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OUF 2016: What’s New in Recruitment Marketing?

In the second episode from the 2016 Ontario Universities’ Fair, Ken Steele surveys the exhibit floor and interviews university representatives to summarize what’s new in student recruitment marketing this fall. (See the first, “Why Go to the OUF?“). This podcast includes some flashback photos, video and even some unused interviews from previous years’ OUFs, from 2006 to the present.

Data Collection: The underlying goal for student recruitment offices at the Fair is to collect contact information for as many prospective students as possible. As Deanna Underwood of OUAC explains, in previous years that meant that prospective students had to enter their contact information in 21 different ways, on paper, iPad, laptop or computer, at all the various booths. That also tended to mean that many universities offered prize incentives to collect data. Last year we interviewed Craig Chipps of Wilfrid Laurier about the branded hoodies they were giving away; Deanna MacQuarrie of uGuelph about their prizes ranging up to an iPhone 6; and both York’s Jock Phippen and Carleton’s Jean Mullan about their draws for free tuition.

All this repetitive data entry seemed pointless for students, and after years of discussion, this year finally introduced centralized data collection: the OUF Passport. Prospective students were encouraged to register online in advance, and thousands did so. Many more registered at the computer terminals in the OUF lobby, or on their smartphones with the assistance of staff at the university booths. By day two, universities were collecting more contacts than in previous years. In place of all the various contests of previous years, this year COU had a “money booth” for students.

Exhibit Booths: Ontario universities are investing six figures in spacious, professional booths, so they use them for years, with minor updates. (This year, Laurentian added more bilingual signage, Laurier added a new photo collage, and Windsor added its new tagline, “Promise.”)

This year, considerable floorspace in the exhibits was freed up from the various desks and kiosks that were so critical for data collection. Many universities rearranged their booths to allow much more space for conversation. New booth layouts for Nipissing, Carleton and Brock focused on kiosks for each major faculty or program, where prospective students could speak with recruiters, faculty or current student ambassadors. Brock wanted to emphasize the transdisciplinary opportunities for students. Carleton wanted to leverage more technology, like video screens and an interactive robot, to engage students and tell its story. McMaster’s new booth adds many backlit images of campus and animated video screens, but unlike the open-concept designs, Mac’s booth seems to create corners and cubbies for small conversations to occur.

Western’s Lori Gribbon took time to describe their brand-new exhibit, which utilizes the maximum 12-foot height, plenty of backlit graphics and video screens to convey a sense of the beautiful campus. They analyzed the previous booth, and modified the layout to optimize traffic flow. A new “student experience” corner focuses students on co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, from athletics to residence.

Virtual Reality: Last year, we reported that UOIT was pioneering the use of 3D (VR) campus tours using beta versions of Oculus Rift headsets. Now that 3D video is supported on YouTube and Facebook, and easily available on most smartphones, the cost has come down and more universities are creating VR tours. Western shot dozens of 360° videos of campus, from residence rooms, classrooms and labs to outdoor orientation events. The videos are available on the Western welcome page, on Facebook and Twitter, and Western ambassadors had branded iCardboard viewers for prospective students and parents to take a look. uWindsor likewise had branded cardboard viewers for students. Lakehead was using plastic HooDoo viewers, which fasten to your head with velcro. Laurentian’s Jean-Paul Rains showed us their ViewMaster brand viewers, using an app designed by Laurentian CompSci students. He explained that the initiative was very cost effective, using a tiny $500 Ricoh Theta S camera, $30 headsets, and $500 smartphones.

Travel Incentives: Algoma U has started offering all-expense-paid visits to its campus in Sault Ste Marie, for interested prospective students. President Craig Chamberlin says they provide transportation, housing and meals, and tour potential students around campus to meet their future faculty members and attend classes.


In the next episode, we’ll ask people at the OUF for their advice for high school students contemplating their post-secondary futures.

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