To sign off for the year I thought I'd take a more orthodox approach and write a post on the apps which I have either found useful or have enjoyed using this year. In digital marketing it really helps to have a good toolkit to enable the quick and easy creation/digestion of content and a smartphone is an essential piece of kit. I frequently try out new apps as recommended by friends or blogs but very few warrant pride of place on my home screen - here are my top 10 for 2014 (in no particular order):


It's a constant task to keep up with the latest trends and developments in digital marketing and one way I've found works well is to subscribe to the Digital Marketing Podcast. This is a fortnightly show that I can listen to on the way to and from work in the car. By far the best podcast app I've found to do this is Overcast. There are tons of features such as smart sound to remove silences, voice boost to improve the quality of the recordings and


My favourite social media app is Instagram. No question. Therefore anything released to complement it was always going to be worth checking out. Where Hyperlapse is great is that it uses the phone's native camera to record great time lapse videos. The built in image stabilization helps shoot remarkably smooth and steady videos. It's not really a standalone app but compliments the main app nicely and we've already used it to give an overview of our Freshers Fayre or our new building at Bedford. Just make sure you have plenty of storage space on your phone as for it to look any good you need to be filming at least a 5min video!


Having just setup a short URL this little app was essential in our search and is a recent addition to this list. Available in English, this free domain search app allows you to search for top-level domestic and international domain names. It also includes the capability to share search results by email. This feature was particularly useful in compiling a list of potential URLs for us all to vote on. Domainr not only shows if a domain is available, it tells you if it is possible to register an available domain name and provides links to registrars. It also includes permalinks for established URLs to include as links to your personal blog and website.


This app is like a trusty old friend! It's a fantastic way to upload and access any file from any device at any time. Where it comes in particularly handy is in completely removing the need for any external storage devices. We have a business account which means enhanced features and some brilliant opportunities for collaboration. One feature which came in particularly handy this year was the ability to restore deleted files as with Dropbox nothing is ever truly deleted. I can't imagine the size of the server room needed to house that amount of data!

Flow for Instagram 

Yet another Instagram related app (I told you it was my favourite!) this one is iPad specific. I already spend way too much time on my phone and in front of a computer and scrolling through an Instagram feed one picture at a time can take quite a while, especially if there are an abundance of not so great photos for the day. With Flow I'm able to power through the days Instagram feed in a matter of minutes if I choose to. This is due to Flow utilising the iPads larger screen size to display more pictures at a time - a lot more. There's also great features for discovering interesting Instagrammers to follow.


Whilst having a profile on Linkedin is almost essential for any digital marketer the app itself was pretty clunky for a very long time. Having it on my phone was sort of a necessary evil. However, in the past year there have been some massive improvements meaning that this is now the one app for which I have notifications turned on. The newsfeed has been vastly improved with blog posts and updates being very easy to see and you can also update your profile from within the app. The thumbnails of those who have viewed your profile recently are now right at the top. This is a great little feature to see who has been snooping at your skillset!


This is THE app for keeping up to date with the latest news on technology, apps, mobile information, social networking and general internet-related news. The sheer amount and quality of the information makes it absolutely essential for keeping up to date. There's also a fair amount of amusing stories on there as well which demonstrates the power of both digital and social media in today's business environment. For this alone it is the most powerful news app out there with the full ability to share any articles. The prefect way to while away a long train journey (battery permitting!)

Google Maps

An old one but a good one. This has come on massively since it first launched and considering it is free cannot be bettered. In the past I had an awful experience with the much lambasted Apple maps with it telling me to make a 3-point turn on the motorway and trying to get me to go left into a hedge! This app has never let me down and the latest update which shows the road as red when there is traffic is a great feature. it also offers alternative routes and displays how much longer/shorter it will take in case you decide to go the scenic route. I really do now have no excuse to ever be late.

Barclays mobile banking

A bit of a dull one but it really does make my life so much easier! There's no better way to either check your balance or transfer money directly from the comfort of your own sofa. Although I've not used any other banking apps I'm reliably informed that this one is one of the best. Installing this also meant I could get rid of my 1970's looking PINsentry reader!The latest update even allows me to use the app to take pictures of and upload secure financial documents to Barclays’ CloudIt cloud storage feature.

FIFA 15 Ultimate Team

A fun one to finish! With all of the app games out there this one really does take some beating. Although it has no way near the quality and depth of it's console counterparts it's a really slick version which allows the possibility to create your own team and fight it out with the best other players in the world online (I can't get past division 2!) I've chosen not to buy any coins to build a team the easy way but fight to earn points to buy the best players. After a hard days marketing this is a welcome diversion and the fact you're playing on an iPad stops you getting too carried away and wasting an entire evening due to violent hand cramp setting in after about five matches!

So there you have it - my first top ten list. I'll also be tweeting out my top ten people to follow in HE marketing so have a look at my Twitter feed to see that. All that remains is for me to publicly thank my team for another fantastic year of work. I have a feeling 2015 is going to be a big one with lots of positive changes all around... Happy Christmas!
With Christmas just around the corner we took some time out of the office this week to have a full Marketing Team away day.  The venue of this was to be our lovely country estate of Putteridge Bury. After a morning of team meetings, CMS show and tell sessions and bacon rolls we used the time to reflect on some of the successes of the past year. Chief on the list was recruiting to target for the amount of student which we needed as a University. We also got the chance to share some of our ideas for the future before a very nice sandwich lunch.

