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University of Suffolk

Clearing campaign

When the UK’s newest university wanted to appoint a creative agency to help develop and deliver a campaign for Clearing 2018/19 that  would set it on the map, the University of Suffolk put the contract out to tender.

It was keen to project itself to a 21st century audience with a ‘spirit of innovation and creativity’ and as an institution that’s absorbed the best of UK traditions.

Working to a brief that included developing the strategy based on the University’s recently launched ‘Fearless not faceless’ brand guidelines as well as  a media schedule and rationale, we were delighted to win the contract in an open competition.

We went on to fully develop our initial campaign proposals, working closely with the marketing team in Suffolk.


In an effort to get under the skin of the new brand and understand what it meant to our client, Penna’s Head of Brand, Pete Rice, led With a budget of £80,000 and a ‘go live’ date of 1st June, we knew this campaign needed maximum impact if it was to have real stand out and establish the University of Suffolk’s brand in a crowded marketplace. Aimed at 2018 further education leavers and those returning to higher education, this campaign was always going to be digital and it was agreed that the primary target audience would be within a 100-mile radius of the main campus in Ipswich.

Our new partners treated us to a fast, but in-depth familiarisation with the University; then we called on Penna’s in-house expertise and knowledge of the education sector to put together a dynamic, research-led proposal and a creative, mobile-first campaign divided into four stages to reflect audience journey and decision-making:

- Stress busting
- Summer support
- Clearing advice
- Gentle nudges

It was all about building personal relationships with students, getting to know them – their motivations, interests and worries – and helping them see that, as a university that loves change, Suffolk can help them embrace change too and achieve their goals.

Our strategy included data capture in the early phases for later re-targeting, as well as reaching out to those either actively searching or passive potential applicants. We also included parents  and influencers within our target group.


Value for money and return on investment (ROI) were key criteria when considering available media channels and options. Premium inventory on the more traditional routes to market such as The Student Room, UCAS and WhatUnis/Complete University Guide were already sold out but would also be relatively expensive. Cost was also an issue for print and out-of-home campaigns where substantial budget would be required to make  the necessary impact.

Our goal of prioritising media opportunities offering personalisation and content sharing were clearly best served on all levels by search and social platforms. After all, 30% of Clearing applicants use paid search as their first step and Google is the first most used route to opportunities on A-level results day and the pre-Clearing period (source: NCS 2017).

When it comes to search, Penna Programmatic (with its in-house trading desk) comes to the fore. The team created three AdGroups – courses, competitors and generic Clearing/university brand terms – and a dynamic keyword approach to devise an imaginative placement campaign. To give Suffolk a head start on the competition, our custom-designed scheduling tool will be used on A-level results day to allow the AdWord bids to be changed hourly (there are normally only six bidding windows in 24 hours)

Our Private Market Place (PMP) deals with premium publishers enable us to buy inventory programmatically rather than direct – meaning we can access premium content on UCAS, eBay, The Telegraph and SkyMedia at a lower cost – with placements that include MPU, wide sky, leaderboard and mobile banners.

Social platforms on our schedule include YouTube, Facebook, Fonemedia, Instagram and Snapchat.

At the time of writing, this campaign has just gone live, so we’ve no results to report just yet.  But the entire campaign will be fully tracked and reported, enabling real-time measurement and tailoring as well as contributing to longer term continuous improvement in terms of ROI. Our client will have 24-access to online dashboards, updated daily and providing full campaign reporting and data analysis.