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Brand Perception & Awareness Campaign - Harlow College

Harlow College is a medium-sized tertiary college located on a single site close to Harlow town centre, North West Essex. The college draws around half of its learners from Harlow and the remainder largely from West Essex and East Hertfordshire. The college’s main work is vocational education and training.

The college offers programmes in all subject areas. Around a third of learners are aged 16 to 18 and follow full-time courses. Some 20% of these study at foundation level, 25% at intermediate level and just over half at advanced level. The majority of adult learners are on part-time courses, mostly at foundation level and intermediate level. The largest number of full-time enrolments across the college is in arts, media and publishing, engineering, construction and preparation for life and work. Approximately 38% of learners are in employer-based training.

Historically, educational aspiration in Harlow tends to be low, with capable learners in Harlow aspiring to go to Hertfordshire/Cambridge. However, Harlow College had been undergoing a transformation over the previous five to six years and had recently achieved the prestigious status of No. 1 college in England.

Academic & Education



  • Harlow College is a tertiary college offering mainly vocational education and training.
  • The Principal has been in post approximately 5 years and immediately bought a focus on teaching and learning.
  • The college suffered from poor brand perception owing to lower than average results.
  • Harlow College approached Mackman to produce a marketing campaign to recruit new students.
  • We delivered an award-winning tactical marketing campaign to improve student recruitment and brand awareness, and to cement Harlow College as the No.1 College in England.


Offering vocational training to young people

The college had already undertaken some awareness activities including banners and posters at the College, and a A4 brochure aimed at key stakeholders. Mackman were commissioned to develop a tactical marketing plan to raise awareness of Harlow College's newly achieved status as No. 1 college in England. This campaign would target potential students, students who would not have considered Harlow due to its perceived poor reputation, and existing students at the college. The campaign also needed to target the parents of potential/existing students to raise awareness of the option for suggesting Harlow College to their children.

To inform the marketing campaign, Mackman decided on the implementation of a perception survey. The survey would target students in Year 10 from two feeder schools, and the parents of year 10 pupils from two feeder schools.

Questions from the survey included:

  • Are students/parents considering Harlow college for further education?
  • Are students/parents not considering Harlow college for further education?
  • What are the main reasons students/parents would choose Harlow?
  • What are the main reasons why students/parents wouldn't choose Harlow?
  • What are the most important things that students/parents want from a college?
  • In one sentence please describe what Harlow College means to you
  • What does Harlow College being No. 1 mean to you?

The Results

Our research found that higher achieving students are less likely to attend Harlow, and lower achieving students see Harlow as inevitable. Some parents are suspicious of the No. 1 results claim, and the general perception of Harlow college seems to be hampered by a 'Harlow halo' effect. The information that was gathered was used to inform the content and tone of the marketing campaign that followed, as well as influencing the decision to use existing students to evolve the branding away from a 'faceless' college.

The marketing campaign included a microsite and an integrated social media campaign, as well as:

  • Physical advertising through a poster campaign featured at bus stops and train stations
  • Media advertising and radio ads
  • Pop up stands for educational fairs
  • A t-shirt design competition for Harlow College students
  • A broadsheet-style newspaper about Harlow life

Students are at the heart of everything at the College, which is why they were chosen to take centre stage for the campaign. Several students across the media, visual arts, journalism, catering, hospitality and science departments took part in photo shoots, and were interviewed about life at Harlow and featured in a short film about the campaign.

CIM Award

Our work with Harlow College later resulted in winning the Marketing Excellence Award in the Education Category at the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s (CIM) national awards ceremony. The award is a significant achievement for us as it was our industry’s governing body judging our work. We were one of just 23 winners, selected from hundreds of entries, and accepted our award from comedian, Jimmy Carr.

This has been the perfect start to our tenth year in business. We’re delighted as this project encapsulates the spirit of how our specialists work closely with clients to produce integrated campaigns that provide return on investment. Considering the scale and intense level of competition associated with the CIM awards, we’re glad to have done Sudbury proud.

Paul Mackman, Company Director

Mackman’s comprehensive campaign delivered huge results for us. Winning the award verifies the standard of their work and passion for what they do. They worked closely with our in-house team and delivered a thoughtful campaign that produced a very positive response.

Simon Boyce, Head of Marketing - Harlow College
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