Academic-related issues are just as important as the marketing

While there certainly are exceptions, in our consulting practice we find that career college owners and administrators are often more comfortable working on marketing plans than academic related issues, such as curriculum revision or classroom management training. Similarly, over the years we’ve found owners more willing to invest in training their admissions staff by sending them to workshops and seminars than sending their faculty to academically-related training sessions.

Considering how important the faculty is in assuring the graduation process, as well as overcoming the retention challenge, such practices may be pound wise and penny foolish.

For those interested in marketing, we have been somewhat surprised that one of the best components of the planning portion of a campaign is too often ignored. Every career college has a significantly free or relatively inexpensive resource at its disposal, if they would only use it. I’m speaking of the students currently sitting in their classrooms.

If the students currently sitting the classroom are the kind of students a school wants to recruit, they can be an ideal resource in reviewing, commenting and drafting new print ads and radio/TV commercials. The more a school knows about its market, the more effective the design of its marketing program can be, which stands to reason. And yet, many schools do not “try out” their advertising on the very people who are representative of those they are trying to reach.

Jan and I recently assisted a school with its advertising and began by asking a group of students to give us their advice on what the best ad should look like, what the copy should say, and what elements are most important. The group was very candid, indicating which ads held no appeal and which ads grabbed them. It is not unusual to find that what grabbed them is not what grabbed us or the owner – different generation, circumstance, goals, etc.

In the course of our conversations we explored what radio stations they listened to and which television programs appealed to them. With this information we were able to design a marketing plan with our target market in mind.

The other benefit of this process is the connection the school makes with its students. They love to feel that they are making a contribution to the institution by participating in such marketing focus groups. Owners are often surprised by what they learn in this process. It sometimes is quite different from the assumptions that were being used to create the ads and commercials.

What sparks your prospective student’s interests? Is it the kind of training? Is it the anticipation of a good salary? Is it the satisfaction in helping someone else, as in the health care field? Is it the time it takes to get the training? Is it the availability of financial aid, if qualified? Is it the credential earned at graduation? Is it the prospect of a career instead a job? Is the school accredited?

The clearer the answers are to questions like these, the more effective the messages can be designed in the ads. Schools who don’t utilize a student focus group review are missing a huge opportunity to improve their marketing efforts.

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