Optimizing the Campus Visit Experience with Jeff Kallay

Episode 12 cover art: Optimizing the Campus Visit with Jeff Kallay

The campus visit remains one of the most impactful moments in the college decision process, and there’s probably no one who knows more about the campus visit experience than Jeff Kallay, Principal of Render Experiences.

His work on campus visits has been featured in numerous publications including the Chronicle of Higher Education, University Business Magazine, and the New York Times, and we were lucky enough to have him join us on the Higher Ed Marketing Lab podcast to share some of his best insights.

We cover:

  • why our complex digital world makes the campus visit more important, not less
  • how Gen Z and their Gen X parents present new and interesting challenges to recruiters
  • why rock star students don’t always make rock star ambassadors, and
  • why your guides should never, ever walk backwards and talk.



Jarrett Smith: You’re listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith.

Welcome to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith. Each episode, it’s my job to engage with some of the brightest minds in higher ed in the broader world of marketing to bring you actionable insights you can use to level up your school’s marketing and enrollment efforts.

In this episode, we’ll be talking with Jeff Kallay, principal at Render Experiences. Jeff’s innovative work or campus visits has been featured on the cover the Chronicle of Higher Education, in the national section of New York Times and in other leading publications like University Business Magazine and Inside Higher Ed. Jeff is a popular speaker at conferences and workshops around the country and has become a respected authority on the emerging experience economy in the all important campus visit experience.

We really covered a lot of territory in our conversation, starting with some of the high level frameworks that underpin his work and then digging into some of the specific tactical details that can make a really big difference in your campus visits. Among many other things, we talk about important generational differences that every admissions leader and tour guide should understand. We talk about why covering up your school’s imperfections is a mistake and why you should never, ever let your tour guides walk backwards and talk at the same time. Towards the end, we even talked about what to do when you experience bad behavior from parents on tours.

This was a really fun and interesting conversation that I think will have lots of useful takeaways for anyone concerned with campus visits. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Jeff Kallay.

Jeff, welcome to the show. Thank you for being here.

Jeff Kallay: Hey, it is an honor to be here. Thanks Jarrett.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah, I can’t wait to dig into all the knowledge you have on campus experiences and the campus visit and tour and all that good stuff. Before we get there, I’d love it if you’d just tell us a little bit about kind of your personal story. What’s your background? How did you end up working in the higher ed space? And I guess specifically, how did kind of the campus tour kind of become your area of focus?

Jeff Kallay: Okay. And this podcast is how long? No. Hey, I have the greatest job on earth. I say that all the time and that I meet people routinely to tour college campuses. The short story is, I’m a first generation college grad. My grandparents immigrated from eastern Europe to Pittsburgh, Steel City and all the men in my family worked in United States steel mills and I did not want to do that.

My parents were really good about always getting us on college campuses for a reason, for culture event, for a sporting event. We moved to Florida in high school and was down there in junior high. I went to a small evangelical liberal arts college. Small at the time, in the early 80s. Fall of 1982 and graduated from there in 1986 and was an ambassador and they got a new president and he hired me to be in an admissions counselor after I graduated.

It was an awesome experience. This was challenging times, as they are now, declining enrollment and it was a dynamic leader and it was Lee College at the time, now Lee University. One of the top five largest Christian universities. I worked admissions. I did everything. My first business card, I joke, had a toll number and a mailing address. I’ll say that to ambassadors and you have no idea what either of those two things are.

Jarrett Smith: Did you have a beeper?

Jeff Kallay: In the 90s I did. In my agency years yeah, but in the late 80s, working on a college campus, no and I did everything. Produce view books, produce procurement videos, gave tours, did all that. Moved to Atlanta in the 1990s and got into advertising. Traditional agencies on both B to B and B to C and I missed higher ed.

A freelance writer connected me with an agency in Atlanta called Mind Power. Does a lot of higher ed branding and was the new business guy there. Realized no one was talking about the campus visit and I had read the Experience Economy and it gave a blueprint to the art and science of staging experiences. And so just kind of as a mean of new business, I called people up, a vice president of enrollment, a dean and say, “Hey, I’m going to be in your city, let me take your campus tour, give you some input. Take you to lunch.” And that led to the notion that people wanted full-time thought on their campus visit.

