Graduation is one of your school’s best marketing events. Tears of joy, cheers of pride, and years of experiences tell powerful stories of your school’s ability to produce top graduates who are ready to change the world!
However, like many campus events only witnessed by insiders (current families), many marketing opportunities are missed. When prospective families, your ideal target audiences and investigating students want to learn about your school, you need evidence to prove every claim you make on your website. Families are too sophisticated (and appropriately suspicious) of “marketing speak” they see on your brochures or website. They want validation. Highly emotional moments in the life of your school offer numerous opportunities for evidence.
Here are 7 marketing opportunities you may have overlooked at your recent graduation:
- A little help upfront – a few days in advance, canvas the surrounding neighborhood with door hangers that read, “we wanted to alert you that on Saturday afternoon, near the Corner Street Church, there will be hundreds of cars. No, it’s not a concert nor is the President in town. But parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and very proud grandparents will come to this area to celebrate their graduating seniors! We will have local police helping us with traffic and we will do everything we can do to alleviate any inconveniences to the residents if this neighborhood. We appreciate Corner Street Church’s cooperation in hosting this event.” This is a simple thing to do to fend off frustrated neighbors who tend to chatter on Facebook about life’s inconveniences. Protect your brand by doing some upfront courtesy PR.
- Go social – this is an idea I am borrowing from Jason Boucher’s “2013 UNH Commencement Goes Social.” For graduating seniors and/or family members on Facebook, have a graphic designer put together a set of Timeline cover photos or profile images that can be downloaded and used. Or run a Facebook contest for the most liked user-submitted Timeline cover image.
- Secret society problem – unless you are just wanting to keep your school’s name a secret, make sure the onlookers know of your special event. Hang banners outside the church, civic center or college campus letting those curious drive-bys know who is huddled inside. Park a monster truck on the parking lot with a logo-laden banner that reads, “we think our graduates are a BIG deal!” This may get a few people tweeting such a memorable photo or get noticed by local media who need a unique angle on graduation stories. If a monster truck is not your school’s “style”, pick a Hummer limo. Same effect.
- Ditch the main for a new domain – on those outside banners, print a buzz-worthy domain name on the sign that drives people to a landing page for prospective families. This will not only allow you to track traffic, but allow you to customize your greeting and your offering (maybe a secret Open House where you offer a reward from your school store or maybe a private concert by a local celebrity). The domain should be easy enough to remember and provocative enough to look it up when they get home.
- Strategically invite others – extend an invitation to the local community partners, Chamber members, and political leaders. But also think about prospective students. Maybe look for some feeder church elementary choirs to perform a song. This guarantees a flock of prospective families attending your event and seeing what your community is all about. Give your own school’s younger grades a place on the program and you ensure those Moms and Dads attend and post it on Facebook!
- Interactive program – besides the occasional Mom who keeps one for nostalgia, most of the boring printed graduation programs offer simply a list for families to see how long they have to wait for their graduate. Use a QR code to allow people to like your school’s Facebook page while they wait, list out the “official” graduation event hashtag for Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Encourage a check-in from Foursquare. With permission, list the graduates’ Twitter handles so family and friends can tweet pictures as they walk the stage. Drive them to your school’s Pinterest board by luring them with tongue-in-check “bored while waiting for your student’s name to be called? Check out our graduating senior moms’ favorite desserts on our Sweet Seniors Pinterest board.” You will offer your attendees a surprise element worth talking about, but you may gain some fans and followers as well. Getting additions to your social databases makes your high-profile event offer real social ROI.
- Emotion sells – in news, the saying goes, “if it bleeds, it leads.” In advertising, it can be said, “if they cry, they buy.” I’m not talking about sadness, but tears that connect with a strong emotion of pride or a heart-warming moment. Graduation events offer amazing opportunities to capture raw emotion. Have designated journalism students, parents of underclassmen or communication staff professionals capturing 30-second video clips of parents talking about how much your school means to them. Tears from your school’s parents will resonate with families looking to feel the same way about their child’s education.
* BONUS * – If you are interested in live streaming your commencement, you must read Hans Mundahl’s article, “How to Broadcast Graduation in 5 Steps.”
Yes, the day is ultimately about the graduates and their family. But it is also about your school. Don’t let the regalia dominate the date – optimize the event to encourage recruitment, retention and referrals!