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In the clear: Marketing for clearing

In Education, News by Tom Cannon

Over 64,300 students secured a spot at university through the clearing process last year. That was up 5% on the previous year and accounts for a total of 12% of all acceptances. And, interestingly, there has been a 100% increase since 2012 in the number of students achieving the entry requirements for their first choice of university, yet requesting to be released into Clearing.

The message is loud and clear – Clearing is becoming an increasingly important process for universities and prospective students. If universities want to recruit students during the Clearing process they need to have a clear and strategic campaign in place.

To find out more we took a look at some examples of well executed campaigns which we’ll discuss below. We also spoke to Karen Smalley, the Head of Brand & Campaign at University of Reading and Sarah Hannaford, Head of Student Recruitment, Marketing and Admissions at Loughborough University, for expert insight.

Start Early

An astonishing 20% of Clearing’s Google Searches happen in July – way before A Level results are announced. Karen Smalley, the Head of Brand & Campaign at University of Reading, told us: “Clearing is a critical calendar event in our marketing diary so we like to start planning the creative and media from April. This coincides with the launch of our undergraduate recruitment campaign and means we can follow the creative and positioning of the broader campaign to ensure the join-up and synergy between everything we communicate to our prospect students.”

Create a dedicated web page

We all know millennials live online, so it pays to make sure that all relevant information should be housed on an easy to navigate web page dedicated to Clearing. Of course it should show all courses available, but the more relevant content the better.

LoughboroughSarah told us what Loughborough are up to this year: “In the run up to this year’s Clearing and Adjustment, we have been encouraging potential students to have a #LboroGamePlan – to think ahead and plan in advance their next steps using our dedicated website. This website is packed full with advice and top tips videos, case studies, parents’ guide, and a VIP email service which will notify subscribers first when Loughborough’s Clearing vacancies are published.”

Use Social media            

 According to the 2016 Communications Market report by Ofcom: “Use of social media was near-universal among 16-24 year olds in 2016”. The report found 99% of that age group use social media and spend an average of 2 hours and 26 minutes a day using it.

social-media-419944_1920There is a very good chance then, that these social media natives will be flocking to the likes of twitter to research their institutions of choice. While extolling the universities benefits is obvious, it’s important to show as well as tell which can be achieved through alumni case studies and retweeting current students’ positive anecdotes and so on. Don’t forget to also use relevant hashtags where appropriate, as this can help spread your message to a wider audience.

At Reading, Karen told us: “We have carefully planned our social media activity to ensure we are engaging prospective students – informing them of the choices available to them and the process they need to go through to join us. We’ve done this on all of our social channels, including Facebook, where we are hosting live Q&As.”

Host web chats

Speaking of live Q&A’s, scheduled web chats (that have been promoted!) are another good way to answer prospective students’ questions. Sarah told us:  “We’ll also be offering exclusive web chats to those who register where you can ask us anything to do with results day – such as how to confirm your place, what happens during Clearing and the next steps in the accommodation process.”

Team effort

Karen explained to us why cohesion between departments is vital for the success of a Clearing campaign: “The marketing team work closely with the admissions team to plan and create the Clearing campaign and we agree what messages and call-to-action we will lead with together. Too often marketing departments in higher education institutions work separately from the academics or professional staff but at Reading we create integrated teams around campaigns to make sure we have access to the expertise and insight our colleagues have. I think working in this way gives everyone a sense of ownership across the organisation and we can all work strategically.”

 Be on brand

Research was the starting point for The University of Reading’s very successful Limitless Campaign. They discovered that while the university is ranked in the top 1% of universities worldwide – would-be students weren’t sure exactly what they offered. The resulting campaign was a bold, multichannel national affair which promoted the university’s research and teaching.

Mike McMillan

Mike McMillan

Karen told us: “Everything we approach and all that we do is done creatively and confidently and having a positioning statement like Limitless drives this, we remain aspirational and ambitious for our students, staff and partners – Limitless is more than a word it is a mind-set. I think prospective and our own students really embrace the ethos at the University of Reading. In the marketing team we look to communicate our offer and our point of difference which speaks to them and is not inwardly focussed.”

And it certainly worked! The campaign encouraged a 17% increase in open day attendance and arguably more important a 21% increase in undergraduate applications.

Have a laugh

One way to get noticed is to be a bit different. An oldie that still cuts through is the 2011 University of Lincoln vs. Swans Clearing video which received over 140,000 views. This quirky video, created in part by a current student, demonstrates that a unique approach can grab attention very effectively, if done well.

Sarah told us about Loughborough University’s bloopers video which features both staff and students and also “serves as a reminder to those faced with going through Clearing and Adjustment that not everyone gets things right first time. The main message is not to worry if things don’t go quite as you’d planned and you don’t get the results you expected. There are still plenty of options open to you.”

Create a buzz

Loughborough University won the Guardian University Award in the Marketing and comms campaign category for their 2014 #IAMIN campaign. Sarah told us that the campaign generated more than 2.5m Twitter impressions and more than 51,000 unique external website visits, resulting in an increase in international student numbers (accepted through Clearing) up 126%.

Loughborough 2Sarah told us how the campaign created a buzz: “Loughborough University’s award-winning 2014 #IAMIN campaign successfully used social media and PR tools to engage with students on results day by capturing their enthusiasm in order to create an online buzz, which also generated recommendations for Loughborough during Clearing. Engagement-led and user-generated content was at the heart of the campaign which played to the strong sense of community which is central to the Loughborough experience. This content powered the campaign sending traffic to our website and calls to the branded call centre.”

Be ready on the day

Unsurprisingly once A Level results are in things move fast! 12% of all Clearing students will be placed in 48 hours. And a week on, 67% of clearing students will have a university place.

Suffice to say it pays to be ready on the day. Sarah agrees: “We will have 80 trained staff and students staffing the phones on A Level Results Day. Professor Robert Allison, Loughborough’s Vice-Chancellor, will be personally ringing up students who have successfully secured their place.” Now that’s customer service!

As Clearing becomes an increasingly important part of securing students, universities with clear, strong campaigns will stand out from the crowd. Research, such as the aforementioned research carried out by the University of Reading is an effective starting point in determining the best campaign for your prospective students.