From education to employment

To print or not to print?

Many a marketing manager would have had a conversation with their principal or finance director about the cost of prospectus printing, and whether or not it should be moved online.  

As expensive as it is, there is still a place for the traditional print-run alongside electronic page turning images on your website or mobile devise. Why? Because we like to flick through pages. There is still a generation of adults who are technophobes, who can remember a time before mobiles, iPads and the World Wide Web and are more comfortable with print. It’s the physicality of it, picking it up and putting it down, nostalgic for parents and novel for teenagers.

But does this warrant the expense? Not entirely, so I’d recommend a compromise – a shortened print run with fewer pages, alongside your page-flipping online prospectus.

Print layout for magazines, newsletters and prospectuses is different to online design, so here are my top ten tips for printing a prospectus that’s going to be a good read and a good return on your  investment.

1. Why fronts matter

The front cover makes the first impression, so feel and images matter. Consider using something other than cheap shiny silk paper stock. Matt lamination gives a lovely feel and uncoated stock has a raw, eco feel to it.

Embossing is the raising of text to give a lumpy feel. Like Braille –  it’s impossible not to run your fingers over it.  Foiling takes elements of the cover design and coats it in shiny foil giving it a Christmassy look which catches the eye, and spot UV picks out images and makes them glossy – wonderful against a matt background. All of these finishes make the prospectus  more tactile giving readers a nice warm feeling, whilst looking highly professional.

The tired and tested cover formula is to use a photo of a mix of students and/or a photo of the college. Be bold and go for something abstract, use design, texture, even Photoshop to create something less clichéd.  The cover is the pick-me-up, save the student and campus shots for inside.

2. Strapping good read

Do you need a strap line on the front cover? No. If you can’t think of anything more original than ‘Your future starts here” it’s fine to just say it as it is – Prospectus 2014-15.

3. It’s the principal

99% of prospectuses start with the Principal’s Welcome, but like the Editor’s Comments in a  magazine, most people skip this part. So my advice is keep it short and to the point, don’t use up valuable printing space that could contain an important call to action such as Open Day dates.

A photo of the principal is not necessary , it will only serve to detract from the message. If you feel obliged, don’t use a large photo and don’t place it at the end of the piece. Put a small mugshot  at the start so that the reader’s last thoughts are what’s been said in the opening address, not what the principal looks like. 

4. Stellar navigation

Prospectuses live or die by how easily people can find their way around it. Always put the Contents page at the front, either inside cover or facing page. Make the Contents list easy to follow by splitting into sub headings such as Information, How to Apply and Course Subjects. Put the course subjects in alphabetical order, not page order and always include a detailed index at the back.

Take care with the flow of courses through the prospectus by putting similar courses together. In this age of restructuring, faculties can include a diverse range of subject areas so ignore following internal structure if it doesn’t make sense to the reader.  

5. Picture this

A picture paints a thousand words, but a thousand small pictures just creates mindless chatter. Use fewer, good quality large pictures for the reader’s enjoyment. Trying to cram in as many small views of facilities and students as you can has no real value – it just makes the pages too busy.  Invest in good photos – they can be used again on the web and on the walls.

6. The case for CAPITALS

AVOID HEADINGS THAT ARE ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Online it’s the equivalent of shouting. In print it’s plain hard to read. Our eyes are used to reading lower case, it’s how we skim across sentences.

7. Speak to the Audience

Write copy with the reader in mind. It could be a parent, a teacher, a careers adviser, a teenager or an adult returner, and likely to be all of these.  Find a mid ground, not too hip, not too staid, and stick to the same style throughout.

Bear in mind, if you insist on making mention of all HE, part-time and employer training in a prospectus aimed at 16-18 year olds, then you run the risk of diluting the message to your target audience.

8. Death by Design

White space is still good. Don’t cram the page with swirly exciting design elements that overshadow the copy. Allow the words to speak, don’t let your graphic designer get carried away.

9. Go Green

Be environmentally friendly by using paper from sustainable sources, and re-cycle any surplus prospectuses at the end of their life. Some printers offer a carbon offsetting agreement whereby they arrange for new trees to be planted in return for your business. A novel idea to be applauded, and also good PR.

10. The Proof is in the Printing

Having toiled over copy for several months, the marketing team are not best placed to proof read. It’s a known fact that if you make a typo yourself you are less likely to spot it. Give the proof to someone outside of the team and ask them to read it cover to cover. A tedious task, but a gift of chocolate often helps smooth the way.

Finally, check you’ve spelled the word ‘Prospectus’ right. I have been in a college where 30,000 prospectuses were printed and delivered with the word  incorrectly spelt on the cover. Then it becomes a new question –  To Re-print or Not to Re-print?

Amanda Sayers is a marketing specialist operating in the FE sector – visit if you have a question about printing prospectuses

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