Roundtable: How to run a successful student recruitment campaign

With the student firmly placed as the buyer and universities fiercely competing to attract new students, in the fifth in our series Cathy Parnham talks to Lucy Everest

Lucy Everest is Executive director of global marketing at Heriot-Watt University

Q. How has student recruitment marketing changed over the last five or so years?

It’s become more of an imperative and, as a result, generally more joined up across an institution, more focused and results driven. Campaigns are also increasingly used to build brand awareness and a pipeline of interest rather than as a last-ditch attempt to mitigate a projected intake shortfall. Campaigns are no longer for institutions that are struggling to recruit but understood as a way to maintain and/or strengthen market share and position.

Q. What are the key ingredients a successful student recruitment marketing campaign should have?

Positioning needs to be right for the target audience as well as providing clarity on the university experience on offer. Targeting needs to be data-led – based on building target customer segments that have the propensity to convert and with a clear understanding of competitor set accordingly. The channels utilised need to be appropriate to the audience’s holistic media consumption behaviours and, because of that, primarily social-media driven. Campaigns also need to be authentic – students are savvy about brands – particularly university ones – that sell shallow promises, without the results and current student and alumni testimonials to back them up.

Q. What has been the most effective channel for targeting this September’s intake for UK-based students – and which for international?

Spotify is an increasingly important channel in the UK and we have had some good results with cinema and digital TV. International is harder to gauge as intermediaries – agents etc, play such a strong role. Partnership marketing seems to be the way to go internationally – aligning yourself with a locally trusted digital portal, agency or institutional partner.

Q. How important are digital tools to your recruitment strategy and what have you found to be the best-performing digital channel(s)?

Essential – tailored mix required depending on audience segment.

Q. When do you typically start your student recruitment marketing campaign and how?

Ideally five+ years out for brand and reputation building with feeder schools and colleges and 18 months out for fully integrated campaign activation.

Q. Are there any key learnings you can share from your 2019 cohort recruitment drive? And how will these shape your current recruitment drive?

It’s competitive, so I don’t want to give too much more away!

Q. Tell us about any new recruitment marketing tools you have for the 2020 intake?

We are driving to make our recruitment events more interactive, showing our global campuses through VR headsets. We are also engaging prospects with the world issues they care about to engage with our subjects and potential impact and career outcomes at a deeper level.


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