Conventional non-wisdom

Should you have an ICT leaflet or prospectus to give to potential students or their parents? Conventional wisdom dictates that you should. Conventional wisdom is wrong.

If you think about it, the only reason for doing anything, either in education or in business, is to solve a problem. What is the problem, then, that the ICT prospectus is intended to solve? It is this:

How do we ensure that this area of the curriculum continues to be supported, both by the students, in terms of opting for courses, and others, such as the senior leadership team, who can ensure that it's well-funded?

The idea of the ICT prospectus is, therefore, to set out your stall, and to show how wonderful your team's work is. All of which would be wonderful apart from one small problem: why would anyone read such a document?

In my experience, you have to be very careful about when you make such documents available. People tend to pick up anything that is free, regardless of whether it's useful to them or not. They do so as a time-saving device, as much as anything. Or perhaps a better description would be "time-shifting". It's much easier to read the thing in the comfort of your own home whilst having dinner, to decide if it's worth keeping or not. I don't blame people: I do exactly the same when it comes to picking up stuff at conferences or exhibitions.

However, I can honestly say that, to my knowledge, not one person opted for an ICT course I was running on the basis of the leaflet I made available. Similarly, as far as I know, I have not made a single penny as the result of sending out a leaflet I had printed for my consultancy services.

I suppose it could be that I am not very good at writing such material, but I don't think that's the case. It's not so much the material, but the timing, and the action you expect people to take.

I believe that the best time to give out a leaflet or a prospectus is after the person has more or less made up their mind in your favour. The information then serves the purpose of giving them the nitty-gritty detail they need in order to take the next step or, perhaps, to finally decide one way or the other. That way, the information serves as a reminder of what they have already found out, rather than the means by which they find it out in the first place.

So how can people find out about what's on offer? Some key methods are:

  • Displays. The displays in your area of the school should be vibrant with information about the courses you run. If the school does not allow things to be put on the walls, use self-running slide shows instead.

  • Word of mouth. The best form of advertising by far, and the best way of generating it is to ensure that lessons are interesting and relevant, and that students do well in their final examinations, which are externally marked of course.

  • Open evenings, at which parents and pupils can talk to you and your team about what's on offer.

Then, by all means, give them a leaflet, or tell them where they can download more information. But ideally the leaflet or prospectus should be worded in such a way as to encourage the reader to actually do something.

In fact, a good idea is to make the information available via an online form. You will then have the person's details so that you can follow up, to ask if the information was useful to them. Even if you're not likely to have the time to do that, the fact that you're asking for the information is likely to deter the casual enquirer who has no real interest at all.

This is a modified version of an article that was first published on 23 September 2008.