Providers frequently ask me to help them source students to join courses or new clients to use the student run gym, salons or restaurant. Sometimes they even ask me how to find people to hire their conference venues. In doing so they are expecting me to help in an external search. However their next client may well be the internal customer they have never considered; but only if they market internally.
I recently spoke at the VenueMasters annual conference at Aston Business School where over 40 universities and FE establishments sent their conference staff for two and a half days of CPD in the promotion of meeting and accommodation facilities available for hire at academic venues in the UK.
My main focus was on the opportunity to market to university academics but much of what I covered also applies to the FE sector. Below is a synopsis of the session I ran.
What does the internal market comprise?
My message applies as much to FE as it does HE. In the FHE world it is easy to imagine we are solely talking about academics but my first message was that support teams are also potential customers. Many support staff are members of professional or trade bodies; all of which hold local, regional and/or national events that could be brought to the institution. In both the academic and support cases your staff may well sit on the board of these bodies and could recommend events are held at your institution. But you need to remind them to do so.
Why should staff support the notion of bringing events to their workplace?
HE staff are of course very keen to attend conferences in far off sunny climes. That is human nature. FE staff don’t get these opportunities so often. However a number of universities are now only granting permission for this type of expense where the delegate is prepared to make a genuine effort to bring the event to their campus in future. In some cases subsequent permission to attend further events has been withdrawn where insufficient effort has been made.
What are the institutional benefits of internal events?
Clearly this is in part financial in terms of profit from the event. Additional benefits are based around the prestige and profile attached to the event and the subsequent improved recruitment of students (and perhaps staff), contacts made and contracts won. Again this applies to FE as much as HE where we might also consider student work placement opportunities, various forms of sponsorship etc.
What are the benefits for the individual?
Involvement in this type event is career enhancing. Being the organiser, keynote speaker or even a contributor increases the individual’s profile within their specialist area as well as with the media, employers, and professional bodies.
The need for an internal events policy
A straw poll of delegates indicated that only a minority had a policy that encouraged the promotion of conferencing and events to the internal market. Having said that many had financial edicts that prevented internal events being run by academic areas without the support of the conferencing and events team. Despite this there was apocryphal evidence of these edicts being ignored in many cases and this could lead to reputational risks. Mention was made rooms being double booked, poor catering (some people recalled sandwiches purchased from a well known supermarket chain) and speakers going to the wrong campus.
Sadly I know of similar situations occurring in the FE sector and for that reason I advocate the need for a formal policy signed off by the VC or Principal. Support and monitoring from the top is essential as is inclusion in the business strategy.
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