News Article ————

Aston University are aiming to win at the UK Digital PR Awards

Author image Published by isobel.regan@dontpanicprojects.com
Published Date 06.07.2023

Aston University was founded back in 1895 and became a university in 1966. It’s located in Birmingham at the heart of a vibrant city and is led by Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive Professor Aleks Subic.

In 2022, the Guardian University Guide ranked Aston University in the UK’s top 25, based on measures including entry standards, student satisfaction, research quality and graduate prospects. The Aston Business School MBA programme was ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking.

Despite all these achievements, as recently as 2020 the press and communications team was just two people, which meant a lot of long days keeping on top of the University’s needs. However, as the team expanded with the addition of Sam Cook in 2020 and later Nicola Jones in 2021, we’ve been able to start exploring methods of bringing Aston University’s expertise to new audiences and exploiting the digital channels on offer.

Aston University’s Aston Originals was conceived as a solution to making a university’s research and knowledge outputs accessible and relevant to non-experts.

Former radio journalist Sam suggested the idea of Aston Originals. He had a vision of bringing the University academics’ work to life, independent of traditional media. He suggested a YouTube channel to help address topics that concern the general public in an accessible and easy to watch manner.

Sam said: “We wanted to create a brand-new digital channel and to produce engaging digital content showcasing the diverse research from our academic community to develop an engaged audience from our target demographics.

“The range of issues we’ve covered is phenomenal – from weight-loss injections to the war in Ukraine to Netflix Squid Game. Even when I was journalist, I never covered such a wide range of topics!”

With a small budget, we built a studio from scratch to record and stream videos and blogs. We set ourselves an overall objective to support student recruitment by increasing brand awareness of Aston University among prospective students and their influencers to drive up conversions.

We set ourselves SMART targets to grow an organic audience for a new channel, including 300 YouTube subscribers, 300 Aston Originals Twitter followers and 12,000 views/listens across videos and podcasts within 18 months. We exceeded all of these.

As the number of episodes increased, more academics were asking to feature in an Aston Original to talk about how their specific research affects the real world. In fact, within the first four months we launched two podcast series about health/life sciences and linguistics. As a result, academics can now host their own podcasts at no extra cost, creating new content for use in student journey communications for those subjects.

Team member Nicola Jones said: “Both timely (news story reaction) and evergreen (for example, seasonal events) content are created to get more ‘mileage’ out of our stories than just issuing a press release. Aston Originals is relevant to all courses, and the channel continues to evolve across areas of University marketing to aid student recruitment.”

Last word goes to Head of Communications, Sue Smith. She said:

“Entering the awards has given us the chance to highlight our work to colleagues across the University.

“Sometimes the time, effort and talent of the press and communications team can go unnoticed as a lot of its work is often behind-the scenes problem-solving.

“Aston Originals has given us the opportunity to show colleagues what we are capable of achieving and how we can help them achieve their communications goals.”

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