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College Students: Not Your Average Audience

By Karissa Bursch

College students are a popular target audience for marketing initiatives. They’re young and vibrant with specialized tastes. They are ready to try anything and go anywhere. According to CampusClients they are comprised of “a geographically stable, affluent group of more than 18 million people aged 18 to 24.” However, college students are commonly lacking the things most public relations professionals hope they have: a lot of disposable income, permanent addresses and frequent viewing of mass advertisements outside a campus environment.

So this is my advice to PR professionals looking to reach out to college audiences. Play by the college students’ rules!

Don’t bother spending a lot of money. Put yourself in the mind of a college student and think, “What is the cheapest way to do this?”. A lot of on-campus student newsletters and other publications are willing to print advertisements for a relatively inexpensive fee. In an article on CNN Money titled “Marketing to College Students”, Susan Otte, director of marketing at Boston University, said, “Working with the student publications on campus is usually really inexpensive.” She said these publications are often printed during the summer or the first week of school, enabling you to make connections and secure visibility early.

Another low-budget way for a PR professional to reach out to the college audience is through on-campus events where companies are allowed to market their services to students. Beth Goldstein,CEO of Marketing Edge Consultant Group, said in the same article, “There are events that go on for students within the first few weeks, and those are great opportunities to get access to the incoming students and their parents. That’s key because, depending on the product, the parents could be a better asset.”

Don’t spend money trying to reach students directly via snail mail – which will prove difficult, both in procuring a permanent address and in getting students to even open the mail. Do as any other good PR practitioner would: use e-mail and social media. Jerome Katz, a professor of entrepreneurship at Saint Louis University, said in the CNN Money article, “Incoming freshmen classes are electronically driven. If you’re trying to sell to the parents of those students then, yes, direct mail is the way to do it. But rather than focus all of your energies on accessing students at home, utilize e-mail and social networking websites through which the college generation is available almost 24 hours a day.”

Try making accounts on social media websites, and personally reach out to students instead of using sidebar advertisements. Honestly, college students are used to being marketed to and appreciate a more personal approach.

Lastly, Ryan Bladzik, the owner and principal at Great Lakes Creative Marketing and Communications, suggested on LinkedIn the best approach for reaching out to college students is not to blanket them as just “college students,” but to reach out specifically to different groups within that audience. Students in college acquire specialized interests and do specific extracurricular activities.

Bladzik said, “Student groups have been mentioned as good ways to zero-in your messages to a small, attentive group and make them very relevant and effective. Your student affairs office should be willing to work with you to be in better touch with Greek Life organizations, honor societies, and major/field related organizations; the types of groups that would be most interested in career services.”

For a PR professional, college students can be a great resource to widen the visibility for your client or message. Just keep in mind what it takes to connect with them! Remember, this is not your average audience.

What are some of the methods you’ve used in the past to market to college students?


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