This campaign marked The Open University’s 50th anniversary, positioning it as a leader in education, driving revenue and uniting a network of staff, students, and alumni. In creating collateral and involving champions from across their network, the team created a digital hub of activity, including the creation of a new series of talks celebrating their love of learning. A great use of resources resulted in a phenomenal increase in reach across social and conventional media. Outcomes were achieved for all stakeholders – students, staff and alumni alike – and the campaign ticked all the boxes, exceeded all income and fundraising targets that were set and truly demonstrates excellence in the education sector.


  • Cambridge University Press
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  • Swansea University
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  • Third City and Hoop
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  • University College London
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  • University of Oxford
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  • WA Communications
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Winner entry:

Brief, objectives and budget:

Since The Open University first began in 1969, we have made it our mission to open up education for all. Fifty years on, our commitment to widen access to education is more relevant than ever before.

We’re proud to be the largest academic institution in the UK with two million students taught since 1969, alumni across 157 countries, over 168,000 current students, and a proud legacy of helping to make the impossible, possible.

In 2019 we marked our 50th Anniversary with an integrated, year-long campaign that showcases how social justice remains at the heart of our mission. The three core objectives were:

  1. Raise awareness of the OU’s unique story and our ongoing impact in the UK and on a global scale, whilst showcasing how the OU continues to shape the future of education
  2. Unite and increase perceptions of pride within our wide-spread community of students, staff, alumni, honorary graduates, employers and partners
  3. Drive revenue towards a £50 million fundraising target to create new opportunities for students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access higher education.

Working to a modest budget, the campaign was delivered from 1st January to 31st December 2019 achieving significant reach and impact.

The idea, research and planning:

With a proud legacy of being open to people, places and ideas, the OU50 campaign needed to be open by design: including all staff, students, alumni and supporters – regardless of location.

To deliver scale and alignment with our regional, national and global stakeholders we worked together to build an OU50 Message House and Brand toolkit. We selected campaign champions as part of an integrated governance structure, the OU50 Steering group connected the Vice Chancellor’s office and Nation Directors, supported by an OU50 Working group including comms leads from all Units, Faculties, Alumni and Student’s Associations. We invested time in the planning stage to understand audience expectations, informing our three core campaign deliverables and markers for success: ‘pride’, ‘unity’, ‘involvement’.

Strategy, creativity and innovation:

To drive accessibility, we created an OU50 website to act as our digital hub of activity through the year.

This included a digital archive, inspirational student stories and central events calendar.

Special events included the creation of a new OpenTALK series celebrating our love of learning, with informal talks by our world-class academics, students and supporters.

We used this series to amplify and improve accessibility of existing events and inspire academics, students, and staff members to share their ideas.

Delivery/implementation of tactics:

  • OU50 trending

The OU’s Royal Charter Day was celebrated on an unprecedented scale. In addition to physical events, we orchestrated a social media ‘thunderclap’, where 6,400 messages were shared, including personal messages from honorary graduates including Sir David Attenborough.

  • OU50 Photography collection

We commissioned photographer Chris Floyd to create a photography collection that showcased our remarkable students. The collection also included a collection of unseen photographs from the OU archives, showcasing the history and the future of the University.

  • Future of Learning

To support global thought leadership, we published the ‘Future of Learning 2070: Imagine What’s Next’ report showcasing how the OU continues to re-imagine education with predictions for how learning will develop over the next 50 years.

  • OpenTALKS & events

There were over 110 events across the year from Edinburgh to Uganda inviting staff, students, alumni and honorary graduates. These featured pop-up talks at Hay Festival, BBC co-hosted receptions, an Anniversary dinner with Sir David Attenborough, a Prue Leith OpenTALK, speeches from Joan Armatrading at the House of Lords. Due to the success, the OpenTALKS banner will continue in 2020.

  • OU50 merchandise

Working with the OU Student’s Association, we developed OU50 merchandise, which proved popular with staff, students and alumni. This included a bespoke illustration from honorary graduate Quentin Blake.

  • The Tree of Learning

As part of the fundraising campaign to support the 50th Anniversary Scholarships Fund, we commissioned a bespoke sculpture for the OU’s Milton Keynes campus. The 22ft tree features gold-coloured shields with the names of 7,000+ members of the OU family who have donated to the fund.

Measurement, evaluation and impact:

  • Goal 1: Raising awareness

Social channels played a critical role in driving campaign momentum, delivering a reach of over 262 million. The OU50 campaign generated a year on year increase reach on Twitter from 360,000 (2017/18) to over 1.6 million (2018/19).

PR initiatives generated over 500 items of media coverage across national, regional and sector outlets reaching over 20 million. The ‘Future of Learning 2070’ report generated over 50 pieces of national coverage reaching 62 million and was made into an OpenTALK at Hay Festival, Wales.

We leveraged activity with all partners, most notably, our long-standing BBC partnership. We invested in a special BBC trail, reaching another 20 million adults over a 10-day period in April, and the BBC4 documentary reached over 1 million views.

  • Goal 2: Uniting our audiences

To mark 50 years since the Stonewall riots, we united our audiences by re-creating OU50 logo in Pride colours across OU web estate and supported Pride events across the UK, achieving a social reach of 95,000.

Student success and satisfaction remained a key focus and during the OU50 campaign year the OU ranked first for satisfaction with assessment and feedback at 87% in the 2019 National Student’s Survey.

Increased awareness during the OU50 campaign contributed to an uplift in new UG student recruitment with an increase of 14% between 2018-2019.

Overall, 50th campaign coverage drove 100% positive sentiment and created a significant shift (+6%) in employer perceptions.

  • Goal 3: Drive £50 million fundraising target

The 50th Anniversary Scholarships Fund was created to support students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to study. By close of 2019, we had exceeded our £50 million fundraising target.

Our OU family raised over £400,000 and funded 50 scholarship places to carers and other vulnerable groups. The Tree of Learning activity resulted in 60% uplift of alumni one-off donations and in addition to increasing staff attendance to events by 50%, we inspired staff to donate, driving a significant YOY staff donation uplift.

Finally, the OU50 merchandise raised over £20,000 to date, which will fund a scholarship place for a disadvantaged student.