By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
When was the last time you sat down either by yourself, with your admissions colleagues, or with your school’s marketing team and really took a hard look at the recruitment communications that you’re sending out? It’s an important question, and if you haven’t done it lately, and by lately I mean sometime in the past 8 to 12 months, I strongly recommend you schedule some time to at least start a conversation about this topic ASAP. In today’s recruiting environment you just can’t afford not to.
During our ongoing research with students across the country we ask them to give us feedback about the communications they received during the college search process:
- “I suppose I would say that you should just be friendly. College students are nervous and afraid, so a kind voice is usually more than enough to get the ball rolling.”
- “Casual e-mails from the counselors make the process feel so much nicer.”
- “It’s nice when the emails and letters are even slightly personal as opposed to the automatic ones colleges send out.”
- “We get hundreds of emails during senior year. Make it shorter and actually interesting because everything sounds the same and we get distracted easily.”
Each of those responses echoes sentiments that we read quite frequently. This generation of students thinks that what you’re sending them isn’t personalized, is full of boring content, is way too professional and academic sounding in most cases, and is too long. On top of that, most are also convinced that you’re recycling word for word your letters and emails year after year after year. Again, this isn’t me telling you this, this is what your clientele is saying. Public university or private college, the feedback is the same.
If you’re reading this and thinking that what I’m talking about is someone else’s responsibility at your school and not yours, I’m here to tell you it’s time to change your mindset. Schools that are increasing enrollment and yield understand that recruitment is always a team effort!
So, where should you start? Begin by asking this simple question – “Why are we sending what we’re sending, and what’s the goal?” A lot of colleges do a great job of informing or storytelling. The problem is that’s only part of an effective strategy…and that brings me to the first secret I want to share with you today. It’s not about just informing; it’s about informing and engaging. You should want to know what each person receiving that email, letter, or postcard from you thinks about the information in it because there’s massive value in knowing that!
Now I’m not about to tell you that creating consistent engagement in your communications is simple to do because it’s not. Crafting engaging messages that are personal yet distributed to the masses is a strategic process that involves a massive amount of time and a ton of hard work. That’s why our team at TCS handles that responsibility for all of our clients. It makes the day-to-day work in those admissions offices a lot more manageable and less stressful.
On to secret number two. Over the years our team of experts at TCS has learned to forget the rules – the writing rules that is. Believe it or not, most of those writing and grammar rules so many of us learned over the years are preventing many college admissions professionals from truly connecting with this current class of prospective students.
Instead of worrying about the writing rules you learned in high school and college, I want you to think, “If I were in a room with my best friend, a family friend, or the son/daughter of that friend and I needed to get their attention, engage them, and present the reasons why they should be excited about this school – what would I say to them?” Then let the conversation flow naturally out of your fingers to the keyboard or to your pen as if you were talking to them one-on-one. Be less formal and more conversational. That’s the key.
For some of you reading this article, the strategy of forgetting the writing rules will be hard…I mean really hard to the point where it might even be a non-starter because you’re afraid the end result will be tacky or unprofessional. I get it. Often times when I’m talking with a new client of ours those same concerns come up. They receive their first set of custom recruitment messages from us with a different tone, verbiage, and calls to action than they’re used to and it causes them to worry. About a month or two later after sticking with the plan, I’ll get an email or call from that Admissions Director or VP telling me the engagement/open rate is higher than ever before and the messaging is creating conversations the team never had before.
The reason why this approach works, and why you should take these two secrets and run with them, is because as I said earlier, this is what your clientele wants from you. They’ve told us, and I’m telling/reminding you. Plus, when you give them something they want and need, it creates comfort. And comfort leads to more back-and-forth conversations that will give you a competitive edge in the student recruitment arena.