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Spotify Ad Studio is a “game-changer” for higher education agency Carnegie

See how a higher education marketing agency helps its clients stand out and why Ad Studio “is a place where higher education now needs to be.”
Like many other industries, 2020 was a year of disruption and change for higher education, and academic institutions had to adapt to new ways of connecting with students quickly. To learn more about these challenges and the shifts the industry was already facing, we turned to Carnegie Dartlet (Carnegie), a higher education marketing agency that’s helped colleges and universities connect with prospective students and their families for 35 years. Here’s where the industry stands today, and the pivotal role digital audio plays in its future.

“One of the biggest challenges colleges and universities are facing today is a very competitive landscape and a very cluttered environment,” said Mark Cunningham, Carnegie’s Executive Vice President of Partnerships and Operations. “We’re living in a world where all colleges can sound the same...where taglines, messaging, and facts could be from one college as well as another college.” So it’s more important than ever for schools to find ways to stand out. “In the mind of a prospective student, ensuring that you are separating yourself in a way that’s going to resonate and drive action is not just a nice-to-have. It’s an absolute necessity,” he said.

And that’s not the only obstacle education marketers face right now. “The other challenge [they’re] facing is the need for constant adaptation,” Cunningham said. “They need to be able to keep up with evolving technology, where their audiences are spending their time, and what their interests are.” In other words, marketers need to meet prospective students and their families on their level, using the platforms they use most.

To stay on top of the industry and what audiences are interested in, Carnegie conducts constant research on connecting with prospective students and delivering impactful messages more effectively. "We listen to the audiences. We make sure that all the work that we’re doing is keeping up with where they’re spending [most of] their time and what they are telling us they want to consume,” Cunningham said.

We started on Ad Studio in 2018...because we saw that the audiences we care about and were trying to reach were already on Spotify.

Mark Cunningham

EVP, Partnerships and Operations, Carnegie

As a result of this research, Carnegie decided to start experimenting with audio. “Digital audio presented us with a lot of opportunities to reach the audiences that are most important for the colleges and universities that we work with,” Cunningham said. It presented unique moments to “connect with prospective students across all areas of campus — graduate, adult, transfer, [and] undergraduate,” he said. For Carnegie, digital audio meant Spotify. “We started on Ad Studio in 2018, and we did that because we saw that the audiences we care about and were trying to reach were already on Spotify.”

It’s no surprise that Carnegie’s research led them here. Ad-supported Spotify listeners globally spend over 1.9 billion minutes streaming while they are studying or focusing.1 These are moments where listeners might already be thinking about their education and, therefore, might be more open to messages from schools. What’s more, focus-, study-, and work-related playlist streams have increased by 57% YoY globally among ad-supported Spotify listeners, meaning that this is a listening moment that continues to grow.2

  • 1.9B

    minutes ad-supported Spotify listeners globally spend streaming while studying or focusing

  • +57%

    YoY increase in focus-, study-, and work-related playlist streams

This tracks with what Carnegie found over the last year, too. “Our research continually showed that prospective students of all types spent more time consuming media and streaming music during quarantine than normal,” said Anderson Murphy, AVP of Digital Strategy at Carnegie. “Spotify Ad Studio helped us reach these leaned-in listeners and strengthen awareness for our clients with a quick and easy campaign setup process that didn’t require finding and hiring voice actors.”

Carnegie’s mission is rooted in what it calls "the Power of Human Connection," which means the ability to connect with prospective students and their families on a human level is essential. Ad Studio helps them do this in a few ways, but it starts with audio. Music and podcasts are personal — we believe they're central to people's lives. When colleges and universities meet prospective students where they’re already listening to their favorite music and podcasts, it shows they understand what’s important to them.

Erika Fields, the agency’s Senior Social Media Manager, who handled many of Carnegie’s Ad Studio campaigns, said our targeting options help Carnegie deliver schools’ messages to the right audiences in critical moments. In addition to location targeting and age targeting, Carnegie also frequently taps into Ad Studio’s interest and real-time context targeting. They use these targeting tactics to connect with audiences during moments when they’re likely to be open to a message about education — “while they're commuting, working out, or doing their homework,” she said.

Another factor in Carnegie’s decision to include Ad Studio in its marketing services is the platform’s ease of use. “Ad Studio is a turn-key product for us,” Fields said. According to Fields, higher education often has limited resources for marketing, but Ad Studio can fit most budgets with our $250 minimum and free audio ad creation with our voiceover tool. “Having Ad Studio at our fingertips has made it seamless to get more clients up and running. We’re able to make adjustments any time we need to, and we know that we’re reaching the right audience with the right messaging at the right time,” she said.

Spotify wasn’t the only digital audio platform Carnegie turned to at first. “There have been other streaming platforms we’ve tested previously. But the spending requirements are fairly high, and we don’t get in-depth reporting back from them. We can’t get into the platform and see what’s happening in real-time to make adjustments to campaigns,” Fields said. “Spotify has been a game-changer for us.”

Traditional radio might’ve worked in the past, but this is the platform audiences go to now...it’s where higher education needs to be.

Erika Fields

Senior Social Media Manager, Carnegie

The University of Cincinnati was one of the first clients Carnegie got up and running on Ad Studio. Their goal was to reach prospective undergraduate students in their key markets. And with Ad Studio, they were able to reach over 250,000 prospective students in those markets. “It helped build out their branding and awareness with their prospective audience,” Fields said. And they saw a “return on investment with higher than average clickthrough rates.”

Successes like this are convincing: the number of clients Carnegie has on Ad Studio has grown 50% in less than a year. “It’s been valuable for our clients to reach their prospective students and families on a platform we know they’re already active. We know that streaming audio is important for prospects, and it makes total sense that our clients would want to have a presence there to build a relationship,” Fields said. “Traditional radio might have worked in the past, but this is the platform that audiences are going to now,” she said, “We know that they’re there, we know that they’re engaging, and it’s a place where higher education now needs to be.”

1 Spotify Internal Data, November 2020, Global 2 Spotify Internal Data, April 2020, vs. April 2021, Global

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