Overview and Goals:

Recognizing the need to improve public perception and image of the Connecticut Community Colleges (CCC) as high quality educational providers of choice in an increasingly competitive educational marketplace, the Chancellor’s Office contracted First Experience Communications (FEC), to work with the 12 college system to help raise awareness of the myriad education opportunities available at the Community Colleges. The primary goals of creating an integrated marketing communications (IMC) program for the Community Colleges were:

  • To create marketing and communications standards and practices that will improve the image of the CCC
  • To prioritize new and current marketing communications initiatives between the System and the 12 colleges
  • To reallocate existing marketing communications funds and provide additional funding where necessary


Recognizing the need to remain competitive, the Connecticut Community College system contracted FEC to conduct extensive primary and secondary research to gauge public awareness of, perceptions about and expectations for the CCCs. Primary research included four environmental scans, written surveys, phone interviews, and facilitated focus groups with key audiences (alumni, students, faculty, administrators, business, community and political leaders) in order to develop and precisely craft key communication themes and messages to a more defined target audience. Additional internal research was conducted to audit customer service, communications and media effectiveness. A comprehensive competitive analysis was conducted to compare the CCC system’s image and communications activities with successful national models. Secondary research was conducted at the libraries and online to provide industry trends and successful benchmarks. Each of the research components helped further define what the CCC’s different audiences think of the community colleges (clarify perception), what they value and expect (define value lines), and how the CCC vision for providing and continuously improving the education and training services must respond to the needs of their learners/customers (confirm demand-based programming needs). A cross-functional Image Management Steering Committee (IMSC) was established to build internal awareness and commitment to the process as well as create consensus and establish action plans. The IMSC included the Chancellor, the Special Assistant to the Chancellor for System Advancement and Communications, Trustees, and a representative sampling of all 12 colleges’ presidents, Deans, faculty, admissions staff and students.


Based upon the research findings, the IMSC (detailed above) began the planning process with guidance from FEC. Intensive and extensive planning meetings were held at the IMSC level and subsequently founded cross-functional subcommittee level for the specific keystone issues of recruitment and retention, technology, and communications planning. Each subcommittee was charged with conducting further research and formulating recommendations regarding specific strategic challenges. FEC facilitated the initial meetings and helped develop the IMSC mission statement: To support the mission of the community colleges by advancing the ability of the colleges and the system to provide education for a lifetime in the face of increased competition by employing process improvement techniques and teams focused on enhancing college and system image and competitive advantages, improving our decision-making capacity, and coordinating and integrating communications plans. The IMSC established several specific strategic communications goals for 2000-2005:
Create a sustainable integrated marketing, advertising and PR program that integrates the 12 college marketing programs, eliminates duplication and improves audience perception of the CCC system and individual colleges

  • Improve public/media relations to increase visibility of CCC success ads and stories
  • Increase public/media brand awareness to leverage competitive advantages through implementing customer-centered programs and services, and access to opportunities through higher education
  • Increase Enrollment by 10% for the 12 college system, both credit and non-credit, by 2005
  • Increase Funding from CT General Assembly, financial aid, CCC foundations and grants


For the FEC projects to integrate their marketing and communications efforts, the CCC system spent an estimated total of $150,000 in 1999 and $95,000 in 2000 (not including production, media, and execution). Over the last two years, the total marketing budget for the CCC system increased 250%. This steady and significant increase in their marketing research, planning and execution funding demonstrates the system’s commitment to the IMC initiative as well as endorses the success of the formative years of the initiative.


Based on the primary and secondary research conducted, the “Technical” in the organization’s name was removed as it was perceived as adding to the misconception that the CCC system provided only traditional, technical, blue collar industry education and was too closely associated with the area’s vocational-technical high school training programs. The resulting system of 12 “Connecticut Community Colleges” was then branded and positioned to attract the attention and referral of outstanding business and community leaders (including state and local government) as well as increase enrollment of the targeted audiences. The enclosed Marketing and Communications Plan (2000-2005) was developed as a result of the research-defined needs. Elements of the plan include use of public relations; the newly developed logo and tagline with corresponding graphic standards manual tied to print purchasing standards; print, radio and cable advertising; direct mail campaigns; trade shows and recruitment events at high schools, businesses and community organizations; improved system and college-specific web site navigation and standardized nomenclature and e-mail addresses; pilot programs at individual colleges, and; reallocation of funding to key areas of recruitment and retention, information technology, communications, staff development/training and IMC execution. Based upon the research results, key messages were crafted for each of the target audiences to highlight the CCC competitive advantages in offering higher education opportunities in a wide range of programs and services for a diverse audience of students with practical, “real world” expectations. Examples illustrate the unique nature of a community college as well as the “surprises” that will counter negative perceptions and establish a community college image that differentiates its “brand” of education as uniquely suited to serving the interests of their students by: Connecting community colleges to high profile success stories (faculty success stories and advertising campaign); “Surprising” their audiences to dispel commonly held misconceptions; Combining attention-getting advertising with an educational component that cuts through the clutter of competing higher education advertising, and; Explaining why the CCCs are different and how this difference is an advantage for students. All of these messages are related to improving CCC’s image through relationship marketing and communications — a long-term (lifelong learning) approach to communicating the community college brand and to building “brand” loyalty that will leverage the CCC’s competitive advantages.

Evaluation and Results:

End game results included: Immediate improvement of data collection and analysis, advertising effectiveness, the management of the CCC messages and images, in the use of limited resources (both human and financial) in marketing efforts, and impact on policy, government and business leaders.
Specific Results Include:

  • The resulting logo and graphic standards manual document the new brand identity and has received national recognition from the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations (see enclosed awards).
  • A 12-month IMC plan was developed for execution via print, radio, TV and collateral direct mail campaigns to match copy with media profiles/demographics, integrate options for coordinated college-specific communications, and communicate messages identified in the research to the specific intended target audiences.
  • An internal communications campaign was established to inform and engage faculty and staff to generate additional surprising success stories and promote the further understanding of the “new” community college image.
  • The IMSC proved successful in significantly improving internal communications between colleges and throughout the system, dramatically reducing resistance to change and improving internal awareness and subsequent promotion of the new image and branding campaign.
  • A web site strategy was developed to support other promotions to the greatest possible advantage
  • A strategy for data-based decisions involved implementing and customizing BANNER, a college recruitment and retention software package, promoting information sharing across campus boundaries, and training.
  • Pilot Program at one of the colleges, Tunxis, leveraging system IMC to the local level implementation resulted in a 4.75% increase in credit enrollment—a full percentage point, or 25%, MORE than the system average increase.

Bottom Line Results Include:

  • 3.74% increase in credit enrollment over the 2-year period (well on their way to the goal of 10% over five years)
  • 4.6% projected increase in non-credit enrollment over the 2-year period (towards the goal of 10% over 5 years)
  • 250% increase in system marketing budget over two years to continue the IMC effort
  • $4.5 million added to the 2000 CT General Assembly for CT Aid to Public Colleges (financial aid for CT students), of which the Community Colleges receive 30%
  • $3 million appropriated for “Access to Opportunity” program for two years to provide access to disadvantaged and at-risk student populations attending community college programs
  • $6 million appropriated to the Connecticut Community Colleges as part of the three-year, statewide tuition freeze
  • $3.2 million raised in the first three years of the system endowment fund, making the system eligible for $1.6 million additional state matching funds

Learn More: Community Colleges: Bridging Access to Success Through Collaborative Branding Position Paper