Freaky Short Recruitment Marketing Emails

Recruitment marketingAre your recruitment marketing emails to prospective high school students too long? I’m going to guess, yes.

Last year I wrote a post about how to keep your emails from getting too wordy. Since then, I’ve written dozens of emails for various colleges’ application generation and search campaigns. My clients used to ask for 150-word emails. Now, that’s changing to be 100 words or less.

But you know what happens? When university officials see the shorter emails, they often freak out. It’s not enough information, some may say. Can we add X, Y, and Z to this email?, they ask. Soon the emails balloon to double the word count with a lot of superfluous adjectives and non-distinct features of the school.

When you’re sending more than a single email to students (and we know you are), be assured: it’s okay to have less information in each email.

It may seem difficult or weird to get used to at first (and shorter emails may be more challenging to write), but students are bombarded with tons of information, especially information on colleges, every day. They see it online. They get it in their email inbox. They receive viewbooks and postcards in the mail. They see brochures at college fairs.

Your emails don’t need to provide them all the information they “need” to know about your institution. Instead, the emails need to provide just enough information to pique the students’ interest so they take the action you want them to: inquire, schedule a campus visit, or apply.

Don’t worry—even if your emails are super short, students will still get the information they need. Today’s high school students are great at Googling. They know how to find your website.

Just take a breath, and let go of all the unnecessary words. And say hello to shorter, more concise (and hopefully more effective) recruitment emails.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education and genealogy/family history topics. She is the author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter:@DanasCreative

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7 Tips for Interviewing Sources Via Email

No matter what writing project I work on—an article for magazine, a blog post for a university website, or even researching to write a book—some sources just prefer to answer interview questions via email. While interviews in person or via the phone are usually preferable, you can still glean some great information from an interviewee’s email.

Use these tips to get the information you need from sources when interviewing via email:

1. Keep it short and simple. The cardinal rule of journalistic writing is important when interviewing via email. Keep the questions you email direct and concise so your source can easily understand what is being asked and doesn’t get confused.

2. Add simple prompts. To make sure you get some specifics, you can add a few prompts in parentheses after the questions to direct the source to provide the relevant details you need. So a question may look like this:

Tell me about your background (such as education history, past jobs, etc.)

or

Tell me about your childhood (your parents’ occupations, siblings, lifestyle)

3. Ask the same question in different ways. Sometimes the way you ask a question can make a huge impact on an interviewee’s response. A source may write a one-sentence (or one-word) response to one question, and write three paragraphs in response to another. If there’s key information you need from a source and you’re concerned he may be hesitant to share it, altering the way you frame a question when you ask it could yield better results.

4. Limit the number of questions. Focus your questions on the key information you need. Do research before you talk to the person (search for the source on Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) so you know the basics of his background. That way you can simply confirm the factual info you find quickly, and focus more of your questions on the meat of the interview topic. Also, make sure you don’t have such a long list of questions that it intimidates the source.

5. Always end with an open-ended question. Some of the best information I’ve gotten from email interviews comes when I ask this question: Is there anything else about X topic or your experience that you’d like to share? This is a great catchall question, so if you didn’t ask something specifically, but the person has more she wants to share, she has an opportunity to share it.

6. Follow up. Once you receive the interviewee’s responses, reply via email to thank her and let her know if you have any additional follow-up questions, you’ll be in touch. This is important because sometime a source may provide a short or incomplete response to an important question. You can send an email to follow up and ask for more specific details. For example, if he mentions an event he participated in, you could follow up and ask him what his role was in the event, where the event was held, the event’s official title, and when the event took place.

7. Give the interviewee a deadline. This may be the most important thing you can do. Everyone is busy, and your source is, too. If you give a source a deadline to reply, it gets your email on her schedule so she can plan her time accordingly. And if you don’t hear back from the source by the deadline, it gives you a good opportunity to follow up without sounding too pushy.

