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What sort of university PR return on investment can I expect?

What are the results of PR efforts for universities?

If you are investing money in a service or product, you will want to know whether the investment is worth the time and money. For example, if you’re investing a lot of money in a house, it will only be worth it if the house increases in value. The results of this type of investment is easy to see – an increase in value means it was a good investment.

Investing in public relations, however, can be difficult to measure in terms of return on investment. PR is based around changing and influencing the thoughts, behaviours, and decisions of the public; something which may not always be demonstrated by numbers.

However, the results of PR efforts are easier to see if clear objectives and goals are outlined for a PR campaign. PR can be used to influence the public in a number of different areas, so it is integral to decide where you want to make an impact.

For universities, there could be a number of key target areas for a PR campaign. Deciding on what these are at the beginning will make it easier to evaluate the results of the campaign.

Here are the areas universities can target with PR campaigns and examples of successful results:

Research and Departments

  • Universities may want to focus on raising the impact the profile of specific academic research departments. For example, your university might have an impressive bioscience or technology department which conducts amazing research; something you want the media and potential students to be aware of. The results of a PR campaign to increase the exposure of this research in the media could be measured by the number of articles published which feature specific research, the type of article published and in which type of outlet, or even the number of downloads of the research paper.
  • The type of coverage in the media should always be considered: sometimes it’s more about impact, not volume. A single line of comment in 10 different publications might be good for numbers, but a whole article from a professor in Open Access Government or The Telegraph will have a much greater impact. This is why vanity PR is best avoided, or at least not prioritised.


  • Another target could be to increase student numbers. For this, they can focus a campaign around student recruitment, especially if they’ve had a period of decreased student enrolment. This is an area that is relatively easy to measure – if the aim is to increase student numbers then the number of students before the campaign can be compared to numbers after the campaign. A significant increase in student numbers would indicate a successful PR campaign.
  • In some instances, a university may want to increase student recruitment from certain regions or countries, for example, focus a campaign on targeting student recruitment in Asia specifically. This would involve focusing on exposure in specifically Asian higher education press, in countries such as China or India. If the number of students from this region are significantly increased after a PR campaign, then this would be considered a successful result.


  • Universities often hold or host events where they can demonstrate what areas they excel in and show off their departments, as well as their campus, students, and faculty. These are fantastic opportunities for journalists from target media outlets to visit an institution in person and see what they are all about. A successful PR campaign for an event might result in a number of journalists showing interest in attending the event.


  • Another common objective for media campaigns is to promote a specific course or programme at a university. A key indicator of success in a campaign like this is, once again, comparing the number of students enrolling on the course before and after the campaign. Also, if a university is launching a new course, then a media campaign may be the only way the prospective students will be made aware of it. A significant number of students enrolling on the new course would indicate a successful campaign.

In fact, here are some PR KPIs universities can use and how to measure them:

  • Social Engagement: you can have a look at how many shares and comments the coverage you are generating online receives. A high number of retweets on Twitter is always a good sign.
  • Media Outreach: look at the number of press releases and pitches you are sending out and how they are performing; are certain journalists responding? Measure your progress on how you’re building relationships with journalists with distribution tools that provide metrics on open rates for press releases.
  • Website Traffic: the number of visitors that were driven to your website as a result of your earned coverage and link placement in an article.
  • Potential Reach: look at the sum of viewership for publications and websites in which your coverage is featured, but don’t forget: some outlets with lower viewership will be more relevant for your topic and have a greater impact.
  • Quality of Coverage: where you brand is mentioned – in the headline, main body – and its prominence in the article’s content. Is your brand mentioned as a main feature in a wider article? Perhaps it made the cover story for a renowned publication.

Would you like advice on how to do PR for your university? Then contact our  BlueSky PR team.

Kyle Grizzell

Author: Kyle Grizzell

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