Creating a comprehensive marketing catalog of extension courses/workshops at #acenetc

While at ACE-NETC 2013, I sat in on an informative briefing given by Mary Wirth, Penn State University Extension Director of College Relations and Communications. The presentation was called, Creating a comprehensive marketing catalog of extension courses/workshops.

PSU Extension

Developing a course catalog

PSU CatalogIn essence, PSU Extension inventoried and cataloged all the courses and workshops given by PSU Extension. Wirth reasoned that PSU could not market products they could not define. Additionally, clients indicated programming was inconsistent across the state. Also, it was important to adjust to new realities:

  • Decreased appropriations
  • Fewer boots on ground
  • Need revenue

Creating the catalog also helped to realize the new vision of PSU Extension — working to become one organization.

They developed the catalog in coordination with each of the functional teams. The teams defined the  inventory. It was now easier to see what was going on across the state. With a catalog, extension could show county leadership that they have access to teams and courses even though there was not a specific specialist in their county.

Creating the catalog helped:

  • Define and market product line
  • Drive traffic to web
  • Change customer service culture

Each course had its own Web page that showed when it was being offered as well as any related publications. Courses are tied to the calendar. You can see an example at Each course area has their own Twitter account and tweets were displayed on the site. Importantly, these workshops are not one and done. The courses and workshops were part of a system. 

When an event was created for a catalog item, ical and vcal files were also created automatically. Because programs had to be marketed ahead of time, this caused some stress among educators. They use Plone and Cvent for centrally managing registration for all courses and workshops. Wirth felt it was important in this period of time to be able to register for courses online.

They printed 40,000 catalogs. delivered to county commissioners.

Operating like a business

In an afternoon session, Wirth talked about the different direction PSU was moving, a more business approach. She pointed out that until recently the organization was operating in a haphazard manner, for example, publications could not be purchased online.

Collectively with her team, they put a formal proposal together to pitch to the deans. This strategic proposal had three key elements:

  • Engagement Model
  • Finance Model
  • Commerce-Focused Model

In an effort to better engage with customers, they used a program called Cvent for central event registration. In the past, individuals, typically, managed their own customers. With a more centralized system, PSU can personalize messages to customers based on what the system “knows.”

They are using a variety of tools to achieve engagement:

  • Plone
  • Cvent
  • Salesforce
  • Magento

The move to a well-defined line of cataloged courses is central to their strategy. They want to maximize customer touch points. This model is based on best practices. It is intended to help bring in more revenue. For example, courses and publications go through the same site. A course can reference associated publications, and publications can suggest courses. An added benefit is that educators just focus on educating not raising money, design, etc.

I personally agree with the direction PSU is moving and believe it can help other Extension programs.