Remember, sometimes email interviews can be a really great thing—like when you’re working on deadline and the source has no appointment times in his schedule, but can write responses while waiting at the airport. Other times, it can create challenges—like when working on a profile of a person that requires a lot of background detail and personal stories to showcase the person or topic.

Use your best judgment on which story types or interviewees would provide good information via email versus stories or interviewees that may be best to speak directly to via phone or in person.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education and genealogy/family history topics. She is the author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter: @DanasCreative

 

What’s NOT Distinct About Your University?

DistinctionsIn a recent post, I wrote about things to consider when determining what features are distinct about your university. All too often, universities think certain things (like having an internship program) sets them apart from other schools, when those things are fairly common and not distinctive.

Does your school fall into the trap of promoting non-distinct features to prospective students?

Here are common features nearly all schools promote, or at least offer, that aren’t necessarily distinct or relevant to today’s prospective students.

Number of academic majors. Students may not necessarily care how many majors your school offers. What they care about is if you have the major they are interested in pursuing. Including a short list of your school’s most popular or unique offerings may be more beneficial than featuring the number of majors in your marketing materials.

Liberal arts-based institution. Most universities in the United States have an educational curriculum rooted in the liberal arts. If your school does, just remember that this fact is not really a unique selling point.

Internships. It’s expected that students attending your college today will be able to get an internship, so the fact that your students participate in internships isn’t distinct. What may be distinct, however, is where students have interned or how you help students find internships.

Personalized attention. Especially at small private colleges, this term is overused and students hear it all the time. Instead of promoting the general “personal attention” feature, use proof points in your marketing materials that allude to this personalized attention. For example, each student gets one-on-one career counseling, or each new student is assigned an upperclassman and a faculty member to be their mentor.

Lots of student clubs and organizations. Instead of just telling students you’ve got 40 student clubs and organizations (boring!), provide examples (or better yet, videos) of the things they could do on campus, such as participate in the ping-pong, animal rescue, or ultimate Frisbee club; play intramural sports; etc.

Religious affiliation. Many colleges have a specific faith deeply embedded in its mission and/or its curriculum, but this is not one of the top things most students today are looking for in a college. So, while it’s important to include this information somewhere in your messaging, it likely shouldn’t be the main focus of your recruitment materials.

Single-sex institution. While few all-male colleges exist today, there are still a few dozen women’s colleges in the country. But when it comes to marketing those schools, the single-sex education feature doesn’t sell. Why? Just try to do an ACT name buy based on students who indicated an interest in a women’s college. You won’t find many, because students are more interested in simply finding a college that has their major, is in a location they desire and that provides them the best financial aid award possible. So, while it’s important for prospective students to know you’re a single-sex school, it shouldn’t be the main focus of your marketing materials.

Of course, it’s impossible to eliminate mentioning some of the items above in your student recruitment materials, but as you create or update materials, just remember to ask yourself: Is this feature distinct? If it’s not, you could still mention it, just don’t focus all your copy around those features.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education and genealogy/family history topics. She is the author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter:@DanasCreative

 

 

What Makes Your University Distinct?

DistinctionsAs the college and university marketing landscape becomes more competitive, it’s important to know what sets your school apart from others.

But often, when you ask a staff or faculty member what makes their university different than others in its region, the answer is met with shrugged shoulders and a reply of, “We’re not really different,” or “Not much.” Or, they tell you things about the university and its programs that really aren’t distinct at all.

To find the important distinctions that set your university apart from others consider the following.

Location and campus setting. Each campus environment is distinct. Some campuses are quaint, park-like settings. While others are surrounded (or in the middle of) the hustle and bustle of an urban city. Your location also might be close to internship locations or activities for off-campus fun, or it might be more of a commuter campus than a residential campus. What’s different about your campus than others in your area?

Majors. I’m not talking about number of majors, or the typical majors every college has. I’m talking about where your popular programs meet unique program offerings. Are you the only school in your state to offer an art therapy major? Promote it. Do you have a history of being an excellent teacher education college? Use that to your advantage.

