We’ve been working in the education sector for over 13 years, predominantly on behalf of Universities but we’ve worked for a few high schools too. Back in the day, completed films were dubbed onto tens of thousands of VHS tapes and sent out in the post with prospectuses. It cost more in postage than it cost to produce, and no one knew if the films got watched.

It goes without saying that things have moved on quite a bit since then. Nowadays, there can’t be a University in the world without its own YouTube channel, Facebook page and thousands of Twitter followers hungry for ways to engage with the brand (even if that’s not quite how they’d articulate it). Analytics allow clients to measure engagement rates and can trace a comment on Facebook all the way to a successful enrolment.

Universities use film in many ways and for all sorts of reasons. It could be a student recruitment project commissioned by the marketing team, a research group communicating findings to investors or student support messages aimed at anxious parents. Many universities and academic departments have teams of in-house videographers on hand to interview every academic and visiting speaker who steps on campus. They can shoot, edit and get it uploaded within the hour.

But with so much content out there, it’s important for universities to understand how to best harness the power of film, and deliver the maximum possible return on investment. This is about using film to create a story about the university that encourages potential students to build a connection between themselves and the institution. A strategy based purely around getting as much content on YouTube as possible probably isn’t going to be as effective as taking a more measured approach, developing considered content that sparks conversations between the university and prospective students, delivered in a focussed and traceable way.

As a team, we like nothing more than getting to grips with creative briefs, and delivering high quality, distinctive films which people love. We spend a lot of time looking at analytics, and following conversations about our work on social media. Universities have given us some of the best and most rewarding opportunities to do this. It can’t be a coincidence that the most enjoyable projects are also our most successful ones. So the lesson is, let us have fun with your brief – it works! Here are a few of examples of this to illustrate my point…

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Aliens in the Hudd‘ was a film we produced for the University of Huddersfield. In the brief, they acknowledged that video can appeal more quickly to the emotions than print and photography, and recognised that for it to have more sharable appeal, it needed to “be edgier/cooler than official university footage.” Whilst they wanted something “cooler”, it still needed to say something positive about the experience of studying there and “demonstrate the University’s commitment to being innovative and inspiring.” They invited “brave, clever, engaging, and unique ideas for the film clips which present the University in a positive light.”

You’ve probably seen Tom Ska’s ‘banned’ film about the University of Lincoln, where the boring university promo takes a bizarre turn, ending with him fending off marauding zombies with a hand gun? No one can dispute that film’s success at achieving millions of hits, but once you understand the process involved in commissioning any marketing collateral, the nuances of a university’s message and the number of stakeholders involved, you realise that no institution on the planet would willingly associate their brand with something like this, well executed or not (no pun intended). Although it was included in the brief as a reference for an alternative approach, this was not what the University of Huddersfield wanted.

The film we produced starred real students from the University, and pastiched the family friendly, yet immensely popular genre of British tv sci-fi. With a passionate Dr Who aficionado on writing, directing and shooting duties, backed up by an inhouse team of J.J. Abrams fanboys – we were always onto a winner. We successfully seeded the film within sci-fi fan networks, which led to it attracting a lot of coverage and interest from all over the world, winning the UoH a lot of awards, including Best Use of Social Media at the HEIST Awards 2013.

This might be the best promotional film for a university we’ve ever seen. The University of Huddersfield has suddenly become an educational destination, thanks to this witty, chaotic short movie about aliens showing up and demanding our submission. It’s lovely and charming. [Thanks Legends!]” io9.com

Although much more down to earth, the ‘Meet Our Graduate’ films we’ve just produced about the University of Liverpool’s online programmes for Laureate Online Education are another great example of how to use film content to engage an audience. Unlike the dramatic approach we took with ‘Aliens in the Hudd’, these films use audio from interviews with four graduates, set against cinematic visuals in locations that speak to their story.

Because the programmes are 100% online, graduation is the only time for the University of Liverpool (UoL) to interact with students in the physical world. Over 500 international graduates choose to travel to attend, and previous briefs had focussed on maximising this as an opportunity to gather as much interview collateral from as many speakers as possible. Although this approach delivered lots of great sound-bites, the resulting films felt no different to millions of other talking head montages, and they didn’t generate a buzz on social media.

The brief for ‘Meet Our Graduates’ allowed us to spend more time with fewer contributors and create films that were more entertaining than informational. The aim was to build strong identification and empathy between the subject and the viewer. Once viewers become emotionally engaged with the story, and understand the part UoL plays in its resolution, they transfer a lot of positivity and goodwill onto the University. Facebook provides the perfect platform for viewers to show their appreciation, and continue the conversation in their own way.

The campaign has just entered its third week. Focussing on one story per week, using copy from quotes taken from the interviews, supported by photography that was captured during the shoot. UoL Online has used Facebook to fantastic effect to promote the films to its audience. The campaign is only halfway through, but it is already UoL Online’s most successful to date, Facebook engagement is at 10% and new enquiries are up as a direct result. UoL Online’s Digital Community Specialist Zak Ward explains more, using the film made about student Issa as an example:

“Our engagement had a huge spike during Issa’s week, and most of this was due to his video that went out on the Sunday. To give some context, most business on FB consider an individual posts engagement rate above 2-3% to be very good. Issa’s video actually achieved a 10% engagement rate, one of the highest we have ever seen on the channel. Following the video I also noted an increase in requests for more information about our online programmes.”

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The way UoL Online used Facebook to promote the films meant they were seen by a large number of people, but it was quality of the films and the way they connected with their intended audience that drove up the engagement rate.

“Quality content is essential for a positive engagement rate. One of the factors for high engagement is shares, which is almost always driven by high quality content. Also, high quality content drives reach (the amount of users that the content will appear to in their Facebook feeds), which in turn drives engagement. Facebook determines high quality content by several factors, which include how long someone spends reviewing the content, how quickly they click it etc, etc. I’m positive that if we had run-of-the-mill, talking head content, our engagement rate would have been much lower.”

The final example is a film we produced for LJMU, our old university, and Mocha’s first and longest standing client. We were approached by LJMU after they saw our ‘It’s Liverpool’ film for Liverpool Vision. They wanted something along similar lines, but they wanted the film to explore the emotional journey taken by their students throughout the course of a three year undergraduate degree.

Our idea was to make a film that felt more like a music promo than a recruitment film. We identified a track by a local band that supported LJMU’s ‘Dream Plan Achieve’ ethos and built the script around it. The script itself comprised a series of vignettes, charting the progression of four protagonists from the day arrived in Liverpool until the day they graduate. We cast LJMU students to play the lead roles, with a couple of cameo’s from some Mocha stalwarts thrown in for good measure. Again, this approach appeared to pay dividends when it came to increasing positive engagement.

LJMU were so happy with the film (which was short-listed for a national CIM award), they developed a separate micro-site to house the main film and a lot of ‘behind-the-scenes’ bonus material. The strap-line from the film became the centre piece of their recruitment campaign that year, and a shorter cut of the film was used as part of LJMU’s first ever cinema campaign. LJMU’s Digital Communication Manager, Helena Eaton explains the value the University get from the film;

1.3“Feedback on the film has been exceptional. Since its launch it has had 30,000 views on YouTube, over 10,000 views in local secondary schools. Qualitative feedback has been excellent, both from prospective students and alumni.”

The best thing about our work for clients in the education sector is that there are so many opportunities for us to use our creativity and passion to add real value, and deliver films which mean something to people. Every brief is a new opportunity to work to produce our best work, and enjoy ourselves in the process. So if you’re looking for ways to get people excited about coming to your university, drop us a line!