I met Trent Gilbert and Brian Niles. Brian Niles is the co-founder of TargetX, a big CRM company now in higher ed and Trent Gilbert. I met them both at a Southern Association for College Admissions Counseling meeting. Trent was running the campus visit at Elon and we got together, wrote a campus visit plan, floated it to some folks. Brian Niles was one of them and he said, “Come do that with us.”

In 2006, we started TargetX Campus Visit Consulting and had a lot of fun. I think we had to do two things, we had to build both the importance of the campus visit but we also had to build a campus visit industry of sorts, along the way. We had to raise the profile of the campus visit to get people to pay for our services.

250 clients later, here it is 2019 and I’m chatting with you on a podcast. That is the long story of my journey.

Jarrett Smith: Good stuff. Hey, so you mentioned the Experience Economy, the book. It’s an HBR article, folks can go out and read. That as I understand it, kind of a core concept to how you think of the campus experience. Can you tell us, what are sort of the key tenets? What does that framework look like? And how do you kind of apply it in the campus experience context?

Jeff Kallay: Right. You figure the Experience Economy was published first in 1999. A while back. I think what it did is it Pine and Gilmore gave a framework that it said, “America’s economy evolves from an agrarian to industrial to service and information to one that is now experience.” And that is a cliché word. People don’t want stuff, they want experiences, add we because the experiential awards that everyone talked on the Experience Economy.

I think on the big end, it’s not what you do or say but how you make people feel. Ultimately if you’re truly an experience economy, you really don’t have the need for advertising and marketing because the experience is the marketing. What Pine and Gilmore did is they really outlined the tenets that make up for great experiences. It’s an integration of what we call the four E’s, aesthetics as in a sense of place and how it looks. Entertainment, escape and education.

All experiences fit into those four and if you think about a traditional college campus, residential experience, that’s the experience economy. I’m going to escape my parents’ home, reinvent myself. I’m going to go to a pretty campus. I’m going to get an education and I’m going to have some fun along the way.

Sensory engagement, emotional engagement, memorabilia, all these thing are tenets and what we try to do is find the DNA of that student experience and those best fit students and then translate that into an authentic campus visit experience that connects with best fit students. We’re not about telling someone to build a monorail for gee whiz factor. We’re about trying to reveal that which is authentic and real. Because Authenticity is actually Pine and Gilmore’s second book, which is somewhat of a followup that is actually more impactful and important to me than the Experience Economy.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah, I definitely want to dig in later on in the conversation to some interesting ways you’ve seen schools sort of render that authenticity in their campus experience.

Jeff Kallay: That’s actually where our name comes from.

Jarrett Smith: Oh, nice.

Jeff Kallay: Is render authenticity. Yeah. In 2006, I won an award from Pine and Gilmore for integrating there and I had said, “Our goal is to get schools to render authenticity.” And Jim was like, “Did you hear? Render auth.” That’s kind of the story behind the name.

Jarrett Smith: Nice. We’re kind of seeing that things like virtual tours, information on the college campus is available on YouTube and you can go see videos. Maybe a student has posted about their dorm. I guess kind of in that world, why do you think the campus visit, the tour, still is relevant today? Do you see that changing down the road? What’s your take on that.

Jeff Kallay: No. I always get asked this and I’m intrigued. People still recruit people, still. Even in as we keep adding in more touch points and more communication points. If you’re going away to college, particularly if you’re going away to a traditional residential college or university or if you are going to a place based education setting, seeing that place in its reality matters. I think the campus visit matters all the more because of distractions and because there is so much content online that filtering it through, we have heard parents say, “We’re defaulting to the campus visit because there is so much stuff out there.”

A virtual visit’s great, particularly for international student, I think for setting the tone but you want to see on Maslow low basic needs, where am I going to sleep? Where am I going to eat? Who are the people that I’ll be part of a community with? And you have to go see that in person, right?

Jarrett Smith: Yeah.

Jeff Kallay: It’s an intimate product choice, going away to college.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah.

Jeff Kallay: An extended hotel stay. You sleep there, you eat there, you get sick there, you get naked there, you might get naked with other people there. It’s more than just the classroom experience.

