Penguins at Derby bringing students together

I’ve been checking out the shortlists for this year’s Times Higher Education Awards.  One entry stood out for me.  Shortlisted for the Marketing Initiative of the Year award, the University of Derby have achieved something impressive off the back of something so simple.

Photo by tobybarnes

Photo by tobybarnes

Derby’s shortlist mention on THE’s website explains all:

“Before their 2007 exams, Derby sent 3,300 applicants a squeezy penguin stress toy and a leaflet with exam and revision tips from an academic. A week later, the university followed up with an email encouraging applicants to take photos and videos of themselves with their penguin over the summer. The penguin became cult figure on social networking sites and helped Derby improve its conversion rate – the proportion of those offered a place taking up the offer rose from one in five to one in four.” [Source: THE]

This stood out for me as an effective way of engaging current students at a time of stress, it helped solidify a community spirit amongst the general populous of the university, and the promotion spread beyond campus onto social networking sites for the world to see.  In the process, prospective students were more likely to be drawn to Derby as a good place to study.

Let’s break it down:

Engage students at a time of stress – On a specific and local level, a penguin stress toy may seem somewhat gimmicky, albeit a bit of fun.  But combined with this were exam and revision tips, which genuinely do focus students on what they can do to achieve their best.  The point is, a number of students who received these tips will have been grateful for them.

This promotion didn’t involve hard sell, it simply held out a helping hand to students in need.

Help to solidify a community spirit – Universities have both staff and students, naturally.  The magic is to achieve two things:

  • Bring all students together as a community, working toward similar goals and understanding the benefits of focusing as a team;
  • Give students an awareness of staff’s purpose and vice versa, so each can appreciate the bigger picture.  In the process, help inspire an attitude of “We’re in this together”.

Firstly, Derby’s mailout gave tips to students from the expert viewpoint of an academic member of staff.  Good start.  Secondly, the e-mail to ask everyone to photograph or video themselves with the penguin over the summer break kept links alive with the uni.  They care about their students and want interaction.  Not everyone would jump at the chance, but that doesn’t matter when an enthusiastic selection of students take up the challenge.

Derby managed to turn a simple mailout into a ‘social event’.  Students are more likely to feel part of a fun community.

Promotion spreads across the Internet and shouts out to prospective students – The simple things can deliver awesome results.  You could say that a squeezy penguin became a temporary mascot for Derby.  Even amongst those who didn’t know what the penguin was all about, the enigma of the penguins led to more interest in Derby, as well as a wish to have one of the prized penguins.

I’m genuinely impressed by how this promotion has worked on so many levels.  I wish the University of Derby the very best of luck and hope they get that Times Higher Education Award (due to be announced on 23 October 2008).

As I said at the start of this post, it’s a great achievement to make such a positive impact off the back of something simple.  Can any of you think of a time when you’ve been wowed by a simple gesture?  Do you feel a strong sense of community within your university, or would you like to see more done?


  1. Can there be mini zen dogs we can have? That’ll be certainly a stress reliever for some. And it might actually allow us to live the way of the zen if it’s more palpable and placed in our sight every single second of the day – just thinking out loud…

    Free stuff never hurts!


Comments are closed.