The Maryland 529 is issuing this Request for Proposals (RFP) for the purposes of acquiring the services of a qualified marketing and communications firm to support Maryland 529 marketing initiatives for the following Plans and Programs:
1) Maryland Senator Edward J. Kasemeyer Prepaid College Trust (“MPCT”);
2) Maryland Senator Edward J. Kasemeyer College Investment Plan (“MCIP”), which is managed by T. Rowe Price;
3) Maryland Achieving a Better Life Experience (“ABLE Program”), managed by Sumday Administration, LLC (a subsidiary of BNY Mellon); and
4) Save4College State Contribution Program.
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Maryland 529 was originally created under the Enabling Legislation as the Maryland Higher Education Investment Program by the Maryland General Assembly in 1997. The agency was later called the College Savings Plans of Maryland until July 1, 2016, when, in conjunction with becoming the oversight agency for the Maryland ABLE Program, it became Maryland 529. The new name reflects the sections of the Internal Revenue Code (I.R.C.) which provide for savings program for education and disabilities savings, I.R.C. §§ 529 and 529A, respectively. Maryland 529 is administered by an 11 member Board consisting of the State Treasurer, the State Comptroller, the Secretary of Higher Education, the Secretary of the Department of Disabilities, the State Superintendent of Public Schools, the Chancellor of the University System of Maryland and five citizen members appointed by the Governor.
Maryland 529 offers two 529 education savings Plans. On May 8, 2018, Maryland Senate Bill 933 was signed into law and renamed the Maryland Prepaid College Trust as the Maryland Senator Edward J. Kasemeyer Prepaid College Trust (“MPCT”) and the Maryland College Investment Plan as the Maryland Senator Edward J. Kasemeyer College Investment Plan (“MCIP”). Senator Kasemeyer has served in the Maryland General Assembly nearly continuously since 1983, and was one of the primary sponsors of the legislation that originated the Maryland college savings programs, including the 1997 legislation establishing the Maryland Prepaid College Trust. The MPCT allows families to purchase one semester up to five (5) years of future college tuition at a current price and is backed by a Maryland Legislative Guarantee;. The MCIP currently offers 18 no-load investment options and is managed and distributed under Maryland 529’s current contract by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. Account holders with Maryland taxable income in either or both plans are eligible to receive an income deduction of up to $2,500 per year, per MPCT account or per MCIP beneficiary.
The MCIP is open for enrollment year-round. As of June 30, 2018 the MCIP had more than 198,000 unique beneficiaries with $7 billion in invested assets. In an effort to help lower to middle income families in Maryland save for higher education, the State of Maryland and Maryland 529 launched the Save4College State Contribution Program in 2016 where eligible Individuals who open or have opened a new Maryland College Investment Plan (MCIP) after December 31, 2016, file an application between January 1 and June 1 may receive a $250 or $500 contribution by the State. In order to qualify, the beneficiary must be a Maryland resident, and the Account Holder’s Maryland taxable income cannot exceed the maximum household income range ($112,500 as an individual or $175,000 as a couple based on the previous taxable year). Applicants who receive a State Contribution are not eligible to receive the Maryland income deduction during the year(s) they receive the Contribution.
Scope of Work:
Category I – Comprehensive Marketing Plan:
The Contractor, in concert with the Maryland 529 Board, shall assist the Maryland 529 Marketing Committee with the development of Maryland 529’s annual marketing strategy and public relations campaign. The goal of the plan is to increase participation among all Maryland families who have college dreams for their children.
Comprehensive Marketing Plan:
The Plan will contain annual marketing goals and related strategies, including, but not limited to:
1) The development, maintenance and/or enhancement of an existing strategy which will enhance Maryland 529’s marketing materials for the year;
2) Development of segmented Maryland 529 client personas and related segmented messaging and activities to increase account holdings within these segments;
3) A specific strategy to reach expectant/new parents, as well as currentparents and/or grandparents;
4) A specific strategy to reach adults with disabilities and/or families of children with disabilities that may be eligible for Maryland ABLE; and
5) A specific strategy to target minority market and low income households, with a focus to promote the Save4College State Contribution Program.
The Contractor will work with Maryland 529 to implement the annual Comprehensive Marketing Plan throughout the State’s fiscal year.
Market research is a critical component in guiding Maryland 529’s advertising and communications to new prospects and existing account holders. The Contractor shall:
- Recommend and manage various projects, including working with vendors to provide insight and analysis into research findings and reporting, scheduling, coordinating meetings and presentations.
- Facilitate focus group or similar testing of knowledge of 529 Plans, customer satisfaction, advertising concepts for major campaigns, brand positioning, or other marketing-related issues as requested by Maryland 529.
- Conduct a market study and other formal market research to provide insight and analysis into new prospects and current account holders’ behaviors as requested by Maryland 529.