After lunch the focus turned to fun where each of the team leaders (including myself) ran a team builder session. These ranged from a test of how good we are at listening (I won that one!) to a pub quiz (we won that one too) and my session which used the Logo Game to discover who was the 'mightiest marketer'. they all went really well with the icing on the cake being a Bedmas selfie competition around the grounds of Putteridge Bury (results below:)
To continue with the Christmas theme we've all been working hard to promote our forthcoming 'Festive' open evening with is taking place next week. This has meant a slightly revamped version of our campaign visuals to accommodate snowflakes! This demonstrates how we are now trying to make each of our campaign visuals a natural progression for the one that went before rather than starting from scratch each time. The benefits of this are that people will identify more clearly with our brand but also we won't burn ourselves out trying to reinvent the wheel each time!

We also spent last Monday morning putting up our decorations in the office - it was no surprise that we were the first to do this after Lauren added it to our calendars early in November. The results are great though and a cheaper more tacky collection of potential fire hazards you will not find!
Another job which we've been meaning to get around to for ages is setting up a short URL. This is something we've had in the past but it was a bit of clunky system and presented us with slightly inaccurate statistics. Basically, this short URL allows us to track our print campaigns separately and is used in our prospectuses. There's also the added bonus of being able to use this for any online campaigns - particularly social media for consistency.

Domainr is a great little tool and it's easy
to spend hours on there testing out URLs
The first (and longest!) step was to brainstorm a URL using Domainr. This is a great tool for generating short URLs and unfortunately .ds is not a suffix so we couldn't have ( was an option though!) Eventually, and after a long deliberation in the team, we settled for so expect to see that everywhere soon. It was then a case of purchasing it, setting up a bitly account, linking the two together via DNS and adding some Google analytics code to our website. To do this I used Tsohost as they've always offered a good service and have excellent customer support. Now starts the job of going in and setting up over 200 trackable shorteners for our prospectus!

For my last blog post of 2014 I plan to start looking back a bit at the year just gone and some of the great products and digital marketing advice that have made my life a bit easier. I may even turn this into a proper blog and start with some charts such as my top 5 apps or the best people to follow on Twitter of 2014. Watch this space!
Despite having most of our large campaigns up and running the team remain hectic with all sorts of different projects. When I first started over two years ago this was the time of year when we could have a bit of downtime from the daily pressures of student recruitment and concentrate on things like developing our website content or some campaign planning. There's no such luxury these days but I also seem to be my own worst enemy by talking on more work external work.

The first of these was taking up Inside Government on their invitation to present at their 'Enhancing the Standards and Quality of UK Postgraduate Education' event. I had presented for them before and was obviously deemed good enough to be asked back. Therefore in order to keep my skills up to date (and seek a challenge) I decided to try out some new online presentation software in the form of Emaze. Whilst I found it a little buggy (it kept switching to presenter mode when I was adding text) it was an excellent tool for collaboration with some lovely templates and minus the roller coaster sick inducing transitions of Prezi. Apparently I used it so well that Emaze featured me on their homepage and gave me this little badge to use!
The conference itself went really well despite me feeling a little intimidated after reading the delegate list (Deputy VC's, Directors and Heads of Faculty). It was clear I had some work to do as I was the only person tweeting on the hashtag as well - it was pretty lonely in there! I stuck to time and got some lovely comments from some other universities on the issues I raised. My topic was Digital Transformation so check it out for yourself (I used our current campaign artwork for the slides):

Another big project with which we've just gone live is a total revamp of our 'Student Life' section on our website. We've now titled it 'Student Experience' as this is a big part of our strategic plan and the remit was to author new content to better sell what it is like to be a student with us. The idea was to re-order pages based on input from our Student Union and also by using our analytics to highlight what users engage with most. We also re-wrote all top level content to better showcase the student voice (and embedded videos where possible). This was also a great exercise to tell us where we were missing video content so we're getting editing immediately to plug those gaps.

Another more fun and festive project has been launched this week too - Bedsmas! The idea of this is that we will post a Christmassy photo from one of our campuses via social media each day of December and encourage people to do the same using the hashtag #bedsmas14. These will then be added to a Tagboard which is embedded on our website to show what a vibrant place the University is at this time of year. The winner will then get a £50 Amazon voucher - just in time to spend in the sales! So why not head over yourself and get posting?!

Finally, I just wanted to do another shameless plug for this blog where I have been shortlisted for another blog award (this time for 2015). This time it's in the PR, Marketing, Media and Comms category so if you'd vote for me I'd be extremely grateful. Especially as last year's ceremony was my favourite awards night I've attended (although being able to celebrate my win with a glass of gin and tonic with my wife may well mean I am biased!)
Hands down the best time to be on campus (and for our social media sentiment!) is graduation. Smiling faces and proud loved ones fill every corridor and as members of staff (marketing or otherwise) we can be proud that we've all have made some sort of contribution to their future path.

On Friday I had the opportunity to switch sides by celebrating months of hard work at the IDM (Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing) graduation at the Royal Geographical Society in London for my Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Marketing. This was the culmination of months of hard work by all 200+ graduates and was a reward for all of the study hours that we had to in to be there. As already documented, my particular challenge was to find the time to fit in the amount of work needed to write two 5,000 word assignments and sit three 3 hour exams.

With three children and a demanding job (I never leave the office on time - but then who does nowadays?!) this was the biggest struggle but I managed to motivate myself and start early giving up big chunks of the weekend to budget planning! by going back to studying again I found out a lot about myself (and so did my wife) as I swung from the highs of "This diploma is easy - I'm going to pass no problem", to the lows "Why did I do this? I'm never going to pass?!"

