Monday, 26 November 2012

On the campaign trail with the University of You!

Having just sat down to write a post about MRA’s campaign for 2013 undergraduate recruitment, I started to experience a strange feeling of déjà vu. Then I realised that it was only in April of this year that I wrote a piece about the campaign for 2012 undergraduate recruitment. Rereading this, it struck me that my intention had been to write something very similar regarding the work for 2013 and that, quite frankly, seems a bit pointless. As I'm here now, I'll write a post about how some of our recent work fits into the bigger picture. But first, if you didn't see my post from April have a quick look now…

So, you’ll have seen that I wrote about the ‘University of You’ campaign and described a series of activities and marketing communications that we put together to generate applications for 2012 recruitment. I described how we planned the campaign, how we constructed it and how we executed it. I finished by saying how successful it had been. And it was very successful in a particularly tricky year, with the University of Chester being one of the few universities in the North West to recruit to target.

On target in 2012

And it’s perhaps this success that has led us to do something very similar to kick-start recruitment for 2013. While the materials have changed and the presentation of our marketing communications has evolved, the core messages of the campaign stay broadly the same. And as I wrote then, that’s because the messages are true – Chester’s unique offering creates unique graduates in a crowded and competitive graduate market place. It’s a strong message and one that really seems to resonate with prospective students.

Taking success into 2013

This year's planning phase
Take a look at Stage One of this year’s undergraduate recruitment web presence, or as it's become know, the 'campaign website'. It’s the first stage of three because we know from experience that the communications we have with our prospects through the long a worry-filled decision-making process must change and evolve as their needs and interests develop towards their final decision on which university to choose. For this reason, there are two further stages that will appear as we move our applicants through the cycle and into spring and summer of 2013 when they make their final decisions. 

Have a look at the campaign website and see what you think. Just from looking at this one piece of the marketing jigsaw, you should get an idea of the kind of messages we are trying to get across. Do the videos that introduce each page give you an idea of what each section is all about? Do they make you want to find out more? Does the site feel like it’s simple, clear and all about your decision about which university to apply for? Does it show how choosing Chester is potentially a very valuable decision? Does the site help you to understand the facts while at the same time making the environment seem enticing?

We are pleased with stage one of the campaign website and the feedback we've had suggests that it is getting across the key messages we wanted it to and that those messages are pertinent to prospects at this time.

Back to basics

So hopefully you can see that with all the work we have done so far for 2013 recruitment we have got the basics covered. We have produced the prospectus and distributed it to tens of thousands of prospects at events around the country and by post. We have targeted tens of thousands of additional prospects with direct mail based on names and addresses purchased from UCAS. We have developed a suite of on-line and print marketing materials to drive home our key messages. We have run the University's biggest ever series of Open Days. But these are, as I say, the basics. And this is where it starts to become important to think not just about the campaign website or the success of an Open Day but about about the whole year’s recruitment as one 'campaign' in its own right.

campaign n. series of coordinated activities designed to achieve a goal. 

It’s easy to think that pushing out a series of messages constitutes a marketing campaign in its entirety. If we contact tens of thousands of prospective students directly and then get them to find out more on our website, is the work done? Well, far from it, I'm afraid. Remember, it’s the coordination of a number of activities that will help us to achieve a goal. And it's at this point in the year that the activity becomes so important. We hear lots of talk about ‘conversion’ at this stage in the cycle and it’s at this time of year that we turn our attention away from generating applications and towards converting those applications into students come September 2013.

Taking the chance to communicate
If this campaign is going to work, then this should be considered to be the most important aspect. And in many ways, we are very lucky in HE marketing and recruitment that we get so many chances to communicate with and impress our market. In our applicants we have thousands of expressions of interest in the University of Chester and in our Applicant Days we have a wonderful opportunity to prove to these people that they have made an excellent decision in applying to Chester. And with today's technologies and some wizardry from the likes of Shai Vure and Adam Bodger, we have the opportunity to communicate cheaply, quickly and meaningfully with these prospects to help them make what is probably the biggest decision of their lives thus far.

Working together 

So I'll sign off now with a thought. The departments that recruit most successfully are the departments that wow their applicants when they have the chance at Applicant Days and who continue to communicate with them right the way through their decision making process. Don't worry, we are here to help you with all of this and to take the strain where we can from your already groaning workloads. But it's worth remembering how crucial this time of year is to how well we recruit in September and how lucky we are to get so many rich opportunities to communicate with our prospective students.

So, keep your eyes peeled for Adam and Anna’s upcoming blogs about departmental newsletters and Applicant Days, and go back to have a look at Adam's recent post on Open Days and how to make them successful after the event – ways we can all coordinate our activities to achieve a goal – to convert applicants into students. 

Until the next time. Cheers, 


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