Student enrolment numbers for universities took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic over anxieties about a lack of face-to-face teaching. Higher education institutions looking to recover or continue to excel need to get the message out that their courses are still worthwhile investments, and as such they need a strong public relations (PR) campaign.
On the surface, PR and advertising look like similar beasts, but they’re actually quite different. Advertising gives you paid content that reaches as wide an audience as possible, but PR offers a more focused objective, targeting key publications whose readerships are more likely to engage with and act upon what they read.
Here are the five strategies PR consultancies use and how they can help your university get coverage in desired publications:
1. Streamline your media releases
A good PR consultancy will vet the topics you give them for media releases. Most of the time there’s no issue, but every so often a piece of content crops up that, although it’s interesting to the people at your university, isn’t applicable to an external audience.
In those cases, your consultancy will flag it up to you that the story is unlikely to be successful in the media. This allows you to make an informed decision regarding the content you send out into the world, and minimises the risk of wasting time.
PR professionals also have a lot of experience writing press releases and pitches. They know the exact things journalists want to hear, in what order, and in how many words. It’s a good idea to at least get feedback on a release you want to send out, in case journalists are put off by a weak opening sentence, lack of clarity, or too much waffling.
2. Connect you with journalists in key publications
When you pay for PR, it’s not just the consultants you’re investing in, but also their network of contacts. Most of the time, it’s difficult to know how to get in contact with your target media outlets.
Perhaps you have managed to find an email address for their news desk, but that inbox is likely to fill up with hundreds of emails every day. Even the most fascinating of stories stands a good chance of being lost in the flood.
Luckily, PR consultants have alternative routes to get content into publications. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, as the saying goes, and competent PR professionals know both.
3. Open up new markets for student recruitment
International students are very lucrative for most universities because they pay higher tuition fees. They’re also the primary group that has been impacted by the pandemic, as travel restrictions have made them evaluate whether searching for courses abroad is a worthwhile investment.
As such, it’s important to reach out to reassure these potential students in their domestic media outlets. The services of a PR consultancy are crucial in this endeavour.
Because you are working with a consultancy, they will take the time to talk with you about which media landscapes you need to appear in, and help identify ways you can appeal to your target outlets.
This also feeds back into the previous point – there’s a strong chance your PR consultancy already has contacts in your target market, or at least a good understanding of how to find some!
4. Secure opportunities for your spokespeople
Many of your professors have gathered years of public speaking experience by delivering classes and lectures. But few universities translate this potential into a successful PR campaign.
PR professionals will meet and talk with staff to gauge who is interested in appearing in front of media, who it might be useful to try and talk round to getting involved, and whether they need any media training before meeting with a journalist.
A consultancy will also take care of the planning side of interactions between your staff and journalists. This means you don’t have to worry about finding a meeting place, booking a table for lunch or any of the hassle of dealing with details. Send over a timetable of your staff’s availability and they’ll get it sorted.
5. Provide media training
This one was mentioned above, but it’s important enough to deserve its own point. Even though your staff are accomplished at delivering teaching to their students, conversations with journalists are a different kettle of fish.
Slip-ups can result in embarrassments for your university, and once it’s gone out in the media, it’s difficult to get content removed. The fear of making mistakes can make staff nervous, but PR consultancies can provide media training such as mock interviews and briefing the interviewee on the sort of questions to expect, which will boost their confidence.
PR consultancies sand down all the sharp edges of your media campaigns to ensure you get the best possible coverage with minimal hiccups. Just as you would speak to an electrician about getting your house re-wired, it’s a good idea to consult PR professionals when launching your university spokespeople or initiative into the media.