Have you ever heard the phrase, “Fish where the fish are”? It’s a phrase, common in sales and marketing seminars which tells us that, when we have something new to sell, we can’t continue to cast our line into the same stretch of water, just because we’ve always fished there. Instead, we have to look for the place where the fish are shoaling, even if it means pulling on waders and standing in freezing cold water at 4am! Not comfortable, perhaps, but effective.
It is estimated that the average university teaching space achieves just 38% occupancy in any given year. That’s a lot of wasted space that could be used to generate commercial revenue! A handful of universities do realise this potential but the majority are letting a valuable opportunity pass them by at a time when any activity which supports financial sustainability should not be over looked!
Finding your “fish”… or letting them find you
Successful marketing is about understanding your customers. It’s also about being visible. If they can’t find you, they can’t book you. Think about how your conference facilities are promoted on your website… hidden away in the “For Business” section or listed under the A-Z of facilities under Venue Hire. Why would someone look for a function venue there? But then, why would they even think to look on a university web site?
Most potential conference and function customers have no idea you are there or the quality and range of what you have to offer. Your website should be the most powerful tool you have to generate external conference and function revenue but it has to be YOUR website: designed, written and above all, optimised for your customers not for the academic customers of a university.
Don’t be afraid to stand alone
By creating a name which says something about your facilities or your location your customers will be able to understand what you have to offer. Turn this into a web address for a stand-alone, fully optimised conference and events web site and launch it with an integrated marketing campaign and you’ll be amazed by what you can achieve!
20 Bedford Way was the name chosen to promote the conference and events facilities at the Institute of Education in London to the external market. A dedicated web site was launched in January 2014: www.20bedfordway.com supported by a targeted PR and marketing campaign and, by May, conference enquiries had increased by 75% and revenues by more than 23%. Their marketing activities have been further recognised as they have been shortlisted for the Meetings Industry Marketing Awards as finalists in the, “Best website” and “Best integrated marketing campaign” categories.
Academic conferences will always be the bedrock of what universities deliver but, with a carefully researched marketing strategy, they can co-exist alongside commercial activities to the general benefit of the university and its reputation. Perhaps it’s time you thought about going fishing?
Vicky La Trobe is Director of Fourpoints Management Ltd. Vicky runs a marketing consultancy company and has worked with a number of universities to help them create commercial marketing strategies. She is also a trainer for University Hospitality Seminars and her course “The power of effective marketing” will be running at Warwick University on October 16th.