Every year more than 10,000 students graduate with Open University (OU) degrees. The stories behind their achievements reveal experiences of personal success and career directions. But independent research into the OU brand in 2000 showed that many people still thought of the OU as a second-chance university, or a place to fulfil a hobby after retirement.
As part of an ongoing drive to improve the image of the OU, the university's media relations team has an annual remit to raise awareness about some of the most interesting graduate stories.
To highlight the success and diversity of OU graduates. To communicate key messages about the OU and to ultimately increase student enrolment.
Strategy and Plan
The target audience and media were wide as the campaign needed to appeal to anyone who would like to access higher education but could not attend a full-time course. The key messages for all communications were that OU degrees are valued and supported by employers, that studies fit in with work and juggling a family, and that OU study can lead to career change and progression.
Last year, for the first time, OU students were encouraged to book graduate ceremonies online. As part of the booking, graduates were asked to take part in the 2004 graduate publicity campaign, and a total of 1,875 agreed to their information being distributed to local media. Case studies about some of the more extraordinary graduates, such as the magician's assistant who became a company director, and the OU's youngest graduate, were commissioned.
Large employers such as the Post Office and BT were sent information about OU undergraduates within their ranks to include in staff newsletters. Women's monthly titles were also targeted, with stories about an undergraduate who handed in an assignment days before a breast cancer operation, for example, or those who gained a degree while caring for autistic children.
Measurement and Evaluation
The campaign led to more than 250 pieces of local and national press coverage. Graduate Peter Tomkins, who became a teacher in his 70s, was featured in regional and national press, including the Daily Mail, Metro, the Sunday Mirror, Reading Chronicle and the Evening Standard.
Stories of undergraduates from the armed forces studying in tents in Iraq or on board aircraft carriers also attracted attention. There was also extensive local radio and website coverage. All the stories conveyed at least one of the university's key messages.
In-house analysis shows that during September, there were an estimated 5,000 extra enquiries about OU courses, which can be attributed to PR activity.
The Eastern Daily Press assistant editor Paul Durrant says: 'OU is a source of inspiring human stories and we were very keen to promote this initiative. We do our bit to get the message across that it's never too late to learn.'
The OU has recently rebranded and is intending to step up its 2005 PR activity even further, including carrying out new research to see how the image of the university has improved.