VCU promotes summer course registration through ad campaign

They’re plastered on the sides of buses. They’re on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds and featured on televisions. They’re on posters lining the hallways of campus facilities. But why is VCU pushing so hard for summer course registration on advertisements?

The marketing campaign, which began in 2015, is a an effort between the divisions of Strategic Enrollment Management and University Relations. The goal is to encourage students to take part in what is referred to as the “third semester” of school.

In 2015, the university began summer registration in February, as opposed to late March and early April, when fall registration occurs.

“You’re really using it in a strategic way so that you not only are getting your degree, but you’re also having the opportunity to maybe get a minor or explore a topic that you haven’t looked at in the past because you haven’t had time,” said Daphne Rankin, associate vice provost of the division of strategic enrollment management.

The marketing campaign won the 2017 Marketing Award at North American Association of Summer Studies Conference and is a finalist for the Public Relations Society of America EDU Digital Award for Social Media Content.

It may have been effective, in 2017, the university saw a 2 percent rise in summer course registration.

Joanne Jensen, the director of marketing and communications for the division, said she wants the mindset to change from summer classes being a punishment, to being beneficial.

“There is no single reason why students attend summer session,” she said. “The choice could be based on needing certain courses to graduate on time, wanting fewer distractions to be able to focus on one subject, wanting to get ahead, take a class that (the student) might not otherwise be able to take, or just to experience summer in Richmond.”

The ads are featured on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat videos, photos and flyers, The Commonwealth Times quarter-pages and digital content, posters at a bus shelter and on all Ram Ride buses and three informational events on campus, among others.

One of the videos, which included features of summer course professors, became a viral hit with nearly 30,000 organic views.

“The messaging behind that is really that our professors are approachable. They are kind of down-to-earth and going to one of their classes could actually be fun,” Jensen said.

Although the campaign for summer session enrollment is not new, the avenues for reaching students have evolved by utilizing local platforms and social media. For example, Robert Reid, media director for university relations, said the campaign’s advertisement potential expanded when platforms like Snapchat began to open up to more businesses.

“Snapchat only allowed their advertising platform to be open to national or regional advertisers who had millions of dollars to spend,” Reid said. “Now, they allow local advertisers who are able to target niche audiences.”

Jensen and Reid also said the target audience is not just limited to current students. Parents, students of other universities and non-degree-seeking students are also encouraged to choose VCU as a summer course destination.

“If you’re in a college campus situation like here at VCU already, you would probably want to stay here,” she said. “But we’re also targeting the larger community — even students further out than Richmond.”

Nia Tariq, Staff Writer




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