Collegiate specialists Marketing: Campus Concepts specializes in capturing college-age consumers -- and their pocketbooks -- for national retailers.

September 06, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

As college students settle in the nation's campuses this weekend, Ian Leopold at Campus Concepts Inc. is back in his Baltimore office mobilizing his plans to deliver their -- and their parents' -- wallets to his clients.

The students are ripe for the picking for retailers, banks, phone companies and car manufacturers. The spending power of college-age students is estimated at $96 billion, and "they don't save a penny," said Leopold, 34, founder and president of Campus Concepts, a marketing firm.

Even better, the students haven't yet developed brand loyalty, meaning they are susceptible to mild pushes toward certain national retailers, marketing experts say.

Leopold says Campus Concepts takes advantage of that through a media campaign that features print and billboard advertising, coupons, product sampling, intramural sports sponsorships and an interactive World Wide Web site.

"We, as an organization, have changed the paradigm of how to market to college kids," he said, referring to his 30-person office on North Charles Street. He also has sales offices in New York and Los Angeles.

Leopold calls the concept "lifestyle marketing," or going where students are and allowing a company to be part of their daily activities.

The 18- to 24-year-old consumer group shirks anything traditional, and typical television, newspaper and radio advertisements tend to miss their mark with the estimated 12 million consumers who are enrolled in college, marketing experts say.

"This group is very complicated, and that makes it difficult to capture them," said Howard Davidowitz, president of Howard Davidowitz & Associates Inc., a national retail consulting firm in New York.

Yet college-age consumers are of great value to retailers because of their buying power, and the ability to influence others, he said.

"There's one single theme with this group that's very important, and that's a casual lifestyle," Davidowitz said. "But they will only accept what's good, and they are very value-conscious. They are not stupid and you can only fool them once."

Several retailers have hired marketing firms specializing in the college set, such as Campus Concepts.

With its ability to reach 3 million college students on the campuses of about 100 of the largest colleges in the nation, Campus Concepts has become a key marketing firm for companies such as Nike and PepsiCo.

Other clients include Gillete, Sony, General Motors, J. Crew and Nestle, Leopold said.

"Campus Concepts is extremely dialed in with the college community," said Dan Dieffenbach, Nike's program manager for sports marketing in Beaverton, Ore. "We really only work with them for that market. Their reputation has grown internally with Nike."

Created by Leopold in 1985, a year before he graduated from Hobart College in upstate New York, Campus Concepts expects revenue to exceed $10 million during the current academic year.

That's a long climb, considering Leopold started the company with $96.

With that money, Leopold bought an answering machine, order forms and generic business cards -- the kind where he had to write in his own name. He solicited $2,000 in advertisements from businesses near the college and published the Entertainment Shopping Guide, the predecessor to the Unofficial Student Guide, one of Campus Concepts' chief products.

The latest guide is loaded with advertisements and coupons from national companies. Advertising space starts at $49,500, Leopold said.

Tailored to a specific campus, the guide has editorial content such as maps, important phone numbers, academic calendars and general campus information such as study abroad and graduate studies.

Although he started the company while a student, Leopold did not graduate to become a full-time entrepreneur. Instead, he hired a staff to keep the company going while he attended business school at Northwestern University. Even after graduating in 1988, he did not head back to his company.

Leopold first worked in Cleveland for an insurance firm for 18 months, before finally returning to Campus Concepts full time in 1990.

The goal of the company is to generate sales for its clients. "It's a market that's hard to reach, but it's reachable in a fun way," Leopold said.

To do that, Campus Concepts has moved beyond the Unofficial Student Guide, which is now only 25 percent of the company's revenue. Another 25 percent includes product sampling of gum, razors, and almost everything else; billboards that are placed in athletic facilities and post sporting events calendars along with advertisements garnered by Campus Concepts; and a Web site -- which has links to the sites of corporate sponsors -- that gives up-to-date scores for intramural sports events on campuses.

But half the company's revenue now comes from its intramural sports sponsorship program.

Nearly 3 million students nationally participate in intramural sports, according to the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) in Corvallis, Ore.

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