Jarrett Smith: That’s kind of interesting that you said there’s this kind of trend of yeah, we can find out a lot of information online but it’s overwhelming. It’s hard to make heads of tails of it so we just want to talk to somebody. It reminds me of something that Jay Baer, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the social media guru Jay Baer but I saw him speak one time and he said, “My generation,” he was referring to himself, he’s a Gen Xer, he said, “we got on social media and we started tweeting about what we were having for breakfast.” Sharing everything online, if you look at the social media behavior of up and coming generations, they’re stepping away from that there with drawing into platforms where the communication if ephemeral like Snapchat. We’ve got the smaller group, maybe one to one communication. It’s kind of like they dialed it up and wow, look what we can do, we can share everything.

And now it’s like, okay time to rein this back in. It’s just kind of a connection that was made in my mind when you brought up that point that this is why the campus tour is still valuable.

Jeff Kallay: Yeah, good luck getting screen time with Gen Z. I think these devices that are supposed to connect us are disconnecting us from each other and from our own humanity. I think that there is a craving in us to be with people to, it’s part of being human, to gather and be with people. A campus visit does that in some form of touch. It’s real.

Jarrett Smith: We’ve kind of hit on this a little bit but we’ve been dancing around a little bit, generational differences. I’m just curious, I know this is a topic that you talk a lot about and have some deep thinking on and I’m just kind of curious, what you might have to say on that topic, baby boomers versus Gen X versus millennials versus Gen Z and maybe within the context of the campus visit, how maybe college marketers need to be thinking differently. Particularly with this up and coming generation.

Jeff Kallay: Yeah. Render has borrowed significantly from Pine and Gilmore, who are good friends of ours. When I was at TargetX, early on TargetX was talking about millennials. Right as soon as Howe and Strauss named them and wrote that book. I think generations can be over hyped and can be cliché but all a generation is, is a cohort that has a shared history. That’s all it is. Gender, race, where you’re born, who your parents are, their level of education, all of those thing impact everyone’s American destiny. But there is just a shared cohort that shares history. That’s it.

I am an Howe and Strauss purist. The guys that wrote the book on American generations, the guys that named millennials, millennials. I am also a bitter Gen Xer. I was born on the boomer Xer cusp. When I talk about generations I show this family photo that explains my family quite a bit in 1965. I have an older brother who’s four years older and we were born on that boomer Xer cusp and he kind of took on the idealist baby boomer and I took on the reactive kind of bitter Gen Xer. I just listen to Lithium on Sirius XM.

Jarrett Smith: I saw on your website, your post about where can you wear Doc Martins and a No Fear t-shirt at the same time? Portland.

Jeff Kallay: Exactly. The 90s are still alive.

If you break down child’s down, very quickly if listeners aren’t familiar, we can basically say there’s a repetitive pattern in American history that we inevitably become our parents. It’s that scene in the Breakfast Club when they’re talking about it and as much as we fight it, we just become our parents. What they say is that there are cycles that are anchored around a historical moment. The Revolution, the Civil War, the great power, America’s rise to global preeminence and then the millennium.

In each of those cycles, you lead off with an idealist generation, then a reactive generation, then a civic generation and then an adaptive generation and then it turns. Baby boomers are the idealists, Gen X is the reactives, millennials are the civic and Gen Z’s the adaptive. We’re about to have a turn and usher in a new cycle.

Predominantly idealists birth civics, civics birth idealists, reactives birth adaptives, adaptives birth reactives. Rinse and repeat. What you have is you have two larger generations in a cohort in boomers and millennials and then two tinier ones. Everyone’s scrambling for traditional high school graduates that are on the decline.

Circle this back around, long story short is, 62 million Gen Xers, 72 million baby boomers, and because of immigration millennials continue to grow. There are 86 million now. You have less people in Gen X having less kids. That’s why everyone’s in a panic and that’s why everyone’s numbers are on the decline. Less high school graduates, more colleges and universities or not, competing for them.

In the visit, baby boomers came at us en masse, in changing the way they changed everything in America. And they starting having kids in the early 80s and those kids started graduating from college and in the 2000, that’s why we call them millennials. Every year Jarrett, there was more high school graduates than the year before in the early aughts. It was a great time to be in admissions.

