After a video reflecting the journey of a South-Sudanese refugee from child solider to a Western Sydney University graduate went viral last year, vice-chancellor Barney Glover has argued that sophisticated branding campaigns are now fundamental for universities to stand out in the increasingly competitive global higher education landscape.
Raising an institution’s awareness can improve its rankings and graduate employment outcomes, Glover argued at the annual Navitas Business Partners Conference in Hanoi this week.
“You cannot afford to simply rely upon the vagaries of year-to-year rankings and volatility in rankings or simply the qualities of your alumni and the way in which they promote your university,” Glover told The PIE News. “You’ve got to become much more proactive.”
“Peer assessment of your organisation and your university is a pretty important part of influencing rankings”
WSU contracted Australia-based production company Finch to create three videos as part of its A$1m rebrand campaign launched last year. The Deng Thiak Adut video, published September 3, 2015, the week of the rebrand, went viral within two days.
Glover said it contributed to a 5700% increase in traffic to the institution’s site after its August 2015 open day on 2014 figures. The video has now been viewed almost 2.5 million times on YouTube.
Most universities trying to find an angle or a differentiator in the way they position themselves is a trend he expects to see continue around the world.
“Universities are becoming just as sophisticated as other industries – like telecoms or finance – that really do understand their client behaviours. Universities are not dissimilar,” he said.
Good branding and creating a public profile can ultimately help universities rise in the rankings, argued Glover.
“Peer assessment of your organisation and your university is a pretty important part of influencing rankings,” he said, pointing to a growing awareness in Australia of how to use social media to promote immediate research findings.
“If you want to influence rankings then you have got to get your research out there into the public domain that will hopefully have a consequential impact on citations and then feed into rankings.”
In this year’s THE rankings, the institution places in the 401-500 band and the 551-600 band in QS World University Rankings.
Since the rebrand, Glover said the university has seen a spike in citations. “I can’t say we’re surging in the rankings but we’re certainly lifting the rankings much more than we thought we would on research performance alone, and I think partly the campaign and the attention we have drawn to the university’s name is influencing people,” he said.
“At least they have us in their mind in areas particularly the humanities and social sciences. These things correlate.”
Increased awareness of a university’s brand can also help graduates when they look for jobs, he added. “If you walk into an employer’s office who has some awareness of your institution it’s going to help in your employment chances,” he said.
“From an organisational prospective, we know that highly focused, high quality, targeted marketing with a strong brand will influence student attractiveness, and naturally that brings resources into the organisation.”
The success of the campaign very much depended on its timing. In September 2015, Europe was struggling with a flood of refugees and asylum seekers, human rights crises were in the public discourse as were the reactions from governments on how to manage the staggering influx of people.
“There was a ground swell of concern with the lack of humanity in the way that some people were being treated, this was all churning in a very raw way in Europe and around the world,” said Glover.
“Alumni stories have been told many, many times, by many universities, but what they focused on here was the trajectory of success”
“This little 90 second video celebrated a refugee’s contribution to Australia and to the community in a profound and simple way, and I think in terms of high production quality it began to get recognition.”
The ad caught the attention of international press, won a Silver Lion from the Cannes film festival and received praise from advertising industry critics on the Australian television show, the Gruen Transfer.
Gruen panellist and Leo Burnett Australia’s CEO Todd Sampson said: “Alumni stories have been told many, many times, by many universities, but what they focused on here was the trajectory of success, and that is a universal story about ambition, drive, hope and determination. I think they cracked it. It’s one of my favourite ads of the year.”
A refugee scholarship has also been created in direct response to the video that has so far raised A$2m to support refugees who have arrived to Western Sydney with the aim of raising $12m and supporting 400 students.
The campaign will continue for the next 18 months with plans to produce more videos in-house at lower costs, said Glover. “We’ll draw it to a close and then we’ll look at our creative people and say ‘well how can we continue the next phase?’.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the university spent A$100m on the rebrand campaign. Glover said the campaign spend was “up to A$1m”.
[Source:-THE PIE NEWS]