Between lockdown 3.0, the new UCAS January deadline, and A Level Results Day (or whatever it ends up being), these are all crucial for the education sector, student marketing and enrolment. While everyone waits to find out what this all means for September 2021, universities need to be present in the market in the right way as early as possible. And not just to support their recruitment needs, but to meet the needs of students in search of some hope and clarity amidst all this uncertainty.

Want to see a brand getting it right? Last year, Nike did a great job of activating its brand, promoting its workout app with a straightforward message, which is totally in tune with - and sensitive to - what’s happening in the world. It was promoted centrally from the brand and by its community of influencers too.

The competition this year is going to be fierce - an inevitable decline in international students, more students sitting on unconditional offers, and with a lot of time on their hands, to spend researching where to go to get the best deal available in the new academic year. The end goal hasn’t changed substantially, but the road to it has wholesale. 

The time universities have to work within is shorter, because the endpoint is earlier, it’s going to be more sustained, because “results day” will likely be less meaningful to many, and it’s going to be messy, as potentially more students will consider the option of deferring to 2022 when things have calmed down a bit.

Right now, students are scared, confused and overwhelmed with the situation - just like everyone. Universities need to offer reassurance, advice, clarity, a strong sense of community, answers and insight for those looking for it and above all else - honesty. You don’t know everything right now and nor does anyone, and that’s OK. But your institutions are places of learning after all, and now more than ever guidance, relevant research and informed opinions are what time-rich students are after - and the authenticity that comes from being upfront about what you don’t know, as well as what you do. 

Students are bored and disengaged. Tik Tok (and social media in general) is booming with millions of teens stuck indoors, desperately seeking validation and connection - just take a look at #reacts and the #levelupchallenge and read our guide to getting it right on TikTok for even more inspiration.

By Easter, they’ll be desperate for excitement and any sort of escape from the monotony of existence in the Covid-19 era. It’ll be up to universities to activate their communities, tap into the conversations happening naturally and find a way in - in a way that fits and clearly communicates their brand values. 

Over the summer, it’ll be about offering the clearest and most compelling reasons to study at course/subject and brand level. As “Clearing” opens at the beginning of July, a huge number of students will be in a great position to make a choice on the best option they think they can get for September. And it seems wholly believable that in June and July there will still be heavy restrictions on socialising and movement, so they’ll be researching. And researching. And researching. This means you’ve got to get in front of them with a clear messaging strategy and content - not just containing information, but first-hand insight into the experience. And lots of it.

In the meantime, make the most of the content you’ve already got. The University of Essex is doing a lovely job of sharing some greatest hits from their #MyEssex tag on Instagram, to share a bit of light, hope and reassurance amongst the darkness. 

Looking ahead, make the most of your students and the time they’ve got to - interview them over Zoom or Skype, talk to them about how they’re feeling right now and put that content out there (with their permission obviously!)… it shows you’re listening, it shows you’ve still got a community regardless of whether they’re on campus or not. Ask them to tell their stories and talk about their experience - it’s all incredibly valuable, and it’s likely that in the safety of their own homes, behind a screen, they’ll speak more openly and freely than they might with a microphone and camera in their face. It doesn’t matter if the content doesn’t look super shiny, because content in the New Normal doesn’t. If anything, it levels the playing field. People are just desperate to see and hear other people.

Now more than ever is the time to think creatively, find your voice and help students to discover theirs amongst the madness. Because amidst all this uncertainty, one thing is certain, students are looking for hope and reassurance that after all of this their future’s in safe hands.


  • Show leadership and inspire trust, by getting out there early with honest and clear comms and creative that shows sensitivity to the situation 

  • Reach out to your current students to create simple, no-frills content that shows your community spirit. And creates a platform for personal, open reflection on their experience.

  • Develop a phased messaging strategy that acknowledges the big picture and how that changes, and allows for flexibility and reactiveness

  • Make the most of your existing content - audit, re-edit and cut with freshly gather user-generated content to ensure relevance

If you’d like to speak to an expert about what your creative and content strategy looks like, get in touch. 

Article by


Charlie Penrose

Creative Director