How should a university prospectus behave: Questioning convention and avoiding stagnation
The prospectus is a cornerstone of university marketing and has been for many years. Despite the rise of digital, and increased attention on websites and social media content, it remains evident—through feedback and experiences shared at UCAS Masterclasses and elsewhere—that university audiences still expect something tangible.
Because of this, it is essential that universities don’t let their prospectuses become stagnant. In an increasingly competitive HE sector, universities need to ensure they are using the prospectus to its full potential to capture their prospective students’ imagination and increase applications.
In what ways can a prospectus behave?
Asking questions that consider the aims of the university as well as the needs of its audiences helps to outline the demands on the publication. Equally—or perhaps more importantly—considering the predominant role of the prospectus helps define how it should behave. As a stalwart of the universities’ marketing armoury, the way that it behaves can go unquestioned and its creation is simply a rerun each and every cycle.
It is possible, within existing processes and budgets, to completely reinvent the prospectus. It also possible, just through rethinking a small part of it, change how it engages with audiences and creates impact.
Here are some ways in which we believe a prospectus can behave.
As a directory
that lists and categorises what is on offer
As a promise
that states an ethos and how it will be delivered
As a signpost
that alerts you to the university and sends you somewhere else, such as an Open Day
As a prompt
that engages you in a compelling activity or conversation
As a window
that provides a new view or experience of the university
As a showcase
that celebrates strengths and all that has been achieved
As a rally cry
that unites staff, students and applicants behind a common cause or belief
As a provocation
that poses a pertinent question and invites debate
The impact of behaviour
There may be one lead behaviour that dictates the basis of the whole publication or a combination of behaviours that inform different sections. Either way, there are benefits to each and every one of the above behaviours and we find that by questioning the prospectus from these (and other) perspectives, it is possible to add a new dimension to a prospectus and increase its impact.
The behaviours have an impact on prospectuses in terms of strategy, content, design, format, delivery, display and beyond.
To answer the question of a prospectus’ behavior, it is essential for a university to assess themselves: what makes them who they are, and how do they want to be perceived? What do they need (and want) their potential students to understand about them?
With over 15 years of experience within the education sector, we've worked on prospectus designs for all kinds of universities. Here are two of our favourites.
Arts University Bournemouth
For Arts University Bournemouth the answer was a ‘window’. From our long working relationship with the University, we understood their best asset to be their campus and facilities. They needed to tell students that they would become a part of a creative community. Therefore they the prospectus had to allow the students to see into the university to understand the environment and people they would be working with. This was achieved through putting ‘place’ at the heart of the prospectus. The prospectus was written and designed to reflect the personality of the campus and its creative community. We also created an app that shows an augmented reality campus springing to life from its cover. The app, called AUB AR, lets students immersively experience the campus remotely and contains a wealth of content to provide viewers with additional information on studying at AUB.
Assessing the character of a university needs to be a truthful process. Today’s students are heavily influenced by authenticity, citing open days and student reviews as the biggest factors in their HE decision making. Having grown up in an always-on, digital world, they are more attuned to the frequency with which brands exaggerate the truth. As a result, nothing will lose a student’s trust more than finding a mismatch between what the prospectus tells them, and what they find when they turn up at an Open Day.
If done well, the core concept behind the design of the prospectus can spill out into all areas of the brand. This creates a cohesive experience and ensures there is no gap between what the students feel about the university when they look at the prospectus, and when they are actually there.
We designed Kingston University’s KSA prospectus as a ‘showcase’ and as a ‘rally cry’, letting audiences witness for themselves the cutting-edge talent being cultivated in the School. We wrote a 171 word statement of belief behind which the School could confidently stand and then paired each word with a piece of work in a bold one-word-per-page tome. We stripped away the practical information you traditionally find in a prospectus to allow the ‘Ideas Emerge Here’ statement to sing — selling the School solely on its beliefs and student work.
The concept of ‘showcase’ has become a core feature in other areas of the University, particularly in its spatial design. Following the success of the prospectus (which has already been reprinted due to high demand) we have been working closely with architects and the estates team to create signage, branded space and digital installations that showcase the talent within the School.