- When assigned a research project by Maryland 529, Contractor shall complete or manage the completion of the project through a Subcontractor in a timely manner, with several milestones or deliverables throughout. These would typically include, but are not be limited to:
- Define research objective(s) and methodology selection recommendation;
- Provide participant screener criteria and questionnaire or discussion guide design;
- Execute actual research project;
- Provide data analysis and formulate conclusions and/or recommendations; and
- Summarize key results or findings in written form and communicate research results to Maryland 529, as directed by the Maryland 529.
Category III – Print Collateral:
The Contractor, in conjunction with the Maryland 529 Marketing Department, will be responsible for all the development and production of the printed materials used to market the plans; including, but not limited to, photographic services, layout and design, artwork, copy writing, typesetting, production, and digital imaging. Printing services/projects will be managed by Maryland 529.
Enrollment Kit – The Enrollment Kit is Maryland 529’s most significant marketing tool. It provides prospective participants with all details about the plans. For the majority of those prospects seeking information about the plans, this may be the only item received. While Maryland 529 staff is primarily responsible for the text and/or contents of the Enrollment Kit, Maryland 529 is receptive to suggestions, ideas, or comments about how the Enrollment Kit could be developed into a stronger marketing tool. The Enrollment Kit includes information on each plan (MPCT and MCIP). The current Enrollment Kit is 68+ pages of text (including the inside front and back covers), 8.5 x 11 inches in size. The Enrollment Kit includes a Highlights booklet, two Plan Disclosure Statements, two Enrollment Forms, two return envelopes, one single page promotional insert, and one outer envelope. A new Enrollment Kit is typically produced annually to coincide with each new MPCT enrollment period and includes significant changes in both plans. For the 2017/2018 Enrollment period Maryland 529 printed 16,000 kits. The Enrollment Kit is also available digitally on Maryland 529website.
Tri-Fold-Brochure – The tri-fold brochure provides a general overview of the plans and the key benefits of each plan. Typically, past brochures have been color pieces, tri-fold or bi-fold used for public distribution, displayed at other public places, or as direct mail pieces. The goal of this piece is to provide an overview of the key features of the plans for easy distribution. The Contractor is responsible for the concept, layout and design.
Stand-Up Banner/Display – Maryland 529 currently has pop up banners that are used at selected events, exhibits and fairs throughout the year. The Contractor is responsible for the concept, layout and design and for printing updates to the banner/display as needed.
Prospect Mailer – The prospect mailer is used to target new movers and prospective customers. The target audience has been generated from internal resources and commercially purchased lists. The Contractor is responsible for the concept, layout and design.
Flyers/Handouts/Take-One Sheets – Flyers and infographic hand outs are distributed by Maryland 529 staff at benefit fairs and community events, and are given to organizations such as schools, non-profits, and businesses, that have requested to share Maryland 529 general information. The number of flyers produced each year can vary. In 2017, Maryland 529 created 2 infographics in addition to 5 other flyers. The Contractor is responsible for the concept, layout and design of the flyers.
Annual Report – The Annual Report is published once a year in the fall. It is typically a 64 page 8.5 x 11 booklet. The Contractor will be required to design the cover, format charts and develop the layout for the piece. The content and data will be provided by Maryland 529. While Maryland 529 does not commercially print the Annual Report, the report is posted electronically and should be printer friendly.
Annual Report Summary – The Annual Report Summary is published once a year in the fall in conjunction with the Annual Report. It is typically an 8 page fold-over self-mailer. The Contractor will be required to design the booklet, format charts and develop the layout for the piece. The content and data will be provided by Maryland 529.
Outdoor Billboards – Maryland 529 will be utilizing outdoor billboards to promote the Save4College State Contribution program.
Category IV – Media Planning and Buying:
The Contractor will research, develop and execute a media-buying plan. The research will include media audience, ratings/readership, value-added opportunities such as on-air interviews and brochure distribution at selected station events and/or other criteria as determined to be relative to the benefit of the plans. Maryland 529 and the Contractor will determine these criteria. The Contractor will conduct the media buy as determined in conjunction with the Maryland 529 Marketing Department and as specifically directed by the Contract Monitor. All radio, television, outdoor and print markets in Maryland and the District of Columbia will be examined for inclusion or exclusion in the overall media placement by the Contractor and the Public Relations and Marketing Manager.
Campaigns are to be effectively understood and monitored. Reporting on the performance of the media results to be provided on a monthly and quarterly basis. The reports are to compare data for each campaign/program, year over year, and include an analysis with recommendations in order to optimize performance and drive results.
Category V – Digital Planning and Buying:
Digital media advertising should include, but not limited to: banner ads, text ads, search advertising, social media advertising, mobile ads, HTML emails and web videos. Maryland 529 has implemented a Geo-targeted search term campaign, Facebook advertising campaign, web banner ad campaign and video ads. The Contractor is responsible for ad design and production associated with the campaigns, as well as, the copy to support them.
For search ads, the Contractor shall develop the search term database and maintain the campaign. The Contractor may also be asked for its support with website updates, HTML emails and video or podcast distribution as deemed necessary. Content is to be developed in tandem with the Maryland 529 marketing team. E-mails can be used for both prospects and current customers.