Thankfully I passed with flying colours (surprisingly I'm actually pretty good at exams - who knew?!) achieving a credit and some new letters after my name. Therefore, this graduation was the perfect excuse to take some time out with a day out in London with my wife away from the children. We decided to make the most of it and crammed in as much as we could including a ride on the Emirates Air Line, a visit to the Tower Poppies and (following the ceremony) a meal out for just the two of us.
It all went according to plan with a great ride on the cable car - despite the high winds and the threat of closure, and a breathtaking visit to the Tower Poppies - very busy but worth the trip alone. It was then time for the main event in what was a lovely venue crammed full of Digital marketing experts. I couldn't help but look around and think that these are the people with whom I'll be competing I ever go for an interview for another job!

Seeing my course mates again was great as everyone looked so relaxed (and smart!) It was also nice that our significant others could get chatting about the trials and tribulations of being married to a digital marketer and they said the ceremony helped them understand better what it is we all do for a living.

All of the IDM class of 2014 - including me!
(top left, just under the clock)
After 45mins solid clapping all of the awards were handed out and there was a great atmosphere which was added to by some excellent guest speakers. Overall, I'd recommend the IDM to everyone as the tutors really understood the market and I feel this opportunity has really allowed me to think more strategically about the work which my team undertakes. Now I need to find someone to hang the certificate in pride of place at home...!

Finally, in other news we've just got back from the Prospects Postgraduate Awards in Manchester. We were shortlisted for best Campaign for our cinema advert which we unfortunately didn't win. However, Sarah in the marketing team had written an entry for a Postgraduate Sport campaign which we all worked on last year which was a massive success and easily exceeded our targets. It is great then that this hard work was rewarded with a Gold in the Best Faculty Campaign Category! Excellent work for our final ceremony of the year and a real kick to get us working on our submissions earlier ready for the 2015 round of award ceremonies!
It's been a while since I've had the chance to showcase my old presentation skills which is a shame as this is something which I really enjoy.  My eagerness to do this was further pricked by attending a conference on Wednesday with the team. This was the Squiz Connect 2014 Europe User Summit at the excellent Barbican Centre in London.

The Barbican conservatory (the second
biggest in London) with koi carp!
Four of us headed down at the crack of dawn (I had to get up 30mins earlier than usual!) for a full day of Powerpoint, case studies and networking. Despite a slightly rushed journey there (we found out that the last thing commuters want to hear in rush hour is "I don't know how you do this everyday!") we arrived in time to take our seats for the keynote speeches. These were my favourite part of the day and showcased a really strategic slant on how single customer experience is now the latest buzz phrase. There were some good sector specific examples which I hope to recycle myself for our next University Staff Conference in the new year!

Another enjoyable part of the day (apart from the excellent lunch) were some of the case studies, especially one from a competitor university on their new site build. I also got chatting to some role equivalents at other HE institutions who I'd previously only conversed with via email.

After a full day of Powerpoint I must say I was a little weary at the end. Some presenters managed to keep our energy levels up but overall I think a few more interactive presentations/workshops would have livened it up. Maybe the issue was that I was guilty of wanting to take the mic myself...?!

Time to go back on the 'inside!'
It's a good job then that sitting in my inbox was an invite to speak again for Inside Government (with whom Sarah and I had previously presented on postgraduate recruitment). After initially not wanting to recycle the same presentation in front of the same people I was reassured I could alter the focus and that the audience would be much bigger. Double bonus! I've already started preparing my 20min talk on 'Digital Transformation to Enhance Postgraduate Recruitment' on 13th November.

Back in the office we've just marked the end of a series of staff holidays so what better way to celebrate than going out at lunchtime to sample the new Pizza Express autumn menu?! This completed two day stint of over indulgent lunch breaks but doesn't mean it's too early to start planning our big Christmas banquet - venues are currently being discussed!

A screenshot from the trial version of our
new Luton campus library. Coming soon!
As far as our task lists are concerned I don't think we've ever been busier (with the exception of the first week of Clearing). We're currently building seven new website sections ready for UAT, have been promoting our many open days and have five separate campaigns on the go (all with different online activity and landing pages) . My week has had to be scheduled to the nano-second and as we're also launching a new facilities microsite with webcam and video content. Alongside this we're having a long overdue re-design of our email templates to make them responsive and are in the final stages of consultation with external stakeholders.

Lastly, to show that we get involved in any external mention of the University, we volunteered to live tweet and produce a report on the final Freshers show to be filmed at Bedfordshire. This was a follow up to the successful series which was shown last year and the online sentiment and volume of traffic was again excellent. It was a risk commissioning this but it's definitely raised our profile and has caused some of the stars to be proper celebrities around campus!
Recently I've been looking again at why I take the effort to write this blog every other week. Originally I started it to share the work of the team to an internal audience at the University (and to get some much needed exposure and buy-in). However, over time it's grown a bit as I've been fortunate enough to gain quite a large external following (and did I mention a blog award?!) This has encouraged me to start to write a bit more personally in my posts and also to cover some wider industry themes.

The purpose of a blog
The blogs which I read are generally those which give some great industry tips and voice quite strong opinions. Therefore I've thought that instead of me using this as a forum of self promotion and reporting our work I should use some of the great blog title generators out there to do the same. But then I keep coming back to one key issue - if I'm not enjoying writing it then why should I bother?

