As with any other service you purchase; you want to be able to measure if it has been worth the cost. But with PR, this may not always be easy or obvious. PR works by attempting to influence and change the behaviour, thoughts, and decisions of others. This can be a hard thing to measure, but it’s a lot easier to see the results of a PR campaign if you first outline the impact you want your campaign to have.
There are a number of areas that universities can target with a PR campaign, and while PR is essential for any higher education institution due to the benefits it can provide, you must first decide what you want PR to do for you. This is because measuring results will depend on the impact you want the campaign to have:
One target area for a university could be to raise the profile of its research. This could be because they have a specific research department, such as in business or technology, that produces interesting high-quality research that you want the media and prospective students to know about. New, interesting, and relevant research can be shared with the media through press releases which could lead to a number of features in certain media as well as grab the attention of journalists who may want to interview your faculty further to find out more.
A successful PR campaign targeting research would lead to specific findings featuring in a number of publications or an increase in the number of downloads of a specific research paper you have shared.
It’s important to remember that when measuring a PR campaign through media coverage, that it’s not all about quantity. It can be much more meaningful to feature once in a well-respected top-tier publication aimed at your target audience, rather than have dozens of features in outlets with incredibly small readerships.
An example of this is research from Nazarbayev University into the health benefits of drinking horse milk. A press release on this led to over 30 pieces of coverage in international media outlets. However, it also led to an online article in The Times, a daily British news outlet with an online circulation of over 4million. This coverage alone would have been a great success due to its high readership and prominence in the UK.
A university PR campaign could also focus on student recruitment. You may want to increase student numbers for a particular programme or increase student uptake from a particular part of the world.
If you want to increase student numbers for a particular programme, then this campaign would aim at speaking with students on the course currently as well as interesting graduates who have gone on to hold successful careers thanks to the skills and knowledge learnt from the course. This area is a lot easier to measure as you can simply look at the number of students on a particular course after a campaign and compare it with the number of students before the campaign.
If you are more interested in increasing student numbers from particular countries, then the best way to do this is by utilising students, graduates, or faculty members from those places. For example, if you want to increase uptake from India, then you should share the profile of a successful Indian graduate with targeted Indian media. This addresses your target audience and demonstrates to prospective students that graduates from your institution go on to become successful. This is also relatively easy to measure, as you can compare the number of students at your school from a certain country before and after the campaign.
A great example of increasing student numbers for a specific programme and from a particular country is coverage for HEC Paris in the New York Times which led to a 30% increase in US applications to their MBA programme, which is a quantifiably impressive result.
Universities often hold or host events where they show off their department, their students, their faculty, and their campuses. This is a great opportunity to invite journalists, so a successful PR campaign in this case would lead to a high number of journalists attending the event and possibly covering it in their publications.
Due to restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, this may obviously be more difficult at present. However, many universities are holding webinars or online events to make up for the inability to hold certain events on campus. Journalists can be invited to these instead with a successful campaign still being indicated by the number of journalists that participate and include your institution in a feature they write.
In summary, although PR campaigns may not be the simplest or most obvious things to measure, it is a lot easier to figure out the impact they have had if you plan and decide on what areas you would like to target first.