5 ways to revitalise your next prospectus
Updated: Apr 26
Until someone does some definitive research to say that students don’t need or want it, the prospectus isn’t going away any time soon.
But that doesn’t mean you should just carry on doing what you’ve always done.
We’ve worked with a lot of universities on their marketing materials, and there are a few recurring areas where they tend to fall short. To avoid the same pitfalls, there are some key points for you to consider:
1. Being brave enough to be bold
In the briefing stage of projects, many of our clients tell us they want to sound bold. But when it comes to choosing an approach, the vast majority will pick the safest option (or somewhere in between). In fact, for many universities, that’s probably where you should be.
You’re not BrewDog, you’re a big public institution. Students might want you to sound safe and reassuring.
If you do want to be bold, the biggest obstacle you’ll need to overcome is internal policy. Bold images might not match your image policy. Bold tone might not fit with your existing tone of voice. If you really want to stand out, you’ll have to go outside your comfort
2. Fine-tuning your message
Make the most of a theme
When you’re considering ideas for your new prospectus, you’re probably thinking about some kind of visual theme. It could be a bright colour or an image treatment, but the chances are it’s not much more than that.
A strong theme has much more potential than just making the cover look a bit different to last year. It can tie the whole thing together, giving you a consistent approach for imagery, page titles and the copy.
You could argue that students just want to read about the courses, they don’t care about a theme. But remember, you’re trying to sell a whole experience, not just one course. If every page someone turns to gives a consistent message, they’re much more likely to get who
you are and what you stand for.
Add authentic voices
If your copy is lacking a bit of impact, quotes and testimonials are a simple way to take it up a notch. Alumni stories, advice from admissions staff, testimonials from current students and quotes from lecturers can bring the prospectus to life. Readers connect more with a real person, even if it’s just a name attributed to a quote.
From experience, we know it can be a bit of an ordeal arranging interviews with lots of different stakeholders. But the results are worth it, and you can use the opportunity to find out interesting details that might have been missed in previous course descriptions.
Think about what students want to know about the location
Lots of prospectuses sell their location like it’s a holiday destination. But students will be living there for years. What they want to know isn’t necessarily the same as what you’ll think they’ll be interested in.
If you’re a university in the middle of London, for example, where is the nearest big supermarket? If you’re a campus uni near a major city, how long does it take to get to the train station?
Here it really pays to look at your closest competitors to see what you have that they don’t. Potential students certainly will be comparing.
3. Nailing the structure
Pretty much every prospectus follows the same structure: intro from the vice-chancellor, a bit of history, location, life on campus, facilities, course descriptions, how to apply. Maybe you’ve made a conscious decision to keep it that way. But maybe you just do it because no-one’s ever questioned it.
Think about your reader and how you can group information in a helpful way. Plan each page before you write it to make sure everything flows in a logical order. Consider whether you’ve got a lot of unnecessary detail or whether it’s too light.
There’s no right answer here, but we know from past projects that taking some time to plan the structure will be a huge help further down the line.
This planning stage might also give you a clearer idea of what the prospectus will look like. If you have lots of statistics to include, then maybe it will be heavy on infographics. If you’ve got a few hero courses and subjects that are easily grouped together, maybe you can get away with a mini-guide rather than a full prospectus.
4. Injecting your tone of voice
A strong tone of voice can say a lot about you. Perhaps you’re an edgy arts institution that’s not afraid to say what you think. Or a prestigious red brick that’s focused on excellence above all else. Whatever image you want to present, your tone tells people what
you stand for without you ever having to spell it out.
There are probably some bits of standard copy you haven’t looked at in years – if ever. But your tone of voice should be consistent across everything. If you simply copy and paste from previous prospectuses, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with something disjointed.
To save time and budget, you probably won’t redo every page every year. But don’t overlook those boring mandatory inclusions or standard bits of copy you use every year. At least give them a read and see if it might damage the consistent brand you’re trying to present to potential students.
5. Getting buy-in from top-down
A prospectus doesn’t just list courses. It’s a summary of everything you’re about as a university. So it’s important that your senior leadership team feel it reflects the organisation’s wider strategy.
One of the best ways to get them on board is to arrange a short meeting or phone call with the vice-chancellor. It’s a low time commitment from them, and it means you can tailor the
conversation towards topics relevant to your future students.
An interview is a great opportunity to get new material for the prospectus. You could write it up as an introduction page or a Q&A, or you could simply discuss ideas for how to present the university’s vision to prospective students.
As well as giving the VC a personal stake in the success of the finished piece, you’ll get internal approval on your approach all the way down the chain of command.
Will your next prospectus be the best one yet?
Whatever your approach, whether it’s a traditional comprehensive brochure in navy blue, or a modern creative format in luminous orange, we hope we’ve given you some ideas to think about.
Prospectuses might be a hangover from before the internet, but they’re still a useful tool in your marketing portfolio. The key is to think about what its role is for today’s students. Question everything that’s done ‘because that’s how it’s always been done’ and you’ll end up with something to be proud of.