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Open your eyes to open days

Open your eyes to Open Days

Everyone is aware how the competition in further education has increased over the years. We are all doing more to attract students, at expense of our neighbouring colleges and school sixth form centres, as the market gets smaller every year. So how can we make sure that our Open Days stand out from the crowd and ultimately bring in more students? In other words, how do we convert our ‘hot leads’ to customers?

The statistics

Most colleges undertake enrolment surveys at the beginning of the academic year to try and establish which marketing methods have worked for them. Open Days are often cited as one of the most important factors in students’ decision making process. In fact, it is rare that a student will enrol without visiting the college first, whether it’s during an Open Day, Taster Day, Tour etc. Therefore, it goes without saying that the Open Day experience must be a positive one if we want the students to come back in September. So, what is it that makes it good for them?

Feel the atmosphere

I have often heard students talk about other colleges’ Open Days as ‘cold’ or ‘unwelcoming’ but when I’ve asked them to explain what they mean, they often struggle. This is a psychological effect of first impressions and gut feelings, like with a new house or a new person. With Open Days, it’s often things that we can’t do much about, such as bad weather, traffic issues and grim buildings, but often a little effort can go a long way. For example, music can often have a subtle effect which visitors won’t be able to recall but it will make them ‘feel the warmth’. The same effect can be achieved by appealing to the sense of smell, especially useful for those colleges offering catering or floristry courses.   

 Get the basics right

First impressions count, so getting this right goes a long way. Reception should be as welcoming as possible, buzzing with atmosphere, with smiling students and staff waiting to greet visitors. Cleanliness is a must, paying special attention to outside grounds, corridors and toilets.

 Customer Service is another very basic concept which must not be forgotten during Open Days. As we have already said, Marketing Departments spend a lot of money getting the visitors to come along and on the day, all staff need to sing from the same hymn sheet. This includes more than just those meeting students at reception, it also encompasses caterers, security, cleaners and anyone else who is likely to come into contact with visitors. Teaching staff are a vital part of this and their enthusiasm and love for their subject are often critical in visitors deciding between one college and another.

Making it fun

You know you have made a good impression when visitors spend a substantial amount of time at the Open Day and they don’t want to leave. At our last event, I observed a family with two sons who came along at noon, talked to tutors about different subjects, found out about extra curricular activities, enjoyed a tour of the College, went to the canteen for a coffee break, took part in a pop quiz and spent the rest of the afternoon playing pool in the common room. They left us very positive feedback and both sons have since applied to the College.

This anecdote proves another point — You don’t need a large budget to make your event fun, you just need to be creative.

Talking their language

We are marketing Open Days to Generation Y and we need to remember that they differ in their characteristics from their Generation X counterparts. Instead of trying to look ‘cool’ and failing miserably, why not let your potential students talk to someone they understand and relate to – your current students.

At Bournville College, student ambassadors are a key part of the Open Days.  They meet and greet visitors, give tours, help out with activities or give talks about life at the College. Young visitors are often shy to talk to staff but would happily chat to students. As long as you choose positive ambassadors, you are a winner!

Follow Up

After an Open Day, marketing staff often breathe a sigh of relief and get on with thousands of other things they have to do, however, follow up is crucial. Some colleges go a step further and analyse the visitors’ data, including event feedback, popular courses and main feeder schools and think about how the next event could be improved. I like to start a dialogue with those who attended the event, which then hopefully goes on until the day they come to us in September. This may include a letter to thank them for coming, follow up newsletters and information about courses they have applied for – the list is only limited by your imagination. These enquirers were serious enough to come to my event – I don’t want to lose them again!

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