Tepper markets to potential MBAs by giving them ‘reality check’

Prospective MBA students can now expect more from their business school search experience.
Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business competes in a tough market for prospective MBAs.
But Tepper now has a head start in opening dialogues with potential business students through MBA Reality Check, a new online marketing campaign.

“MBA programs suffer from this homogeneity of message, look, and feel,” said Deb Magness, executive director of marketing communications at Tepper. “The last thing we want to be is a commodity in this category.”

MBA Reality Check is an informational website with accompanying print and online advertisements. The site is enhanced with rich media, including Flash animations, video, and podcasts.

Tepper is the first business school to use PointRoll rich-media advertising.
PointRoll banners allow the visitor to hover the mouse over the banner and see an expanded banner with a video presentation.

According to the website, MBA Reality Check is Tepper’s response to the current marketplace that prospective MBA students face.

The website takes a new approach in marketing. Instead of just describing the benefits of an MBA program, the Tepper website provokes potential applicants to decide what they really want from an MBA.

“Our strategy was to engage the prospective student in a different, more relevant, strategic way,” said Magness.

The marketing campaign uses the concept of reality checks, content intended to challenge prospective students to consider the long-term significance of their business school decision.
The five themes of the reality checks are career impact, confidence to succeed, ways of thinking, community, and legacy.

The site also addressed those students who continue to visit the website from month to month before applying to an MBA program.

“The content on the microsite completely shifts every month,” said Magness. “There are five reality checks over the next six months.”

In addition to the reality check section, the website is split into three sections: real students, real careers, and this site.

The real students section features Tepper student profiles and blogs. The blogs are described as “up-front and uncut” by the website.

By going in the “real careers” section, prosepctive MBA students can also check up on recruiter ranking, starting salaries of past MBA students, as well as alumni insights.

The website has frank — and sometimes even sarcastic — wording as part of the site’s realistic feel. The site mentions that “the frequency of workshops that provide tips on your wardrobe and catchy cocktail ice breakers, are, um, not the best way to evaluate your MBA return on investment.”

“What we’re doing is allowing the prospective student to dive into the reality check and immerse himself or herself in what is pertinent at that moment in time,” said Magness.

To get the word out about MBA Reality Check, Tepper is using both traditional advertising as well as innovative rich-media advertising.

“[Tepper targets] an ambitious and web-savvy audience that is pressed for time,” said Steve Hay, account director at Ripple Effects Interactive.

“With this in mind, we knew we needed to go beyond traditional banner ads and deliver an impression that would be compelling and engaging.”

According to a Tepper press release, advertisements promoting the MBA Reality Check website are running on,,, and the Dow Jones network.

In addition, teaser videos were placed on YouTube, Google Video, and Yahoo! Video.

The online nature of the marketing campaign is helping Tepper reach prospective students globally.

“When we are on the road all over the world, at admissions fairs, we’re having students approach us wanting to talk about the reality checks,” said Magness. “At the MBA admissions fair in India, there were a number of students who came to the Tepper booth asking when we would get the next reality check [online].”

The campaign runs from September through January. The site is available at