Special first-year student programs. Do you have a special program that helps students transition to college? Is there freshman-only learning community students could be a part of? How about special programs aimed at helping first-generation college students navigate their first year of college? Do you have a “Welcome Week” for freshmen at the beginning of the school year?

The details about those programs may help set your school apart from others that don’t offer (or don’t promote) those important programs.

Financial aid and scholarships. This is usually a major (if not the most important) decision-making factor for prospective students and their families. How well does your institution compete with its peers in the region? Provide concrete examples of scholarship dollar amounts students may receive or tell your school’s affordability story through  quotes or examples from students who selected your college based on the financial aid award they received.

Campus initiatives. Is your college a “creative campus”? Do you have a special focus (and established programs) on leadership or sustainability? Does a higher percentage of your student body study abroad than the national average? Figure out how your university’s strategic initiatives and popular support programs might be of interest to prospective students.

Image: Courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education and genealogy/family history topics. She is the author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter:@DanasCreative

 

The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

magazine coverIn the latest Mount Mary Magazine, the alumnae magazine for Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, I was asked to seek out research about the value of a liberal arts education and showcase in a magazine feature article how this particular institution uniquely lives out the liberal arts aspect of its mission and truly prepares today’s students for an ever-changing world and job market.

From the Spring/Summer issue of the Mount Mary Magazine:

“The value of an education in the liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think.” –Albert Einstein

Parents visiting college campuses with their high school students ask “What job can my child get with this degree?” Politicians and pundits debate the value (or perceived lack of value) of a well-rounded college education and suggest reforms to change the purpose of education from educating the thinkers of tomorrow to preparing students for specific jobs. And for many, there’s a perception that a liberal arts education is a luxury, not something available to students of all socio-economic levels.magazine spread

As the value of the liberal arts is increasingly questioned and debated, it is good to revisit Einstein’s words and to remind ourselves of the purpose and value of the liberal arts.

So what is the value of a liberal arts education in today’s world?

Read the rest of the story here.


 

About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education and genealogy/family history topics. She is the author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter: @DanasCreative

 

5 Tips for Planning New Recruitment Communication or Marketing Projects

Project ChecklistAs a manager for recruitment marketing at a private college, I produced over 300 new or updated marketing pieces—e-mail blasts, posters, letters, viewbooks, postcards, event invitations, etc.—each year. With that kind of workload, it was important to be organized and develop an efficient process for creating those marketing pieces.

The result: I created a recruitment marketing project checklist to help keep on top of each project, and to make sure we thought each project through from the beginning, so that no surprises were left at the end. What things did our checklist cover?

1. Deadlines. With any marketing project, there are multiple deadlines: content deadlines, design deadlines, and (for print projects) the date you need to get the project to the printer so you’ll have it in hand when you need it.

Many projects (like event invitations) also had portions that needed content to be posted on the website (like all the details of the event and links to online registration forms). Our form included deadline dates for all aspects of the project, including the date we wanted to mail or email the pieces, and the date our data team needed to have our address or email lists ready.

2. Project Type/Format. So that everyone involved in a project understood the format before the project started, the checklist included check boxes for the project format, including print and electronic formats. The checklist also had a place to enter the type and size of a printed piece (such as 6 x 11-inch postcard, or traditional tri-fold brochure) and a spot to indicate what type of envelope (if any) was needed for a print project.

3. Audience. This section is key, not only to developing the messaging of the piece, but also to determining which internal or external (such as name buys from NRCCUA, ACT, or College Board) mailing lists you’re going to use when send a print or e-mail piece.

4. Images. Do you need to hire a photographer to take new photos for your project, or can you use photos you already have in your university’s photo library? Knowing your photo needs upfront will help make the design process go much smoother and can help you plan a realistic project timeline. For example, if you need to hire a photographer, it could add time to the project while you wait for the open slot in his schedule. How you acquire photos also, of course, will impact the project’s bottom line costs.

