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How we helped a £500m business integrate its systems to see how effective its marketing is

About Newcastle University

It’s 1834. Pre-Victorian Britain is emerging from the Industrial Revolution. Science, as we know it today, is spreading across the globe with new developments happening all the time. And Britain is the epicentre.

In fact, the term ‘scientist’ is coined this very year. The cutting-edge, rapidly growing, North-Eastern English city of Newcastle establishes a School of Medicine and Surgery. It begins offering lectures and demonstrations of the latest, most-pioneering medical techniques to 26 lucky students.

The school’s aim is to help promote and push forward the burgeoning art of medical science. The school would grow into other scientific, forward-thinking disciplines and its alumni would help drive us into the Age of Progress, for which we owe so much of what we take for granted today.

By 2019, the school has long since become Newcastle University, a campus in the heart of the city which educates 27,000 students each academic year. It’s part of the highly-prestigious Russell Group, the elite of the UK’s university-level institutions.

When it comes to research and exploration, teaching and academic quality, the University is still a pioneering force. But as the institution approaches its bicentenary, it employs over 3,000 staff and it feels like each has their own way of working.

Starting point


The main challenge: Outdated data management

Information was collected and housed here, there and everywhere.

For example, the University has a siloed marketing team who works to make Newcastle known to all prospective students. But international students are then marketed to and queries are processed by a dedicated international office. Both teams have to run stuff past each other and it can feel like an age to pass information or sign-offs back and forth. Any synergy between the two teams is lessened further by each using different software which doesn’t speak to each other.

The team described it as a “nightmare” to use - but the people ultimately left in the dark were prospective students. Hearing back from the university was slow and fragmented.

To solve this, the first step was to decipher all the different platforms that were used across the university. SAP ERP, SAP CRM, Gecko, Hobsons, the industry-required UCAS system… As well as being difficult for the team to work with, an important upshot of all this is that the core base of info was never truly “live” data either. A data refresh only took place once every 24 hours. Who knows how many other universities around the world a prospect could have heard back from during this time?

Another massive drawback to this setup was the immeasurable effect on productivity because the University staff spent more time locating information than they did helping prospects. Not only did all these systems not fluidly speak to each other in a coding sense, but the teams of people using them all used different terminology too. The fact that a huge part of the planning process was literally agreeing on some shared terminology to use going forward illustrates how complex this whole integration process was.

Furthermore, lots of interactions and conversations were happening before enrolment (at open days, via non-tracked email, via chat online) but no marketing ROI could be shown due to it being somewhat of a black spot.

“Historically, we could only see students when they’d already applied to us.” Explained Alaric Pritchard, Change Consultant, Facilitator and Business Educator, “So, there was lots of marketing activity going on but we couldn’t really measure it, we couldn’t get a return on investment.”

This meant there was an enormous pile of untraceable data spread across multiple places, out of which a certain number emerged as enrolled students. But who was to know what had influenced them into studying at Newcastle? What worked and what didn’t? What should we do more of and what needs to be changed?

“Without the integration, we simply wouldn't be able to get the benefits out of HubSpot.”

Russell Bragg Respect_(Green)_overlay

Alaric Pritchard, Newcastle University

What we did 

Graduating from multiple legacy systems to a single source of integrated truth


Realising that things could be better was one thing. Making it happen was a whole other ball game. Director of Marketing, Jude Browne, was sold on what was the right solution and around 18 months ago, what became known as “the HubSpot project” was born.

The overarching aim was to create a single source of truth with a common language that all teams involved in increasing student numbers could use. After mapping out what was actually being used and for what purpose, we began working with Newcastle to figure out which bits of the current tech stack should be kept and which should be replaced by a HubSpot solution.

The consensus was that HubSpot is the best in class for front-end student comms, so it would replace anything that was currently used for that purpose. But it still had to feed data into various custom SAP platforms. As the freshman in the tech stack, HubSpot had to be built in line with how SAP could understand it. But it was worth the many hours involved in order to make it happen.

For the first time, Newcastle University could capture student information before enrollment and also see how these prospects interacted with digital lead-gen marketing materials (another new thing for the international team). Getting the integration complete was one thing, but then the process of getting the team bought in and trained up could begin.

As well as shifting their mindset that this new tool was worth learning and could actually bring results. Weekly visits were set up, training sessions were provided and plenty of HubSpot swag was given out to help spread the word. This upskilling and achieving buy-in has had a massive impact.

Let’s break it down

“The impact on my team is that they’ve got all the information they need to do their job,” says Clare McKeague, Senior International Recruitment Operations Manager. “Sometimes this wouldn’t have been available and even if it was, they’d have to log into multiple different systems in order to find it.”

The integration’s impact has been heightened by all the other synergies created by the joint effort of the international team and Avidly UK. HubSpot has been used for prospective-student interactions and several inbound campaigns have been launched to attract more visitors to feed this now fully integrated and insightful system.

With our inbound marketing strategy as the new foundation on which the HubSpot-SAP integration is built, fully mapped buyer’s journeys underpin all the content put in front of prospects.

The impact of which can be tracked and analysed for the first time. One place this has seen big success is email. Timely, relevant and interesting emails have resulted in open rates well over twice the industry benchmark and click-throughs which are 10 times higher than what’s to be expected for universities.

The Results


With an intelligently integrated system that offers proper insights, the student experience has been improved immeasurably.

The international team can see what prospects have and haven’t interacted with and can see what other replies their colleagues have sent. Prospects aren’t re-explaining themselves multiple times or waiting days for a reply.

Now, the Newcastle team are freed up to work with a lot more impact. Plus, the prospective students are enjoying the inbound content that Avidly UK has produced for Newcastle University.

Before HubSpot, the international team relied on face-to-face meetings around the globe, which are hugely expensive and time-consuming. This made nurturing prospective international students a tedious task - the team had to wait until these students applied to know anything about them.

Now, the international team are able to nurture over 1,100 prospective international students. HubSpot has helped to lessen the reliance on those expensive, time-consuming face-to-face meetings. This makes for a smoother experience on both sides of the conversation and has had such an impact that 2020 will see us roll out this strategy to the domestic undergraduate market.

Thanks to the integration, the team know what’s working and what isn’t. They can direct resources to the right places and are so pleased with the success of the project, they’re expanding HubSpot into the more fruitful domestic student market.

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