In recent years there has been a significant decrease in the number of people enrolling in further education courses. With a 15.6% decrease in enrolments in 2019/2020 compared to the previous year.

We spoke to Antoinette Beekye, who is the Head of Marketing, Communications and Enrichment at Waltham Forest College. She discussed the key marketing strategies for engaging potential students, the challenges facing the FE sector, how the success of marketing campaigns is measured and how certain audiences are targeted through campaigns.

Waltham Forest College is a vibrant and aspirational further education college located in North East London. The College has been graded ‘Good’ by Ofsted, Voted London’s #1 College for ‘Learner Satisfaction’ by students two years in a row, announced in 2021 as a WorldSkills UK’s Centre of Excellence, and this year [2022] as a partner as part of the Mayor of London’s new £44m Academies Programme.

Antoinette is considered an ‘Experiential Marketing Enthusiast’ with over 15 years of experience in the marketing arena. Her passion for brand experiences and engagements developed during her placement year at university, working as an Account Executive at one of the UK’s leading live brand agencies, ID.

MGC: As Head of Digital Marketing, Communications and Enrichment at Waltham Forest College, what does your job involve?

AB: My role at the College involves implementing the marketing strategy to enhance the College’s profile and reputation, and to add value to the learner experience through the enrichment delivery.

I lead mainly on the operational management of the day-to-day marketing functions, which includes school liaisons, planning and managing both digital and offline campaigns that lead to successful recruitment for the College.

Key tasks involve coordinating market research projects and data analysis of labour market information that will lead to improvements in recruitment, retention, and progression with our learners.

I also manage the production and distribution of online and offline publications and campaigns, to drive the reputation of the College both internally and externally.

Most importantly, my team and I work with cross-college departments in support and curriculum, to actively promote our core services and to ensure that everyone is on board with the marketing processes.

MGC: What are the key strategies that you have implemented in your college to improve engagement with potential students?

AB: One that I’m very particularly passionate about is the experiential marketing strategy. This is where we tend to give our potential students an experience of not just the courses, but our teaching and the career experience at Waltham Forest College.

We do this through hosting a range of taster-sessions where courses are of particular interest and through our open days events, which are more of an exhibition-style format – Potential students get to try things out, speak to students and staff members, tour the facilities and basically engage in what life would be like here at the College.

Another thing I’ve implemented is to place an emphasis on students’ voices to represent life at the College. It makes it so much more authentic and credible when they hear from learners themselves, as opposed to writing it up in a corporate type e format with unrelatable jargon and catchphrases.

Also, enhancing our digital presence by redesigning the College’s website. We had a website that was outdated and duplicated prior to me joining the College. It lacked enhanced technological features that was beneficial in attracting our target market. So, we’ve had to redesign the College’s website making room for modifications and advanced features.

Another thing that has been introduced is ensuring a robust school liaison strategy where we focus more on the primary target market, which is school leavers. We visit secondary schools locally and in surrounding boroughs but tend to place more focus on feeder schools in our local catchment area to position our college as the number one choice for vocational excellence in the borough of Waltham Forest. Labour market information via the Vector platform is accessed and analysed to help us identify growth and decline areas.  

Another key strategy is employer engagement. Learners get the chance to interact with employers from their chosen industry to tap into their wealth of knowledge and to get a taste of ‘career life’.

We also started using influencers to engage and recruit prospects. One particularly successful example is teaming up with influencer, Mike Page, from the ACEE industry – automotive, construction, electrical and engineering. He has an audience of 14k subscribers on YouTube and 31K followers on Instagram. He’s done some fantastic work with us by coming in and doing vlogging videos onsite. This has really helped to improve our video engagements online and on our own YouTube channel.

MGC: What are the main challenges currently faced by the FE sector and how have you developed a marketing strategy around these?

Antoinette discussed the main problems facing the FE sector

I read an article published back in August 2021 by David Hughes, CEO of the Association of Colleges (AOC), who summarised the challenges that we are still facing to the ‘T’. These include:

  • Enrolment
  • COVID-19 catch-up
  • Government levelling up policy which aims to reduce the imbalances between areas and social groups within the UK.

We’ve implemented a number of strategies to help combat these challenges which include:

  • Introducing promo campaigns to help boost morale and re-engage learners
  • Thinking of ways to make our college central to the solutions by highlighting all the amazing things done at the College and the vast opportunities and the benefits of becoming a member of #TeamForest.

Enrolment remains top of the agenda and given the current economic climate, the key thing is to have an adaptive and innovative strategy to be able to compete and deliver and have healthy recruitment outcomes year on year.

MGC: Has the pandemic meant that you’ve had to adapt existing or develop new marketing strategies?

Antoinette discussed how they adapted marketing strategy during the pandemic

MGC: How do you measure the success of a marketing campaign?

AB: So, there are two sides to this in terms of the flux of the campaign. When we look at the online campaigns, these are easily trackable and measurable and there are certain resources that we deploy so we can have real-time information.

The first one, which is at no cost to us is our website backend data, and we can track the engagement from that. If we have a form set up on our website, then we can see how many people have completed it. We can do lead capturing via the website as well, so we can measure their successes.

Antoinette shared how they measure the successes of marketing campaigns using digital tools

AB: I would like to note, however, that to further improve on this, we are going to be looking at a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, where we can gain a holistic view of the whole learner journey. At the minute, we’re using individual tools just to make sure that we can gather intel of what it actually looks like, but there’s always room for improvement. I would say to push CRM going forward.

MGC: Finally, how do you target marketing strategies to different groups? For example, to mature students

Antoinette shared how they target specific audiences through marketing campaigns

AB: Market Research helps us to understand our audience preferences and their decision-making process. For instance, our award-winning ‘Think College Think Experience’ campaign brought to life the deciding factors for school leavers in a fun and attractive way. Factors were summarised into three different experiences – social, learning and career – which became the core decision making factors.

For Adult Learners, we found that it was more to do with the support services, systems and convenience, ensuring it fits in with their current family dynamics. These were the predominant factors and so we produced a guide that heavily focused on these to re-engage them back in education.

Technology has played a huge part in evolving our traditional recruitment methods. Smartphones are the one item you can guarantee that Gen Z student never puts down, and this goes back to what I said earlier about moulding the marketing around the audience.

Key Takeaways

Antoinette has presented both innovative and traditional ways of implementing marketing strategies in an FE setting. Waltham Forest College has seen an increase in their admissions, as a result of the strategy and they continue to be viewed as a highly successful institution.

The key takeaways from our conversation with Antoinette are:

  • Work with other local colleges to share ideas and processes.
  • Prioritise employee engagement so that current and prospective students know that the college is engaged with external employers and offers real-world taster experiences.
  • Innovate, as Waltham Forest College has with the social media influencer partnerships.
  • Modify marketing campaigns to show the reality of the institution post-Covid-19.
  • Consider the use of CRM systems to get a holistic outlook on the learner journey
  • Use market research to understand what engages different audiences, for example the use of social media for younger audiences, and physical guides for mature students.

[1] Beekye, Antoinette. 2022. Head of Digital Marketing, Communications and Enrichment, Waltham Forest College

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There was a 15.6% decrease in the number of people enrolled in further education courses in 2019/20, compared with the previous year. We spoke to Antoinette Beekye, Head of Digital Marketing, Communications and Enrichment at Waltham Forest College about the current issues facing the FE sector and how they have developed marketing strategies to mitigate these.

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