The Honest Marketer

Promoting the value of HE
Has digital cost us much more than the print savings it realised?

​​Working in the University of Nottingham's Press Office back in 1994, before the marketing department ever existed, one of my key responsibilities was the production of an annual community newsletter, which served a valuable purpose: educating a key constituency about the benefits of the University. It detailed: local events and activities, success stories of recent graduates, institution achievements and the research making an impact across the globe. Printed newsletters like Nottingham's and various forms of direct mail were fairly common place throughout the nineties and noughties, particularly around Clearing and New Year to promote study opportunities to non-traditional students. However, as budgets were squeezed and we heralded the digital age - the flexibility and reach of websites, CRM systems and social media - print has taken a back seat.

There is no denying that the digital age has brought sophistication to marketing  to prospective students and teachers/schools - the way universities can target, personalise and regularly engage with those interested in HE is quite simply inspiring. The information available about universities/colleges, faculties/schools/departments and courses is certainly richer and deeper than ever before BUT, in most cases, it relies on the end user taking the initiative to visit a website, sign up to an e-newsletter, engage with education liaison or click through an online advert. Seeing the public's negativity towards HE as a post-18 option, I can't help but wonder if we in HE have done ourselves a disservice and missed a trick? At a time when bad press about universities has spiralled, should we have invested more in basic brand value awareness raising, positive PR and engagement with ALL of our stakeholders? I'm the first to argue that community open days, billboards and direct mailers are expensive and unlikely to generate students directly, but they do have the potential to create long-term awareness of the success that HE can bring an individual. Undoubtedly, institutions still need to recruit students, but they also need to recruit more widespread public support and knowledge about the lifetime value of HE.