The role of marketing and communication has faced some significant challenges in the COVID-era, particularly in the field of university innovation.
So much of what OUI does to create deal flow is centred around human connection: events and the serendipitous connections that emerge from them, meetings and pitches, one-on-one engagement with journalists and stakeholders, and so on. Consequently, when a pandemic comes along that forces everyone to stay at home, fundamental parts of our strategy and approach must change accordingly.
“The role of marketing is very clear in a time like this: maintaining awareness and engagement,” said Simon Gray, Head of Marketing. “This has gone well, arguably even better than it was pre-lockdown. We have issued more publications more often to keep our engagement numbers up. Likewise, we’ve had a greater focus on social media and seen our stats rise substantially as a result, which leads through to enquiries, negotiations and ultimately deals.”
One major impact from COVID-19 on Marketing has been on events. At the start of the financial year, Marketing worked with other parts of OUI, leading Artificial Intelligence (AI) academics within the University, the Public Affairs Directorate, the spinout community, the Saïd Business School, and colleagues in Industrial Relationships and Business Development teams to produce AI@Oxford, the University’s biggest tech event to date.
“We attracted over 700 delegates in total, showcasing the technological, healthcare and societal applications of AI, both from an academic and commercial perspective,” said Gregg Bayes-Brown, Marketing and Communications Manager, who curated the event. “The content displayed the breadth and depth of Oxford’s world-class expertise in this area to a diverse audience of multiple backgrounds, the networking has led to major deals for our spinouts, and the event galvanised Oxford throughout the week with multiple adjacent events which left our AI community buzzing. We also secured international coverage as a result from numerous outlets, including the BBC, The Telegraph, and the Wall Street Journal.”
The Oxford Innovation Society (OIS), OUI’s networking and business engagement group, played a pivotal role in AI@Oxford, hosting numerous speakers and delegates for dinner at Keble College in one of the best attended OIS events to date. Marketing had planned to carry this positive momentum on events through into 2020, but COVID-19 has put those plans on hold.
“Events have suffered, with our in-person OIS meetings on hold for the foreseeable future,” explained Simon. “However, our webinars have been solid so far. We have supported Angela Calvert’s team in Life Sciences with one recently, and we are currently turning our attentions to supporting our colleagues in Consulting Services.”
At present, Marketing is evaluating platforms which will enable us to allow attendees to network in a meaningful way while remaining virtual, and is aiming to deliver its first virtual OIS event by the end of the year.
Another way COVID-19 has impacted Marketing is how we disseminate our marketing materials, said Craig Smith, Marketing and Publications Officer.
“If we can’t see people face-to-face, there’s simply not much need for printed materials,” explained Craig. “As a result, we’ve had to change our approach in how we publicise and promote the messages we want to get out there.”
An example of this new thinking in action is this annual review. Typically, an OUI Annual Review will have both a printed and digital version released in tandem. This year, Marketing was able to prioritise the digital version, which has allowed the team to go into more depth in its story telling while also being able to deliver the Annual Review far earlier than previous editions. It has also encouraged the team to be more creative in the presentation, opting to utilise animation in lieu of photography, giving the Review an altogether more distinct feel and look to its predecessors.
“One aspect that’s made this review a joy to write is being able to peel back the layers and give a much fuller account of the people who make up OUI,” said Gregg, who wrote the review. “We first conceived of focusing on teams for this year pre-COVID, originally planning to highlight two or three members of each team. The pandemic has brought a whole new dimension to the teamwork and comradery that exists in OUI and put into context just how important those bonds are in how we collectively responded to COVID-19. Consequently, when I was interviewing people for this review, all these stories of the many parts of OUI bubbled to the surface and it naturally evolved into this interwoven patchwork of the people who make up OUI.”
Teamwork and Collaboration
“Teamwork is how we’ve adapted to 2020,” added Fiona Story, University Relationship Manager. “For example, we worked across OUI to deliver a webinar in experimental psychology which attracted participants from three departments.”
Fiona has also kept communications open between OUI and the wider University by replacing our regular drop in desks across the institution with virtual hotdesks. She has also maintained the Innovation Champions – key people in departments across Oxford who provide guidance and help in engaging with innovation – and relaunched the Entrepreneurship Fellowship online. At the time of writing, the Entrepreneurship Fellowship is seeing record signups to the cohort for its third year in operation.
Adele Davies, Marketing and Events Administrator, has also exemplified OUI’s collaboration value. With a lack of events, Adele has adapted her role to help colleagues across the whole company, contributing to our virtual away day planning, the incubator, Operations, and others.
“Personally, I’m really pleased with how the team has coped with the dramatic change. We have daily catchups that keep us in better sync than if we were in the office,” said Simon.
“Another big change has been the progress made towards ‘joined-up marketing’, where the data from one activity is accessible in a different context,” added Simon. “We’ll soon be at a stage where Licencing and Ventures Managers will be able to see the impact of marketing in their own dashboards, giving them a concrete idea of what our efforts are helping them achieve.
“Looking ahead, we’ll continue to enhance the role of marketing through the implementation of new technologies and initiatives with a view to turn more of our work into tangible results for OUI and Oxford University. Simply put, we can be the most effective TTO in the world, but if our partners don’t know about our capabilities, we won’t have the impact we are looking for.”
Tech launches: 44
OIS members: 32 (up 2)
Twitter increase: +22%
LinkedIn increase: +39%
We can be the most effective TTO in the world, but if our partners don’t know about our capabilities, we won’t have the impact we are looking for.