Case Study: How One Academic Program Became #1 in the Nation

Chris Medenwald | January 14, 2021 | thought leadership marketing, Higher Education

Brian Fugate, chair of the Supply Chain Management (SCM) department at the University of Arkansas, was impressed by what he saw when he arrived at the Sam M. Walton College of Business four years ago.

I mean, here was a SCM program absolutely brimming with superlatives:

  • Exceptional supply chain expertise
  • World-class research activity
  • Strong industry partnerships
  • Innovative pedagogy
  • Top-notch internship opportunities
  • Promising employment prospects

Only one problem: Very few knew any of this. You could hear crickets

As Brian recalled,  

 "Our program was one of the best kept secrets. We just weren’t out there. People didn’t know how good it is."

Brian Fugate - Headshot

Despite all the SCM program had going for it, in 2017 the program was ranked only #15 by Gartner, a highly respected research and advisory company that ranks the top 25 SCM undergraduate programs in North America.

Brian and the SCM program needed to climb these all-important rankings, and win recognition where it mattered most. 

Sheesh, easier said than done, right?


The SCM Program Finds Its Marketing Groove

The Gartner ranking criteria offered the perfect opportunity and framework to showcase the UA's SCM program to the world.

Every two years, Gartner ranks undergrad SCM programs in three overarching areas:

  1. Program scope (curriculum, global problem-solving)
  2. Industry value (industry perspective, internships, starting salary, and diversity)
  3. Program size (enrollment, full-time professors)

The SCM program at Arkansas, Brian and his colleagues believed, was excelling in each of these areas. Unfortunately, prospective students and industry partners didn’t fully realize it.

As Brian said, "We had to tell our story, but academics like me aren't historically great marketers." 

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Dean Matt Waller, however, was out to change this. He encouraged all department leaders to embrace marketing as a way to provide and express the college's value.

In Dean Waller’s words,

"Marketing at the Walton College is about providing value while promoting our values...We honor our values through a marketing strategy that helps us live out our stated values and advances our mission and vision."


For the SCM program, the Gartner ranking was just the catalyst it needed to take up Dean Waller’s challenge and get serious about marketing.

Of course, it wasn’t just about the rankings. Rather, the Gartner ranking was an opportunity to work toward a meaningful goal—one that would benefit the overall program and, ultimately, the students. A top five ranking, after all, would attract more recruiters and job opportunities to the college.

"The main reason we’re doing this is to help the students," Brian said. "And if it’s good for the students, it’s good for the industry. The end is not a ranking; the end is what’s good for the students."

Yet one glaring problem remained: how to actually get the story out there.


"SCM Program, Say Hello to Modthink"

Dean Waller connected Brian with Modthink. We had previously helped Dr. Waller promote various Walton College initiatives, and the dean felt we could also help elevate the college’s stellar SCM program.

"I bought into [Dean Waller’s] marketing philosophy for the college," Brian said. "When he introduced me to Modthink, I was on board."

At Modthink, we specialize in thought leadership marketing for institutions of higher education. We harness the expertise, achievements, and personalities within an academic program to generate awareness among prospective students and critical stakeholders.

According to Brent Robinson, our fearless leader and Modthink CEO, the SCM program already had all the parts to assemble and tell a powerful story. 

"They had true industry expertise, no question about it," Brent said. "They’re rock stars in their industry. It was just hidden from sight."

With approximately one year before the next ranking, Modthink rolled up its sleeves and began creating content about the SCM program specifically around the Gartner criteria. We generated high-quality articles, graphics, and videos showcasing faculty expertise and student experiences, for distribution on digital channels like LinkedIn.

The carousel below offers a glimpse at some of the content Modthink produced and distributed for the SCM program.

Click to download the PDF 

Modthinker Trey Robinson managed the project. He and his team worked directly with the staff and faculty of the SCM program to locate subject matter experts within the department whose work could demonstrate proficiency on one or more Gartner criteria.

"We leveraged their subject matter experts and turned them into true thought leaders," Trey said.

As an agile agency, Modthink met daily—just 15 minutes a day—with Brian and the SCM department to determine their most pressing content needs.

It was all about moving fast, being adaptive, and making real gains every. single. day.

"We modeled our marketing content directly after the Gartner methodology," Trey said. "We'd ask, 'Where in Gartner's criteria is our content kind of light right now,' and then we'd pull in one of the department's experts to highlight."

For Trey, the formula for success really boiled down to:

  1. Understanding Gartner's ranking methodology
  2. Understanding the SCM department's strengths
  3. Connecting the two through high-quality content

All that, and doing it regularly.

In fact, during this period, Modthink really churned out some content. Consider just a few numbers…

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Lots of remarkable content—all being seen by prospective students, industry partners, and, yes, Gartner.


The SCM Program Becomes #1 in the Nation

The big day finally came. Gartner was ready to announce the top 25 SCM programs for 2019 during a live webinar. 

In Brian's words, "I was just hoping to be in the top 10. I was dreaming of a top 5."

When the new rankings appeared on the screen, Brian couldn’t believe his eyes.

"Are you guys seeing the same thing I’m seeing," he asked his colleagues. 

The UA SCM program topped the list! In the presenter’s words, "The University of Arkansas was by far the biggest up and comer…"

Commence the happy dance. The celebration started at the SCM department and across the college.

University of Arkansas named #1 undergraduate supply chain program in North America!

There was a celebration at Modthink as well.

As CEO Brent said, it was all accomplished through a "perfect one-two punch," applying advanced marketing tactics to the superb work already being done in the SCM program.

"Modthink was able to take all that expertise and put it together in all of these marketing tactics to make the case that the UA has the best SCM program in the country."

It just took a great story, and someone to tell it.

Are you ready to tell your program's story?


Your Program Has a Story. Modthink Will Tell It.

Modthink specializes in helping academic programs like yours craft and tell their stories.

From social media marketing to website development, SEO to video, Modthink applies cutting-edge, marketing tools and tactics to help your program scale new heights.

We tell the story you’re already writing. Powerfully.

Click below to get the ball rolling. 

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