Getting the eyeballs of prospective students on your school is more challenging than ever. One practical solution is a method as old as time – events.
Events are a proven approach to spreading awareness of your school’s brand.
Here are some events your school can implement and a few real-life examples of innovative ideas from some of the leaders in higher ed marketing!
All schools, large and small, can easily implement any of the following types of events as a recruiting tool for students.
High schools will often invite local higher ed recruiters to participate in a college fair. Recruiters can set up stalls in a gymnasium or other venue to answer questions and distribute printed media and memorabilia advertising their college or university.
These fairs are an excellent opportunity for prospective students and their families to collect information on several schools in one shot.
And they give you a chance to tell people your school’s story in person.
When you attend the fairs, be sure to make it easy for the students to interact with your team. Also, be sure to use mobile-friendly tools like NFC tags, QR codes, and virtual reality to draw attention and create interest to differentiate you from the crowd.
Allowing students and parents to visit your school’s campus and engage with your staff is one of the most common higher ed event marketing avenues. It gives students a chance to ask questions unique to their circumstances and get to know your school more intimately.
Some schools, like the University of Scranton, have given the event a hi-tech injection through augmented reality (like the popular “Pokémon Go” mobile app). AR allows students to use their smartphones to access bonus media content through GPS or QR codes posted around campus.
Of course, COVID had a massive impact on campus visits over the last two years. The new limits on physical interaction forced many schools to rebrand the tradition.
“What we’re doing is inviting prospective students and members of the community to bring their dogs to campus to do a lawn tour of the University of Toledo… and we’re going to have cookies for humans and cookies for dogs. So we’re very excited about that. [Again, it’s] just a fun and unique way to do something a little bit different, but also bring people on campus and see the University of Toledo in a different way than what they probably experienced in the past.” – Collin Palmer
(Pst! Want more tips on how to give an A+ tour of your campus? Click here!)
But sometimes, physically visiting your campus just isn’t in the cards for a recruit.
Virtual reality is a promising hi-tech alternative that gives students a unique remote viewing experience allowing them to interact with a digital representation of your campus. However, while VR production and headsets are becoming more affordable by the day (with simpler viewer alternatives like Google Cardboard being an option), this may not be a viable choice for your school – yet.
Regardless of your medium of choice, get creative when planning your tours. Your most important goal should be to give your prospective students a memorable experience, not unlike one you’d have at Disney World!
On-site campus tours are great for prospective students who want to see your school up close, but they’re not always practical (like during COVID) or convenient. Time and money can be barriers for many families – especially those of international students – who would otherwise like to visit your school.
That’s why I’m a big promoter of webinars.
Unlike your typical one-on-one Zoom call, webinars are an effective way to bring together a much larger audience with the intent to educate and demonstrate. Better still, they are cost-effective and easily accessible (YouTube Live is great for this!).
A staff member can use a webinar to give students a live virtual ‘walk and talk’ tour while answering any questions proposed by the audience.
Of course, webinars don’t have to be limited to campus ‘visits.’ They are also great for helping parents understand the underlying logistics of their child’s higher education, like financial aid and their future living situation.
College is a whole different animal from high school. As a result, many of your incoming students will be unsure of what to expect from their new life in the higher ed space.
Holding an orientation on their first day will help them make the transition.
It’s impossible to share every bit of info your students need during the recruitment process. Now is the time to emphasize points about your institution’s culture, offerings, and obligations that may have flown under the radar.
Be prepared to answer lots of questions.
And don’t forget to invite the parents!
Community and Donor Events
While events are great for building interest from prospective students, they’re also terrific at keeping your student body, alumni, and local community engaged. Here are a few options you can employ for entertainment, fundraising, and – yes – recruitment purposes!
Town and Gown
‘Town and gown’ is an adage that refers to the symbiotic (and, sometimes, frictional) relationship between the non-academia and university population in a community.
Fortunately, modern schools have figured out ways to reach out to their neighbors and invite them to be a part of their families.
Think of events that will help build a positive relationship between your school and the community, such as a volunteer day for your students and faculty at a local charity.
In the interview referenced earlier, Collin Palmer talked about how the University of Toledo invites people from the neighborhood across the street on exclusive tours of their campus so they could get better insight into the school’s mission.
Using events to build a positive partnership with the residents and businesses in your area will open up all kinds of doors!
Nothing screams school spirit like a good homecoming event!
Be it a pep rally or a parade, these events generate positive vibes for everyone connected with your institution.
Homecoming celebrations allow your students to celebrate their pride in your school and the relationships they’ve made during their higher ed journey.
Creating these special memories is crucial to keeping your students engaged and giving them a reason to care about your school long after graduating (remember, your alumni are essential for fundraising!).
Be sure to extend an open invitation to your students’ families and your alumni!
Who doesn’t love a good music gig?
Whether it be a student band or another popular artist, concerts bring a lot of energy. They’re effective in bringing your student body and community together.
And there’s nothing like a big show to give your school’s visibility a boost.
The opportunities with events like these are practically endless. You can use ticket giveaways and contract food and drink vendors to help drive traffic. You can also reward faithful donors with premium passes.
Don’t care for the prospect of a performance that might make your ears bleed? Host a community play or a film festival!
Regardless of the show, any event that brings your students, alumni, and community together in solidarity is a win.
This event is unique, but I think it’s a great example of how you can hybridize an event that speaks to prospective students, celebrates alumni, and reaches out to potential donors.
“We spend a lot of effort on “Ministry Sundays.” They are an opportunity to be able to honor a particular alum or pastor so that we can then introduce the seminary to congregations from the admission side of the house.
This last fall, we hosted five different events that were all hybrid online events to be able to introduce prospective new students [to Garrett]. For us, events are about getting the institution in front of people. Doing so with engaging content and events is one of the primary ways that we’ve really been able to expand our audience.” – Shane Nichols
Joe then told us how they establish a scholarship in that pastor’s name and ask the congregation to help contribute. Their efforts have led to the endowment of over 600 scholarships!
The people at Garrett checked off a lot of boxes with this special event! Consider how you can incorporate your school’s mission in a similar fashion.
It’s About Your Audience
Anyone who regularly listens to our podcast can attest that I am a big fan of marketing author Jay Baer (who will be a guest on our show in July!). Jay wrote in his book, Youtility:
“You must align what you provide your customers and prospects with what they actually need.” – Jay Baer
Events are an excellent opportunity to sell your school’s brand, but never lose sight of the needs of the real heroes in these short stories – the students and their families!
Remember, you will make your prospective students, alumni, donors, and community feel welcome and wanted by marketing enduring experiences that revolve around them.
Curious to learn more about how you can use event marketing to give your school’s brand a boost?
Drop us a line here!
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