Worthwhile investments must offer a return. Whether it is in a specific stock you have a hunch about, funding a business you like the idea of, or purchasing a property – you are always looking for results from that investment. But, in most of these, you are easily able to quantify whether your risk paid off, through stats and figures – did the stock you invested in go up? Did the company you invest in increase its value? Did the price of your house increase? Investing in public relations, however, can be a little more difficult to quantify in terms of return on investment.
How can you measure the value of public relations? It’s a question that PR practitioners have been trying to give their bosses an answer to for years. As an industry based upon “informing and persuading people”, it is very difficult to put a numerical value on people’s thoughts, behaviour and decisions.
So, how could you justify to your directors and deans the importance and value of investing in public relations campaigns and media outreach, when can be difficult to do so in such black and white terms?
The most important thing to do when beginning a PR campaign is to set out the objectives. Public relations can go off into a number of different avenues, so it is important to really understand what is important to your institution and what you want to achieve from engaging with the media, so that the campaign has a direct, as opposed to scatter-gun, approach.
For business schools, there could be a number of key objectives for a public relations campaign. Setting these out at the beginning will allow you to quantify the impact of PR on these targets by the end, and understand whether your campaign has been a success. Here are a number of ways this could be measured;
Focusing a campaign around student recruitment is often an objective for business schools, and one that is also easy to measure numerically depending on what your targets are for the campaign. Objectives could focus around the overall number of students applying to the school the year before, compared to the year after a media campaign.
You could even delve a little deeper into this, whether you evaluate the increase in applicants in specific locations, evaluating the country’s in which you appeared in press outlets. The increase in students per industry is also a way of evaluating the success of a campaign. Delving into the industry press outlets you targeted, or even the overall quality and calibre of students in general by evaluating career experience and entry GMAT scores.
Research and faculty
Another target for a business school campaign could be to raise the impact and exposure of faculty research. This particular objective could be an easy one in which to measure, whether it be the number of industry press outlets that cover a piece of research, the number of key industry figures or accounts that are discussing the research, or even the number of downloads of a research paper.
Whilst for faculty, attracting new quality faculty members, retaining high-calibre faculty and gaining faculty mentions in the news cycle are all key indicators for a business school. Schools will be able to firstly measure how often professors and other faculty members are requested to and quoted in the press, and whether this increases and journalists become more aware of their expertise, whilst retaining key faculty members and also attracting new, high-calibre ones can be an indicator that the business school is becoming better known, and its reputation is increasing.
Another common objective for media campaigns is promotion of a school’s new programme. Of course, a key indicator of this is, again, centred on the student awareness and the projected applicants compared to actual. Promoting a new programme is the only way it is to become known, and applied for, so industry mentions of the programme in both the Biz-Ed space and the industry it covers are a key indicator for its success.
General brand awareness in specific locations and industries is another key objective for many business schools. Wanting to become more known in certain spaces, such as technology, HR or finance for example can be easily measured in a number of ways. Whether it be applicants from those industries or industry conference and event engagement. Also, using more forward-thinking marketing evaluations, such as website visits from that specific industry, or social media followers and engagement.
This could also be the case for specific locations, as well as industries, looking into the engagement from professionals in countries you have connected with on the media campaign, and measuring this compared to that of previous social and website engagement.