University of Manitoba

Adopting a digital-only approach to student recruitment

Recruitment campaign

The pandemic drove universities and colleges to rethink teaching and learning environments, causing many to pivot to emergency remote instruction. While COVID-19 has led to positive changes in higher education, such as permanent technological enhancements, it also led to never-before-seen drops in student enrolments.  

When it comes to student recruitment in a post-COVID world, can post-secondary institutions continue to rely on their traditional tried-and-true methods of recruitment?  

The University of Manitoba, facing declining enrolments and the aftermath of a faculty strike, decided to engage ED to collaborate on a fresh approach to finding, attracting, and enrolling students. 

What they said: We need to reclaim our position as a first-choice institution.  

In the past, the University of Manitoba’s strong reputation and proximity made it instinctively the preferred choice for locals seeking post-secondary education. The university also successfully drew in many out-of-province and international students due to its diverse program offerings and affordability.  

Then, on the heels of the pandemic, the 2021 Faculty Association strike hit. This negatively impacted the university’s image and reputation, and likely contributed to unprecedented enrolment declines. With remote learning extending longer than anticipated (disappointing students eager to return to an on-campus experience), the strike further amplified an already unfavorable perception of the school. 

In response, the university planned for a fall recruitment campaign to reposition itself, increase awareness of its program offerings, and ultimately inspire prospective students to apply and enrol for the upcoming term. 

While the university had developed the foundational elements of the campaign, they needed an agency to develop a comprehensive strategy (including guidance on specific tactics and deployment), and to execute the campaign to reach the ambitious recruitment goals the university had established. 

What we heard: The solution is digital. 

ED consulted with the university on its vision for a fall recruitment campaign. We discussed target audiences and the complexities of targeting multiple diverse audiences, the three-phase approach the university wanted to implement, including distinct calls-to-action and metrics to measure success.

Our digital marketing team thoroughly conducted research and analysis, delving into digital trends, audience insights, and challenges with specific target groups. Trends such as rising consumer privacy expectations surrounding high school students, behaviour preferences towards in-feed content consumption and short-form video all informed the recommended approach.  

We leaned into the motivations and behaviours of our primary target audience: digitally native Gen Z’s who expect and prefer to apply and enrol online. We considered the university’s goals, many of which encouraged prospects to take immediate action online, such as clicking through to a landing page to learn more or clicking the apply button.  

Although the university planned for a digital-first approach with a broad audience, including international targeting to this year’s campaign, we also weighed their desired timeline and budget constraints. Our strategic recommendation was to launch a fully digital locally focused campaign, which would be a first for the university. Once the U of M agreed to our recommendation, the onus was on ED to deliver. 


Using the university’s framework as a starting point, and leveraging insights gathered during the discovery process, we applied a focus to each phase of the campaign: 

  • Phase 1: Brand building and creating intent 
  • Phase 2: Consideration and capturing intent  
  • Phase 3: Nurture and support  

Example of a Message Sequence Chart

We then devised a mix of educate (content marketing) and activate (website traffic focused paid ads) goals for each phase. Next, we focused on crafting effective message sequences as this was central to moving our audiences through the customer journey from awareness to seriously considering to apply and beyond. With the messaging finalized, our creative team developed a wide range of over 230 creative assets to prevent ad fatigue. We pushed out information and ads across several platforms: Meta, TikTok and Google to create multiple brand touchpoints, customizing the content per platform and audience.  

Example Meta Educate Ad for Parents
Example Google Display Activate Ad for Parents

Once the campaign launched, we actively monitored and maintained the campaign, for this was not a “set it and forget it” approach. Daily, we checked reach, frequency, ad placements, spend, comments and reactions, KPIs, and analytics data to assess campaign performance. We made necessary adjustments to ensure we did everything possible for ads to perform above the university’s goals and expectations. 

We successfully executed phases 1 and 2 of the campaign and put the university in a position where they could effectively implement the final phase of the campaign internally. 

Example TikTok Educate Ad for Students
Example Meta Educate Ad for Students
Example Meta Activate Ad for Students


Given time and budget constraints, ED’s strategic recommendation was for the university to boldly move forward with a fully digital recruitment campaign. The outcome? We’ll let the numbers speak for themselves. 

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