The same is true at work. Generally I love what I do and constantly being able to learn and experiment is a real gift (digital marketing is GREAT for this). Sure, I have bad days and get frustrated with internal politics - but isn't that true with almost any job? When you stop enjoying what you do for a living then it's definitely time to look elsewhere and I haven't reached this stage yet.

This enjoyment of what I do has also leaked out into some personal projects which I've undertaken lately. A few years ago my Wife and I published a children's history book (she wrote it and I illustrated, designed and self published it). I then taught myself Wordpress in order to design and build a website for it. This was tremendously satisfying and we totally underestimated the amount of work it would be. It's done moderately well and last week saw a big surge in sales thanks to some impartial online reviews.

The Breathe Garden Design website.
Fully responsive thanks to some of the
great features available in Wordpress

I then designed and built my bother-in-law's company website (also in Wordpress) which allowed me to experiment with responsive design templates and a filterable gallery. That reminds me - I really must sort out their email client! In the past week I've also been helping a friend in the village promote and launch his new photography business website. The list goes on...

I'm really grateful to the University for giving me the chances they have but also think that in order to be at the forefront I also need to put in these (extra-curricular) hours to stay ahead and not be limited by the same way of doing things.

Clearing! January starts! Winter! Three
campaigns all in the same place...
At work, these last few weeks have seen me take part in Prospectus/Campaign pitches (an activity almost as important as staff recruitment where I've been flying the flag for a digital first focus) and I've been undertaking some serious number crunching to analyse the effectiveness of our old campaigns. I've also been wrestling with how to present three consecutive campaigns on our homepage alongside some serious planning to develop our website course pages with Sharepoint integration.

Time will tell which direction this blog takes in future but whatever it is it will be in a format which I enjoy writing! I guess one of the best ways is to look at which posts have performed best and take my focus from that. After all, working in Digital Marketing you can't talk often enough about the importance of 'evidence based decisions' (maybe that should be the title of my next book...?!)
We're now back to a full quota of staff following a number of summer holidays which meant a team meeting was an urgent requirement!

This allowed me to bring everyone up to speed on current and future projects. We also had a few guests from within the department which helped to keep them all up to date on what we are doing. I feel that these informal meetings give everyone a chance to share their ideas and to talk about what they have been doing. It's also a good chance to have a fancy coffee and enjoy some Portuguese cakes (thanks Angela!)

An item at the top of the agenda was our current winter campaign and the online rollout. This is currently going great guns and is informed by lessons learned from Clearing. For example, this time we've decided to create a series of videos which cross-edit everyone who features in the campaign by theme instead of them featuring in their own individual videos:

This allowed us to use more footage from the people who were more natural in front of camera and also to see if this approach has any effect on audience retention.

Talking of analytics we've been working with our CRM team in order to develop some meaningful statistics from our live chat system. This Clearing we've found that it has been used more than ever (even picking up some of the slack from Twitter) and therefore we need to be able to effectively measure ROI. The system we use is called 'ISL Pronto' and one of my first initiatives was to plug it in to the homepage to see what the take up would be. I can proudly say that it's been growing year on year (despite some initial reservations internally) and is the first port of call for many of our International students.

We've also been beta testing our new internal and external document search which is looking good. There have been a number of tweaks (such as adding icons for the document type and displaying the meta tags on the front end) and the real challenge will come with educating staff on the new naming, tagging and location conventions when adding documents themselves through the CMS. However, we've added this to our staff training programme and have also produced a concise helpsheet to refer to if required.

This Wednesday was a landmark day on both of our main campuses as we hosted our first open day for 2015 applicants. Historically this has been held later in the year but the idea was that by holding it earlier we could capitalise on some early interest. As usual, my team were busy filming at both campuses (I even dusted off some of the old skills to muck in) and videos of the happenings of both days are in the process of being edited as I type.

Finally, we received some great news regarding the Prospects Postgraduate Awards 2014 in Manchester (where we won 'Best Website' last year). I'm not officially able to share it yet but we have been emailed a little logo which we can use. I'll just leave this here...
What a nail biting few weeks. After months of hard work it was finally crunch time and I was promised the results of my PG Diploma in Digital Marketing with the IDM would be with me by Friday 5th September. Monday came and went. No email. Then Tuesday and Wednesday. By Thursday morning I was getting pretty edgy and so too were my course mates whom I kept in touch with via our LinkedIn group. Then (after much manual browser refreshing) the email finally appeared in my inbox!
I literally jumped for joy! To receive a credit was beyond my wildest dreams meaning I could add some more letters after my name (see my profile on this blog) and more importantly enjoy the champagne and takeaway pizza my wife had promised me if I passed!

I can honestly say that it was all worth the late nights and stress and now I can't wait until the graduation ceremony (my first in over ten years) on 7th November at the Royal Geographical Society in London. A massive thanks to everyone at the IDM for their help and support...

Our latest campaign visual
with a focus on our alumni
In other news we are finally winding down on our Clearing activity and are now about to go live on our Winter Campaign (tentatively entitled 'Discover') which is due to run until 15th January 2015. This means that we're due to spend the following week in a frenzy of digital activity: 
  • Creating a campaign landing page
  • Adding the images to the homepage
  • Editing and animating a campaign video
  • Setting up seven different PPC campaigns
  • Designing and distributing a number of MPUs, Leaderboards and Skyscrapers
  • Finalising a Social Media content strategy
It's going to be a busy one so we'll definitely need a constant supply of tea and coffee. We're at the stage now where we've been experimenting a bit with making our landing pages work better on mobile and the media split we're decided on is almost wholly dictated by lessons learned from our previous campaigns (Clearing has taught us A LOT!) We've shared out the responsibility for the above activity amongst the team and hope to have everything live by next Monday.

