Fundamental Media Insights

Media buying and planning

The marketer's perspective: talking to Rachel Waites at Chicago Booth

Fundamental Media speaks to Rachel Waites, director of global marketing strategy, recruitment and admissions, Executive MBA – Europe at Chicago Booth, about the benefits of virtual events and the human approach to marketing

Rachel Waites

What communication lessons have you learned during Covid-19 and what impact will these have on your marketing approach going forward?

At the start of the pandemic we tried to maintain a swan-like approach to our communications – gliding and effortless on the surface whilst we paddled like mad underwater to keep things afloat. As things got worse and we cancelled events, postponed our start date and took classes online, we quickly realised that being honest and straightforward was the best way to be. Candidates were dealing with uncertainty in their own lives, so they weren't expecting us to have all the answers. People responded well to us saying 'we don't know yet, but we're working on it', and I think we'll continue to apply a more human approach to some of our messaging.

The process of recruiting students has historically been very personal and face-to-face driven, largely led by open days and in-person interviews. These touchpoints are no longer available to us for the foreseeable future, so how have you adapted to the virtual setting, and what impact is that having?

I think we learned the hard way that trying to recreate an in-person information session online wasn't going to work. Attendees were disengaged, there were very few questions and we were unable to identify good candidates. After a fair bit of trial and error I think we're starting to see some success with our virtual events by focusing on topics and titles that appeal to a broad audience (instead of being too geographically specific), and incorporating break-out sessions so people can network in small groups. These events are particularly useful for candidates at the top of the funnel. We're also offering drop-in 'ask us anything' type sessions, which have worked well. Virtual events allow us to reach audiences in places we don't usually travel to, so that has been a positive change. There has also been a positive impact on my budget: virtual events are obviously a lot cheaper than their in-person alternative!

Have the new ways of engaging with potential students changed the way you are considering marketing post-pandemic?

I can't deny that I'm looking forward to getting back to in-person meetings again soon – they are a crucially important part of our recruitment process. Our Executive MBA represents a big investment of time and money and the 'customer journey' is usually quite long, requiring a lot of touchpoints and relationship building. However, I think we've learned some valuable lessons about virtual events and we'll continue to include them in our marketing mix in the future.

Social media has allowed both parents and students to have a very immediate and personal response from you. How will you build on that and what value do you place on it?

2020 has been an interesting year in the US from a social media perspective with the Covid pandemic, BLM movement and the presidential elections. It has been really important to create content that is both authentic and empathetic, and that is something we'll continue to work on in the coming year.

A lot of people believe that once the pandemic is over, many aspects of life will no longer be as they were before the crisis. Will there be a 'new normal' in education marketing and what will it look like?

Candidates now have, and expect to have, all the resources they need at their fingertips. There are an endless number of virtual events available to them and recordings if they can't attend live. Search ranking, website design and an active social media presence are really important as people browse for information in their own time. I do think there remains a need for in-person meetings, particularly for conversion purposes as candidates move down the funnel, but I think schools will have to continue to focus on their online UX and virtual programming.

If you could give one piece of advice to your peers, what would that be?

My advice is to start making plans for in-person events and meetings in 2021. Think big, once things are back to normal(ish) people will be eager to escape Zoom and mingle again. I'm looking forward to getting out of my 'home office' (aka bedroom), even if it does take another six months. I'm sure I'm not the only one!

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Insights Media buying and planning The marketer's perspective: talking to Rachel Waites at Chicago Booth