Advertising Versus Direct Marketing for Recruitment

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Douglas E. Clark
Vice President of Enrollment Management
Ferrum College

Enrollment managers are, with the possible exception of those with unlimited budgets, confronted with the need to make choices about how their marketing dollars are spent. When resources are scarce, it is important to maximize the results from every marketing dollar. 

One ongoing issue is how to divide the dollars between advertising activities and direct marketing activities. This article will argue the dollars spent on direct marketing have more impact than advertising dollars. So the next time you are pressed by admissions “experts” who want you to spend your scarce recruitment dollars on some advertising scheme because it will help, in some vague way, to build “awareness” of the institution, you need to be ready to counter with some good arguments.

In the world of admissions marketing we have one important advantage. For the most part, we know who our potential customers are and we have access to their names (I am speaking of traditional aged students here, not adult students). The College Board Student Search Service, American College Testing and NRCCUA enable us to purchase the name of almost every student available for recruitment in a given cycle. These services allow the enrolment manager to tailor a request for names based on an appropriate profile for the institution using indicators such as GPA, location and possible major. In addition, college programs and fairs produce names of prospective students. 

Once you have the names of students in your data base you are ready to engage in direct marketing activities that have important recruitment advantages:

Direct marketing allows you to communicate directly with students who are most likely to enroll in your institution using multiple media such as direct mail, email and telecounseling. These activities facilitate building a relationship with the potential student. 

Direct marketing is ideal for asking potential students to take a step in the enrolment process such as filling out an inquiry card, submitting an application, visiting the campus, or sending in a deposit. This also allows you to get feedback on just how well marketing efforts are working. 

It is important to note that effective direct marketing requires good data base management. Keeping track of where students are in the enrolment process is vital to effective communication. Staff members who are skilled at managing the data base are worth their weight in gold! 

Advertising has its role in the world of marketing, but is not the most cost effective way for enrolment managers to recruit students. It is expensive and harder to control in terms of just who you are reaching (you pay for those who are not really potential students to get your message). It does not allow you to build relationships, and its impact is harder to measure unless there is some direct response action the student can take like “call this toll free hotline” (a tag line some colleges may not find appropriate). To build awareness, a good public relations operation can utilize less costly efforts such as courting key newspapers to get them to run stories about interesting activities at your institution. 

While advertising or sponsoring a popular radio show may make folks at the institution feel good about the college, I would suggest that it is doing very little in the way of making a measurable impact on recruiting your class (which needs to be large enough to make your president feel good about you). Better to take those advertising dollars and put them into direct mail, email and telecounseling!


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