FindAUniversity Marketing Conference: 'Postgraduate Marketing & Student Recruitment'

Our 5th Marketing Conference took place on Thursday 27th September 2018 at the Town Hall, Sheffield. The event showcased the latest insight and examples of postgraduate student recruitment alongside eye opening case studies. The day featured a number of sessions from leading professionals in the Higher Education marketing sector, and facilitated opportunities for discussion and networking with colleagues at our drinks reception.

Please note that this event has taken place. Full details of our upcoming Marketing Conference can be found here.

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5 takeaways from the Autumn 2018 Marketing Conference

Our Head of Content, Mark Bennett, shares his key takeaways from the event.

Any event that begins by warning the audience they’ll hear the words ‘award winning’ rather a lot during the day and ends with a talk about ‘exploding tigers’ is probably worth paying attention to. I’m pleased to report that this was definitely the case for our fifth FindAUniversity Marketing Conference.

What follows are some brief takeaways, for the benefit of anyone interested in PG marketing who couldn't be with us in Sheffield last week (we’ll see you next time though, right?).

#1 When it comes to marketing, postgraduate study can be its own USP

Every marketer loves a good unique selling point. Unfortunately, figuring this out isn’t always that easy in HE. You offer a range of degree programmes? Well, so does the university up the road. You’ve got a really tall building on your campus? There’s a whole Wikipedia entry for that (no, really).

But, as several presentations touched on, one of the things that really does make an institution unique is the cutting-edge training and research it does – and the postgrads and academics who do it.

For Julie Odams and Laura Allen of Staffordshire University, innovative postgraduate programmes are part of what defines a smaller, modern institution. At the same time, the academics driving them can act as natural ambassadors on social and traditional media.

Similarly, as Andrew Twist explained, the expertise and enthusiasm of one of the University of Sheffield’s leading research scientists not only lead a young girl to get in touch, but also turned the heart-warming story of ‘Aisha’s Letter’ into a great social media success story.

#2 Postgraduate marketing and recruitment is different to undergraduate marketing and recruitment

None of the presenters set out to make such an apparently obvious point (you’ll be pleased to hear). But they did help make it apparent in ways that aren’t always all that obvious.

For one thing, postgraduate students are already students. As Odams and Allen pointed out, that changes the way marketers should approach them (and the kind of marketing they respond to) but it also changes the way in which marketers should think about their audiences. This underpinned the fascinating case study presented by The University of Sunderland’s David Turton and Emma Cottle, who were able to identify and prioritise different postgraduate-specific segments in their audiences.

One of the most interesting details of Emma O’Connell’s presentation, meanwhile, was the way UWE used careful research and planning to identify very specific (and sometimes surprising) barriers for undergraduate to postgraduate progression.

#3 Sometimes, you’ve got to think outside the tiger

Ostensibly, Mike Bond’s closing presentation on creatively rethinking marketing and branding challenges wasn’t really about postgraduate study at all. But, for a content professional like myself, it summed up a great pattern in the day’s programme.

The topics that we need to address as higher education marketers, recruiters, social media officers and content creators may not change dramatically, but the way we think about them can.

That might mean zooming in on an idea, slowing it down and pivoting it towards something else so that a tiger becomes a predator, becomes a logical symbol, becomes a book binder (you had to be there for this one). It might mean responding enthusiastically to something like Aisha’s Letter. Or it might mean taking a stance and asking your critics to ‘jog on’, as per Tim Watkins forthright – and frequently hilarious – presentation on the University of Reading’s approach to social media.

Incidentally, I prefer to do my thinking outside tigers.

#4 But it’s still important to have a plan (and clear objectives for it)

However cool your ideas are – and whether or not they involve large apex predators – you’ve got to approach them with a plan and have systems in place for carrying that plan out.

An ‘emergent’ content opportunity like Aisha’s Letter still requires a lot of planning and work behind the scenes: identifying appropriate social media channels, selecting suitable content formats, having a phone that can handle an awful lot of Twitter notifications. . . And, as Watkins pointed out, a viral tweet still requires a team that understands the institution’s voice and position.

Meanwhile, the various case studies all explained what was required to achieve their results; whether that meant auditing social media profiles, researching student recruitment pain points, or explaining what it takes to create the impressive virtual open day platform that Lindsay Smith showcased on behalf of the University of Birmingham.

Objectives are important too, even when they just mean ensuring that a young girl who writes to one of your scientists gets an answer.

#5 Sometimes marketing isn’t just marketing

Marketing and recruitment activities can feel somewhat distant from the civic role of a university. This isn’t necessarily true though and, for me, that was implicit in presentation after presentation.

Reading’s willingness to stand by its refugee scholarships on social media is obviously commendable. But so too is the way Watkins uses platforms such as Reddit to get involved with the university’s local community, whether that just means telling residents what to do if fresher’s week gets a bit lively or responding to the niche film fan who really wants a screening of Minions on campus (true story).

Meanwhile, it was great to hear that an awareness of the university’s civic role was part of the drive to respond to Aisha’s letter, but equally cheering to learn how universities like Sunderland and Staffordshire are embracing their communities and thinking what they have to offer as local centres of education and research.

Universities do good things and postgraduate study is a big part of that. Marketing and recruitment professionals help bring the two together.

. . .Those are some of my takeaways, anyway. For more info on the presentations I definitely recommend you check out our LinkedIn Postgraduate Marketing & Recruitment Group, take a look at some of the slides and carry on the conversation.

To hear about our next FindAUniversity Marketing Conference, or suggest a topic for discussion, please email:

Conference schedule:

09:45 Registration opens & refreshments
10:00 Welcome
10:10 'Virtual postgraduate open days' - Lindsay Smith, Postgraduate Recruitment Manager, University of Birmingham.
10:40 'Aisha's Letter: A social media campaign case study' - Andrew Twist, Digital Content Producer, The University of Sheffield
11:10 Morning refreshments
11:25 'Academics on social: Unleashing the beasts'- Julie Odams, Head of Communications & Laura Allen, Digital Communications Officer, Staffordshire University.
12:10 Lunch & networking
13:10 'Jog on: Speaking like a human on social media' - Tim Watkins, Social Media Manager, University of Reading.
13:40 'Master your future: A postgraduate campaign case study' - David Turton, Campaign & Conversion Manager, & Emma Cottle, Digital Content Manager, University of Sunderland.
14:25 Afternoon refreshments
14:40 'Now is possible: A campaign inspiring undergraduate to postgraduate progression' - Emma O'Connell, Assistant Director (Marketing Strategy), UWE.
15:10 'Exploding tigers: Creative ways to help see brand & marketing challenges in a new light' - Mike Bond, Strategy Director & Founder, Bond & Coyne.
15:55 Closing remarks
16:00 Networking drinks reception
17:00 Finish

Sponsored by HEERA

The Higher Education External Relations Association is the professional body of staff working across the areas of press & public relations, marketing, alumni relations and fundraising in the higher education sector. Find out more here.

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