Boomers and their best friend millennials came at colleges en masse and no one was prepared for them. Admissions offices were paper processing applications in basements of admin buildings and all of a sudden they had to step up and become visit centers and welcome centers. I think it kind of changed but it was more of in an en masse kind of way. Everyone sat down in a lecture hall of a 100 people. You had a 45 minute to an hour and a half information session and then you went out on tour and you saw everything.

That no longer works with Generation X and Gen Z. In the world of mass customization and mass personalization we want what we want, when we want it. We are having to educate our clients on this new audience that has a completely different set of wants and needs and behaves completely different than parents and prospective students of even five years ago.

Gen Z was whacked by the recession. They are just the most fiscally and fiduciary and budget oriented. They ask questions about costs. They ask questions about student indebtedness. Gen X does not trust institutions because all those institutions in the upheaval of the 70s, bailed on us and failed on us and we raised ourselves so we think we can around institutions.

To that end, we witnessed really bad Gen X parent behavior on campus tours. Simply because they’re not being recognized when they really are driving this decision. They are obsessed with safety. They are obsessed because they don’t trust institutions. They really want to see the lower end of Maslow’s hierarchy. Where’s my son or daughter going to sleep? Where are they going to eat? What is safety? What is healthcare? Where is counseling? Boomers were just, “Ooo, look at new bright, shiny rock climbing wall.” The amenities. Look at the school building, these amenities for my special millennial. Where now we tell our clients, “Service is the new amenities.” Advising, counseling, career counseling, the facilitation of internships, those are the things that parents want to see and know about.

Jarrett Smith: And then you pair this with the Gen Z student that’s saying, “Okay, you’re asking me to plunk down a large chunk of change on education, what does this get me?” This has got to be worth it in the long run.

Jeff Kallay: Spot are on. How much does it cost and what do I get for it?

Jarrett Smith: Yeah, so you end up with this much more practical kind of mindset it seems like.

Jeff Kallay: Yeah, absolutely. Because idealistic baby boomers wanted to know how you were going to make Caitlin with a C, Kaitlin with a K, Kate Lynn, two words, I stole that from the Simpsons. How you’re going to make them all the more special? How are you going to make my high school musical, we’re all in this together, offspring, all the more special?

I think they were willing to finance it. Gen X and Gen Z, they expect a transformation but outcomes really do matter. And they will pay for it for schools that will prove outcomes.

Jarrett Smith: It’s so interesting what you said about this is a generation that remembers the recession. They’ve seen it first hand. They’ve watched their parents struggle with debt. I came across stat, I think it was the American Association of Realtors and it said, “Gen Z watched their parents struggle with debt and the overwhelming majority of home buyers report delaying their home purchase because of student loan debt.” Kind of tying all that together.

All right, let’s kind of dive down into on the ground reality for the campus visit, that campus experience for prospective students. Maybe a good starting place would be, what is kind of the typical quote unquote, campus visit? And what are folks routinely getting wrong on that visit experience?

Jeff Kallay: Wow.

Jarrett Smith: Where do I start.

Jeff Kallay: Yeah, right. I think it is still that information session or meeting with, if you’re a smaller private Lebard’s college, a meeting with admissions and interview and I’m making air quotes. We hate that word, when they’re non-evaluative, we hate when our clients use that word because it’s not real and it’s not authentic and it freaks the students out. It just adds to their anxiety.

I think you still have this form of an information, here’s who we are, here’s what we do, here’s how much we cost, here’s how you get in, here’s how we help you pay for it and then you’re divided however. Either by cattle or in advance and sent out with a tour guide. I think then most schools what do they do? Most colleges are really guilty of being very selfish. It’s not about their guest, it’s about showing off their brand new buildings, their best buildings, hiding buildings that aren’t, and I think a death march through the whole campus and taking everyone into this new science building built on the end of campus whether they’re interested in the sciences or not. Because somehow you’re going to walk in the space when it comes to school because it’s brand new even though you’re a theater major.