5. Quantities and distribution methods. How many copies of a print piece do you need? Who’s going to mail it? When does it need to be mailed? How much time will take to prepare and assemble the mailing? This area of the checklist lets you plan for all of these things.

Why does this matter? Depending on your staff size, or the busyness of your mailing house’s schedule, you will need to include the appropriate number of days in your project schedule to accommodate the time to prepare and assemble the mailing. Also, knowing the quantities of the pieces you need will help you get accurate estimates from multiple printers so you can choose the best option for your budget.

Of course, there are many other aspects of a project that need consideration, too (such as budget!), but this checklist can help you start the conversation with clients on the campus you serve, and it can help you think through your own routine projects to ensure you have all the bases covered.

Download a sample college marketing project checklist (PDF).


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics. Twitter: @DanasCreative

 

Why College Marketers Need to Know BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed On a recent visit to a college campus, a roomful of students agreed on the one website they read/visit regularly: BuzzFeed. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s time you check it out.

So what is BuzzFeed? It’s a “social” news and entertainment site that lets visitors rate the articles they read based on which ones make them laugh, which ones are “cute,” which ones “fail,” and more.

The articles are short. They’re written in a straightforward, conversational, and slightly edgy tone. Many include images and/or videos. Many are written in a top-10 list style.

Visitors can know which articles are most popular by viewing articles identified with the “trending” icon (the upward zig-zag arrow).

Why should you get to know BuzzFeed? According to the site’s advertising media kit, BuzzFeed gets 175 million unique visitors each month, and 50 percent of those visitors are 18-34 years old.

If you’re looking for a place to spend advertising dollars for transfer or young adult students, BuzzFeed might be worth a look.

Also, if you want to get an idea for the tone and language prospective and current students enjoy, reading BuzzFeed articles and viewing their videos can give you inspiration for the tone and conversational style you may want to try using in your college’s marketing pieces.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics. Twitter: @DanasCreative

Tips for Writing More Compelling News Stories for College Websites

Higher Education News StoriesI see this all the time. Universities who intend to showcase their school via “stories” on their website, who end up posting award, achievement, and event announcements instead.

It’s often a fine line between writing a dry announcement because the administration requests it and writing a compelling news story that will generate interest from media outlets and social media posters, as well as spark the interest of prospective students and their parents.

What can you do to rev up your news stories on your website and make them more compelling?

Start with the headline. Think about the stories you like to read online. What would be more interesting to read—a story with the headline “Student Receives XYX Fellowship,” or “XYZ Fellowship Winner Studies New Technologies for Wind Energy”? Use a more descriptive headline, but still try to keep it concise. The headline can help you focus the story.

Focus on people and their stories. Avoid writing about “things”—events, awards, etc. Instead, write about people. When a professor wins an award, don’t write about the award. Write about the professor. Who is the professor? What is the professor passionate about? What did she do to win the award? Why did the professor do what she did? What is unique or interesting about this professor, her teaching style or her research?

Find a fresh angle. The angle is key in writing compelling stories. Challenge yourself (or your staff) to identify what is unique or compelling (i.e. why someone else would care to read the article) and focus the story around that angle.

For example, if your college always posts the same story each year—perhaps a story on fall enrollment or a story on spring commencement—try to find new angles each year. For fall enrollment, tell the amazing story of one of your new students or create a photo-style feature of students moving into the residence halls and use captions to tell the enrollment story.

Differentiate between events and news. Know what constitutes a news story or a Calendar of Events listing on your website.

The headline for a recent “news” story on a college website was “Gospel Choir Christmas Concert.” This website also has an Events section on it homepage. Where should information on this concert go? Should the information have been placed in an Events listing instead of the News section? The headline isn’t very descriptive (for example, is it just announcing the event or is it giving you some other background or behind-the-scenes information about the event?).

