Founded 100 years ago, the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business has deep roots in the California business community. The Los Angeles school offers students an innovative curriculum that balances academic flexibility with a rigorous foundation in business fundamentals focusing on innovative thinking, entrepreneurial action and global impact.
The business school hosts several admissions events throughout the year to engage a diverse range of prospective students. These events are customized to highlight options attractive to different audiences — whether traditional students or pre-career individuals or early- and mid-career professionals.
Using a third-party event solution outside of Salesforce to plan and run events, USC Marshall staff members found little to like in using an outdated, paper-based system. Their complaints in 2019 included:
• Little-to-no customization of event landing pages and registration forms.
• A cumbersome registration process for prospective students.
• Inefficiencies for the admissions team tasked with planning multiple events.
• Difficulties getting the right information to and from prospective students viewing and registering for admissions events.
• Time-consuming, repetitive data-entry chores as paper check-in forms had to be manually recorded in the Salesforce database after each admissions event.
For Alexi Waul, then serving as senior associate director of MBA admissions, the onerous process reflected poorly on the university. He thought there had to be a better way.
“We needed a better event management system,” Waul says. “It had to be simple to navigate, efficient, and look inviting to prospective students.”
The USC Marshall team had a wish list for streamlining its events processes:
• Flexible, editable event pages and forms: an events platform that makes it easy to customize event landing pages and quick-to-complete registration forms, all branded to USC Marshall.
• Ability to scale admissions events: quickly duplicate events using event clone features and easily add multiple session dates for one admissions event.
• Automated check-in process for event attendees.
• An easier way to analyze the success of each event inside of the existing Salesforce platform, right next to other institutional goals.
USC Marshall turned to Blackthorn for a solution, using Blackthorn Events on nearly 65 occasions from November 2019 to February 2020, before COVID-19 restrictions set in. The team now creates and manages events directly in Salesforce. All event registrant information is automatically stored in the Salesforce contact database as an attendee record, related to leads or contacts. The results have been impressive, says Matthew Wilson, USC Marshall Salesforce administrator.
Using Blackthorn, the team found it could create admissions events in half the time. Online registrations became streamlined and attendance at events is up by 10%. Ease and speed have been positives for the school, Wilson says. About 20% of event attendees subsequently applied to USC Marshall. “The experience has made a great first impression for our prospective students,” he notes.
Waul found much-needed relief in streamlining admissions events processes with easy-to-use features that help the team get usable attendee data much more quickly, saving 10 hours of manual data entry work per week.
“Blackthorn is more customizable with what you can do on event and registration pages,” Waul says. The app is equally helpful in analyzing data on the back end, he adds. “We’re looking forward to using the speaker highlights, schedules and other features. We’ve used it for our classroom visit setup, and we’re planning to use the recurring event feature for admissions events with multiple time options.”
Waul lauds the plug-and-play nature of Blackthorn apps and notes how the staff is chasing away that old paper bugaboo. “We tried the mobile check-in app and it worked great,” he says. “It’s helping us avoid using paper and having to log attendee information twice.”
As USC Marshall adapts during the COVID-19 pandemic, the school has suspended in-person information sessions and pivoted to virtual sessions instead, all implemented through Blackthorn Events. Attendance at the virtual events has averaged 67, a 10% increase over previous in-person sessions.
“Blackthorn has definitely been a huge benefit to Marshall, and I think this is even more obvious with our need to quickly move to online events,” Wilson says. “We’re also working with our executive education group to help them implement Blackthorn for some of their online webinars and we found that it scales very nicely.”
While streamlining the event management process, Blackthorn has also simplified the school’s outreach efforts. The admissions team can trigger an email to send automatically after attendees register with a link to event information and a QR code to use during check-in. Virtual event registrants receive an email with a link to join the meeting or session online.
The collaboration has worked so well, the campus is taking the next step. As Waul moves into a new role as USC’s head of university-wide Salesforce implementation, he hopes to expand Blackthorn’s use beyond the business school and to the university as a whole.