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Marketing Further Education on a budget

John Wilford, Managing Director, Rave Communications
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Around the country college leadership teams are faced with huge budgetary challenges. As the YPLA delivers a challenging funding regime for the FE sector, competition is intensifying for an ever reducing pool of young adults. College leaders will look at austerity measures in every department and faculty, and marketing is an easy target – with big chunks of un-contracted expenditure.

With sixth forms starting to encroach on FE college vocational territory, colleges need to communicate that they are truly ‘best in class’ to deliver first rate education. This message should be directed at those people discouraged by increasing fees from pursuing the A level and university route.
If marketing budgets have to be restrained or even cut, how can colleges ensure the reduction on future student numbers is minimised?

Rule Number One – Be Efficient

A college should ensure that at least 50% of its marketing budget is spent on communicating its message to the outside world. So staff costs, (including payroll costs like NI and pension) must be less than half of the total marketing budget. Some colleges spend too much on people and forget about engaging with the outside world. Sufficient budget has to be assigned to the media.

Rule Number Two – Play to Win

When setting your budget, you need to ensure that you fully comprehend the level of competitive rivalry. Understand how much your competitors are spending and the types of media they are using. A good marketing agency can help you here. When you select media, ensure that it beats your rival in terms of impact. This doesn’t always mean spending more, but just more intelligently placed media for maximum impact.

Rule Number Three – Raise Esteem

Raising the esteem of a college brand does not have to be expensive. Low cost marketing, such as an effective press office (either in-house or through an agency) can play a huge role throughout the year in communicating success and good news stories. This background noise, outside of your main recruitment campaigns, can make a real difference to college preference. Remember that PR isn’t just about getting column inches (or column centimetres depending on your age) in the local press. The local press is a dying media. Ensure your PR message is hitting relevant local websites and blogs. And of course, television and radio.

Rule Number Four – Get Social

Social media is massive. It is the single biggest development in communication since the mobile telephone. Youth audiences and their parents are heavily exposed to it. Embrace social media. Engage with your audience through social media. Facebook, Twitter and emerging networks like FourSquare are essential marketing tools. The most important thing is to work with a specialist agency to develop strategy and campaign ideas.

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Rule 5 – Go digital

Place digital media at the heart of your marketing mix. Digital media (online contextual and behavioural advertising, email broadcasts and SMS messaging) should be the first thing on your marketing plan. A £700 Facebook campaign might be the best money you have ever spent.

Rule 6 – Go where your audience is

The best advertising you will ever do is standing in front of your target audience in their school and selling your college. Maximum impact. Minimal cost. Zero wastage. Just make sure that you would buy from your schools liaison officer. If not, find someone else to do it. Ensure that you have some kind of data capture mechanism to collect contact details for as many students as possible.

Rule 7 – Convert, convert, convert

No matter how effective your advertising campaign is, you have to place maximum effort in converting applications to enrolments. In fact, you need to try to convert every single enquiry you have. The open day experience has to be engaging, professional and properly staffed.

If you adhere to these rules, it will help you achieve more activity for less budget. More radical solutions to reduce marketing budgets can be achieved through outsourcing you entire marketing function or by establishing shared services across non-competing colleges. Rave can help.

John Wilford is founder and managing director of Rave Communications, a specialist marketing agency providing strategic advice, creativity, media planning and campaign execution to many FE colleges and sixth form colleges including Barnfield, Stratford-upon-Avon College, Cadbury College and many more

Rave has negotiated the bulk purchases of prospectuses and course guides, helping to drive down unique costs. If you would like to participate, contact John Wilford on 01675 467 462

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