Public relations, or PR, is all about the way organisations communicate with the public, promote themselves, and how to build a positive reputation and public image.
The way an institution is represented in the media is so important as it can have a huge impact on how the public perceive it. The job of PR professionals is to try and influence the media to highlight their organisation in a positive way and communicate key messages.
PR can do wonders for your institution. When it’s done well, it can be a cost-effective way to raise your organisation’s profile, improve your reputation and get your message to a large audience. However, as is the case with everything in life, there are challenges.
I’ll start with the disadvantages of PR, as I hate ending on a negative note, and because (thankfully) there are less of them.
You may be wondering why I would be talking about the disadvantages of PR when that is my job, but here at BlueSky Education we believe that being aware about the disadvantages (and the advantages) can help you to make strategic decisions about managing your institution’s brand and what the best way to communicate to your target audience is.
It also gives you a good understanding as to what to expect when engaging in PR, and helps to give you realistic expectations of what kind of results you’ll receive.
Here are some of the disadvantages of PR:
1. Difficult to measure
Public relations can be very difficult to measure as it does not have a specific measurement system in place. You can count the number of media hits you secure, and look at the value of the publication but it is harder to determine the impact this has on your audience.
This is why it is very important to keep your overall goal in mind. If your plan is to increase recruitment for a specific course, keep a close eye on your applications and see if they increase as a result of PR. The same could be said if you’re looking to target a specific country – work hard and long-term you can see the benefits.
2. You have little control
PRs try to have as much control as they can over what is being sent out to the media, but a lot of our job is highly dependable on third-party endorsers to publish the content. As a result, we have less influence over what will be written, especially if it is for a top tier publication.
In many scenarios, we’ll send out the research or pitch a faculty’s expert opinion and offer to help the journalist as much as we can but once that is done, we have no control over what will be published.
That being said, it is very rare that the result turns out bad. We have huge success stories with the likes of the FT, Forbes, New York Times and The Economist without having control over any of it.
3. The media is a turbulent industry
The main disadvantage of PR is just how turbulent and quick the news cycle is. What is relevant currently, can be completely irrelevant two hours later and that’s just the nature of the industry. This does, however, make it difficult to keep up with trends and what everybody wants to read about.
For this reason, it is incredibly important to keep up to date with current affairs, and the latest news. This will give you the edge over other institutions, as you can readily have to hand an expert who can answer questions with a very quick turnaround.
4. No guaranteed result
Unfortunately, with PR there is no absolute guarantee that you will be published in that article, or feature in that radio interview. You can put the time and effort in, and sometimes the media just isn’t interested or another breaking news story comes in last minute that takes priority.
That being said, we are successful more often than we are not, and it’s worth the risk.
So, that’s the disadvantages of PR. I will now go into detail about the advantages of it, and why it is so beneficial to your institution. I promise these all outweigh the disadvantages.
The advantages of PR
1. Elevated brand awareness
One of the key benefits of public relations is that is really boosts your institution’s profile in a much more effective way than advertising would. Yes, advertising reaches a large number of people (at a very high cost I may add), but people are aware it’s been paid for.
Whereas with PR, it’s much more natural, people are being educated by research or expert opinion from your institution and that is what interests them. If it is done in coordination with other top schools globally for example Harvard or Oxford, you have the halo effect – thus increasing your brand’s reputation to be on the same level as those schools.
If you are successful with your PR campaign, you’ll create a positive brand image, which then increases your credibility with the wider public. Showcasing the initiatives you do, the success stories, your students and even alumni, highlight to people what you contribute to society and how you can help a prospective student if they attend your school.
3. Lead generation
Following on from what I said above, boosting your brands awareness and credibility will then likely result in seeing your recruitment go up, or at least generate more enquiring about the courses you offer etc.
According to research by GMAC, 95% of people said seeing a university published in a news article improved their impression of the university, specifically the articles provided uplift in the perceptions that it provides a world-class learning experience.
When compared to advertising etc. PR can be an economical way to reach a large audience. It is much cheaper than advertising, and can reach just as many people in a much more credible way.
5. Educational value
A great (and very important) benefit from PR is that you can educate the public. It is a fantastic way to share informative content with the public that can help them in everyday life. For example, thought leadership is one method PR employs to inform the public about a variety of topics. With this type of information, people are able to make more insightful decisions.
The pandemic is a perfect example of this. We worked with all of our schools to showcase their knowledge to help people get through the lockdowns – we covered subjects that explained the psychology behind panic buying, how to be a good leader when working remotely, and much more.
It is a really valuable tool, that benefits society as well as your organisation.
Public relations is something that is essential for your organisation. It is a cost-effective way to raise your brand’s awareness, build credibility, and to help society. Yes, it has its disadvantages but that is the case with everything in life.
Katie is an Account Manager at BlueSky Education.
She is an education communications specialist with journalistic flair thanks to a degree in Multimedia Journalism and a stint as a reporter at the Financial Times.