I’m heading south tomorrow for an open day at Manchester University. My last visit to Manchester was for lunch with an author, in my very first job. The author turned out to be hideously lascivious (he seemed to think the fact he was half-French gave him licence to be). We hadn’t even finished the starter before he told me his wife didn’t understand him.
Over a lunch that felt far too long, we engaged in a slow migration across the room. Every few minutes, I edged my chair (and leg) away from him; every few minutes, his chair then followed. Never tell an author, I quickly learned, that it doesn’t matter what time you get back to the office.
So, back to the point: the open day. There’ve been a few university open days attended by our household these past few weeks, and it’s interesting to see how well some universities market themselves. A couple of unis have done excellent user-friendly apps for attendees, while others cannot even get the basic admin right. And some seem too complacent to hold open days at all – at least at times when British school pupils can attend them.
Professionally, this has all been very useful. I’ve worked with various universities on communications and publications, including Edinburgh, Stirling and Edinburgh Napier. I’ve also been a recipient of their marketing and fundraising efforts. But this role – as a potential parent – is new, and it’s enlightening.
One thing the open days have highlighted is how enmeshed comms and personal selling are. For example, no matter how great your website or prospectuses, they won’t hook your potential undergraduates unless staff at open days present the right messages and tone of voice when they talk to people. (And no one should underestimate the effectiveness of telling a sixth-former there are plentiful bursaries on offer …)
Once the universities make their offers, over the next few months, it will be intriguing to see how they persuade pupils to select them over their competitors (that’s assuming and hoping the offers come in). Once again, I’m expecting to see how critical it is to have comms, personal selling and admin all perfectly coordinated and aligned.
Sectors such as financial services already understand this, and have invested in making it work for them. The public sector and SMEs are less good, often because they don’t have the budgets or mental space to do the necessary planning and training.
With Scottish universities, I’ve seen some brilliant and terrible examples of organisational marketing. It’ll be interesting to see how they do it in the Northern Powerhouse. Certainly, this trip to Manchester should be better than the last one.