How do you showcase your school to families who aren’t able to visit in person? Most schools have had to learn this – and fast – over the past year, but, says David Milner, Director of Marketing and International Relations at MTM client Sedbergh School, international student recruitment has long relied on technology to recreate the school admissions experience and know it’s well worth investing in an effective virtual recruitment strategy.
Back in January 2020, I never thought that my international trip to Malaga to attend Study Travel’s agent fair would be my last overseas trip for over 12 months. I would have certainly made the most of the Spanish tapas on offer had I known that McDonalds drive-thru would be my only option throughout 2020.
Of course, the pandemic has had a huge impact on the world and the way we live, the way we work and the way we learn. However, as Covid-19 spiralled out of control it created many opportunities within the education sector for our marketing and recruitment methods to adapt, evolve and become much more sophisticated. We have questioned our processes and removed barriers we never realised existed.
It is unlikely that independent school marketing and recruitment will return to the way it was before Covid. The lessons we have learnt out of necessity over the past year are now well integrated into our overall approach and have undoubtedly changed it for the better. Schools have realised though that simply tacking on a virtual event or a Zoom meeting to the existing recruitment process is not enough to give students and their families the depth of understanding they need to decide whether or not your school is the right school for them.
Simply tacking on a Zoom meeting is not enough to give families the depth of understanding they need to decide if your school is the right school for them
It is so important that we commit time and resources to developing a virtual recruitment strategy, bringing together a range of virtual approaches to recreate as closely as possible every aspect of the in-person introduction to a school that would be experienced by a family who is able to visit the campus in person. Not only does this benefit internationally-based families, but also those who live in the UK but, for whatever reason, are unable to visit. Why should those students miss out on the full introduction to your school?
International student recruitment has always involved the non in-person experience – enquiries by email or phone, Skype interviews, online assessments and presentations – but even schools recruiting pupils closer to home have had to adopt these practices, many with great success. The key to this is an outstanding level of communication. With so many advances in technology, the way we communicate with families is changing and now is the time to adapt and begin exploring different platforms to suit your markets, such as WeChat, WhatsApp and Line.
Virtual open days
Moving open events online has become a necessity for pretty much every UK independent school over the past year and many have had to learn fast. Those who have achieved the best results have been sure to focus the event on the prospective families – giving them the information they need to know about the school but also helping them to get the ‘feel’ of the place, even though they cannot be there physically.
‘Live’ open days are much more effective than recorded events and give you the opportunity to tailor the experience for each specific family. At Sedbergh School, we have found it important to ensure that the timing of the event is convenient for families and that you line up the members of staff those families are most keen to ‘meet’. If including video, remember you are relying on the attendee having a reliable internet connection.
Ending the virtual open day with a panel Q&A session is a great way for families to engage anonymously through the ‘chat’ function. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your attendees with a short survey afterwards – it is always important to find ways to improve.
360° virtual tour
Just like an individual in-person tour, the virtual tour gives prospective families the opportunity to explore the school campus, but has an advantage in that the visitors conduct the tour themselves, spending more time on areas of interest and less on others.
Offering a 360° virtual tour was once seen as a luxury; Covid has changed that. The tour is available 365 days a year, can be refreshed and enhanced regularly and is a virtual experience every school should be looking to invest in. As more products are introduced, prices have become more competitive.
We at Sedbergh School have worked with qualified drone pilot and outstanding photographer Peter Greig from Chameleon 360 (other client schools include King’s Worcester and Dover College) and have been very happy with the result.
We have learnt that the tour should be easy to navigate, with a clear menu. You should make the most of the chance to embed videos and photos into the interactive experience to help bring the tour to life. Don’t make it confusing, don’t highlight every single classroom, and make sure it doesn’t take ages to load. Really consider if some of the features you are offered are required.
A new platform, Virtual School Experience, provides opportunities to create very engaging personalised tours – useful for parents and students, of course, but also overseas agents and even potential job applicants. It uses a content management system to store and curate your school’s virtual content and then draws on it to create a bespoke presentation for each virtual visitor, tailored to their needs and interests. It can also host speech days, awards ceremonies, alumni events, staff recruitment campaigns, and more.
Covid has shown us that if prospective families and others are unable to come to us, we are able to use a virtual recruitment strategy to bring our school to them – wherever in the world they may be.
To find out how we can help your school or education organisation to build an effective virtual recruitment strategy, capitalising on the latest technology, please get in touch with the friendly MTM team.