Here at Paradigm, we get lots of calls from vendors interested in selling our clients leads or in partnering with us. Most of these agencies have some type of “Education Portal” as they’re all so fond of calling them, and more than a few have approached us with some big time schools in their list of clients.

It’s impressive when a small agency like ours (only a hundred or so schools) is approached by a firm with a portfolio of clients that includes University of Phoenix and ITT. I mean, really… how awesome must it be to be the agency that generates leads for monster brands like that!

As an agency, however, I can only imagine that we are approached only a fraction as often as actual schools are approached. So, for those schools that do have frequent interactions with agencies looking to take over their marketing or (an even worse sign) want to generate some web leads for you, be weary of the large client list, especially anyone claiming to generate leads for U of P.

The reason can be summed up in one simple word: Affiliate.

Many, many agencies realized too late in the game that they needed to offer a stronger web solution to the advertising challenges schools faced. Those that entered the game late were stuck in line behind big brands that actually could pick up the phone and get someone to answer at ITT. Now, a small agency cold calling a big school like that wouldn’t get anywhere even if someone did answer.

Making matters worse, big players in the lead generation business convinced many of these schools to drop managing multiple relationships with multiple vendors and instead focus on an affiliate model. This model allowed a single agency (or at least a small group of them) to manage an affiliate program that would reach out to hundreds of smaller agencies that could generate leads through a managed system. Take Search4CareerColleges for example. Much of what this agency does is get a new client, establish a cost per lead, cut that CPL down fractionally and offer the new school up to hundreds and hundreds of smaller affiliates that generate small quantities of leads that add up quickly.

Joining these affiliate programs aren’t all that difficult, and before you know it these smaller agencies claim to generate leads for these big school brands which is only a half-truth, in a very small way.

Bottom line? When an agency starts name dropping, ask them who their contact is at the school. Simple as that. If you ask them if they’re an affiliate they may be able to talk their way out of it, but if they can’t provide you a reference at U of P, then they don’t work for U of P.

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