MANAGEMENT

These are the best university campaigns in Australia

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Bulls eye: An effective university campaign is one that's able to drive home the institution's message to its target audience,


By Clara Chooi 

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Much like the researcher who achieves a breakthrough in his lab but fails to share it with the world, university communications campaigns that don’t tell a good story are not doing right by their institutions.

And it’s not about the institution tooting its own horn for no good reason; some of the world’s greatest inventions came from university laboratories, after all. 

It goes without saying that these groundbreaking discoveries are deserving of celebration with their inventors feted as global changemakers, but no such thing will happen without the solid efforts of a good marketing and communications team.

In an age of increased competition, university campaigns capable of telling the world about the school’s greatest achievements is crucial–it could be the edge the institution needs to burnish its reputation in the market and drive up recruitment numbers. 

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“Universities must be able to tell the story of what we do – and to tell that story well — to the Australian public, to students and staff, to our global alumni, and to potential donors,” Universities Australia’s Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said in a media release on the 2019 Universities Australia Marketing, Communications and Development (UAMCD) awards held in Sydney on Wednesday. 

“That storytelling relies on the expertise and passion of dedicated people who find the great work in our institutions – and share this news with the world.”

To celebrate the “best of the best” in university storytelling across Australia, awards were given to the top campaigns in three specialist fields of university operations (marketing, communications and development) across seven different categories.

The following is a list of the winning university campaigns according to their different categories, along with comments from the panel of judges.

#1: Best Marketing Campaign – Larger Budget

University of South Australia, “Study on demand” online student recruitment campaign

Cleverly leveraging the exploding popularity of “on-demand” services, the University of South Australia launched its “Study on Demand” campaign to promote its online offerings to prospective students.

With simple messaging, the campaign gave target audiences exactly what they were looking for and quickly, ie. the what, where, who, why and how of taking an online course at the university.

Here’s what the judges had to say:

“This straightforward campaign didn’t overthink things. Eschewing any temptation for institutional introspection, it got right to the point.

“These days you can do almost anything else on demand from your devices — from ridesharing to meals to movies. And now you can study that way too. It didn’t get lost in excessive brand self-reflection and spoke directly to students about why they should study online.

“Clear, direct and right to the point, its target market and audiences were clearly defined, and the work was well-informed with research, data and insights.”

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#2: Best Marketing Campaign – Smaller Budget

Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, The University of Melbourne, “Open Up Your World” Campaign: Australian Postgraduate Research Intern Program

The APR.Intern programme works at the nexus between industry and academia and is Australia’s only all sector-all discipline PhD internship programme that seeks to transform local businesses through university research collaborations.

Using a female engineering industry PhD intern as its chief protagonist, this campaign offered a real glimpse into the type of opportunities APR.Intern participants are exposed to when working on projects through the programme.

Here’s what UAMCD judges had to say:

“Getting more PhDs into industry is a challenging business problem to solve. Only 43 percent of PhDs enter industry and only 16 percent of the STEM workforce is female.

“Research insights and continuous testing of the creative shaped its messages, and they chose great hero talent with a female engineering industry PhD intern now working as a senior network engineer at Telstra. 

“It generated good reach and a 30 percent bump in PhD applications year-on-year. A very practical and accessible campaign with no tickets on itself.”

#3: Best Real-time Response Communications

Swinburne University, Media and Communications, Best Real-Time Response Communications systems and planning 2019

Home to some of the world’s most influential thought leaders in any given field, university academics are often turned to for their insights and opinions, not to mention solutions and innovations, especially in times of need.

Sometimes, its to provide thought leadership on an emerging trend. Sometimes its to add context and substance to a debate of public interest.

And sometimes, its to respond to a breaking story involving the university itself.

This is why a well-organised real-time response communications strategy by the institution’s Media and Communications team is crucial; it not only ensures university representatives are singing from the same hymn sheet, it also ensures that their messages are accurate, timely and delivered effectively.

Here’s what the judges had to say about Swinburne’s winning strategy:

“The planning and judgment of the Swinburne media team as it prepares responses to complex stories are a masterclass in clarity, consistency and conviction. 

