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We recently worked with an FE College, which was struggling to attract local student applications, to find out what their reputation really said about them. We went in there thinking that people would have a good opinion of the college, because they’d had such good results over the past few years… boy were we wrong!

First, we segmented our audience into groups; press, stakeholders, teachers and school pupils and developed a short questionnaire with specific questions about the college for each group. Things like, have you heard of the college? Do you know anyone that has been there? Would you apply? If not, why not? etc.  It wasn’t rocket science… simple, clear and to the point.

Each target group was contacted – press and stakeholders (people like the local Mayor, college staff, police officers etc) by telephone (allowing us to delve a little deeper if anything pertinent came up during the ‘interview’), teachers and pupils by written questionnaire (after contacting them by telephone to confirm they were happy to participate first).

The results were really illuminating and not at all what we had expected to hear. The press didn’t really have any opinions, good or bad of the college, hence the lack of coverage we’d received in recent years. We discovered that they never got told about the great news stories that the college had.  We were soon able to turn this around, building relationship with key media contacts and securing some great coverage in local press, which immediately changed the impression that local people had of the college.

Local stakeholders had only ever heard the negative stories and so had a very bad opinion of the college.  A lot of this group remembered an incident at the college that happened over 20 years ago, which clouded their judgement of today’s college. So, we were able to build relationships with this group, invite them in to the college to see what it’s all about now and hear some good news for a change!

Teachers and pupils from local schools also commented about the incident from 20 years ago and so hadn’t been exposed to any positive news either. We worked closely with careers advisors and year heads to build a programme of open days for pupils and provided full information about courses and college facilities to pupils at the appropriate time so that we were top of mind when they were planning their life after school.

All of these groups were interviewed a year later to find out if their opinions had changed, luckily they had, all for the better. We’d had some great articles in the local media and lo and behold… applications had also increased.

So, the moral of the story; talk to people, do your research and find out what they think, how else will you be able to change their opinions?

 

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