It’s worth your institution investing in attendance at a school admissions fair, but maybe not for the reasons you think. Of course the hope is that lines will form at your table to find out more about your school. You are armed with your new materials, an iPad video and fabulous tchotchkies. Sad to say you’re more than likely to be disappointed as you see casual “buyers” pass you up for a chance to chat with the very well known places on the roster. But there’s an important reason to attend that goes beyond getting people to sign your inquiry form. It’s mystery shopping in action, and you better pay attention.
Getting out and seeing consumers navigate a sea of school banners, view books, swag, and smiling faces is a game changer. So tune in your antennae and plan to collect information that can help you focus your marketing efforts for the coming recruitment season.
- Get a sense of the demographics. Who attends the fair is as important as who interacts with your table. The demographics hint at the larger pool of parents and students seeking independent education. This is important as you strategize for your school not only at fairs, but also in all of your marketing efforts.
- Find out how curb appeal affects students and parents. Observing first-hand what motivates students and parents to stop at your table will alter how you approach event marketing. Your table is just one in a sea of symbolic seals, nifty nicknacks and eager admissions folks. Pinpoint what distinguishes your table as well as what you need to fix.
- Ask questions. A captive audience is a marketer’s dream! Prepare thoughtful but short questions that aren’t just about admissions. “What materials really spark your interest? How did you find out about today’s fair? Why are you exploring independent school options?”
- Talk to other admissions professionals. These folks are natural conversationalists so engage them in what they do best. What works for their schools and what doesn’t? What is translating casual interest into inquiries and inquiries into applications?
There are few better times to watch hundreds of engaged, curious customers than at a school fair. Take it all in, and take those notes home with you.
When you get back to campus, consider what you can change according to what you find out about parent and student preferences. And also about what other schools are doing to capture the attention of prospects.
Follow up with potential applicants who interacted with you. And add a fair to your calendar next year—for research as well as engagement. It’s worth your time and treasure to keep you on your toes.