Delivering an uplift in overseas Postgraduate and MBA applications for the University of Exeter

The University of Exeter is Russell Group university, with TEF gold accreditation, based in the South West of England. Its Business School (EBS), is recognised as one of the leading institutions in the UK.

Maintaining the recognition and reputation of the University is important. Marketing activity for the School therefore focuses on engaging with high achieving, highly aspirational students from over 80 countries across a diverse portfolio of degree courses.

The Brief

  • Boost recruitment for taught Postgraduate and MBA programmes from overseas students
  • Provide market insight and advise on effective media strategy, including division of budget across degree programmes and locations
  • Track performance and demonstrate ROI from ad spend over a six-week campaign during Q4


  • Identified marketplaces and media channels which could be effectively entered by EBS within a time-limited campaign
  • Updated landing pages and implemented a range of tracked Goals via Google Analytics to monitor interactions with prospective applicants, capture leads more effectively, and optimise media delivery based on conversion objectives
  • Developed bespoke targeting criteria using Custom Audiences, in order to reach EBS’s desired “high calibre” students
  • Used a range of digital channels to support recruitment of specific programmes, as well as increasing visibility of the Exeter Business School brand internationally
  • A/B tested ads in English language and translation, different creative and photography, and optimised engagement with different content types per marketplace


  • 48% increase in postgraduate and 63% increase in MBA course pageviews from international visitors
  • 106 tracked enquiries for postgraduate programmes
  • Generated approximately 100 MBA leads and brochure requests per month at a steadily reducing CPA
  • Reduced average CPM of media by 92% over two months

University of Exeter Business School sought to engage an agency to work alongside their own internal teams to develop a digital advertising strategy to support the recruitment of overseas students for taught postgraduate and MBA programmes.

As a Google Premier Partner agency with specialist experience in the international HE market, EBS decided that RH were an ideal partner to advise on digital strategy, audience insight, and manage the delivery of this project over a six-year campaign period in Q4 2018.

Our International Media Report provided plenty of initial insight to shape the strategic direction of the campaign. Although EBS were initially keen to explore regional advertising in China – using channels such as Baidu – our report revealed that regions such as South East Asia and India were more likely to generate applications at this stage of the year. These locations had also seen relatively little marketing exposure, meaning measuring impact would be clearly quantifiable by analysing applicant data at agreed intervals. Throughout the campaign we were able to further optimise geographic delivery by excluding towns and cities with poorer response rates and prioritise areas with higher quality leads.

We also had to make sure that ad delivery was optimised to reach ‘high calibre’ students. We created several bespoke targeting personas which represented the educational backgrounds, personal traits, and affiliations of a typical University of Exeter student, as well as student actively showing interest in studying abroad. These personas formed the backbone of the targeting criteria for all of the EBS’ advertising and were implemented across Search Audiences, Social Media custom audiences, and programmatic behavioural targeting.

Our Analytics team worked closely with Exeter Business School’s marketing team to ensure subject-specific landing pages were available and that calls to action were clear. A bespoke page was created in prompt MBA students to request a course brochure via a data capture form, and additional “Apply Now” prompts were added to postgraduate pages. All calls to action were tagged with full attribution, enabling EBS to have a detailed view of the action visitors took on their website for the first time.

We explicitly selected media formats which would synergise effectively together, enabling us to deliver a comprehensive in-market presence to prospective students across key digital touchpoints.

Video and Display formats engaged people at the top of the funnel, building awareness of Exeter Business School’s world-class offering among international students at a low CPM. They also allowed us to continually A/B test and adjust messaging for each region and area of study. A variety of visuals, photographic routes, and English language/translated ad text was tested in each market.

Search and Social advertising provided the best opportunity to secure in-market leads who were further down the research process. These formats were used to deliver visitors directly to landing pages specific to their study area of choice and prompt them to take further action.
Remarketing allowed us to nurture warm leads with ongoing interactions – particularly important for international students who are unable to visit campus for an Open Day, and therefore benefit greatly from timely updates around scholarships, webinars, and application deadlines.

The campaign generated a pronounced increase in international web traffic across Exeter Business School’s course portfolio. During the initial two-month campaign, 48% of postgraduate and 63% of MBA pageviews were attributed to our campaign, drawn from seven targeted countries.

Through continual optimisation average the CPM paid for media across the campaign fell by 92% to below £1 per 1000 ad Impressions, while objective-based bid strategies saw the number of leads generated by £spent increase as the campaign progressed.

Google Analytics recorded over 110 enquiries/prospectus requests in postgraduate programmes over six weeks. Not only were we able to track tangible interactions along the applicant journey, but we reconciled this at intervals with EBS’s own applicant data track the ultimate ROI of the campaign. Establishing tracking of these interactions will also give EBS the ability to monitor and benchmark new KPIs going forward.

The new MBA landing page and lead generation form has enabled EBS to adopt a continual approach to promoting the programme internationally. We have further refined geographic targeting to generate a steady flow of approximately 100 additional MBA leads per month, using a Cost per Acquisition bid strategy which steadily optimises targeting to increase the ROI delivered to the Business School.

Google Partner PPA Recognised Agency