This was a very good example of how an internal communications campaign can translate into good commercial marketing. The Big Welcome focussed very clearly on the students and looked at the whole picture through implementing a good campaign to create one connected university identity without losing the college individualism. The campaign had clear objectives and good measureable outcomes – to reduce student drop- out rates. This campaign clearly demonstrated value for money as it resulted in a significant yearly saving through reduced student drop-out.


  • CYBG
    A truly remarkable second year as a PLC
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    Haringey’s future: We’re in it together
  • Home Office
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  • scarlettabbott and Aviva
    Big Koru Conversations
  • Metropolitan Police Service
    Spot It to Stop It

Winner entry:

Brief and objectives:

The first term at university is make or break for new students. Like any induction, the first weeks have a profound effect on your friendship group, on how you engage with the institution… and indeed on whether you make it through to the end of term.

Our brief was to help make the first weeks at UAL unforgettable for our new students with a Big Welcome. The twist? As a collegiate university, we had to ensure students felt part of the big picture as well as the college in which they would spend most time.

Objectives included:

  • Increase sense of belonging and participation in the university
  • Make the many different student induction activities easier to navigate and increase attendance at existing welcome events
  • Reduce propensity for early drop-out

Rationale behind campaign, including research and planning:

UAL is a large, elite teaching university, top quartile in the UK by turnover. We are the biggest specialist institution in Europe, with six world-renowned colleges focused on arts, design, fashion and communication. But our size and complexity undermined our welcome – there was no coordination. The main driver for this campaign was to deliver a consistent student induction experience for the first time. Accordingly, we pulled together a project team with representatives from each of the colleges, academics and the Students’ Union, and started to shape ‘The Big Welcome’.

We worked in partnership with our Students’ Union (a separate organisation) to review qualitative feedback from our existing students. We undertook competitor research into the themes and tactics at other universities. Through desk research, we collated welcome-related materials and discovered over 50 individual print assets and a wide array of online content. This quickly demonstrated big inconsistencies in the levels of information, activity and timing of engagement with new students.

Our communication focused on information provision and separate events, with limited coordination, no single digital platform and no visual hook to bring it together. Our analysis showed that some students had a lot of support – for example, there was an enhanced engagement programme for students in our halls of residence, which is around 15% of the student body. International students also had some enhanced support, and some colleges produced high volumes of relevant content.

But many students had much less support, and it was very uneven, being produced and badged by different departments and programmes – no wonder we were confusing them. This had a direct impact on engagement levels. For example, attendance at the core welcome event run by our partner, the Students’ Union, was only around half those eligible to attend. We also looked at our data, which showed that almost 1.36% of our first year undergrad and foundation students had left in the autumn term of the 16/17 academic year.

Strategy and tactics, including creativity and innovation:

Our core campaign insight was to create a welcoming relationship with students, based on their needs, not our structures. We aimed to make life easier for them by building a co-ordinated programme of welcome information and activities.Based on this insight, our creative concept was the Big Welcome. We established an integrated engagement campaign by:

  • Creating a unified welcome across six colleges
  • Making it easier to find information, access support and attend welcome events/activities
  • Signposting academic and other resources, especially those designed to target the attainment gap between BAME and white, working and middle class students
  • Representing individual college identities under a cohesive UAL visual identity
  • Developing a re-usable campaign model

Implementation of tactics:

As leaders in creative innovation, it was crucial the campaign identity represented UAL’s values, personality and diversity. We therefore selected an illustrator to work with a design agency on the identity.The campaign had to welcome students to UAL as a whole, alongside the individual identities of our six colleges. Students had the MyUAL student app on their phone, but research told us they needed an information source with physical presence. Our main campaign asset was therefore a guide book, produced in six versions – one for each college. This contained information about the college in one half, and when flipped over, information about the university in the other
half. Clear cross-referencing and highlighted information completed the offer. This formed the basis for our email, digital, social, and event campaign.

Project initiation (May-August):

  • Research and discovery
  • Design commissioned
  • Print and digital assets checked with stakeholders, then published

Launch / pre-enrolment (August-September):

  • Segmented email campaign (college, course, international)
  • Social channels to promote the Big Welcome online and MyUAL student app

Enrolment (September-October):

  • Distribute the guide to new students
  • Signpost digital assets: guides, MyUAL app, portfolio tool, UAL website
  • Big Welcome events, including Freshers’ Fair

Post-enrolment and evaluation (October-January):

  • Email campaign, encouraging students to use their guides to settle into UAL
  • Focus groups to inform continuous campaign improvement

Measurement and evaluation:

UAL’s campaign was conceived and delivered in-house, with direct engagement from senior management, academic and professional services staff, and students. It was supported by the Students’ Union.Of 6,700 students enrolling, 4,000 attended Freshers’ Fair – a 25% higher attendance rate than in 2016. Our social campaign saw a big increase in reach, for example a single college recorded a 260% increase in Twitter impressions from the previous year. Online, our Big Welcome landing page saw 13,000 hits, indicating that students visited and returned to the page. 80% of those who attended focus groups during our evaluation still had their Big Welcome guides. Participants said the guides were a key support in settling into university life. We also noted lower drop-out. In the autumn term of 2017-18, drop-out rates among first year undergraduates and foundation students fell by 0.37% to 0.99% versus 1.36% in 2016-17.

Budget and cost effectiveness:

Not including staff time, total budget was £26,000 (design and print). Efficiency savings were made because Big Welcome guides replaced 50 print assets, but we cannot calculate these savings because the previous induction was decentralised. The campaign objective was student engagement, but we can easily calculate cost effectiveness because, if students leave prematurely, UAL does not receive their fees. A 0.37% fall in the student drop-out rate is worth up to £450,000 to UAL over the course of their studies.