By Peter Cunningham

One of the most important aspects of international student recruitment is keeping your branding consistent so candidates get the same message from external and internal communications.

That means getting together a communications plan that involves everyone a would-be student will encounter on their route to enrolment.

In an educational setting, the brand message sets out the beliefs and aspirations of the university or college.

For example, institutions which have set themselves up as “universities for the common good” aspire to foster greater links with their communities and the wider world for the betterment of all.

That’s a strong student recruitment message that appeals to altruistic and idealistic young people, who, more and more often, are looking beyond what a particular course at a particular school can offer them. They want to study at an institution that’s in tune with their own moral and philosophical views.

Universities recognise the importance of moral authority and their brands’ core messages are usually clearly communicated by the external communications team with their marketing literature, advertising, website, and public relations material delivering an integrated and cohesive strategy that also winds through their social media channels.

Customer service

Where problems can emerge, is when that external brand is not carried through when dealing with a prospective student internally. In other words, their customer service doesn’t fit in with the brand message.

It’s an easy mistake to make. The people dealing with the day-to-day work of educating, supporting and looking after young people who are trying to better themselves justifiably put those needs first.

But this falls down when a prospective student emails a professor, perhaps, to ask about aspects of a course. The professor will know their subject intimately, and be able to give the student the answer they are looking for. But there’s also an opportunity to tell the student what the university stands for, to sell the student on its philosophy.

Another area of concern would be a student coming to a university advisor with a problem – financial, educational, personal, whatever – and being treated dismissively. If your institution’s branding says you help individuals make the world a better place, you’ll probably lose that prospect to a “more caring” college.

What’s needed is a cohesive communications plan that involves people from every aspect of your institution. Drum those key messages into them, demonstrating how the entire ethos of the institution is driven by those ideas.

Teach them to understand how to deal with a query, how to respond timeously and positively, and how to refer it on to someone perhaps better equipped to deal with it.

Get across the message

Supply your staff with email templates that get across the messages you are aiming to bolster – a few simple paragraphs can be tailored in response to different situations and slotted into a relevant message.

Take your colleagues through social media training, giving them clear guidelines covering what is and is not acceptable behaviour online, and underlining how their actions reflect upon the university.

Give them guidance on how to deal with the traditional media, even boiling it down to something as simple as telling a journalist: “I’ll need to look into this. Can I have your number and we’ll get back to you?” Underline that they must follow through on press queries with the communications team.

Equip your whole team with the brand message they are meant to deliver and the means to deliver it – and then you will have a coherent communications plan that works in your institution’s best interests.

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