Posted on 5 Nov '21

Your Time To Get Ahead – How the Pandemic Inspired an Award-Winning Postgraduate Campaign

Aston University won a bronze award for Best International Student Recruitment Campaign at the 2021 Heist Awards for the Your Time To Get Ahead campaign. We invited Paul Hebron, Head of Marketing, to share with us the project's journey.

In January 2020, before lockdown was even contemplated, it was clear that the COVID-19 pandemic would have a significant impact on international recruitment to Aston University in September 2020 and posed a financial risk for the institution. It was quickly agreed that we needed to expand the number of programmes available with a January start.

The Your Time To Get Ahead campaign articulated the benefits of studying for a Masters, using time during the pandemic for personal development. There were two target audiences - students looking for a January start, and students wishing to start in September with the safety-net to delay until January.

What we did

A campaign landing page was developed, providing a list of January courses, scholarship information and a strong call to action to apply. To demonstrate the breadth of our January offering, we developed a Buzzfeed-style quiz, matching enquirers to relevant courses. A YouTube video promoting the quiz attracted 647,271 views with 2,707 visitor engagements.

We invested in targeted digital advertising, including paid search and remarketing to previous website visitors, directing them to our campaign landing page.

To drive applications and conversion, we ran an online festival of learning and employability in October - Aston Live. Over 800 students registered, with a programme of events led by Aston staff and industry professionals. We also took part in the FindaMasters virtual fairs.

We ran an enhanced calling campaign to support conversion, led by five student ‘account managers’. The team emailed enquirers, applicants and offer holders from their shared country of origin, offering to answer any questions they may have by email or telephone. They facilitated conversations between applicants and course directors, as well as following up specific questions on their behalf with Aston staff.

Tackling difficulties

Many students were concerned about travelling to the UK, creating a barrier to accepting their placs. As a keep warm initiative and to give applicants an insight into the online learning experience, we offered prospective students a complimentary Chartered Management Institute (CMI) qualification. This Level 7 Award in Personal and Professional Development for Strategic Leaders was hugely popular, with 120 students participating.

As part of our keep warm and on-boarding activity, we developed a communications plan to answer applicants’ questions. An FAQ web page was created and updated regularly with the latest information. We were responsive to the rapidly changing situation, quickly offering reassurance when the UK government announced a move to Tier 4 in England before Christmas. When full lockdown was announced in early January, an emergency webinar with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor was organised, to reassure students about blended learning delivery as courses were about to start.

Our impact

Your Time To Get Ahead was the result of marketing colleagues realising the seriousness of the situation early on. We quickly brought an expanded January offer to market, using a wide range of channels to build a new pipeline of students, whilst also using January as a way of protecting the existing September pipeline.

We were attuned to students’ needs for information and reassurance, helping achieve strong engagement at every stage of the journey. Contact from student account managers built trust through peer-to-peer engagement. We were able to demonstrate online learning through the CMI free taster course.

As Covid-19 cases grew, students worried about coming to the UK. We put measures in place to reassure students to make them feel safe on their arrival.

The campaign was led by insight into students’ needs at this extraordinary time. This encouraged the marketing team to think innovatively, ultimately leading to exceptional student numbers.

Our Future Masters Student survey shows only 50% of prospective Masters students know they can start a programme in January. If you would like help with promoting your January start programmes, you can add them to our FREE hub. There are also additional advertising opportunities available including featured programmes, display advertising and audience extension campaigns. For more information, please get in touch with your Account Manager, email [email protected] or call +44 (0)114 268 4940.

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