05 Mar 2015

From print to online: a risk worth taking?

leap of faithIn this increasingly online era, most of us working in higher education recruitment are dealing with the same problem: which tools should we use to reach our prospective students and how do we get them to where we want them to be? Should we stick to print, keep visiting education fairs or should we take it to cyberspace completely? The landscape of online and virtual tools, lead generators, social networks and what not, is dynamic and not always an easily accessible one. Sometimes you just have to take a risk and make the jump. It might be worth it.

A leap of faith

At the University of Groningen we took a leap of faith three years ago and abandoned the bulk of our print brochures. Realising that we were allocating much of our budget to a recruitment tool that was disproportionate to the output it generated and more importantly a tool that did not match the online and mobile lifestyle of our main target group, made us think again. Do we regret it? Not for one minute. Did we have worries and does it have downsides? Yes, of course:

  • What were we going to hand out at fairs?
  • Will prospects really be satisfied with online material instead of print?
  • What about the parents or other stakeholders who prefer to be ‘offline’?
  • How do we, as fair officers, get information at fairs about our 100+ degrees and what do we ‘show’ to prospective students?

Adapt and improve

Today we can safely say that it was the right choice and we’ve managed to deal with most, if not all, expected and unexpected worries and issues. Over the years, we’ve learned where we could improve and where we had to adapt. At fairs we still hand out a thin brochure with basic information. Fair officers use iPads containing pdf versions of our online brochure. For offline stakeholders we use low-cost, targeted flyers. By now we have tied all our recruitment tools, online and offline, to this brochure, including a soon-to-be released mobile version and a Facebook app, where the online brochure runs within the Facebook environment.

Online brochures

Our print degree brochures, however, have disappeared and were replaced by an online, customised information package for international students. This package contains information about specific degrees, the university, the city and facilities, and acts as a teaser to drive prospective students to our website. Once on the website, prospective students can also download an e-magazine about their degree of interest. This magazine is designed to make the factual information on the website more dynamic and appealing.

Cost and time investment

As a result of this change, costs and time invested by staff have dropped dramatically, even beyond expectation. By connecting all of our recruitment tools to this brochure, downloads went up from 15 per day in the first year to 50-75 per day this year. Furthermore, it can be assumed that the brochure will actually be read by the prospective student who downloaded it, rather than being lost in a bag with 30 similar looking university brochures at the end of a busy fair day.

What about the students?

We haven’t had a single complaint from students. At fairs they take the thin brochure and if they really are interested in us, they will make the effort and download the brochure, making these leads more interesting than leads you receive after handing out a brochure. Furthermore, it’s ‘green’ and this generation does have an appreciation for those making an effort to be more environmentally friendly. Parents, yes, sometimes they complain; however, they do understand when we explain and that’s where the flyers come in handy. Although it may not provide them with all the information they want in the moment, it shows that we care about their needs and it links them to our web portal for parents.

With the current trends and with the experience we’ve gained in the past three years, we would definitely not go back to print. With this brochure, we seem to reach our target group successfully and our editorial life has become much more pleasant. We receive great statistics giving us valuable insights into the effectiveness of our activities and we can completely integrate it into our on- and offline recruitment strategy. Overall, the upsides far outweigh the downsides – if there were even any downsides at all, looking back. It forced us to be more creative and rethink the old habits we had grown accustomed to.

By Jessica Winters – Head of Marketing, University of Groningen, the Netherlands


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