I attended my first college fair this month.

Correction, I attended my first college fair as a parent of a high school sophomore just starting the college search. For roughly 15 years, I’ve assisted partner colleges and universities in their recruitment efforts through marketing campaigns and other creative projects. But now, I have the opportunity to experience this kind of event through a new lens.

Joining my daughter in the cafeteria at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which had been converted into a coliseum for collegiate competition, was like field research for me. I am happy to share a few key takeaways with you.

Grab attention and invite them to approach

Looking around the fair, my daughter recognized the brand names — even a few we work with — and I spotted some schools I’ve never heard of. Yet, among all, there were few things that stood out to us first:

  1. Is the school’s logo even readable? Is it optimally sized to the tablecloth or runner, or is it hidden by folds? Don’t make attendees struggle to read the name of your school or they’re likely to walk past it.
  2. Is the brand prominently and consistently displayed with the school’s primary colors matching across all materials? Nothing says “sloppy lack of quality” like showing off your signature blue or maroon in 10 different shades or using multiple versions of the logo across all materials. While the collateral on your table may be produced at different times, on different materials, and by different processes, consistency is key to project high quality.
  3. Is the table attractive, tidy, and well organized? Give guests a reason to approach by flaunting your best giveaways and informative pubs.
  4. Is there information easily visible to those just passing by? Consider using lightweight pull ups and table tents, as well as available tech to show off interactive content like teaser videos or campus tours. Don’t forget that showing off your school pride extends to attire, too. Consider a lapel pin, tie, or even branded shirt to complete the impression.

Give them a reason to invest a few precious minutes that may lead to a return on investment for years to come

The faces of some high schoolers — usually those escorted by the most enthusiastic parents — showed reluctance, or uncertainty. Even when they did approach a booth, they often weren’t sure how to begin or what they were supposed to ask. What can you do to ease the initial engagement?

  1. Why not feed them an opening line? Consider a sign that offers a scripted opening around your point of pride: “Ask me how [your institutions] can help make your education affordable.”
  2. Boldly display key stats and information on pullups or table materials to give your guests general information. This will enable you to spend your time on deeper discussion.
  3. Have abundant swag laid out for the taking; who doesn’t love a freebie? Offering a fun branded giveaway (when permitted) is a no-pressure way of starting up a conversation.
  4. Integrate interactive elements through A/R or simply use QR codes. I know we’re all still in disbelief that the square graphics made a comeback like they did. Looking around the hall, I was hard pressed to find a student without a phone in their hand. Give them something to scan quickly. You can drive digital engagement by offering an A/R experience of a campus facilities tour or by scanning a QR code for a quick visit to a landing page’s inquiry form for additional information.

Offer them “one for the road”

You’d be surprised how effective tangible takeaways can be — even for digital natives. Giving your guests something to take with them is an important way of continuing the conversation at home, after they’ve had time to process and compare everything they learned at the college fair.

  1. Unique formats, special print treatments, and unusual materials and textures make your materials desirable at first glance.
  2. Of course, what’s inside is even more important. As families are beginning to compile their list of potential schools, make sure your travel publications contain vital information about areas of study, location, outcomes, cost and aid, average scores and GPA requirements, and visit information. Don’t forget to include a vanity URL to drive (and track) engagement.
  3. Do you have differentiated materials on the ready? A single travel piece may not cut it anymore. Do you have brochures, single sheets, or even postcards to introduce your newest programs? Consider which areas of study are struggling and prepare marketing materials to support them. Make sure you have pieces covering financial aid and outcomes, especially important for parents/guardians. And let’s not forget campus life pubs promoting the benefits of living on campus to keep your residence halls filled. Before you get dizzy at the thought of hiring a moving truck to transport everything, remember, you don’t have to lug dozens of every type of piece with you. With a couple of samples on display, you can offer an all-encompassing digital guide with downloads or to mail them physical copies in exchange for their contact information.
  4. Whether you still use inquiry cards or offer a digital form, make sure they sign up to receive all other information in the form of your nurture stream.

So, what do you really need for your recruitment travel?

By now, you realize that basic promotional items such as a tablecloth, an inquiry card, and a single brochure are not enough. I have shared a few ways to stand out in the minds of your guests (and avoid “travel envy” from your own road warriors), but there are countless other tactics that are appropriate for different schools. Make sure that when it comes time to present your institution’s offerings, nobody has cooler swag or more engaging publications and interactive table displays to attract foot traffic at busy college fairs.

Why it’s crucial to plan now for next season

Today’s college-bound students have faced a difficult few years, so many are eager to finally embrace the excitement and freedom of what college life has to offer and are hoping to find the right fit school. Recent trends show that students are applying to more and more colleges, so there’s greater pressure on you to do everything you can to set your institution apart from the competition and forge a genuine connection. There are few better opportunities to do that than on the road at college fairs and other recruiting events, and that end-of-summer rush will be here before you know it!

Get it done professionally

Now is the time to make sure your road warriors have everything they need to help recruit your best class yet. The admissions and creative professionals at Spark451 are eager to help you do just that. We’ll work with you to produce inspiring, professional materials that will make it easier to engage prospective students and drive conversions. We’ll even handle production and project management from conception through delivery, so your busy team doesn’t have to!

What’s even better is that we have a comprehensive Recruitment Support Package, which features a full suite of enrollment marketing materials — including a collection of travel pieces, recruitment table displays, branded swag, and more to fit a budget of any size. When you’re ready, reach out so we can help you determine which products best suit your means and enrollment goals.

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