To reach your student audience you must be able to cut through that noise. You need the strategic capabilities to craft a solid plan, the creative muscle to engineer a stimulating branded experience and the operational know-how to bring it all to life.
Some higher education marketing teams are fully capable and up to the task. But not all. More importantly, few teams possess the required skill set, experience and time and resources to consistently design and execute engaging campus-wide marketing initiatives.
In many cases, higher ed marketing departments are simply stretched too thin. A knowledgeable and trustworthy agency partner can be a big help in these circumstances. Frequently, that’s how we leverage our expertise to help our clients. Helping higher ed marketing teams augment their internal capabilities by finding the right balance between promotional and authentic is where Rowland excels.
It Pays to Have a Plan
Marketing campaigns promoting campus-wide initiatives and events require a distinct visual presence to engage students and entice participation. However, not all higher ed marketing teams are up for the creative challenge. Often, these teams lack university event promotion experience to efficiently create and carry out these campaigns. Many struggle to come up with concepts that feel fresh and still align with the school’s primary brand aesthetic.
But it’s not always because they lack creative insight or ability. Too often, it’s because there are just not enough hours in the day.
Overextended and understaffed marketing departments are the norm in higher education. Many teams contend with event promotion responsibilities added to already stretched capabilities and overfilled schedules. Experienced university marketers know when to ask for help. Many tap agencies like Rowland for creative and operational advice and expertise. One of the biggest ways we make an impact is by creating clear, actionable plans that cover creative concepting, development and execution.
The Rowland Approach to University Event Promotion
1. Set Goals, Scope and Budget
Before you dive into the creative process, establish the parameters of the campaign and the event(s) being promoted. It’s critical to identify the right goals and scope for the project. Some campaigns are about participation — getting students to show up at an exact date and time. Others are about creating on-campus awareness or making an impact through longer-term engagement.
Have a clear understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish. This allows you to set the scope of your project and identify the marketing and creative strategies and tactics that will help you accomplish your goals. With these elements defined, you can recommend a budget to cover all of the project needs.
2. Tune In and Listen
The next steps are to define, understand and prioritize your campaign/event audience. Believe it or not, focusing on the target audience does not happen automatically. Large, campus-wide events and initiatives are often a collaboration between multiple university departments or units. Which means a multitude of stakeholders and academic leaders weighing in with preferences and opinions. This can easily take the focus away from the targeted recipients of the campaign message.
We start with a discovery phase to ensure the plan we develop is effective for the target audience, as well as school leadership. This involves finding out students’ attitudes, opinions and understanding of the campaign issue/topic. Establishing this baseline allows us to begin zeroing in on the creative strategies that can most effectively be leveraged in campaign/event marketing efforts.
The discovery phase is the time to scout out high traffic areas on campus and find opportunities to maximize the impact of your efforts. This is also an excellent opportunity to establish relationships with building and facilities staff who will help you execute your creative vision.
3. Develop the Plan
College campuses are visually noisy places. You need event signage, promotional materials and digital assets that stand out and demand attention. But your marketing tactics also have to adhere to your school’s (often strict) signage and advertising guidelines.
Getting ahead of the logistical challenges requires a detailed, comprehensive plan. To make this plan happen you need to define a concept (brand image, tagline, event name, etc.) to serve as the creative theme for your promotional campaign. You also must outline how to bring this branded experience to life in the physical confines of the school.
Your campus event plan should demonstrate how your creative concept will be applied. And it should specify how and where each branding element will appear on campus grounds. You need to secure approval for the tactics you’ll want to use. The plan will help you get the buy-in you need for campus-wide execution.
4. Creative Development and Execution
With the plan approved, it’s time to develop the creative concept and apply it across the various promotional and display strategies you’ve outlined. The branding and creative elements you design have to be applicable across an enormous range of applications. Oftentimes, you’ll also need to incorporate and prioritize the names of your sponsors and underwriters in your designs. If your campaign or event is an annual affair, your creative designs will need to be flexible enough to be refreshed year after year.
There’s a lot of creative heavy lifting that has to take place in order to translate your design into consistent and effective marketing tactics. That creative work needs to be supported by a robust logistical operation, as well. Coordinate with those facilities keyholders you’ve hopefully befriended in the discovery phase. They are a crucial ally in the execution of your promotional strategy.
And be conscious of timelines. It’s important to leave plenty of buffer time for supply issues and delivery delays. You don’t want to be caught without critical campaign materials when it’s “go” time.
5. Reflection and Innovation
When the promotional campaign ends and the event is over, it’s time to reflect on how it all went. What was awesome? What was not so awesome?
It’s always a good idea to evaluate what went well, as well as the challenges that arose during the campaign’s execution phase. This helps you innovate new tactics that could make an even greater impact next year or with your next campaign.
Cut Through the Visual Noise
Having a detailed university event promotion plan is critical for success. What elevates your plans from good to great, however, is the sophistication of your execution strategies. What are some of the more effective ways to maximize the visual impact of your campus-wide marketing efforts?
Flood the Scene
A great way to capture attention is by putting your event/campaign logo and signage everywhere. Obviously, you can’t take over the entire campus (unless your budget is unlimited). So, you want to pick your spots carefully. Identify a few high impact areas and deploy your army of branded materials within multiple sightlines of passersby to create awareness and a sense of urgency.
With this tactic, it’s important to prioritize rapid deployment and short durations. You want to make the branded experience appear overnight. It should be something new and unexpected for your audience. And it shouldn’t stay long. More than a week and the experience fades into the background.
Keep the Visual Message Simple
For capturing visual attention, short and simple is always preferable to busy and complex. Let the visual design do the talking. There’s no need to overwhelm your audience with too much information. For events, you rarely need more than just the event name, the date and the logo.
Make Big Impressions in Big Places
You can keep it simple and still go big. And you should absolutely explore all the ways you can make a big impression. This is why that scouting mission at the outset is so important. Look for opportunities to take advantage of architectural structures or landscapes that naturally appear in sightlines.
Or you can make your message “mobile.” Moving displays are great at grabbing attention and increasing awareness. A vinyl-wrapped bus is an excellent way to make a big impression all over campus.
Get Creative Help with Campus-Wide Initiatives
A distinct visual presence is a must for campus-wide events and initiatives. But designing effective visual promotions is often a big ask for understaffed and under-resourced higher ed marketing teams. A partnership with an experienced higher ed marketing agency can make university event promotion considerably easier. And resonant.