embrace storytelling and families connect and learn more.
8. Our nomanclature is frequently spoken
We always hear our clients, fans, and others use our terms like, “Wall Estate,” “Brands are Mirrors,” “It’s all about the Experience,” and “Sense of the Butt!”
9. CIVSA has grown in size and scope
Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association has set conference attendance records and their 3rd annual SDI Student Development Institute had nearly 300 tour guides and ambassadors from across the country attending.
10. Increasing number of companies dedicated to the campus visit
From virtual tours, to apps, visit-scheduling software, and competing campus visit consulting enterprises; a campus visit industry is emerging. Everyone wins because families are having better experiences when they visit and enrollment leaders are being more strategic in the crafting of their campus visits.

There’s still much to improve, but we thought it right to pause, ponder, and celebrate how far the campus visit has come. It’s been an honor to be a thought and best practice leader. This video is a quick "THANK YOU!" to the many people who helped us get here and continue to believe in the power of the campus visit.