Meet Holly Simons

Posted: October 9, 2020


When Holly Simons joined our team at VisionPoint as Vice President of Integrated Strategy, she brought a little bit of spunk and a whole lot of higher ed marketing expertise. As the previous Director of Strategic Communications and Marketing at the University of Oregon and the founder of her own higher education marketing consulting firm, Holly boasts a repertoire of marketing victories in the industry. 

In her role at VisionPoint, Holly conceives and executes results-driven strategies for our higher ed clients alongside our team of marketing strategists and project leaders. But Holly doesn’t just offer strategies or a consultative voice to our clients – though she brings that and then some – she brings an empathy that can only come from sitting in their seats for the better part of two decades.

What do you do at VisionPoint?

“As the Vice President of Integrated Strategy for VisionPoint, I have my hands in almost every phase of work for our clients, from laying the foundation to creating strategy briefs, to execution,” Holly says. “The foundation of any strong strategy is really created from the spirit and stories of the institution itself.” 

Holly explains that often, advertisers set out to simply determine audiences to reach and channels to leverage. “But our team of strategists and myself build a strategy that maintains a powerful theme, engages across audiences – and most importantly – ties directly to an institution’s KPIs.”

“Every piece of strategy that VisionPoint’s strategists deliver to our clients needs to be actionable, both for our clients’ in-house teams and our VisionPoint experts,” Holly continues. “Working for many years as a marketer in higher education, I have experience with agency-provided strategies that are actionable for a short period of time but eventually lose traction and therefore profitability in the long term. At VisionPoint, we are committed to building strategies with long term legs.”

“Institutions are often looking for a marketing firm because they need a fresh perspective on goals, strategies, creative, and more,” Holly explains. “On-campus teams often need a new vision, an extra set of hands, and a sounding board for their own strategic ideas. And that’s what VisionPoint’s team is poised and ready to do. We conduct our very best work when we are working with schools in a truly integrated partnership, bringing our ideas to bear in collaboration with our clients’ teams. As true partners, our goal is to empower the in-house team to achieve far beyond their outlined goals.”

Why higher ed marketing?

As a long-time higher ed marketer, who has spent her entire career in the education sector, Holly has an unwavering commitment to higher education. 

“Higher education is one of the most transformative experiences in a human’s life,” she explains. “It offers the opportunity to change lives on an individual and systemic level. It can change the health of a family and change the commitment of a person to all aspects of education. Studies show that people who pursue higher education are happier and more fulfilled throughout the course of their lives – personally, professionally, and financially.” 

“I saw thousands of lives changed by the transforming power of higher education during my time at the University of Oregon,” Holly says. “My goal is to continue helping other institutions now tell their stories in such colorful, powerful ways that it amplifies their voice to reach the best-fit audiences through the right paid, owned, and earned media.”

Holly notes that the process of a person selecting an institution for their higher education is one of the biggest financial investments of a person’s life.

“Marketing higher education is completely unique because it is one of the longest sales processes a person will walk through in their lifetime,” she says. “For a year, sometimes more, a prospective student will deeply examine their options. Institutions have to create a relationship with their prospective students if they want to win that student at the end of that multi-month process. A relationship is what will ultimately inspire that student to make an informed decision on the place for them to continue their education and transform their life.”

What do you look back on as one of your biggest accomplishments?

Holly has achieved a wealth of impressive accomplishments during her tenure in higher ed marketing, not the least of which was starting initiatives to better reach and support LatinX student populations in Oregon, which resulted in not only an increase of LatinX student applicants at Oregon but throughout the state. She also concepted an award-winning personalized brand video for Oregon that is still in use today, producing an ROI of cost-per-enrolled student at approximately $0.10. But more than any of her accomplishments during her time in higher ed marketing, Holly reflects on a particular challenge she faced at UO that turned into her proudest achievement.

“The University of Oregon was given a multimillion-dollar gift that needed to be allocated quickly to the lowest income students in the state of Oregon,” Holly says. Unfortunately, our application pool contained such a small percentage of students who qualified for the gift that it seemed it wouldn’t be possible to distribute all of the money.” 

Holly’s team worked hard and fast to ensure that their marketing communicated the word out to students in underrepresented populations and increased the number of applicants so significantly that they awarded more than 500 gifts of full tuition and fees scholarships to in-state students. From this work and Holly’s efforts at Oregon, the university saw a 10% increase in underrepresented minority student enrollment. 

The life cycle of a person’s connections to a university or college is circular,” Holly adds. “Scholarships funded by the generosity of alumni open the doors for new students who become alumni and who will hopefully give again one day out of a love for their higher ed home. Each member continues that life cycle, which is why it’s crucial that higher ed institutions seek to engage with their students from the enrollment process through their academic journey, through retention, all the way to graduation and beyond.”

What advice would you give to higher ed institutions?

It’s from these experiences and accomplishments that Holly speaks a word of wisdom to fellow higher ed marketers. She says too many institutions go for too long without the support, perspective, and consultation of marketing partners. Whether it be for fear that a partner agency will be too expensive, the ROI will not be substantial enough to convince leadership for the investment, or they simply want to avoid getting caught up in a sales pitch – institutions often miss golden opportunities to completely transform their student enrollment goals.

“The return on investment is actually a very easy case to make when you have a potential partner like VisionPoint that delivers shockingly significant results for our clients,” Holly says. “We help institutions formulate the rationale for their need for a marketing partner. While we may or may not be that selected partner agency in the long run for the institutions, we want to help them in whatever ways we can. Even if the project starts out small or the institution simply needs some guidance and consultation. Ultimately, VisionPoint is invested in seeing all ships rise in the higher ed industry, because that simply means more students are gaining access to the revolutionizing power of a degree.” 

Holly encourages institutions to reach out, to ask for help, and to learn about the ways a partnership with VisionPoint may change the course of their institution.

“Let us give you some direction and support and see what that might become, for your institution, for our team, and – most importantly – for your students.”

What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

“My grandparents were farmers and fruit pickers/packers, but my parents were bona fide hippies,” Holly says. “We recycled in the 70s, wore handmade clay beads, and spent more time outside than in – which inevitably results in hugging a tree or two.” 

Today, Holly spends most of her time in her hometown in Oregon, hiking, swimming, and beach combing. Always on the hunt for the next piece of beautiful sea glass or her next favorite read, she spends hours on the beach, happily seeking treasures, cleaning up shores, or getting lost in a good story.