The Contractor shall assist in the scripting, production, editing and duplication of an educational video presentation about Maryland 529 or modification of the Maryland 529 existing video presentation on the Maryland 529 website. Current videos are located on the Maryland 529 YouTube channel and vary in length based on a Q&A type format.
The Contractor may be required to refresh or redesign the electronic newsletter template that Maryland 529 uses to correspond with its Account Holders. The template should be compatible with Gov. Delivery and DST platforms and printer friendly. Content is to be determined by the Maryland 529 Marketing Department.
Campaigns are to be effectively understood and monitored. Reporting on the performance of the digital display results and search results are to be provided on a monthly and quarterly basis. The reports are to compare data for each, year over year, for site direct, programmatic and re-targeting. The reports are to include an analysis along with recommendations in order to optimize performance and drive results.
Category VI – Community Outreach and Public Relations (PR) Support:
The Contractor will assist the Maryland 529 Marketing Department with developing or carrying out comprehensive public relations and community outreach services, which support the mission, goals and objectives outlined within the stated budget parameters of the Comprehensive Marketing Plan.
Maryland 529 targets all regions in Maryland, Baltimore City and Washington DC areas. Each region may have unique qualities for the public relations efforts and should be addressed separately.
These services may include, but are not limited to: researching, writing and distributing press releases; maintaining a press list; securing partnerships with targeted media, organizations and/or audiences that can lead to informational seminars or other outreach opportunities; supporting social media efforts; and identifying and assisting in securing partnerships with Community Based Organizations (CBOs) that would support and promote the Maryland 529 brand.
The Contractor may be asked to research, write and distribute press releases. Part of this service will include maintaining a press list and developing relations with key members of the press.
The Contractor will assist the Maryland 529 Marketing Department on evaluating current social media platforms and making recommendations for increasing engagement, improving user experience, and instituting new platforms, if applicable.
Maryland 529 undertakes numerous community partnerships annually that have the potential for local PR efforts. These include partnerships with organizations such as the Maryland Zoo and Port Discovery Children’s Museum, Maryland-based minor league baseball teams, and the State Library System. Additionally, Maryland 529 partners with CBOs that serve low-income and minority communities such as CASA, Catholic Charities, CASH Campaign, and Junior Achievement. Maryland 529 will look to the Contractor to help secure community partnerships that would promote the Maryland 529 brand.
Category VII – Account Management:
The Contractor, in conjunction with the Maryland 529 Marketing Committee, will be responsible for coordinating the marketing activities, setting expectations, managing deadlines and providing a central point of contact for the firm to carry out the above mentioned Scope of Work.
The Contractor may be asked to generate reports for the Maryland 529 Marketing team and Board that document the results of each project conducted. These reports shall be delivered no later than 30 days after the completion of the project/campaign, unless a separate time period is established by Maryland 529 and the Contractor prior to the beginning of a particular project. Campaigns are to be effectively understood and monitored. Reporting on the performance of the paid media results and public relations outcomes are to be provided on a monthly and quarterly basis. The reports are to compare data for each, year over year and include an analysis along with recommendations in order to optimize performance and drive results.
The Contractor and Maryland 529 shall meet at least weekly to review progress, provide necessary guidance to Maryland 529 in solving problems that may arise and provide advice and consultation for new initiatives. Meetings may be held at the Contractor’s location, Maryland 529 offices, by telephone, or any other location in Maryland as determined by Maryland 529 in its sole discretion. In addition, an orientation meeting shall be held after an award. The Contractor must also agree to ad hoc meetings throughout the year at mutually convenient times to address issues of concerns with existing projects; brainstorm new projects and initiatives; or to receive status updates with accurate timelines for ongoing or future projects as directed by the ContractMonitor.
Category VIII – Annual Marketing Review and Strategy Development:
The Contractor will be asked to conduct an annual review and provide a summary of the effectiveness of Maryland 529’s marketing and public relations strategies and activities that will be presented to the Board of Directors in June. The review will highlight all services provided by the Contractor, the effectiveness of each service, and recommendations to improve or enhance future marketing and public relations strategies. This assessment will then be used as a key element in the development of the Comprehensive Marketing Plan for the upcoming fiscal year.
As part of the strategy development process, the Maryland 529 marketing team may require an analysis report to assess the effectiveness of the past year. The elements of the report will include any media summaries, partnership development, public relations efforts (if applicable) and campaign summaries. The reports are to compare data from the year prior, year over year with recommendations in order to optimize performance and drive results for the next year.
The Contractor may be asked to lead the marketing strategy meetings that may involve brainstorming and forming recommendations for future marketing strategies. In addition, the Contractor may be required to present the Comprehensive Marketing Plan to the Maryland 529Board.
Maryland State Treasurer’s Office
80 Calvert Street, Room 109
Annapolis, MD 21401
Attention: Anne Jewell, Procurement Officer