Using a Treasure Hunt to Achieve PR, Marketing and Enrollment Goals

by Linnie S. Carter, Ph.D., APR
HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College
Harrisburg, PA

This past summer, a philanthropic movement took the world by storm when anonymous donors started leaving cash for others to find. I wondered what motivated these anonymous people to change strangers’ lives with these random acts of kindness.

An idea then occurred to me. Why can’t HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, do the same thing? We could partner with the HACC Foundation and hide scholarship vouchers in random locations throughout the college’s 10-county service area and change lives in ways we could never imagine. I called a member of the college’s integrated marketing communications team, and we set our plan in motion.

The initiative – called the HACC Treasure Hunt for Tuition Giveaways – took the Central Pennsylvania community by storm. The timing was excellent, because the college is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Our goals were to:

1. Award 10 $1,000 scholarships in 10 days to individuals living in HACC’s 10-county service region;

2. Increase awareness of HACC;

3. Drive individuals to enroll at the college;

4. Increase the number of followers on HACC’s Twitter account;

5. Increase the number of “likes” on HACC’s collegewide Facebook account; and

6. Increase media coverage of HACC.

Our primary target audiences were (1) prospective students ready to start classes at HACC  between Aug. 1, 2014-June 30, 2015 who were at least 18 years old and who lived in the college’s 10-county service region, (2) parents of prospective students, (3) current students and (4) local, regional and national media. We used a variety of communications tactics to spread the word, including our website, social media sites, news release and college newsletters.

Each weekday for two weeks, we placed the scholarship vouchers (along with a prospect card, fact sheet, viewbook and the treasure hunt rules) at a secret location by 6:30 a.m. We announced a clue around 8 a.m. each day on Facebook and Twitter and via video or text. We announced additional clues if no one found the scholarship voucher after the first clue. We announced the winner each day on Facebook and Twitter.

The treasure hunt was wildly successful:

•  We awarded 10 $1,000 scholarships in 10 days to individuals living in HACC’s 10-county service region.

•  We increased awareness of HACC and inspired individuals to enroll. Before this initiative, our enrollment decline was double digits. A month later, it was only 3 percent.

•  We increased the number of followers on Twitter and increased the number of “likes” on Facebook. Specifically, over a 19-day period, we increased the number of Facebook likes by 776 and increased the number of Twitter followers by 212.

•  We increased media coverage of HACC. In only a few weeks, we received coverage in 12 newspapers, on four TV stations, on two media outlets’ websites and on two media outlets’ social media sites.

What types of short-term initiatives have you done that resulted in PR, marketing and/or enrollment success for your college?

Linnie S. Carter, Ph.D., APR, is the vice president of college advancement at HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, and the executive director of the HACC Foundation. 

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