“The team anticipates the news, swiftly develops detailed plans, and distributes principled messaging with a commitment to share information rapidly with students and staff as well as with the wider public via the media. Its deft planning and upfront approach on difficult news stories has enabled the university to navigate challenging issues wisely and well.”

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#4: Best Proactive Communications

UNSW Sydney, Unlocking cane toad DNA

It was a major breakthrough in microbiology and molecular biology.

Scientists led by UNSW’s Peter White were able to crack the genetic code of the cane toad, a poisonous amphibian that is a major threat to many native Australian species.

The world’s first genome will help scientists understand how the toad spreads, how its toxin works, and provide new avenues to try to control its population.

Through an engaging video, UNSW’s in-house communications experts were able to take what was essentially a dry research topic and turn it into one of global and national interest and relevance.

Here’s what the judges had to say:

“This was classic comms, well-executed. The UNSW in-house team took a dry research breakthrough – unlocking the DNA of the cane toad – and used the iconic status of the invasive Australian pest to give the story a hook to make it travel. 

“Pre-shot video extended the reach, especially in social media, along with extensive pre-pitching under embargo to a very wide span of outlets in Australia and around the world. 

“The audiences went into the millions, by raising the prospect that by cracking the genome, it could enable the eradication of the toxic animals with viruses in future.”

#5: Best Proactive Communications

Edith Cowan University, The Conversation strategy

The Conversation is a highly-influential online portal that publishes news and views about key global issues, sourced from academic and research communities from around the world.

Seeing value in The Conversation as a platform to place the work of its academics in the public spotlight, Edith Cowan sought to double the university’s activities with the portal.

Here’s what the judges had to say.

“The cheeky upstarts in ECU’s comms team put their researcher communications training into hyperdrive. 

“They set an ambitious goal to double their university’s publication rate with The Conversation. It took extensive work with researchers, convincing them of the benefits of publishing, running a masterclass and awards night, coaching researchers and building ties with TC’s editors to skill up authors and polish their copy. 

“The publishing amp-up generated significant spin-off coverage in Tier 1 national and global media – which bolstered speaking and conference invitations and generated new industry collaboration leads for the researchers.

“Neatly done.”

#6: Best fundraising campaign or initiative – Large Team

The University of  Sydney, Inspired

The “Inspired” fundraising campaign was motivated by a desire to drive innovation, advance knowledge, pursue discoveries and leave an indelible mark on the wider world – a vision that reflects the mission of the university and its donors.

As a result, the campaign raised AU$1 billion from 64,000 donors, making it the largest philanthropic effort in Australian history.

Here’s what the judges had to say:

“By cracking the AU$1 billion mark in Australian university fundraising, reaching more than 64,000 donors worldwide, the Inspired campaign is truly ground-breaking. 

“A huge initiative, delivered with technical precision, a sustained expert partnership between university and advancement leadership and an ambitious vision – was a decade in the making.

“It has changed what is possible in university philanthropy in this country: a game-changing campaign that has transformed the landscape, changing countless lives through philanthropy-funded research and scholarship.”

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#7: Best fundraising or engagement campaign – Small Team

RMIT University, Capitol Theatre appeal

Similar to “Inspired” but on a smaller scale and for a more specific project, RMIT University launched a fundraising drive to raise money for the refurbishment of the iconic Capitol Theatre in Melbourne.

The aim? To turn the theatre into centre for education and creative excellence for generations to come.

The result? The campaign successfully raised AU$1.4 million from 374 donors over two years.

Here’s what the judges had to say.

“This was the first major fundraising appeal in decades for RMIT. It chose the refurbishment of an iconic Melbourne venue – the legendary Capitol Theatre – reflecting the university’s creative arts specialisations and industry-engaged mission. 

“It inspired 374 donors, raising AU$1.4 million over two years. There were some suggested refinements from the judges such as using a non-advancement champion, such as a student beneficiary, to front the fundraising ask but overall it was en pointe, brand-aware and targeted.

“The next challenge will be to nurture an ongoing relationship with these donors for the long term.”