Destination marketing for the education sector

Destination marketing for the education sector

Destination marketing has long existed for the tourism industry with bureaus created to promote towns, cities or regions to potential visitors by articulating the values and competitive attributes of the area. But what about burgeoning education sectors? A key component of education marketing is the city, with the terminology ‘town and gown’ prevalent in the mission statements of many universities. The city plays a hugely significant role in the decision-making of prospective students and staff.

Research clearly shows that for undergraduate students in particular, the location and the experience it offers, as much as the institution itself, is an important consideration in the choice of where to study. That said, how often is there a shared ownership of communicating the message of the destination to prospective students, staff and partners? How much do you, as an institution, share resources, messaging and communication tools with your neighbours? A year ago at the University of Glasgow, I would have issued a tentative ‘rarely’ in answer to these questions, with our marketing professionals spending a great deal of time and effort engaged in thinking about how best to promote a city whose strengths are still not as well-known as others in the UK.

Glasgow in the spotlight

Glasgow is flourishing and at the heart of Scotland’s largest city is its rapidly growing and thriving world-class education sector. There are over 5000 academic staff and 130 000 students across diverse institutions. More people than ever are learning, innovating, experimenting, researching, teaching, collaborating and sharing ideas across the city in fields as diversified as medicine, the arts, engineering, life-sciences, business and healthcare.

At the same time, Glasgow enjoys an international reputation as a research centre; transforming the way academics, business, industry and the public sector work together. Glasgow’s universities and colleges are key strategic assets for the city and the city is a key strategic asset for its institutions. Recognising this, an innovative marketing communications partnership was developed in the city last year with the aim of increasing Glasgow’s profile as a global education destination.

Comprising all eight of Glasgow’s teaching institutions – the University of Glasgow; the University of Strathclyde; Glasgow Caledonian University; the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland; the Glasgow School of Art; Glasgow Clyde College, City of Glasgow College and Glasgow Kelvin College – together with Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (GCMB), the partnership group is working to share resources and expertise to promote the city as a premium study centre. Our focus has been on developing strategies to increase the number of students, academics, researchers, and education professionals making Glasgow their first choice – building the city’s reputation as a centre of excellence in learning, teaching, research and industry.

A partnership for success

Importantly, this is a partnership between the whole education sector in Glasgow and the city itself. We are working together to communicate a vision for the city that inspires and speaks to all of our stakeholders.

Through the work of the group so far, we have undertaken a range of collaborative activities including creating bespoke advertising during the 2014 XX Commonwealth Games and the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards both hosted in Glasgow; produced in partnership with Wallpaper* Magazine, a pull-out guide to Glasgow focused on our thriving arts and design sector; launched an online portal hosted on Glasgow City Marketing Bureau’s website and implemented city-wide welcome  events for new international students.

There are a number of universities engaged in similar activities that aspire to take this approach of promoting their city as a key element of the marketing mix. It is still relatively early days for the Glasgow Economic Leadership Higher and Further Education Marketing Group, with learning’s gained as we implement our strategy but, as Chair of the group, there are a few key pieces of advice I would give to anyone hoping to follow Glasgow’s example:

  1. Agree from the outset the terms of reference, representation and resources required for the group: it’s important to have a clear mission, the right mix of decision-makers, and an agreed annual investment that each institution will contribute to pump-prime initiatives.
  2. Truly adopt a strategic partnership: the collective needs to include city representation.
  3. Be prepared to compromise! Not all projects will necessarily be priorities for all stakeholders in the group and the mandate and resources are managed by the group, and not by individual institutions.
  4. Determine clear key performance indicators (KPIs). The group could be nothing more than a lovely gathering of like-minded souls without an understanding of key objectives and regularly evaluating these.
  5. Meet regularly. The Glasgow group meets around every 6-8 weeks to ensure continual communication, the progress of actions and the opportunity to discuss new ideas.
  6. Be both planned and opportunistic in your approach: it’s incredibly important that a full operational plan is developed with agreed timeframes for implementation, but you also need to be agile enough to make the most of events as they arise – the MTV Europe Music Awards is a good example of how the group capitalised on a unique event taking place in the city.
  7. Speak to your stakeholders. A large part of the success of the group to date has come through listening to the feedback and views of our key audiences, ensuring our own internal communities are aware of the work that is being undertaken.

What can you do?

Our towns and cities are an integral part of how our stakeholders perceive our institutions and the opportunities we can afford them, so I ask you, how often do you share ownership of communicating the message of the destination to prospective students, staff and partners? How much do you, as an institution, share resources, messaging and communication tools with your neighbours? If the answer is ‘rarely’, perhaps it’s time to explore a collaborative destination marketing model.

Rachel Sandison is Director of Marketing, Recruitment and International at the University of Glasgow and Chair of the Glasgow Economic Leadership Higher and Further Education Marketing working group.

To hear more about this partnership in Glasgow and learn how such partnerships can benefit your city and higher education institution, join the Marketing and Recruitment EAIE Expert Community Feature session  tomorrow, Wednesday, 16 September at 13:30.