This isn't to say that we don't still like to try new things and as part of our promotions for our upcoming Postgraduate Open Day we've started trialling some LinkedIn advertising. I've personally heard mixed reports on its success rate so the only way to truly find out is to run some small advertising ourselves!

In other developments I've been tasked with creating a bespoke online  Funnelback search (similar to our course finder) for our documents. This is in conjunction with a project to standardise how we name and tag documents across the University so has also included the need to create a number of help sheets and tutorial videos for staff using our CMS. The finished result should be up and running soon and the idea is that it will fulfill both the needs of staff looking for documents on our intranet and our external auditors.

Finally, I attended a really positive meeting chaired by our Vice Chancellor last week where I had the chance to demo our website to him and go through some of the recent developments. We have a few small things to work on with our online messaging but overall he was extremely happy with how the project is being managed and the outcomes we're achieving. I made sure I passed this praise on to the team as sometimes it's useful to know that the person at the top is impressed with the job we're doing and provides that extra impetus to keep driving forward...
I suppose I should start this post by briefly mentioning the craze that has taken over the internet (and my Facebook newsfeed) in the last few weeks namely the 'ice bucket challenge'. On Thursday we were asked to film our Vice Chancellor performing it and there's absolutely no escaping from it with everyone having an opinion on the validity and ethics behind what has become an extremely popular campaign. Personally, I am yet to be nominated and whilst I feel giving to charity is something we should all do there's no excuse for pressuring people into it! This is because many people already give to charities which reflect their personal beliefs/trials without feeling the need to draw attention to it or 'nominate' others.

With a campaign like this that has caught on so vehemently there are clearly some key lessons for marketers:
  • People like to show off (and demonstrate their popularity by nominating friends). Sadly, many of us have narcissistic qualities as the abundance of 'selfies' also proves. This campaign takes it up a notch and adds a competitive nature to the proceedings. The barriers to participate are pretty low (everyone has access to a bucket, water and some ice) and the video run-times are short (60secs max) meaning a low commitment to consume
  • Everyone is now a content creator as it is now so easy to post video from a smartphone. This further proves that we online marketers need to put video at the very core of our digital strategies and find more creative ways to engage with consumers via the medium
  • This plays of the current cult of celebrity culture meaning copycat ventures will struggle to transpose the same level of engagement and willingness to share content
  • Where the campaign could be improved is added information to educate (i.e. many participants have a limited knowledge of the charity they are donating to). Further to this it does however prove that by incorporating good causes into the marketing mix people can be encouraged to engage with the brand
In other news I have been spending a lot of time in our Google AdWords account and producing daily reports on our continued Clearing activity. The former is becoming increasingly complex as we refine and add more campaigns based on how the user is searching and which courses we are trying to push. I've definitely noticed a ramping up of this since last year and the online spend for some universities must nearly be nearing seven figures! As we near the stage of closure and a final campaign analysis it's clear we have learned a great deal for next year based on how potential students interact with our website and the tenacity of our competitors!

Winter is coming...!
The next step for us will be our forthcoming winter campaign (I'm budget planning as I type) and for that we have created a shift in the way we market from campaign to campaign. In the past ex-colleagues have thrown out everything that was previously done and gone back to the drawing board to create a completely new idea. I have never liked this approach as it is not one big brands take to completely re-invent their visuals and messaging three times a year.

Thankfully our new marketing team have seen the benefit of developing a natural evolution from one campaign to the next. This will allow us increased brand perception and less exhausting work to start from scratch each time! Watch this space...
As I pause for breath after a frantic week of Clearing activity it's time to play a bit of blog post catch up. It certainly has been a case of hitting the ground running and getting involved in every part of the campaign one way or another (not just the digital marketing mainstays of PPC and website analytics).

One big stand out event this week was Wednesday's campaign launch led by a forty person strong Flash Mob in the Luton Mall:

This proved a great success (particularly on Facebook) and the effort to organise it from our Marketing team cannot be underestimated! Personally, I'm a massive fan of any sort of activity that gives us the opportunity to differentiate and stand out from the crowd. I'm sure that we're not alone in that our senior management are reluctant and nervous to try new things like this that could potentially harm the brand or fail together. However, in my opinion a much more risky strategy is to not take any risks at all. This sort of thing motivates staff in the marketing team to really enjoy their jobs and not get stuck in the drudgery of repeating the same tasks year in year out. You only have to look at companies who were scared to move with the times to see what effect the former can have (Blockbuster video anyone...?)

Results day is is when most university
marketing departments come alive!
Another lesson we learnt from this is the importance of reacting quickly and riding on the wave of any current buzz. By getting the video uploaded pretty much immediately we were able to capitalise on the conversation that was already taking place and maximise the viewing potential - plus we're giving people the content that they want to see.

Our Market Research manager has a theory that Clearing is where universities really come alive and try their best to stand out from the crowd. I've definitely seen this with some innovative examples by our competitors to try all sorts of new and improved tactics such as personalisation (e-cards), student engagement (submit a selfie), informing and helping (infographics and animations), customer service (24 hour phone lines), distinctive positioning (TV/cinema advertising) and using current students as ambassadors.

