Creating the perfect prospectus design

Creating the perfect prospectus design 

The perfect prospectus design image

The perfect prospectus design informs, excites, and inspires potential students to choose their place of study. But, there’s a right and a wrong way to create one, as we’re about to discover…

Like passing or failing an exam, the perfect prospectus is measured by results. It inspires potential students to explore further. It shows them that the university knows how to help them prepare for the world without freaking them out about the enormity of its challenges.

With new students recently bedded in, courses commenced, and the frenetic activity of a fresh academic year slowly dissipating, it’s that time when getting ready for the recruitment process starts all over again. A university’s prospectus design plays a crucial role here.

The competitive environment within which universities function, nurtured by the transparency of league tables and the acid test of value for money, creates pressure to produce outstanding materials that drive choices – for you as much as for your students. None more important than your flagship prospectuses.

Preparation focuses on undergraduate and postgraduate prospectus design because it’s your chance to create a lasting first impression and to demonstrate the many academic and life benefits you offer. The prospectus design conveys your entire proposition – the ‘holistic bundle’ that makes up the real spirit of the place and promise that, together, are your personality. It includes academic or vocational learning opportunities, sports and social attractions, facilities, pastoral care, location, accommodation, reputation and heritage. That’s a lot to pack into a two to three hundred page prospectus design.

It’s time to think very carefully how you are going to distil all that into one very effective ‘call to action’, summed up in two simple words…

Pick Me!

Objectivity makes it personal

University marketers often underestimate what a powerful persuader their institutes prospectus design can be if it’s sympathetically planned and cleverly executed. Higher education has always been a competitive market. Experienced prospectus designers understand this and through considered planning they’re about to draw attention to the needs and expectations of the target audience. Not just through the breadth of content, but also in tonality and physical format as well as channels and methodologies used, perhaps, for digital versions of the original document.

‘Clever execution’ responds to market pressures through the realisation that potential students are accustomed to quality communications. They are no strangers to innovation. And they’re likely to be impressed by the detail that’s gone into your prospectus design, but it’s the ‘concept’ that will really hook them.

Indeed, an innovative and conceptual approach is becoming the minimum entry level when it comes to grabbing their attention and triggering a dialogue based on a successful presentation of a university’s personality. When a prospectus design connects at a personality level, students are more likely to explore courses.

Where universities can miss a trick is in believing they can gather all their relevant material together, publish it and expect it to do its job. External prospectus designers can extend the thinking, by introducing an objective overview of the institution’s true allure – which occasionally becomes a little obscure to those who live and work with it on a regular basis; fresh eyes enable the establishment to perceive itself in the way that students do – revealing a different perspective on familiar angles. Sometimes, all that’s needed is a step back to make a big leap forward. Objectivity gives prospectus design tremendous subjective credibility with a highly judgmental target audience.

Instant karma

The perfect prospectus design should offer reassurance to students that they are in the right place, combined with the promise of fresh adventure; independence combined with strong pastoral support, crazy social stuff combined with stimulating studies and teaching techniques and facilities that will deliver the best foundation for a secure future.

The perfect prospectus shows students that the university knows how to help them prepare for the world without freaking them out about the enormity of its challenges.

How cool is that?

Potential students love to receive that interesting package through the post – their first positive step towards intelligently filtering their choices; so differentiation is a key consideration in projecting personality. This is one of the first steps in attaining ‘perfect prospectus design’ status.

The basic A4 brochure-style format excites nobody, and often contains acres of text that never actually get read. Once again, creating the favourable first impression through shapes, sizes and materials, inspires the recipient to look further. Every aspect of the prospectus design fulfils a function if it is to become a perfect prospectus. So paper stock can also intrigue; using gloss and matt, coated mixed with uncoated. Attention to detail such as this adds a pace to the document and makes it more tactile. This gives it more energy and relevance and effectively implies that the university knows the student has a choice – hence the effort to communicate in an interesting and unusual way. Don’t constrain your ambition, be adventurous and try something new. How about a mix of online and offline? And, embrace creative, conceptual thinking, rather than being a ‘same as’ education provider.

Don’t be content with your content

Style, therefore, has to be way up on the agenda when mapping out your prospectus design. Students will not have much confidence in the relevance of an establishment that clearly has one foot firmly in the past, or acres of text weighed down with elite phrases, arcane language (such as the word ‘arcane’) or, once again, noticeable inconsistencies in style from one section to the next.

Higher education establishments are not short of individuals who know how to express themselves – availability of content is not an issue. What is an issue is how that content is crafted to tell a story, engage the audience and be consistent between departments and faculties. A compendium of diverse thoughts and random personal styles comes across as if the establishment couldn’t be bothered. Once again, a professional outsider in the form of a seasoned copywriter sees the glitches and ensures that your prospectus design not only looks good but reads well.

Students grow up in touch; whether with news and information, data, buddies, social networking, special interest areas or the lie of the land in university choices if through no other means than P2P reviews. This awareness and empowerment makes them tough judges in their choices….

Your content has to meet this challenge, through its relevance and the format via which it is presented. You have to compete, not simply have a presence. Minds will be made up not just on the basis of what you say but, increasingly, how you say it.

Your target audience will be looking for evidence of sustainability so ensure your materials are recycled and any processes are carbon trust accredited.

It could be time to consider a ‘proper’ digital version of your prospectus, as designed for the online medium, and not just ‘chucking’ a pfd online. Or, how about a virtual tour of the campus, and a video introduction as delivered by the head of your student union?

It could be time for you to take the first step toward an exciting new world of university marketing and communications. Possibly starting with your prospectus design.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy these ones too:

– Further lessons in college branding

– How epic is your education brand strategy?

– Reappraise your education 
marketing strategy

– All rise to the university 
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– Higher education branding, substance or candyfloss?

About the author...

Steve Harvey

Client Director. Captain of calm. Armchair football fan. It’s 18 years since Steve turned his back on investment banking (and any chance of early retirement) to plough his own furrow in creative services. Experienced. Knowledgeable. Meticulously well-organised. Keeps Fabrik running like a well-oiled machine. His temperament is cool. But his peppermint tea is piping hot (with a Fox's Crunch Cream on the side).

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