It’s still the way it was 10 years ago overall. I think we challenge, what are the sins? So many. Where is the link to visit on your website starting with that? It should be above the fold on every page. If I see you have a major, I see you have a sport, don’t make me think where to click visit. I think that it’s still vague in how people promote the visit and they don’t manage the expectations. There’s never enough parking. Most welcome centers need an update. Most colleges and universities hire rockstar students who are super busy. Why they are a great outcome and I hate to say, product of that school, it doesn’t mean they’re a great ambassador or tour guide just because they’re involved in so much.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah, I saw that in one of your posts and I thought that was just such an interesting point, how tempting it is to sort of take that rockstar student and say, “This is our ambassador.” But I think you said in the post, “Does the president of SGA have time to attend campus theater events?” And that’s a great point.

Jeff Kallay: Right. Because they are rockstars, there tends to be a bit of, I don’t want to say attitude or arrogance but it can be a bit selfish. I will tell you, nursing majors make great ambassadors because they’re nurturing they care. And they care about their audience and their guests and they ask really good questions. And they listen really well. And they’re not always talking at someone.

And then there’s still the walking backwards that we’ve been fighting since we’ve been doing this.

Jarrett Smith: Okay, okay, I want to talk about that a little bit because everybody does it. What are you supposed to do instead? Just so our listeners understand, the student ambassador, the tour guide, walking backwards, talking at the same time, trying not to trip over something, what is the better alternative?

Jeff Kallay: Right. Let me answer this in two parts. We are against walking backward for a myriad of reasons. It slows down the tour. It forces the ambassador to talk the whole time which is not a good thing. And it is really stressful on the participants, particularly moms. We have been tours where moms have said to the tour guide, “Please don’t walk backwards because I’m really worried you’re going to trip and fall, you’re going to hit by a car, what you’re going to step out off a curb.” You read any of the mainstream press or higher ed press about campus visit and they all open up with that cliché walking backwards. If walking backwards is a point of pride for your ambassadors and that’s what you want families to remember after they get in the car, is how well your tour guides walked backwards, I am not going to fight that culture.

What do great tour guides do? We’ve seen this in a number of locations. Ultimately a tour guide should be set up to succeed and that means that the tour should never be larger than the student to teacher ratio. That’s our magic number. If you have a 17 to one student teacher ratio, you should invest in making sure your tour guides never go out with more than that.

What do great tour guides do? They set the expectations quite well. They introduce themselves, they explain the route, the amount of time and they say, “I’m not going to walk backwards, I’m going to walk with you. I might call on some of you dads to lead and direct us. I will gather you up. I will talk en masse and then my goal is chat with each of you so have those questions that you’d like to ask me one on one.” It’s a skill. And it’s not easy. Guides that do it, guides that have become masters of it on our campuses where we’ve had to shift the walking backwards culture, they’ll email us, they’ll come up to us when we’re back on campus and they’re like, oh my gosh, I can never go back to walking backwards.

Do you walk across campus backwards with your friends? No. You walk with them. All it does is it puts all the attention on the tour guide when you want your families to immerse in it. You want to allow them time to process what they’ve said, what a tour guide has said. And you want them to look around the campus and look at the students and immerse themself in that setting and that’s why we also train ambassadors, silence is golden. Do not talk the whole time.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah, so kind of building on that a little bit, I know you’re a big proponent of stories over statistics. Going back to that student to teacher ratio, don’t just say, “Hey our ratio is 6 to one,” because the real question is, behind that it’s like, okay, but what does that mean for my experience?

Jeff Kallay: What does that mean for you, right?

Jarrett Smith: Yeah.

Jeff Kallay: Me going to a small Lebards college that I think maybe had a 10 to one or 11 to one, the stories I told were okay, one, when you have a class with five people your junior, senior year, you better be prepared because you’re going to get called on. And if you happen to cut class that day, there’s a good chance you’re going to walk across the quad and see that professor whose class you cut. Forget the amount of support that they’re there, it is those kind of stories.

I think to that point, we’re also this is a sidebar, we’re encouraging our clients to share also their faculty and staff ratio to student because if you think back to your own college, it’s not always just faculty that are impacting lives. It could be that admin assistant that is really the surrogate aunt or mom to a first year student worker. We hear phenomenal stories of custodial staff that are legendary on these campuses and I can take you to a host of schools where the dining hall, the food, there are legendary staff members there that alumni come back to get a hug from. I think it’s those type of things.

