After noticing a dramatic decrease in attendance at their main commencement ceremony, the University of Oregon recently decided to take another look at their traditional approach and identify room for improvement.
“The administration realized that it was no longer the student’s ceremony, so about two years ago they relaxed the rules to encourage a more fun and interactive event,” explained Stacy Miller, the Academic Regalia Coordinator at the Duck Store.
One major change enacted by the university was the ability for students to personalize their regalia. To get students excited about this new twist, the Duck Store decided to implement a mortarboard decorating contest that would allow students to show their school spirit while driving business to the store and, ultimately, enhancing attendance at the ceremony.
“Students tend to think of the Duck Store as the place they go to spend their money on textbooks,” said Miller. “But, we’re here to serve them, as well as the faculty and alumni, in everything we do. Our goal is to always find new ways to show them that this can be a fun place to go too; that was our hope with this contest.”
Sponsored by the store, The UO Mortarboard Decorating Contest gave students the chance to put their personality on display for the entire graduating class by adding their own individual touches to the regalia.
“We’ve seen a real push in recent years to personalize the commencement experience,” she said. “Last year, the Art and School Supply department participated in our Graduation Fair to help students customize their own announcements. So, this year, we thought it would be fun to ask them to help us encourage customizing regalia!”
Because they already have a very successful Graduation Fair, the Duck Store decided to promote the new contest there. Partnering with the Art and School Supply department, they created examples of decorated mortarboards to display at the event in hopes of gaining student attention.
After the Graduation Fair, the store then showcased the examples they constructed in their front window display, and posted pictures to their website. They also marketed the promotion through social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to reach out to those who may have missed the event.
To participate, students simply filled out their contact information on a designated form and brought their unique entries in to be judged by a selected panel during the graduation line-up before the ceremony. Four winners were chosen based on separate categories including ‘Best School Spirit,’ ‘Best Use of Recycled Materials,’ ‘Best Tie-in with your Major,’ and ‘Most Creative.’
And the response was just what they were hoping for!
We had some truly amazing entries,” added Miller. “The winner of the ‘Most Creative’ category incorporated a mobile into their mortarboard decoration, which was quite a feat! Students couldn’t believe that they had the opportunity to win prizes while doing something they wanted to do anyways!”
Meeting their goal of enhancing attendance at commencement, the store surpassed their expectations by gaining media attention with their new promotion, as well! The local newspaper ran an article featuring the winner of the ‘Most Creative’ category, bringing added publicity to the Duck Store’s new contest!
Overall, Miller considers the Mortarboard Decorating Contest to be a success and has plans to implement it again in the future, though with a few minor changes.
“Engaging with students is great, but we’re always looking for ways to make them come back and visit again. Next year, we’re going to hand out coupons at our Graduation Fair that offer students a discount on decorating supplies, if they buy them in our store, to encourage that return visit,” she explained.
For other stores looking to expand their marketing initiatives, Miller suggests exploring what’s happening on campus.
“See what you can do to give back to your students,” she said. “We tend to think that the only way to do that is monetarily, but that’s not always the case. You can also give back to your students in other ways like providing them with fun opportunities!”
And, most importantly, she adds that stores shouldn’t hesitate to step outside of their comfort zone once and awhile.
“Plan early, but don’t be afraid to go for it at the last minute,” said Miller. “If you don’t try anything new, you’ll never grow your business!”