Planning and hosting engaging yield and retention events in the reality of today’s virtual enrollment management environment is challenging. The best and most successful yield events reflect your school’s individual character and personality. Ideally, to make an enrollment decision, admitted students should meet and see each other and the important players at your school.
7 strategies to employ when planning your yield events.
1. Create community virtually.
The pandemic’s shift to virtual events has shown that these can be effective in engaging prospective students and parents. When you are planning virtual yield events remember that simply moving online what you would have done in-person is not the most effective solution. Get creative and brainstorm about ways to use the unique characteristics of the digital medium to create a memorable, more personalized event.
- Consider creating a microsite just for accepted families for the yield event and to put all they need to know at their fingertips. They can use this after the event as well. Need ideas? Check out Kalix’s blog post on creating experiential microsites.
- Create a downloadable PDF that provides a checklist of what to do after accepting your offer. Include fun things like when and where to shop for spirit gear.
- Send each admitted applicant spirit gear to wear to the virtual event and make sure all current student, parent, faculty and staff ambassadors are wearing school swag, too. Provide the same snack, too, to create a shared virtual experience.
- Channel your teachers’ remote and hybrid-learning prowess and use quiz apps on the call for accepted students to get to know each other in break-out rooms, etc. Create a Kahoot quiz with fun facts about the school or real-time ice-breakers for current and admitted students to build connections. Ask your student ambassadors to create the ice-breaker activities.
2. Retool your revisits.
Revisits are critical to making an enrollment decision. Chances are, though, your accepted applicant’s visit, much less revisit, looks a lot different in 2021. In planning revisits, take a page from Flint Hill School’s book and create a virtual revisit that focuses on what the applicant may not have experienced during the initial virtual admission events.
“Because our applicants haven’t had as much exposure to faculty this year, we are aiming for these events to involve more faculty than usual,” Angela Brown, Flint Hill’s director of marketing and communications, explains of their all-virtual revisits. Brainstorm about ways you can distinguish the revisit from earlier events to create a new, personalized experience for your admitted applicants.
Think about what your virtual events have already highlighted and try to give families some fresh perspective or new people, perhaps current parents or class deans, if they were not part of your earlier events. Set up break out rooms with students who were new last year to talk about their transition and first- year experience.
“Anything that can help fill in the color and hard-to-quantify aspects of your community is important during yield,” says Alison Greer, associate director of admissions for Baltimore’s St. Paul’s School for Boys’ middle school. “They can read about all of the nuts and bolts. Families now need to feel the spirit and sense of connection, especially when so many students feel disconnected because of remote learning.”
3. Focus on parents, too.
Having incoming parents find a community of current parents makes a big difference. Schedule Zoom get-togethers between your parent ambassadors and parents of accepted students. Personalize these by division and/or the admitted child’s interests (STEM, sports, arts, etc.). Make sure that you have an expert from your school on the call to answer any questions (enrollment management staff, division heads, coach, etc.).
The economic uncertainty of the pandemic continues, so being proactive about answering questions about tuition and financial aid is critical. Have your CFO and enrollment management director co-host several video conferences about the process of applying for financial aid. Consider creating a downloadable PDF that walks families through what normally can be a confusing process.
4. Safely host in-person events.
If your region and school are allowing small numbers of people in-person on your campus, consider a safe in-person yield event. Can you host it outside in a tent? What about a drive-through event where admitted applicants tour the campus by car with hosted stops around campus?
Flint Hill’s enrollment management and marketing team aims to get families on campus before the contracts are due. During the first week of spring break, admitted families will receive 15-minute individual tours. All physical distancing and COVID protocols are in place for these tours.
“This is literally the only week we can have visitors on campus due to prioritizing the safety of the community,” Brown says. “We are also touring first-year families since many haven’t been inside a building, and middle school families since [that building] is new to everyone.” (Flint Hill opened its new middle school in September 2020.)
If you can host masked indoor events in a large facility, you could create a more traditional yield event in your gym or oversized indoor space, perhaps with socially distant stations. Consider beginning your in-person event with school-branded COVID safety supplies like a mask, personal hand sanitizer, water bottle and individually wrapped snack.
Make sure your event includes a discussion about how your school is meeting all safety protocols for in-person learning. Keep in mind that some of your admitted families might not feel comfortable attending an in-person event, so plan to host a live version on Zoom with footage of the event and break-out rooms with school staff, faculty or students to provide programming.
5. Embrace the elephant in the room in your yield video.
COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. Don’t pretend that it is in your yield video. If you are teaching in-person classes, show that. Have a student or teacher safely go into the classroom and campus spots (where admitted applicants can’t go right now) to show the experience. It may look different than it did last February, but there is exciting, robust learning happening right now. Showcase that.
If your school is doing remote learning, record a Zoom call where students and faculty talk about what they love most about your school, including pre-pandemic video of the pep rally/game/event/robotics competition/whatever the person is describing. It’s a realistic and upbeat way for your community to talk about what connects them and what you are looking forward to when you can be together as a community.
During winter/spring yield “season,” many schools will invite accepted students to a live performance or sporting event. With those events canceled right now, video is a good way to showcase your program. Create a composite video of Zoom performances from the past year or previous years’ performances, narrated by one of your drama students. If your traditional yield event was a speaker event, ask one of your alumni to give a Zoom talk and invite current and admitted families.
Need some inspiration? Check out Bates College’s new “Ask an Expert” video series that answers applicants’ questions. This format is easily adaptable for your school’s admitted applicants.
6. Pay close attention to melt prevention.
You’re excited about the student you’ve just accepted. You send the letter and email a link to the yield video. Then you wait. And wait.
To address melt prevention, especially in a pandemic, Flint Hill School has created a targeted, multilayered approach. First, the school is developing specific content for a weekly newsletter to keep families informed and engaged during a time they can’t visit the campus for events. Plans also are underway for a series of summer socials, which were virtual in 2020 and will most likely be virtual again this summer.
But the real star of Flint Hill’s melt prevention program is its concerted “drip campaign” for current families. Drip campaigns (or drip marketing) use a series of emails, events and marketing “touches” on an orchestrated, tight schedule. “Flint Hill’s multichannel approach this year includes a combination of postal mail, email, phone calls and texts at different intervals immediately following decision day,” explains Jennifer Webb, the school’s director of enrollment management and financial aid.
7. Be transparent.
You don’t have all the answers right now about what instruction and in-person learning will look like in the fall. No school does. “Answer truthfully with accepted families about plans for the fall,” Greer advises. “Be optimistic but don’t promise something you might not be able to deliver.”
How can we help you create marketing strategies that meet the moment and look ahead? Contact us.