UK university student recruitment lockdown learnings

An international student recruitment team for a UK university in the south of England recently told me over 70% of the materials printed in preparation for 2020 international fairs won’t now be used and will be thrown out due to being out of date. This is one of many challenges currently facing UK universities due to the current pandemic.

Gelato has been growing steadily in the education sector as we’ve added 9 new customers in the sector to our Globe platform over the past 12 months. As we continue to grow, we are constantly being asked our opinion on the role of print for international student recruitment, particularly from UK universities, and especially now as much of the world is in lockdown. Therefore we have decided to share some of our insights in the sector, what the current printing challenges are and thoughts on how best to manage your printed marketing strategy for this coming period.

We are all trying to figure out what the world will look like in the coming weeks and months as society starts to open up across the world. Although there are many uncertainties about how this will play out and it will vary from country to country, there are a few truths to consider:

  1. The lockdowns across the world will be lifted (this is already happening at various different stages in many countries, for example China, South Korea, Germany, Spain, Italy)
  2. The lifting will happen in phases and will be slow and gradual
  3. This virus will eventually pass, trade shows and face to face meetings will happen again

I have personally spoken with employees in the international student recruitment departments of around 25 UK universities in recent weeks. When it comes to printing marketing materials for student recruitment fairs across the globe, there are 2 things largely on their minds:

1. When will recruitment fairs reopen and what should we do to be ready?

The traditional spring recruitment season in 2020 has been significantly affected as fairs across the globe have been cancelled. Most UK universities do their print runs once or twice a year to cover international fair needs for 6 or 12 months, so the impact of these cancellations has been that materials printed in advance for fairs which never took place have been wasted and will be thrown away. In some cases the wastage has included several thousand brochures, flyers, postcards etc. The cost and environmental implications of this wastage are striking. Although many are hoping that student recruitment fairs will be back up and running by the start of the traditional autumn season in September, there is a concern among many that this may well not happen until early 2021.

So the question is, how can UK universities prepare for the reopening of international fairs when no one currently knows when that will be? The challenges from the traditional model of printing in the UK and shipping round the world (wastage, lack of personalisation, shipping time & cost, customs delays & cost, prints being quickly out of date) are now more relevant than ever. The trend we hear repeatedly for the post-corona world is for a strategic, topical and on demand approach to marketing for international student recruitment, which includes a healthy mix of digital, social and print.

Printing on Demand
The printing strategy should be smaller brochures, leaflets, postcards etc. They should be printed on demand, preferably using a local printer in the country where the fair takes place, for example printing directly in China, Singapore, India, USA etc. This will also allow customisation for specific events internationally and translation in the local language.

The trend is to move away from (and ultimately phase out) large, university prospectuses which are often as big as 240 pages. They are expensive to produce, difficult to customise and have less relevance with the current generation of students.

Plan in advance for customisable, local printing
This period where there are no international fairs has therefore increased the urgency for many UK universities to shift their international print strategy to one which is focussed more towards customisation, on demand and printing locally. With yearly budgets in the industry typically running from summer to summer, this is an obvious time to put this in place. At Gelato several UK universities are currently doing their due diligence on the tool and are getting their assets set up and users trained on the platform, so that when international fairs start to happen again (whenever that will be), they will be ready to ramp up the effectiveness of their international student recruitment strategy with a local, on demand printing model.

2. Should we still market through the medium of print while lockdowns are still in place?

Due to the cancelling of fairs and opportunities for local agents and university representatives to meet face to face with prospective students, many are currently investing more of their marketing budget online. With prospective students at home right now, an increase in investment in digital communication makes sense.

What is also clear is that receiving a personalised, printed marketing brochure, leaflet or postcard from a university you may wish to attend is considered valuable. The market trend towards personalisation of printed materials is still however in its early stages:
Print’s personalisation revolution has only just begun.

Students don’t receive as many printed materials as they used to, however research has shown that when they do, it can have a significant impact on their impression of a university and a city. Some teams are now sending handwritten postcards to prospective students all over the world. In addition the decision as to where a young person goes for further education in many countries around the world is heavily influenced by the parents. The older generation often prefers to do their research from materials which have been printed out.

The challenge here is how to get personalised prints directly to prospective students’ homes when many regular printers and shipping providers are currently closed down. This is a difficult problem, however it can be done. For example Gelato’s global network of printers and shipping providers across the world ensures that whenever there is disruption, print orders are rerouted to alternative printers or shipping providers which are still operational. Gelato customers can therefore order personalised copies to be printed locally and shipped individually to prospective students all over the world.

Our priority at Gelato at this time is of course the health and safety of our employees, customers and print partners. We at Gelato wish everyone good health and success as we collectively navigate our way through the current global challenges.

For more information, please contact:
Chris Scott

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash