How tells a story with their new hero video

This time, we're joined by Jane Oswald (Head of Marketing) from University of Sunderland to discuss our top stories: US unis doubling marketing spend; University of Sunderland making students the star of its story in a new hero video; And the renaissance for print publications at universities.

Show notes

Sourced stories from Kyle, Education Marketer newsletter.

US unis spending money:
US unis are returning to form on marketing spend – doubling their investments in the first quarter when compared to the same period last year. But the killer is University of Maryland, forecasting a spend of $500 million on marketing over the next few years, half of which it plans to spend on digital advertising. I wonder if it figured the death of the cookie into that? Still, this story buries the lead – confidence in US higher ed is at an all-time low: Down from 70% in 2013 to 51%. It feels like the sector is still on a journey – Purdue University’s Chief Marketing Officer highlights that we’re only just starting to see a “maturation of marketing and particularly brand management in higher ed,” which – honestly, makes me worry about the sector’s future. How will institutions still spending the bulk of their budget on digital ads handle the shift to greater consumer privacy? It requires a completely different model.

Sunderland heroes:
University of Sunderland uses its new hero video to celebrate its students, rather than tell its story. In the space of a few minutes, you see a full spectrum of graduate careers and a fast introduction to a student’s social life. It ends by saying “the only reason we’re here is to get you there”, which I think is refreshing to see at a brand level. One to bookmark for when your own hero piece is up for review.

Print publications: &
University of Queensland won an award for its alumni magazine Contact – and I can see why. The journalism is strong and it looks more like a copy of Wired than a typical prospectus-like publication. Shout out too to Rice University’s Rice Magazine that has a circulation of 60K (!!!) and paints a vivid picture of its community. For unis, there’s a real opportunity in high-end print publications. Why? Because a lot of institutions shuttered their programmes during peak pandemic. Now, there’s way less competition and a chance to offer a different kind of experience. If digital is all about leaning forward and getting things done, print is the place students can lean back, explore “fit” and picture whether they see themselves at your university.


Nathan Monk: Hello, and welcome to Most Clicked where we break down the most popular digital marketing stories in higher ed. There are loads of different ways now to get involved with most clicked, you can find out more at But for now, please do consider liking and subscribing.

I’m your host, Nathan from SMILE, a leading digital agency for the higher education sector. As always, I’m joined by my good friends, Matt from SMILE and Kyle, not from SMILE. So we’re going to break down the top stories from the education marketer newsletter. Over to you Kyle. Well, why don’t you tell us who is the winner for this week?

Kyle Campbell: It’s University of Sunderland and we have Jane Oswald on from University of Sunderland, as you would probably imagine. And she’s the head of marketing, to talk about the top story this week.

Jane Oswald: Hello. I like being described as a winner. That’ll do me.

Kyle Campbell: So we have a great piece from you this week and it’s your hero video. So I’ll let you have a chat about it. I’m just going to introduce it to people. So they get an idea of what it is and more stands out. Because there’s are a lot of university hero videos out there. So Jane, you’re on Most Clicked this week because it had a slightly different take most hero videos, focus very much on the university’s story.

But this one in addition to being shot beautifully, really sort of focuses in on the people who make that story possible. There’s a lovely line at the end of it. And I think it goes along the lines of, yeah. We’re just here for you. We’re essentially a platform that you can use to get where you want to go. And, you know, here in that sort of language in a hero video is very refreshing. So Jane, I’m really glad you’re here today. I’m curious how that thinking moves through the rest of your marketing.

How you reached the point where you made this video. Could you just tell us about what you intend to do with it.

Jane Oswald: Yeah. But as you probably know, the hardest thing in higher education is probably differentiation. So we didn’t want to do a typical university video.

And we did really want to launch a bit of new strategy, which is career-focused courses. So it was the obvious thing to focus on the graduates rather than just saying, “we do this course”.

Kyle Campbell: Hmm. Nath: what do you think? You’ve seen quite a few hero videos…

Nathan Monk: Full disclosure, very biased here. Sunderland has a very special place in my heart. We’ve done a lot of work with Sunderland, but I think… it just kind of confirms everything that I have always thought about when I’ve been working with Sunderland.

It’s a university that so obviously cares about its student community. Sunderland is this wonderful place. And the video captures the city by the sea whole vibe thing that’s going on. But I think more than anything is that I see a university that cares about each student community and it’s just something really heartwarming.

Jane Oswald: That’s nice to hear that comes over actually. We say we’ve got an inclusive and welcoming culture and that was one of the things that we did want to put across there. I think coupled with the fact that people are surprised by Sunderland. The city counselor is doing a big campaign at the moment, talking about Sunderland being surprising, you know, from the blue flag, bleachers to the fact that we’ve got actually amazing awards going on with one digital city of the year, last year. So I think it was a real surprise, not just the university, but Sunderland as a whole.

Matt Lees: Yeah, I think for me, it reaffirmed my understanding of the university. I mean, having spent time there and, and in the city, it just feels real. It doesn’t feel like marketing BS at all.

It feels legit, there’s a couple of bits that are, that really stood out to me. I love the pace. You mentioned that Jane, I love the fast pace. I love that kind of typographic approach to add the words to the spoken words. And then I love the reference to the beaches as well. I mean, we often used to stay down by Roker beach, and yeah it was great. Our families came up with us when we were working with the university, so just a really nice place to be, and it really tells that story.

Jane Oswald: Yeah, I think we went for the authenticity and, you know, one voice of we is actually Lauren Laverne as a voiceover and we searched for various voiceovers and none of them felt right.

It needed to be someone authentically Sunderland. And she is, and we’ve used her in radio ads before, which is that authenticity – it was something we were after. Not somebody putting on an accent.

Kyle Campbell: Yeah. I mean the voice finished it out. I couldn’t pitch where it was from or who it was.

That’s amazing. Pushing the boat out really. That’s great.

Jane Oswald: She’s one of our honourary graduates. So she does quite a bit of work with us.

Kyle Campbell: Great. Nath, should we move on to our next story?

Nathan Monk: Let’s move on to our second story!

Kyle Campbell: Yeah, so we’re moving overseas now to the states. I came across an article about university marketing spends over on, I think it’s Hettinger report or something like that. So it talks about university marketing spend.

The thing that really stood out for me was the sheer amount, right? So the university of Maryland, just as an example here. They intend to spend $500 million on marketing over the next five years. And that’s starting from 2019, and half of that’s going on digital ads. I’m pretty sure that’s the entire marketing spend of Midlands universities in a 10-year period or something.

I just find it crazy. And especially the half it being spent on digital ads. One of the reasons it is happening now is because over and over in the states that they’re having problems, getting students in. I think recruitment’s taking a dive. There are fewer people wanting to go to universities. It’s kind of a snippet to hear though, like with the elitist institutions at the Russell group you know, recruitments quite bubbly.

Whereas on the other end it’s still a little bit fighty. But in the states, there’s a massive divide between not the Ivy League and community colleges. But just that, marketing spend is, is just crazy. And especially in the digital ads especially at the time of the cookie and all that sort of thing.

And I don’t know, I just feel that’s a lot of money to be spending on an advertising format. Something that just is probably not on the way out, but just having problems with privacy and all that, it doesn’t make sense to me.

Nathan Monk: I don’t think we’re going to be spending more.

What do you say? 500 million dollars?

I mean, I don’t think we’ll see that over here in the UK – putting it out there. But you know what? At SMILE, we obviously tender on a lot of work and we keep our eye on tender portals and stuff. I will say the budgets have been going up and up and up and up and up over the years.

There’s some, I always post them on our internal slack and be like, “oh my gosh, look at how big this one’s gone”. And they just seem to keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Not 500 million bigger, but they’re getting there. And I think as well, we spoke last time about the baby boom and stuff like that.

Once somebody described university marketing as (when the caps will be lifted) as tanks on lawns. And I think that we’ll start to see more competitiveness again in the university landscape. And I think with that will come larger budgets.

So I don’t think it’s going to be restricted to the US personally.

Jane Oswald: You’d like to think that if they’re doing 50% of it on digital, it’s going to be measured. I’d like to think, so. They’re going to have to get some kind of return on investment, but that’s going to be one hell of a return on investment.

Kyle Campbell: The thing for me, I just feel like there’s so much potential for other initiatives. You can imagine what you can do with that sort of budget on content marketing, you can recreate something absolutely incredible. So yeah, I mean, who knows? I mean, that was their forecast in 2019. I’m sure it’s changed since then, but you know, that’s the amount. That was the plan.

So yeah, real crazy over there right now.

Nathan Monk: We’ve spoken before haven’t we Kyle, about what you could buy. You could buy companies with that money.

Kyle Campbell: You could buy publications, make them your own.

Matt Lees: What brought it into context for me was that the price per head, that they spend to enroll students. So something like $430 to $630 per year per student to enroll a new student.

Imagine. Times, however many students you got. Yeah, crazy, crazy.

Jane Oswald: You could take a big chunk of that and spend it on staff. Actually get people to help you do it!

Nathan Monk: Yeah. Very true. Very true. All right. Kyle, our third and final story is.

Kyle Campbell: Print publications at universities. Who knew? Slightly different take, not prospectuses.

