Nostalgia Inspires a Community
Newcastle reached out to alumni via email, via snail mail, and on social media by decade, capitalizing on each era’s nostalgia.
“We used great visuals,” said Kristy White, Head of Alumni Programs. “We worked with the Head of Archives to find great images that referenced cultural and on-campus happenings.”
For instance, the 1970s campaign referenced bell bottoms and platforms, while the 1980s campaign cited big hair, neon fashions, and microfiche. And 1990s graduates were asked, “Do you remember listening to Alanis Morrisette on your new Discman?”
White said about 50% of alumni also have alumni relatives, so White and her team relied on family connections for outreach—particularly helpful for tracking down alumni who may have changed their names upon marriage.
“Sometimes I just had an email address, but that didn’t mean I had the right one,” she said.
By far, she said, the driving force behind the campaign’s success was “the nostalgia factor” as well as the sense of pride that Novocastrians have in the university.
“Newcastle is a blue-collar, working-class port town. To have a university located here, there is a great sense of pride that we can offer anyone from the region a world-class education,” she said. “We knew we could leverage the fondness and gratitude people have. We knew if we tapped into that pride, we could do something really special.”
The campaign resulted in 10,000 new alumni contacts, helping Newcastle reach its 2024 alumni engagement goal early in 2021, said White. It fostered better internal collaboration—and it allowed White’s team to reframe how it engages with alumni and bring on a new Alumni Engagement Officer (digital). The Lost Alumni Campaign also gave them a solid blueprint for future cohort campaigns—for example, reconnecting with Newcastle’s Aboriginal–Torres Islander alumni community.
“The project was a lot of fun to do. The outcome is that we connected with more alumni, sure, but we saw the alumni connecting with one another,” says White.
One challenge, she said, was having only a small team to undertake what White called a “pretty meaty campaign”—locating data for accurate reporting, going through hard copies of photos, and finding content that would resonate with the alumni audience, particularly those who might be reconnecting with the school after many years. But scaling down face-to-face communication during COVID-19 gave the team more time for this project.
And they saw a lot of love coming back as well, she said: “We enjoyed seeing alumni reminiscing about everything from beloved relationships and friendships to marriages and more. There was a lot of fun with camaraderie. We’re a super irreverent kind of bunch.”
About the author(s)
Holly Leber Simmons is a writer and editor based in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.