However, there are also some examples of when this increase of activity can go horribly wrong if you don't have the resources to sustain it. Anyone who has been monitoring Clearing conversations this week would have seen two such examples of when social media campaigns can go wrong (mainly due to the use of automated Tweets). One such example is below:
This 'automatic' response set up for the Sheffield Hallam President SU became the most retweeted item on the first day of Clearing and was retweeted over 837 times with over 1,600,000 views. Personally, I have never been a fan of auto responses (despite some agencies recommending them to us) and the above is testament to why!

The fifth most retweeted item on results day (over 200 times, with half a million impressions) was also was picked up by mainstream media like the Huffington Post, pointing out both Sussex and UEA being caught out:
These funny but potentially damaging mishaps totally dominated the conversation on Twitter for day one of Clearing. Needless to say there will be a review of the social media policies/guidelines at these three universities!

The reason we were able to pick up on these immediately was due to our increasingly sophisticated media monitoring system which has been built for us by Statistics Into Decisions. This year we get live dashboards of which Tweets are picking up the most traction on a national scale for every UK HEI.

Terminal 4's Digital Marketing trophy?
By doing this we learn vital lessons for our next campaign and also can stop any negative conversations picking up traction. We also use it to optimise our website based on browsing behaviour and track phone calls next to location to marry up any potential leads.

It looks like we're in it for the long haul but at least we got some great external recognition for the team's hard work over at the Terminal Four HE blog. I wonder if that's a real trophy in the picture...?
So for the first time in two years I missed a scheduled Monday morning blog post! Could this mean I'm losing interest? Of course not! A week's holiday got in the way but now normal service resumes.

"On your marks, get set..."
From the look of my diary that week away is going to prove essential as the first week of UCAS Clearing awaits. Whilst some teams produce the majority of their work in the lead up to Clearing our Admissions team and us are poised on the starting line like Formula 1 drivers. Let the annual Social Media onslaught and PPC bidding battle commence!

In the lead up to this I've also been completing all five of my staff reviews. Personally I feel that this is one of the most important parts of the job as without the properly trained and motivated staff the company is going to suffer. They're also vital for formally recording all the great achievements of the team and also for requesting any external staff development - after all, if you're not continuing to learn at work then you risk not reaching your full career potential.

An important aspect of a good appraisal is that nothing discussed by the manager should be a surprise to the employee. If you surprise a staff member during an appraisal meeting, you have not communicated well in the weeks or months leading up to the meeting.

However, a bad appraisal system can have the opposite effect. I was once part of a company where the staff reviews were geared solely towards the teaching staff and required three 'observations'. The issue here was that not only did it make support staff (professional services) feel they were second best but that it was unrepresentative of how everybody worked. I distinctly remember spending 30mins watching someone use a photocopier so we could add a tick next to it on their form!

When appraisals go bad!
I also agree that the most effective and credible feedback an employee can get is from the work itself. If the manager is not respected, it is usually dismissed as inaccurate. The odds of negative feedback improving performance are much lower than the odds of it disengaging the employee. I myself know from experience that the most satisfaction I can get from work is seeing an idea that I developed flourish and really excite the office about the prospect of it being part of the campaign (and then succeeding!)

For us, working in Digital Marketing makes target setting relatively easy as it can be locked down to actual quantifiable data (e.g. increasing website conversions). These targets should also be put into context as employees need to know how their day-to-day work contributes to the organisation's success. That's why it's important to cascade down the company's vision.

Managers should also praise and reward good performance as it happens, and deal with problems as they arise. If they do this, performance appraisals will be a simple, straightforward task that serve to recap what they and their employees discuss regularly. One thing I'm planning on doing better this year is now following up these reviews, and following employees' development throughout the year.

Another way of monitoring success is of course my old favourite - external awards! One way of sweetening the pill of being back to work at our busiest time was the news that we were again shortlisted for the Anglia, Thames and Chiltern region Pride Awards 2014. This is again for last year's cinema advert in the category of 'Best Integrated Campaign'.

The real challenge here will be deciding whether or not to attend the ceremony on 7th November in Cambridge or my potential IDM graduation on the same day in London! Maybe I could making a flying visit to both!?
As the hot weather continues my USB desk fan has been working overtime. Obviously this is only partly due to the weather as the team have all been working at a furious rate for the last few weeks. This is due to us endeavouring to get our Clearing webpages up even earlier than before.

Part of our online campaign. Follow
the hashtag to see all the goings on
It seems that in this world of every organisation pushing the other to deliver more the goalposts have been moved, and where everyone used to get their Clearing micro-sites up just before results day it's now a full six weeks earlier!

Based on our findings from last year we noticed some key trends on the type of visitors we were getting. Firstly, the majority of them were coming through our paid search channels further proving what a vital part of our online strategy this is. Secondly, the usual push for brand messages were pretty superfluous as people were just interested in which courses we still had places on. This meant that our online techniques were to be much more simple this year with courses (our products) pushed to the very fore.

