Rebooting the industry: how the Institute of Coding is diversifying the future of tech

Karmarama won the Grand Prix at The Drum Awards for the Digital Industries 2020 with its ‘CTRL Your Future’ campaign for the Institute of Coding. Read about the multichannel, multifaceted campaign and the ways the team fought to improve diversity for future generations of the tech industry.

The challenge

The Institute of Coding (IoC) is a government-funded consortium of universities and employers running over 200 digital courses across the UK.

With just 16% of the UK’s IT specialists being women, and only 11% of IT Directors coming from a BAME background, the IoC planned to shake up the tech industry by inspiring a more diverse cross-section of people to pursue digital skills education – and ultimately start that journey by signing up to one of their courses.

The strategy

While there are many other initiatives that to increase diversity in tech, Karmarama's research found they often come across as a box-ticking exercise, with a lukewarm response from an audience that doesn't see itself represented.

How do you persuade the world’s savviest online audience to engage with digital skills? And how – when many are already swamped in coursework and educational expectations – do you expand and diversify that audience in innovative and engaging ways?

Finding that this demographic was not following a linear customer journey, the team realised the way to inspire and engage the audience would need to be driven by their online behaviour. The team's research revealed a mobilised group with active voices online, sharing passion points like fashion, activism, and gaming. Without the credentials to own these spaces itself, Karmarama decided to collaborate with people who did.

A lack of awareness of the IT industry and its career opportunities, as well as ingrained bias, was fundamental to low engagement - made worse by its poor representation and diversity and inaccessible role models, and peer pressure from friends.

Online insights showed that questions on social media directly related to opportunities often used male-skewed terminology, and the negative language around tech careers was actively discouraging young women and people from minority groups.

Rather than focus on the barriers, the team chose to build an empowering a solution. For the message to resonate, they needed a content-led and personal approach on channels relevant to their audience.

A centralised platform would inform each idea and piece of content, creating consistency and an empowering tone of voice for the whole campaign.

And so, ‘CTRL Your Future’ was born.

The campaign

‘CTRL Your Future’ called on young people to create an inclusive and representative tech industry for future generations. Tapping into this audience’s specific passion points, the team built engaging content with compelling stories from real people in the industry.

The campaign launched with a piece of research that looked at the perceptions of the digital industry among young people and called for diverse wave of talent to incite change. The launch story was also an opportunity to announce the hero collaborations that would lift the lid on digital careers, acting as a call to arms for more young people from diverse backgrounds.

Over the following months Karmarama continued to work with its partners, bringing CTRL Your Future to life in unique ways and relevant spaces. They featured young women, non-binary, BAME, LGBTQI+ and disabled creators and innovators, who were already making waves in tech via inspiring content, virtual experiences and live events.

The team hosted an event with non-binary digital collective DIGI-GXL, comprising workshops on coding, augmented reality and filters, creating content for additional online awareness and hands-on experience for young people.

They created one-off short film exploring diversity in gaming with London Gaymers. The film examined barriers in gaming, addressing homophobia, racism, misogyny and accessibility in the industry but also showcased the inclusive spaces that have so far been created as a result. Again, this video encouraged people to consider a higher education path that would let them join the industry and create change.

The hero content of the campaign was the “404 Not Found” series. Nine digital industry trailblazers to shared their experiences of working to reboot the digital sector. Through this video series, people were encouraged to consider pursuing tech careers via higher education, and enter these spaces to innovate for good. Each episode highlighted direct challenges and barriers within the industry, using the voices and experiences of real people to give empowering solutions.

This was supported by influencer content from 22 collaborators, including Rifke Sadleir, who (whilst in lockdown) hosted the IoCoding Club, a range of tutorials to teach our audiences how to code for the web. Hosted on Instagram, the IoCoding Club was designed to be suitable for all levels and was easily accessible for all.

The results

Earned media via ongoing PR outreach reached 369m circulation across 70 pieces of coverage. This coverage spanned across national and specialist online and print media (BBC, Daily Mail, Dazed and GUAP), demonstrating the relevance that these collaborators had, not only with their own audiences and the target demographic, but across a wider audience. In owned channels, content reached 11.9m Instagram impressions with targeted paid support.

Across organically posted content by creators and collaborators, their content saw an average engagement rate of 11%. IoC owned channels also saw increased engagement, with almost 1k new Twitter followers during the first 6 weeks, and 1.5k mentions of the platform. Since launching the campaign in 2019, IoC enrolment numbers have increased from 22k to 350k and the IoC have seen an 11% uplift in applications amongst UK females.

The wealth of content created by collaborators (128 pieces in total) provided assets adding value beyond owned and creator channels too. This led to an Instagram account being launched for IoC, additional press coverage and a website re-design.

Events reached 200+ people, and most excitingly, the campaign was deemed so successful for IoC’s course interest (+775% over two months) that additional budget was allocated for a second phase to continue to drive the brand.

“We wanted to create an authentic campaign that would speak directly to a diverse group of people, and with Karmarama's support we've been able to reach these people in a fresh and creative way. Karmarama took our complex brief and developed a results-based campaign on a data-driven foundation of research and insights. This has helped us make a real connection between our key audience (potential learners) and inspiring role models who are blazing a trail forward in digital.” - Alicia McEwan, marketing and communications manager at Institute of Coding

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for the Digital Industries in 2020. To find out which competitions in The Drum Awards are currently open for entries, click here.