Results, sadly, do not speak for themselves. Make no mistake, they are still an important part of an institution’s prestige, but relying solely upon them to uphold a reputation is like constructing a one-legged chair: recline upon it at your peril.
And reputation is important. For universities and business schools, and indeed for many other organisations, your reputation is your brand. Having a good reputation draws talent like moths to a flame.
A multitude of ingredients feed an institution’s reputation, from the quality of the research you produce to the overall satisfaction of your staff and students, and how willing you are to engage with the media through spokespeople. The last of these endeavours is the territory of PR executives.
However, whether you choose to formulate your university’s media strategy alone or with the aid of an experienced PR consultancy, here are five tactics which are integral to managing your institution’s reputation.
Keep an eye on the news cycle
Media trends are a little bit like currents. Understanding how a comment or op-ed fits in with unfolding trends will allow you to ensure you tailor your pitches appropriately and also that they end up in the right journalist’s inbox, ensuring the process is as smooth as possible. On the other hand, rowing against the stream proves more often than not to be fruitless and exhausting. Make sure you do your research, or risk being frozen out of the news cycle.
It is worth bearing in mind that it is almost impossible to comment on current events and avoid saying anything that could be perceived as political. It is important to understand how statements may be received, so you can position and train your spokespeople accordingly.
But beware of boring people with messages that say nothing at all. Institutions can sink in the eyes of the public if their experts are too timid to give their honest opinions. This can also make your institution seem like a highly controlled environment, which could put people off. Remember that decisive speech need not be inflammatory or uninformed – especially if it comes from experts who know the topics they are talking about inside out.
Keep your other eye on the competition
What works for other universities? What goes over well with their target audiences? Perhaps you could learn a thing or two. Take note of their successes, then incorporate them in your own PR strategy.
Remember, copying like for like will prove unsuccessful most of the time. People admire the pioneers who make their own paths. Following in their footprints is less impressive. Instead, consider checking that your institutions are moving in a broadly similar direction, setting some of the same goals, but that the path you take to get there is one of your own making.
For example, in the world of business education, ideas of sustainability and responsible business have been taught across the board for many years. Schools that do not address such topics, particularly in light of the volume of information on issues like climate change, risk being perceived as out of touch with the current challenges facing businesses and managers, which could damage their reputation.
Be proactive about crisis management
This does not mean plunging recklessly into hot water. PR and communications professionals will be monitoring the conversations that are being had about your institution on social media and in noteworthy publications, so that any issues which could cause harm to your reputation can be flagged as soon as possible.
Once a problem has been raised, arrange a meeting with the relevant people to decide a course of action. Ensure you are being updated regularly so you can make informed decisions. Sometimes, you will need to issue a statement. Under other circumstances, direct action is best. There are also instances where doing nothing is better.
For example, if a former student from your campus makes headlines for the wrong reasons, but only a few articles actually mention they attended your school, wading into the situation could do more harm than good.
Leverage a diverse range of internal and external spokespeople
Universities and business schools are fortunate in that they have a wide breadth of spokespeople to draw on: faculty, programme directors, recruitment overseers, students, alumni, the Dean, and so on.
Often, people hold multiple roles, meaning they can respond to questions from journalists on a range of topics. However, avoid falling into the trap of limiting the number of spokespeople you put forward for media opportunities to a tight crowd.
The importance of people’s experiences to creating a PR strategy cannot be overstated. If someone is thinking about applying to study or work at a university, they want to hear from the people that are already there, and those that have passed out the other side. Statistics and rankings will get their attention but their final decision will likely come down to the personal opinions they hear about what it’s like to be a part of the community surrounding your institution.
Giving a voice to people of diverse backgrounds and minority communities is also important for a university’s reputation. Majority groups have plenty of opportunity to speak about their experiences due to the fact they occupy most of the positions at an institution. Universities that provide support and opportunities to speak up for minority groups demonstrate they care about building inclusive communities.
Use social media
Social media serves three purposes when it comes to managing your institution’s reputation. The first of these is that it allows you and your people to connect with potential students, faculty recruits, and so on.
Institutional accounts on social media platforms provide you with an outlet to post the activities and achievements of your university, and give credit to the people that make these things happen. They can also give people who are thinking about joining you an idea of what daily life at your university looks like.
The second purpose social media serves is connecting you with alumni. Knowing what people who previously studied at your university are currently doing allows you to provide concrete evidence of the benefits you have to offer. Keeping track of alumni and celebrating their achievements also builds a reputation that your university cares about more than meeting student intake quotas, and cares about its pupils as individuals.
Thirdly, social media is a place where people are able to connect with each other and have discussions. This can provide valuable insights into how you are perceived and can help you tweak or redraw your PR strategy to make it more effective to certain target groups for recruitment. For example, if you want to attract more students from Asian countries, find out what young people in these countries are saying about where they are planning to study and what their priorities are.
To find out how we can help implement your PR strategy, get in touch with us today!
Having developed his craft as a writer under the guidance of world-renowned novelists, poets and playwrights, Jamie has also spent a couple of years as a content writer for a primarily American readership, with over 150 articles published under his name.