On an Open Day mission…

Russ Langley, University of Derby, discusses how to make potential students fall in love with your offering on Open Day

The classic Open Day analogy is to compare it to selling a house. You want whoever walks through your door to fall in love with the place, picturing themselves in situ feeling happy and fulfilled. You therefore, do everything within your powers to show off your house to its best potential and create the right impression.

My brief to colleagues in the run-up to Open Days is simple – I want our guests to finish their day desperate to secure a place at the University of Derby, no mean feat in the competitive marketplace in which we now operate.

It’s often the parents asking the questions which should be taken into account when considering Open Day content

How have we approached this? To be honest, it’s a simple formula, with a focus on creating the right atmosphere and delivering impactful, inspiring content. For both elements, your people are key. We flood Open Days with our current students – primarily because I think they’re our greatest asset, but equally because they’re who prospective students and their parents want to hear from. They can provide a genuine view of what it’s really like to be a student here, far better than any killer marketing blurb my colleagues and I create.

And then there are our academics. We know that ‘course/ course content’ continues to be the main factor in decision making so the importance of the subject talk cannot be understated. Providing the right information about “Why study XXX at Derby” is essential, and delivering it in a way which engages, excites and enthuses is a must. Dare I mention the word ‘salespeople’? Probably not…

We flood Open Days with our current students – primarily because I think they’re our greatest asset

Here are a couple of observations from the past 12 months or so. Firstly, on the role of parents on Open Days who, in many cases, take the lead. Perhaps it’s the ‘bank of mum and dad’ world in which we now live, perhaps it’s symptomatic of the volume of ‘first generation’ students we attract at Derby. Either way, it’s often the parents asking the questions which should be taken into account when considering Open Day content. Certainly for Applicant Days, we put on specific sessions just for the parents who can then ask what they like without embarrassing their offspring.

Linked to this, another observation is how much of a military exercise Open Day attendance has now become. A lot of universities have spent (probably) a lot of money on ‘extras’ to enhance the Open Day experience but I do wonder what difference it makes. My sense is that prospective students come well prepared and clear what they want to achieve from the day – welcome talk, check; subject talk, check; campus tour, check; accommodation tour, check. They’re on a mission and nothing’s going to get in their way.

This year we’re enjoying a significant increase in our conversion to ‘firm’ and I don’t doubt the improvements we’ve made to our Open Day experience have been a key contributory factor. The fact we’ve achieved this without throwing big money at gimmicks and incentives is an added bonus.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the people. Although I’ll pop the bread in the oven, buy some flowers and get the coffee brewing just in case…

Russ Langley is Director of Marketing and Communications at the University of Derby.

The next University of Derby Open Day takes place at the Derby and Buxton campuses on Saturday 4 June. Find out more here: www.derby.ac.uk/study/opendays

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