The UNLVIP Membership Program launched in 2012. The campaign was awarded a PRSA Pinnacle Award for Marketing Communications Programs and a CASE District VII Silver Award of Excellence for Alumni Relations Programs in 2013. The UNLV Alumni Association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1964 serving more than 120,000 alumni across the U.S. Its purpose is to engage alumni in the life of the university.
Alumni who want to be engaged in the life of the university regularly are identified through the Alumni Association’s “dues-paying” membership program. All alumni are classified as either “dues-paying” or “non-dues paying” members. “Dues-paying” members receive special benefits such as invitations to special events; savings on dining, entertainment, insurance; and other special member-only incentives with annual membership fees between $15-90 or lifetime membership starting at $900. In the ’90s when the Runnin’ Rebel Basketball team was in the national spotlight, “dues-paying” membership peaked at roughly 5,000 members.
Before the kick-off of the UNLVIP membership program, membership dwindled to 1,900 members. Low “dues-paying” membership numbers resulted in several problems: reduced revenue to support membership benefits, fewer engaged alumni to support university programs, reduce the relevancy of the Alumni Association to the university as a whole, and increased alumni dissatisfaction with the university.
Informal primary research (focus groups, individual interviews) conducted by the association’s marketing firm – R+W Partners – revealed alumni dissatisfaction and disengagement with the university and reports that they did not know how to be more involved. A formal primary survey was constructed by Bouchard and sent via e-mail to all alumni to gauge the level of satisfaction and interest in membership in the association. A similar survey was sent via e-mail to “dues-paying” members. The survey revealed 33% of general alumni reported being knowledgeable about the Alumni Association’s programs and services, while members reported an overall satisfaction rate of 69. General alumni reported that 21% of survey respondents were likely to purchase a membership in the next 6-12 months and members reported that 90% of respondents would likely renew.
The board of directors and volunteers, although very familiar with the Alumni Association’s programs, reported they did not understand the membership program and what the difference was between “dues-paying” and “non-dues paying” members. Many alumni didn’t understand that if they hadn’t paid dues, they couldn’t access the full array of membership features. Frequently, staff would hear, “I graduated from UNLV. Aren’t I a member?” The board of directors was concerned that a lack of a name for the membership program, other than “dues” and “non-dues” paying membership, was a hindrance to marketing and communication efforts. In addition, a negative perception of the Alumni Association was left with “non-dues” payers when they discovered they were not receiving benefits based on their contribution levels.
The board selected the name UNLVIP membership to highlight the exclusivity of membership benefits, provide a name for “dues-paying” membership (non-dues paying were now to be called general members), provide an opportunity to use taglines with the name of the membership program, and provide a graphic identity to the program. The overall strategy was to demonstrate the Alumni Association had turned over a new leaf. Many new and exciting benefit features were developed to improve the value of membership and most of these were released under the umbrella of UNLVIP membership.
Objectives of the UNLVIP membership program were:
- Communicate that the association had turned over a new leaf and had modernized operations
- Inform alumni of the benefits of UNLVIP membership
- Increase UNLVIP memberships from 1,900 to 3,000
- General alumni (roughly 90,000 alumni) for marketing messages
- Alumni who were “dues-paying” now UNLVIPmembers for reinforcement messaging of their membership
Originally, the plan was to call the membership program the Scarlet and Gray Club after the school’s colors. Trademark concerns were raised as The Ohio State University-owned the trademark of Scarlet and Gray. A name distinctively to UNLV was developed: UNLVIP. The marketing program consisted of the following tactical elements supported by copywriting by Sarah Thornton Public Relations:
- A new mark for UNLVIP membership program
- Use of new key messages such as “Get MORE Out Of Being A REBEL,” “Get Connected To UNLV,” “Become a VIP,” and “Be a REBEL for Life”
- Revised of web copy on both static and dynamic websites
- Series of e-blasts announcing new program features and new benefit partners
- New membership cards and member benefit materials mailed to members
- New membership brochure
- T-shirts featuring the new mark
- Print newsletter highlighting UNLVIP new name and benefits
- Creation of Chapter & Club Tool Kit of marketing materials for 8 chapters and 17 clubs
- Advertising in City Life, VEGAS INC, Desert Companion Magazine, and UNLV Magazine
- Billboards at two locations
- Online advertising campaign with Greenspun Media Group
- The mobile app was developed and launched for iPhone and Android smartphones
- New signage at events featuring the UNLVIP mark
- Audience-specific membership appeals for law, EMBA, and fine arts graduates
Alumni and members were sent multiple e-mail messages announcing the new membership program and all the benefits offered with the program. A special promotion was offered so that members who showed their UNLVIP membership card at event registration were given $5 off admission. This helped members become fans of the new membership concept. Members embraced the brand and are proud to call themselves VIP members.
The UNLVIP membership program communicated the value proposition in a way that alumni understood. As a result, we saw an increase in membership.
Nine months after the initial launch of the UNLVIP membership marketing program, a formal survey was sent to alumni and members via email. Alumni reported increased knowledge of the Alumni Association’s programs and services and an increase in satisfaction with membership.
The association also saw an increase in members of 13% in the first nine months and 64% after three years. Event registrations and attendance also increased by 15%. At a public event, the president of the university stated, “The Alumni Association had made a great many, positive changes lately – from the leadership to new benefits to the launch of the first mobile app on campus. The result of all this is increased value and participation in campus culture and increased value of alumni leadership on campus.” The vice president of advancement has made similar such comments at Alumni Association board meetings. This represents a significant change in opinion of campus administrators of the Alumni Association. At alumni events, guests often mentioned the billboards and advertisements. They were more willing to ask questions about alumni programs.