This is why the most frequently asked question is, is how safe is it? Do you feel safe? What we try to empower ambassadors to do is to tell the story of who on this campus has my back. If something goes wrong in my world, in our culture of fear, who has my back? Tell that story.

Stories render authenticity. The author Clyde Barker said, “I am a man and then our animals who tell stories.” We overwhelm families with stats. I can guarantee you, they do not get in their car after a tour and say, “Ooo, 3,000 volumes in the library, sign me up.”

Jarrett Smith: The stories are an interesting way to kind of share that authenticity. Kind of along that topic, talk to me about some other ways that maybe some interesting or unconventional ways you’ve seen schools introduce that element of authenticity. Really showing who they are, warts and all to prospective students.

Jeff Kallay: I think we’re beginning to see schools offer students panels just for students. Touring not just events but during the daily visit, we have a philosophy at Render that it all goes down in the dining hall. If you really want to learn about a campus, visit the student center and food court during the lunch rush or go in the dining hall during the lunch rush and you will not only get a taste of the campus but you will see the dynamic go down. Is a clicky campus? Is this a campus where we’re just consuming food transactionally? Or is this a place where people are hanging out and talking and what’s the noise level?

A lot of our smaller, private schools have been really diligent to include lunch in their dining hall. Either before the afternoon tour or at the end of a morning tour. It fires on so many levels, back to Maslow but then also seeing the culture of a place. We have a lot of our clients that really truly do listen to us and proudly show that first year housing that isn’t the new, brand new apartment that you’re not going to get til your junior year. They have really owned a 1960s cold war bunker and the tour guides are I think are being really authentic and saying, “Look, I know 86% of you have never shared a room with a sibling, this is freaking you out but by the end of your freshman year, trust me, it’ll be the greatest experience you ever have. Open doors make friends. Communal bathrooms.”

We have asked tens of thousands of tour guides, “If you could do your freshman year over and have a private room, a private bath, how many of you would?” 99% of their hands stay down. A lot of schools have built fancy housing with private rooms and doors closed. The doors close into the suite and then my private room and then they have retention issues in these housing feels like mausoleums.

If you go to most college campuses, the oldest, nastiest residence hall, usually when we challenge our clients to pull the data, has the highest retention and most engaged student body.

Jarrett Smith: Interesting.

Jeff Kallay: Showing the reality of the situation and not apologizing for it or taking that perceived negative cue, like an old residence hall and explaining how it’ll be a great experience for them.

Jarrett Smith: Okay, so we’ve talked a little bit about some of those, the sins of the campus tour, can we maybe flip that, talk about the other side of the coin? What to your mind is kind of the best in class tour visit, campus experience? What are sort of the core elements there? You mentioned things like customization. I would love to talk about that. I imagine it could look quite different from school to school.

Jeff Kallay: It does, yeah.

Jarrett Smith: But even that is an interesting point. There is no necessarily one template that just generically applies for everybody.

Jeff Kallay: No. We are moving a lot of our clients to what we call an agile tour or a nugget tour and there are so many examples of our clients that are doing this and having success with it and having better evaluations. Instead of taking the families through this half hour, 45 minute info session and then a 90 minute death march, take that same amount of time and divide up into digestible nuggets.

Particularly schools that are fortunate to have a welcome center and a center place that they can do that. Where I live here in Tacoma Washington, our client the University of Puget Sound. Gorgeous campus and they are doing this really well that they start of in the information room, explaining how the tour’s going to work. They’ve told you this. They’ll do the quick facts to get that out of the way. And then a sophomore usually or junior comes in and immediately you’re divided up into small groups and you’re taken to the social side of campus. Into the dining hall, coffee houses, bookstore, freshman residence hall where an actual freshman is hosting. The tour’s turned over and an actual freshman, not a junior or senior that lived there three years ago is telling their story.

Then you see an upper classman housing, then you see recreation. You’ve done that, that common shared experience. Then it’s back to the admissions office for a bio break and beverage break. And then you sit back down in the information room for about 10 to 15 minutes and you’re introduced to their version of the liberal arts. Then a junior or senior comes in. Because if I don’t like my tour guide for 90 minutes, I’m judging the whole school based upon that tour guide.

