Graduate Management News

October 2014

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Showcasing Your Students through Digital Storytelling

“Welcome to Hollywood! What is your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams.”


For avid movie buffs, this closing line to the 1990 blockbuster Pretty Woman sums up what the movie industry does so well. Yet, drive just eight miles from the iconic Hollywood Sign, and you’ll find another place that’s in the “dream-making” business: The UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Here, Sylvia Haas, director of Executive MBA Admissions, has been helping prospective students realize their career dreams for the past six and a half years. Given the strength of the program, it would seem to be as easy as an experienced surfer riding the waves at Venice Beach. The competitive sands in the area of EMBA programs, however, are constantly shifting. 

You have to be constantly on the move for the best candidates in order to keep up, as Haas and other EMBA admissions professionals know all too well. In addition to holding information sessions and application workshops throughout the region, Haas has successfully tapped into the large military presence in SoCal with Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine events all along the west coast. This targeted outreach comes natural for Haas, who is the wife and mother of military officers (including two sons who are West Point graduates and another who is an Air Force alumnus). It’s easy to understand why she is especially delighted to welcome the first female F-18 pilot joining the program this fall.

As she looks to continue to build upon the success of the program, Haas understands that tactics need to evolve as circumstances change. Globalization has created a much wider recruitment radius for many EMBA programs. While it’s not uncommon to have prospects from the other side of the country, it’s another matter to have them from the other side of the world. International candidates from Australia, South Korea and Canada have expressed interest in the Anderson EMBA and will be attending this fall. 

Enter Digital Storytelling 

In the new global landscape, it’s much more challenging to connect in person. You can’t just jump on a Qantas flight for an EMBA Coffee in Sydney as easily as you would by hopping on the 405 to San Diego (although some days it might actually be quicker, considering the freeway traffic in LA). 

Video is quickly becoming imperative for business school marketers, especially considering that YouTube is the largest search engine outside of Google and that 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine. Digital storytelling enables your business school to tell its unique story. It humanizes the brand and enables your program to foster a closer and deeper connection with prospective students, wherever they may be. Moreover, a story is up to 22 times more memorable than facts and figures alone, according to research from Stanford. 

This was enough to convince Haas, through a partnership with higher education marketing firm Converge Consulting, to introduce digital storytelling into her recruiting mix. 

It’s not simply a matter of just telling a story. It’s about providing stories that help prospective students envision themselves in your program so that they want to be there. What follows are four considerations for using student stories to help market your program and recruit top talent. 

1. Create user personas. User personas help prospects connect with current students and alumni with whom they can identify. It means creating user personas of your target audiences, such as military candidates in this video below. 

While your candidates share a desire for the same degree, it’s important to remember that they all have different backgrounds, motivations, and challenges. Personas help ensure that your content creators consistently stay on brand while creating the right message for the right person at the right time. It’s a way for you to show that you understand the prospective student’s needs better than any alternative and how your program can provide value to them. 

2. Get prospects to take action. One of the challenges for program administrators is that an MBA, unlike a law or medical degree, is not a requirement to practice the profession or reach the highest levels. In fact, 63% of female corporate leaders in Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business list did not go to business school. So how can you influence someone to do something that they don’t have to do? Storytelling is a powerful tool that has the ability to change behavior. This is because at the brain level, what is happening in the story is happening to the viewer. 

While some aspects of your curriculum can appear “dry” in text, digital video can make it come alive. Compare reading about the Strategic Management Research (SMR) project here vs. watching it below. The first line is particularly powerful. 

3. Differentiate your program. Digital storytelling is also a great way to take some of the more standardized benefits of MBA programs and raise them up a notch. It seems like every business school these days has world-renowned faculty and amazing alumni networks. Here’s the opportunity to make program features and benefits leap off the screen to connect with prospect’s hearts. Check out this video on the power of the UCLA Anderson network. 

4. It’s about relationships. Of course, MBA recruitment all comes back to relationships and the key role that admissions officers play in attracting and engaging students through 1:1 connections. Just watch this moving video below. 

Given the number of stakeholders in your business school community – from students and alumni to faculty and staff – there’s no limit to the stories that can be told through video. 

About the Author

Barbara Coward is a vice president of Innovation with Converge Consulting, specializing in strategies to optimize enrollment and increase brand awareness.