One thing I've been wanting to tackle for a while is how our website works on mobile devices. Whilst the homepage did resize little things needed looking at (e.g. our banners would not show on smartphone screens). Therefore, we have implemented phase one of our homepage redesign project and have made it more responsive than it was previously. Just take a look at our homepage and resize your browser to see how nicely it now adjusts itself!
 This was also a chance to showcase our new integrated campaign. I'm particularly happy that the visuals we've come up with compliment the ones in print and that the students featured have follow on videos filmed by the team. I also like that the visuals are quite kinetic and have lent themselves to some nice little intoductory animations:

We still have a fair way to go with this campaign and are currently in the process of designing leaderboards, skyscrapers and MPUs to be featured on a number of third party sites.We also have

In other news the last few weeks has given me the opportunity to get out of the office on a few occasions. Firstly, on a manager's away day and secondly to the Heist Awards 2014 in Manchester. The latter was a good experience and we managed to make the most of the trip by meeting our new media buying agency at the same time.

My hotel room. All that was missing
was a chandelier
It was then off to the Palace hotel to check into our rooms. I definitely did the best out of this with a three-storey room complete with beams and an emperor size bed. Obviously, I was above showing photos of this to my colleagues at every opportunity and gloating about the tea and coffee making facilities...

Despite being nominated in three categories we came away empty handed on this occasion. We had a great time though and the carnival theme of the night definitely meant it didn't drag! There's always next year and the fact that this was the biggest Heist Awards yet (with more entries than ever before) did make us feel a bit better on the train ride home from Manchester the following morning.

I also slept so soundly in my fancy hotel room (have I mentioned that already?!) that I'm now fully energised to hit Clearing at full throttle. I'll definitely need the energy if last year is anything to go by!
Following on from my last post, on keeping my video editing skills up to date, below is a little video I've just finished which we hope to launch alongside our new Clearing campaign. This one is particularly personal to me as it features the voice talents of two of my children!

This genesis of this was that I wanted to create a video which gives some useful information about Clearing, whilst at the same time being entertaining and not a big sales pitch. It would have minimal branding and operate outside of our big campaign (which is now in the final stages of being built). We noticed a number of universities doing this last year (with mixed results) so set about planning what our take on it would be.

As someone who primarily uses social media for work (i.e. my Twitter account) I've decided not to post pictures of my children on public websites. This is mainly to save their blushes when they're older and to not keep a public record of their antics for all to see. With the exception of a locked down Instagram account (which my parents LOVE) the internet is a 'Fryer children free zone'.

A still from the Haribo Starmix
boardroom advert
Therefore, early in the planning stages I was a bit reluctant to volunteer their services but felt that by using them we could definitely exploit the 'cute' factor! There's also been a big trend in Marketing to do this recently with both Thomson and Haribo being great examples. With this in mind, the team sat down to write a script and draft some storyboards. We ran this past our Admissions team for accuracy and then began a few animation tests.

After lots of experimenting we stumbled upon Powtoon which is a great little tool for creating basic animations for presentations. I then set to work on recording the voiceover (which was surprisingly stress free with some great ad-libbing which I left in the final video) and finding a soundtrack. The end result turned out to be a bit 'Charlie and Lola' but everyone I've showed it to so far has finished watching it with a massive grin on their face. Watch this space to see how it does once we launch the seeding strategy on 18th July.

No artistic licence taken here!
The whole process was a great team exercise and further illustrates my arguement for keeping as much creative activity in house as possible instead of using agencies (something of which there is a lot of in HE). Don't get me wrong, it's definitely true that if you think you can do everything then clearly you can actually do very little. All the best designers realise that they need to continue increasing their knowledge if they're to stay ahead of the game. This is especially true in digital marketing as there are daily changes/updates and new ways to get your content seen across the internet. I'm not completely against outsourcing (we do this for our website development work, campaign analysis and cinema advert production) but it does mean you're then at the mercy of whichever agency you choose - so choose wisely!

Powtoon contains some great character art
By upskilling and creating stuff internally there's a much greater sense of ownership and it means any amends needed are not a long and costly process. There's also the ability to act fast and get hold of the information you need immediately to prove how a campaign is performing. Surely no-one is closer to the brand and the end user as you so consult them every step of the way to test what sort of content engages them best.

By insourcing like this it shows an investment in the team, which will often build morale, increase retention, and create a great environment for innovation. By creating and nurturing thinkers and doers you can save money, increase efficiency and make your marketing organisation shine. Time will tell as we go live with all of our work for Clearing later this month but one of the important factors is that we feel good about what we're delivering. By deciding to be bold and try something new you can stand out from the crowd and be innovators and not followers.

I know I still have a long way to go and may not ever truly get to where I'd like to be. Hence Jack's last line in the above video - "Are we there yet!?"
The sight that befell me for three days
last week
It feels good to be back in the land of the living after a series of exams for my Diploma. I must say that it wasn't as bad as I feared and 3 x 3 hours actually went by very quickly. My hand didn't fall off and I now need to ensure I retain all of the knowledge in my head until after I know I've passed in early September.

One of my favourite(!) questions was on the current value of creativity in Digital Marketing and if the need for data has meant this in no longer so relevant. The argument (as far as I can remember!) which I put forward is that it's as important as ever in a world where so many brands are screaming for your attention, whilst the viewing public are multi-screening and increasingly expecting more targeted and integrated campaigns.

This got me thinking about the value of what we do at the University and the main reason I enjoy working there is the ability to try new things with little red tape. It also got me thinking as to who are the 'doers' and how we shouldn't rely on agencies alone to come up with our creative ideas. After all, we're closer to our brand than anyone and if we all just become a load of managers kicking our agencies there will be little continuity in message and a potentially unfulfilled workforce.

Mashable offers great industry insight
This is why I'm a firm believer in having design and creative skills in house. It's sometimes hard to keep up with the latest tools/tends (my technique is following certain people on Twitter and reading a number of industry blogs - Mashable and E-Consultancy are among the best) but before you know it you'll be out of touch and unable to use the latest version of Photoshop.