Our philosophy is the more ambassadors and the more students we can put in front of a students, brands are mirrors, we purchase based upon conforming self image. Then a junior or a senior that’s probably done an internship, studied abroad, takes you through the library, through their science complex to their liberal arts complex, they take you down in the classroom. Then you go back and then, then you sit back down for 10 minutes. This is how you get in and this is how you pay for it.

Same amount of time broken up into digestible nuggets.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah, super interesting approach. And I see how you’re kind of creating a natural flow that gives people time to think, especially when you don’t have the backwards walking tour guide. They have a little bit time to themselves. I think it’s such an interesting point of if I don’t identify with my tour guide, then I am going to just transfer that and assume that’s my impression of the school. It’s such an interesting point.

Jeff Kallay: Absolutely. Imagine if you have a lobby host or a parking lot greeter and you’re chatting with them and then you have the student life walker and then you have the academic walker, you’re being exposed to four or five students. I think that’s what we’ve done with a lot of our smaller privates. On the bigger publics, I think what we’ve been able to do with particularly some flagships and that is I have some clients implementing it now is really defer the mass customization and the personalization to the college or school. You do the general undergrad tour of housing, food, student rec center, wellness and the new term that it is, since wellness is the new luxury in our world.

Then you go to the college or school that you’re likely to study in. Either admissions is managing that experience or they turned it over to an ambassador corps, to a recruiter in that college or school, to the associate dean and they’re doing a deeper dive. That’s usually kind of the way. In Ohio State, early on, set that trend for flagship big public.

The thing I always have to remind everyone is ultimately the experience economy is about getting a premium price and why residential college experience is a premium price, you can’t charge for the experience to see it. Your campus tour before you’re part of the community. There are limitations for not for profits. They don’t have the resources of Disney.

Here’s the other thing we’re doing. For 40 years, higher ed was student focus, student focus, student focus, student focus. Privacy act. Now, with Gen Z parents being overly protective, for awhile parents are treated on tours like they don’t exist. They’re not acknowledged by the admissions staff. The tour guide says, “And I need all the students to say their name, hometown, and what they want to major in.” Which they’re asked 95,000 times on a tour. Now we’re having to really train ambassadors and staff that you have to acknowledge the family. You have to make sure and say, “And who you brought with you.”

Gen Z has a hard time just verbalizing so one of our schools we were like, when they check in, say, “Someone from your group is going to introduce the group at the start of the tour, figure out who that is.” I will guarantee you at that school, it’s going to be the moms 99% of the time.

Jarrett Smith: Super interesting.

Jeff Kallay: Gen X parents are really aggressive and their whole life they’ve been following baby boomers and they’re going on college campuses where we built all these amenities and facilities for baby boomers’ offspring, millennials and there are some private schools that were $70,000. Gen X parents are like, oh great, I got to pay for this now.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah, you even mentioned if I heard you correctly, you’ve seen a good bit of sort of quote unquote bad behavior. Elaborate please.

Jeff Kallay: We call boomer parents helicopter parents because they nicely hover. Extreme ones blackhawks. At the 2006 National Association for College Admission Counseling, Howe and Strauss spoke and they said, “Get ready for the Gen X stealth parent.” We’re like, I don’t have time to deal with that. I’m still dealing with these baby boomers.

I was on a client tour and we were by fraternity row, tour guide, “Okay, you got questions about Greek life.” And a mom in the back, not asking a question the whole time raised her hand and says, “Hi, we’re from New Jersey and we hear there’s a cocaine problem on this campus.” In front of 30 other people on the tour.

Jarrett Smith: Wow.

Jeff Kallay: That’s mild compared to what other schools did you apply to? What other schools did you get into? What were your test scores? What was your high school GPA? How much money did they give? I’ve actually seen a parent at a parent panel with 200 people stand up and look at the student on the panel and say, “Tell me exactly how you and your family pay to go to school here.” In front of a whole crowd.

Jarrett Smith: Wow.

Jeff Kallay: The problem is is missions leaders and campus visit professionals say to a family getting ready to go on tour, “And here’s our student ambassadors, ask them any questions you want.” Oh no, no, no, no, no. No. We have to start putting, because when a Gen X parents sees uncivil or uncool behavior go unchecked at one campus, they will take that with them to the next campus and behave that way.

Where do students have sex on the campus? Who did you vote for in this election?

Jarrett Smith: Wow.