If the main purpose of a post is to give the details of an event, consider posting it only in your Events section. If there’s a story behind the event you want to tell—perhaps how students are preparing for a concert—then the story would be a news story.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics. Twitter: @DanasCreative

College Website Updating Checklist

website checklistWhen was the last time you had a few minutes to review pages on your college website? While doing research for a recent project, I came across a university website that was clearly out of date. It was a good reminder that we need to regularly review our websites to ensure dates, statistics, documents, forms, and more are up-to-date.

With the current semester coming to a close and the new student recruiting season well underway, here is a checklist of important items to check and/or update on your site.

  • Viewbook: If you have an electronic viewbook, check the filename or date published. I recently saw one college with a viewbook labeled 2012-13 online, but found out later it is the current edition that they use. A prospective student or parent wouldn’t know that. If your documents aren’t date specific, don’t use a date-specific filename. It may make it look outdated, even if it’s not.
  • Rankings: Several college rankings—Forbes.com, Money magazine, and U.S.New & World Report—were released earlier this fall. If you haven’t had a chance to check the rankings, do so now and then update the rankings info on your Fast Facts page or other places where rankings are touted on your website.
  • Faculty directory: If you didn’t update your faculty listings and contact information before the school year started, now is the time to update it. Get an updated list from your HR or Academic Affairs office and confirm that any faculty who have left have been removed and any new faculty are added.
  • Social media links: A NACAC 2013 State of College Admission report showed that 96 percent of colleges link to their social media pages from their website. If your website is in the 4 percent that doesn’t have these links, add them.
  • Quotes: Look at any pages with student quotes on them and check the graduation dates of the students listed. If the student has already graduated, consider swapping out the quote with a one from a current student.
  • Homepage photos: When’s the last time your homepage photos were updated? If not in the last few months (or weeks), consider updating them.
  • Forms: Many websites have forms for scholarships, registration, submitting a deposit, and more online. Check these forms to ensure they have the correct school year date on them. If they’re from last year, update them (or politely ask the appropriate department to update them.)

While you’re looking for content to update, also consider the number of clicks it takes to find information. One website I visited took three clicks on the topic of student organizations before I got to a page that actually had specific content on what student organizations the college had, rather than a general “we have more than 30 student clubs and organizations” statement. Try to eliminate pages that are “fillers” and don’t provide any real value.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics. Twitter: @DanasCreative

Are Your E-mails to Prospective Students Too Long?

recruitment marketingTwitter has limited us to 140 characters. Google+ posts average 156 characters (according to Quintly Research). And while Facebook allows more than 60,000 characters per post, the ideal Facebook post length is less than 40 characters.

So why do many college and university marketers try to cram as much text possible into marketing e-mails?

As marketers try to reach current high school population (aka Generation Z, or digital natives) who are used to texting shorthand and character limits it may be time to rethink e-mail word-length strategy.

Here are five things to consider.

Keep it short and simple. This old adage I learned in journalism school still applies. Always aim to write succinct copy and avoid flowery (or overly academic) language in undergraduate recruitment materials. Get to the point as quickly as possible. Perhaps even implement a word-limit for your school’s e-mail blasts.

Cut, cut, and cut some more. Once you write a marketing e-mail, ask yourself: What words are unnecessary? Is there any passive voice you can remove? Is the word “that” overused? Can you say the same thing in fewer words? Revise as much as you can and remove as many unnecessary words as possible until only essential words remain.

Be creative. Recruitment e-mails from colleges and universities often can blend together and sound the same—ever see the terms “small class sizes” or “personal attention” used? I thought so. Try something different. Challenge yourself to get your point across in 140 characters. Create short videos that present your content in a visual format. Use only a single photo and a caption, along with a call to action.

Do a test. If you’re not sure what e-mail copy will work best for your audience, do a test. Send half of your pool one e-mail version, and the other half another version. See which one produces the best results.

Use bullets and bold. Just like online copy, break up chunks of copy in your e-mails by bolding key terms and using bulleted lists.

Not convinced that shorter is better? Check out this Marketing Experiments blog article on how a shorter e-mail increased their customer’s e-mail click-through rates by more than 16 percent.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics. Twitter: @DanasCreative