Personally I never want this to happen to me (at least until I retire!) I enjoy keeping up with the latest trends in Digital Marketing (and I'm glad I have after looking at my exam questions!) I also believe that as a middle manager I should be able to practically achieve everything which I ask from my team. That way, I understand how much time a task takes and we can all work collaboratively if required.

Photoshop has come a long way
since I first started using Version
3 back in 1999.
As you move up the corporate ladder it's undoubtedly true that your time gets absorbed by meetings and strategy documents but it's important to make time to actually be creative too. After all, that's the fun stuff! It'll be a dark day if I ever get to the stage where I don't have Adobe Creative Suite on my Mac! It also means that if a member of my staff is absent I can competently finish off one of their jobs. There are too many examples of people who are reliant on agencies for the smallest amend to an InDesign file or who doesn't understand how their staff members produce the work they do. It must be pretty stressful knowing that the team may miss a deadline just because someone is on holiday/ill!

To this end the team sat down and devised something for me to work on alongside the usual yearly Clearing campaign which is a bit different. It could fail but that doesn't matter as we'll enjoy doing it alongside all of the usual activity. We've also ensured that this piece will be helpful to students in Clearing instead of the usual hard sell and that it hopefully strikes an emotional chord with the audience (given the people involved it will with me!) so watch this space...

I also recently picked up a yearly job which comes our way to produce a highlights video. This is used internally for our Student Experience Awards and Graduations. Whilst it can be a chore collating all of the footage it's also really enjoyable to cut something together using a commercial music track (we have a site licence) which celebrates our achievements. I've embedded it below and hopefully it shows that I'm not a has-been yet!

This week looks set to be pretty hectic for the team, filled with Clearing videography, UCAS conventions, the launch of our new Research website section and planning for new student registration.

Some of my IDM coursemates
I must admit that this week may see me a little preoccupied as I enter the last leg of my PG Diploma in Digital Marketing with the IDM. This will all culminate with a series of three 3-hour exams next week in Wandsworth town hall, meaning my evenings will be consumed with writing revision timetables as an avoidance tactic to knuckling down to any proper revision!

The thought of sitting and writing for that long fills me with cold dread as I don't think I've been in an exam hall for about 15 years. I have horrible memories of wobbly, chewing gum covered tables and comparing notes with other students afterwards where I seemed to have written different answers to all of them!

Here are my thoughts on the course so far. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone who works in or is interested in Digital Marketing as it's a great way to fill in the gaps in your knowledge and to think more strategically about the work you undertake.

My background before the course:

Before I started the course I had 2 years in-house digital marketing experience covering most aspects of Digital Marketing, including; web development, PPC, Email, video and social. Before this I had worked for 5 years in internal marketing teams with a very similar remit. Therefore, I had a good practical background so I decided to leap straight into the diploma rather than do the certificate first.

I've found I can use a lot of my experience and knowledge from my job within the course, and that it has filled in the areas where I have had little experience, such as e-commerce and B2B.

Very vocational:

The course materials are very practical, and although underpinned by academic theory, you are not necessarily expected to reference a lot of theory during the assignments or course. The application to real life situations and backing them up with real life case studies is more important. There's also a big emphasis on budget planning and 'lifetime value' which are the two areas I have found most challenging.

Different study options:

My view of Bushey park as I walked
through it on my way to the IDM
There are various different study options to choose from, and I went for the intensive one over 8 months. This has been a really great way to study as it has fitted my 'just get it done' mentality and didn't draw it out unnecessarily. I had to attend three separate sessions at the IDM headquarters in Teddington with 15 other classmates. The first two of these were three full days each and were intended to prepare us for our assignments. The last one was four days to get us ready for our exams!

Overall the experience was great and work very kindly put me up in a nice hotel as commuting to Teddington on a daily basis would be nearly impossible. I really enjoyed getting to know my classmates and taking part in various presentations and group work. We then continued to chat via a LinkedIn group. The hardest bit was being faced with our first assignment after just three days of teaching though... I lost quite a few Saturdays working on that one!

Challenging assignments:

We had to complete 2 assignments or 5,000 words, where we are given a real case-study company and have to draw up a digital marketing plan to meet the companies objectives (Euro Car Parts and Gap360). I quite enjoyed this part of the course as I was able to put my theory into practice and be creative with my plans.

I was initially worried that I was not including enough theory, however this did not appear to have affected my results too much, as I think it is more important to get practical examples in. I also found I spent perhaps longer than I needed to on the market research aspects and that 5,000 words is much easier to write than you might expect!


Time for me to knuckle down!
I'll mention this one again in my next post! Needless to say I did an hour timed practice question the other evening and couldn't feel my hand afterwards...

In my first 2 exams I will have to answer 3 questions from 5, which cover current issues in Digital Marketing, and can cover issues that are not covered with the course materials. Therefore, I'm spending a lot of time reading marketing blogs/news to keep up to date.

The final exam is a unseen case study, similar to the assignments, where I'll have to formulate a Digital Marketing plan (this is the one I'm most nervous about!)

Overall, this has been a great experience. Just one more hurdle to go (the biggest one!) and then I'll find out in September if I've passed and can attend the lavish graduation ceremony. I'd especially like to thank the University of Bedfordshire who kindly funded these studies as part of my professional development. Let's hope I do them proud...
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