The glossy college brochure has become a rite of passage for many Americans. Parents groan as leaflits fill boxes in bedrooms and cover kitchen tables. Teenagers marvel at the attention from admissions departments in far-flung locales.
Behind the scenes, of course, is a massive data-harvesting operation. A student’s name is sold, on average, 18 times over her high school career—sales leads for a marketing funnel worth billions of dollars.
It was probably inevitable, in the age of Google and Salesforce, that colleges would find a way into our email boxes. But every innovation needs its Thomas Edison, the person who sees around the corner and speeds change up. For college marketing, that man was Bill Royall.
The moment that changed everything took place on a spring day in 1988, at a conference having nothing to do with colleges. Bill Royall’s direct mail firm in Richmond, Virginia, didn’t have any higher education clients back then; he worked with politicians and with nonprofit…