I know Nathan, you’ve got a lot of experience with prospectuses and rethinking them, haven’t you? But yes – a couple of universities in the states… I covered it in the last week. There seems to be a bit of a… resurgence is the wrong word, but I’ve noticed the print publications that are surviving tend to be very strong.

And I’m not talking about brochures or prospectuses here that promote courses and talking around lifestyle. So the one I’ve shared in the news that it was from Wesleyan University. And essentially this is like a real lean-back experience that gives you a window into that campus culture.

The academics, the students the faculty, and the happenings on campus. This is an alumni magazine specifically, so its focus is fundraising and building a relationship with its donors. But I’ve started to see things like this targeted at different points in the student journey. So applicants, for example, and I think a few universities are really tapping into this idea.

Now a lot of brands are axing, or shuttering print publications because in COVID we didn’t want to do that. Cause you know, touching things is not a good thing or whatever. Shutting them down in favor of digital alternatives, that actually leaves more space for people to win that format because there’s less competition.

So there are fewer high-quality print publications. So the ones that are there really do stand out. And I, I dunno, I think if you shutter these, these publications, you just immediately cast it off and move into digital. You’re really missing out because, for me, digital is all about getting something done.

You’re leaning forward. You want to complete a task, whereas print is about leaning back and taking it in letting things wash over you, and exploring something. It’s really about what defines a university’s campus culture and getting a sense of what it is. So I think there’s a real avenue for print.

If people are thinking to shut these things down, my thinking is you should probably reconsider and lean properly into it, but maybe in a more niche publication targeted at a certain point in the journey. Nath, you’ve probably got some thoughts on this because you’ve done a lot of work around rethinking the prospectus.

Nathan Monk: It’s not going to come as a surprise for, you know, “a person that runs digital agency says that digital is better than print”. Actually, that’s not really my take. I think it’s about quality. So it’s more so about saving money by not using print for mass markets and then, as you say, focus on the finishes and then make it beautiful.

When Matt and I went to university together, and I remember us sitting in the print workshop obsessing over papers and finishes – the stuff that we were just like, “oh, man, this is so cool”. And it is, but I think a lot of university print has to make a lot of compromises nowadays because it has to tackle the mass market. I think there’s a place for print.

I’m not going to lie. There’s a part of me that died inside when I threw up a PDF in a screen-share, you know, I’m not okay with that. But. There’s a place for print still. And I think it’s where it should be a real premium.

Matt Lees: Yeah. I agree. I think you touched on something there around quality, Nathan. And Kyle in your article, you compared them to Wired, I think. And I was looking through, and it reminded me of a magazine called Esquire that I used to use as inspiration for a lot of the print work that we used to do years and years ago.

We always talk about websites and how they’re competing for students’ time against things like Spotify and Netflix. And it feels a similar boat here in the same way that they’re competing against those high-end magazines, where you do sit back and you, and you immerse yourself in them.

And the editorial style, particularly the second example, I think it was rise magazine? Some really beautiful layouts in there. Really nice.

Jane Oswald: I’m absolutely an advocate of print. I’ve been working in universities, for nearly 20 years. And I remember having the whole conversation 20 years ago about is the prospectus dead?

You know, and that’s still doing the rounds. But you know, the one thing is certainly for us, we have started doing a bit more print, a bit more stuff through the doors because actually nobody is doing it. So in terms of that, differentiation, you know, if all your competitors are not putting anything through anyone’s doors, it’s a chance to just do a little something.

Like you say it doesn’t have to be huge, just something high quality. And then a little bit, a little bit special.

Nathan Monk: Everyone just wants to feel special. Right? So if you can do that regardless of medium, yes. It’s win/win.

Well, that’s probably about all we got time for today. Jane, before we do wrap up if people wanted to reach out and speak to you about your hero video, what’s the best way that people can contact you.

Jane Oswald: Linkedin; it’s Jane Oswald and the University of Sunderland. So yeah – Happy to chat with anyone.

Nathan Monk: Fantastic. Thank you so much again for joining us.

Jane Oswald: Thank you so much guys, appreciate the opportunity.

Nathan Monk: And if you have enjoyed today’s episode, please do consider subscribing on YouTube or following us on LinkedIn. And then you’ll get all the updates about future episodes. Every episode is now available as a podcast as well.

You can subscribe on your choice of podcast app, including Spotify and Apple podcasts. All of the details, as I’ve mentioned are available over at Thanks for watching. And see you next time.

Nathan Monk
Nathan Monk

I'm proud to work for some of the world’s most influential brands that shape cities and define lives: Universities and colleges.

I provide advice to forward-thinking senior leaders on how to exceed their organisational targets by creating user-focused, digital-first strategies.