Jeff Kallay: Just, oh. I really want a tour guide when asked, “And how much money did they give you?” Say, “Well why don’t you tell me what your net worth is?”

Jarrett Smith: As part of the training of student ambassadors, are they being coached a bit on how to sort of deflect those questions, I would assume?

Jeff Kallay: We are beyond the point of deflection with Gen X. We do a three hour workshop called, Steps to Being Memorable, and we do a fair amount of okay, it’s not you, it’s them. We really explain the generational thing. And the students are like, oh, I get it. Okay. I think what we empower them to do is because you got to remember, tour guide doesn’t want to get it wrong, they don’t want to offend but we really do empower them to say, “I’m not comfortable with that question.” We train them to set the tone for the tour they want to give.

One of our guides that we trained at the University of Washington, she’s dealing with big groups there and she jumps up on walls and she makes everyone raise their hand and take the Anna tour guide pledge to her. And I’m going to ask question about this and I’m not going to ask any questions about my financial aid and with this because that’s not cool. And we’re all going to chat. She’s setting the tone. For us, it’s not even deflection, it’s standing up to these rude parents confidently.

Jarrett Smith: Such an interesting topic. That probably deserves its own podcast episode right there.

Jeff Kallay: I would happily have the idealist boomers out there versus the behavior from my generation. Totally uncool. I’m very disappointed in my generation on campus tours.

And here’s the other thing we’ve learned with Gen X parents, they don’t like each other. Truly, you go to Ferris Bueller, we’ve all put ourselves into clicks, who you, the dweebs, the stoners, the jocks. That was the little click thing. I think we’re still in those little clicks. We’ve seen Gen X parents walk off of tours because they didn’t like the other parents on the tour or make under their breath comments as we’re just sitting there eavesdropping and taking it all in.

I love my generation but man. That’s someone’s child that you are being really uncool to and ask the right question to the right person. I’m on a soapbox about that.

Jarrett Smith: It’s good stuff. It’s really interesting. I’m honestly kind of shocked at the bad behavior thing. That’s really shocking to me that you would ask those kinds of questions of as you said, somebody’s kid. You’re talking to a 19 year old. Ask the person that’s getting paid to do this sort of thing.

Jeff Kallay: Exactly.

Jarrett Smith: I love topics like this where you’ve got kind of a conceptual framework like the Experience Economy framework and that but in these generational differences is somewhat abstract but you’re able to draw a line to okay, but tactically this is what it means on the ground in real terms. Being able to kind of show those steps to me is super interesting.

Jeff Kallay: We don’t want the campus visit to be better, we want it to be better towards institutional and enrollment goals. It is strategic and tactical to that endgame. Not just to make it better but the ideation towards that endgame.

Jarrett Smith: Well Jeff, this has been a really, really fun conversation.

Jeff Kallay: I’ve just rambled on.

Jarrett Smith: No. But it’s I love it. That’s a good thing. If folks want to learn more about this topic, dig in, they’re intrigued by some of the things you’re saying or they just want to reach out to you directly, what are the best place to do that? How can they dig in, find out more?

Jeff Kallay: Our website is the central place for it all, renderexperiences.com. Our website is our sales brochure. It explains who we are and what we do for our clients. Our resources that we create, our podcast, our blog and our newsletter is really our thinking on the matter. All of that is found on the homepage at renderexperiences.com. Contact information and all that. That’s the best place to find it all.

Jarrett Smith: Awesome. Jeff, this has been a fun conversation. Thank you so much for being here, sharing your collected wisdom over the years, good, bad and ugly.

Jeff Kallay: I’m just a bitter old Gen Xer, as the Render team calls me.

Jarrett Smith: But you’re rendering your authenticity.

Jeff Kallay: Yes I am, at 56. Yes I am.

Jarrett Smith: Good stuff. Thank you so much. This is great. Really fun conversation.

Jeff Kallay: Hey, thanks for having me.

Jarrett Smith: The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta a full service marketing firm dedicating to helping higher education institutions drive enrollment, increase yield and capture donor’s attention. For more information, visit echodelta.co. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes and as always, if you have questions, suggestions, episode ideas or just want to reach out and say hi, drop us a line at podcast@echodelta.co. See you next time.



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