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Top 5 tips for higher education PRs

If you want to be a good PR person then you need an effective strategy. Working in the media is competitive and PR is often more of an art form than a sales technique. If you know how to use PR correctly, you can make your message stand out and boost your institution’s success. Here are my top 5 tips for PR professionals working in higher education to help you achieve your goals.

1. Be reactive

My number one education PR tip is to be reactive to what is happening in the media. In my experience the reactive approach is far more likely to be immediately successful than blind pitching ideas to editors, hoping to connect with them with the right topic at the right time. This means keeping up to date with what is going on in the world, both nationally and internationally. By analysing the environment that is affecting your institution, you can understand what messages will work in the current climate and how this might impact your goals. Additionally, make sure you know what the academics at your business school or university have to say about the topic. This way, you can reach out to a journalist early.

2. Know your target audience

One of most important pieces of advice would be to know your target audience. You should become familiar with the work of the journalist you are trying to make a connection with, read their articles, and regularly check their Twitter. By identifying the reports or topics that each journalist typically writes on, you can tailor your work to what they are looking for and make sure it is a perfect fit for a specific publication. Even further, get to know your journalists beyond their articles in order to fully understand what it is they are interested in; what makes them tick.

You also need to make sure your lists are accurate and are being distributed to the right journalists, otherwise you might be wasting your time! I genuinely believe that when you work with universities you have a goldmine of information that is useful to a broad spectrum of journalists, however you have to be selective with every specific release in order to maintain your stellar reputation. By understanding what your audience is reading about, and what your audience care about, you will pitch better ideas and your success rate will be much higher.

3. All news isn't newsworthy

The last thing you want to do is to leave journalists saying ‘so what?’ after they have read your work. All news is not newsworthy and a press release that is not newsworthy simply will not be used by journalists. As PR people for the higher education market, we can feel pressure to distribute press releases to the media which, although interesting and important to the university, simply do not matter to anyone else, for example the opening of a new chemistry building. These kinds of releases are often better in internal newsletters or emails, and distributing them may not be worth damaging your relationships with journalists for. On a similar note, pitches based solely on academic reputation rarely work. Regardless of how high up or successful a person may be, if the story isn’t interesting, people will not read it. Think about how your work would be worth a journalist’s time and design key messages you know will work and will catch people’s attention.

4. Don't mix opinion with news

This is often an easy mistake to make, but don’t mix comment and opinion with news. An academic might be able to offer a comment on a relevant news story based on their own judgements and thoughts. However, this is not news - news is objective and unbiased.

5. Avoid jargon

My final tip would be to avoid jargon, as this makes it harder for people to understand what it actually is you are writing about. Try and explain technical and academic terms and say what acronyms stand for. Academic language does not, or should not, mean arcane and obscure. It is our job as PR people to make the research accessible to everyone, in writing, as in life, my advice would be keep it simple and sweet.

If you’d like our help in adapting academic writing to suit popular media  channels, please get in touch.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Author: Ariella Durban

Originally posted November 2018, updated October 2021

Trends and opportunities in business education media coverage

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