Having a winning PR strategy is vital to the broader success of any organisation, in any field, providing any service.
Being able to effectively and successfully shape the way in which key stakeholders, as well as the wider world, perceive your organisation is fundamental to long-term prosperity, and will be the determining factor in much of your success on a day-to-day basis.
This is no less true for business schools and universities.
The higher and business education sectors are immensely competitive. Despite the impact of COVID-19, these markets are wholeheartedly globalised, meaning that students, faculty and donors, as well as companies looking to form partnerships, have a massive pool to choose from. This arguably makes having a winning PR strategy more important now than ever before.
So, for communications and PR professionals working at or with business schools and universities, it’s critical that your approach to PR is as effective as possible.
But how does a school go about setting out a winning strategy?
“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” – John F. Kennedy
First thing’s first: in order to have a winning PR strategy, you need to ascertain what your goals are.
What do you want from your PR efforts? Are you looking to position the Dean? Do you want to promote specific programmes? Are you looking to attract students and/or faculty from specific markets or regions?
If you’re to have any success, you need to be able to answer those questions. As, by setting out goals, you’re establishing success points. These goals will act as markers to head towards, giving your efforts clear direction.
Without goals, any PR efforts could devolve into achieving random pieces of media coverage which do little to boost brand awareness or support recruitment efforts. So, it’s crucial that you outline what your goals are, and how you’re going to go about achieving those goals.
Now, it goes without saying, but I want to be clear – your goals can and will change overtime. What may have been a target a year ago may no longer be of strategic importance to your institution. So it’s key that when setting goals, you
- be prepared that things can and will change, and
- make your goals broad.
The latter of those two is particularly important. All too often business schools and universities set goals that are too specific, or niche, which often makes those goals unattainable as time goes by and as things change.
The key is to set out goals that steer your efforts in a broad direction. Once have a clear idea of what your targets are, you can then develop more specific aims that will determine your day-to-day efforts. These specific aims are not goals in themselves, but rather mechanisms to achieving broader targets.
So, for example, if you’re wanting to promote your Master in Management programme – that is a strategic goal. Securing media coverage in the Financial Times’ yearly MiM report – that is a mechanism for achieving your wider goal.
“Plan your work for today, and everyday, then work your plan” – Margaret Thatcher
Alongside setting goals, the execution of your strategy is also critical. Putting what you have planned into place is arguably the most important thing you can do, as its useless having a brilliant strategy if you don’t actually make it happen.
So, when it comes to a winning PR strategy, execution is everything.
Instead of describing what a well-executed plan looks like, I thought it best I give you a real example.
When HEC Paris wanted to boost its PR efforts around promoting its MBA programme, the business school called BlueSky Education for help. Realising the importance of securing targeted publications with large readerships, as well as those with a strong focus on the subjects of business, education and leadership, BlueSky set about promoting the HEC MBA.
Over the course of the next few months, we secured media exposure for the French business school’s MBA in numerous world-leading publications, including: the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, the Financial Times, the Economist, The Independent, Business Day and Yahoo Finance. In securing media coverage in leading publications, BlueSky was able to support HEC Paris in reaching target audiences for student recruitment.
As this example demonstrates, a winning strategy is not simply in the planning, but also in the execution. HEC Paris knew what they wanted from their PR efforts – greater promotion for their MBA – and BlueSky Education knew how to achieve those goals.
“If the metrics you are looking at aren't useful in optimizing your strategy – stop looking at them” – Mark Twain
Last, but by no means least, schools need to ensure that they’re using reliable metrics to ascertain the value of their efforts.
A winning strategy is realised through useful metrics that accurately indicate the value of the work that has been done.
All too often, PR and communications professionals use unreliable metrics to impress decision-makers, often using the dreaded Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE), or a stand-alone statistic that, on its own, is pretty useless, such as the number of monthly readers.
PRs need to look beyond the superficially-impressive results and statistics and seek out the metrics that really matter in the context of the PR strategy. In doing this you need to truly understand what those markers of success are – this is why setting goals is so important, as once they’re established you’ll have a much clearer idea of which metrics matter the most.
Setting out a winning PR strategy can feel like a daunting task. But it’s critical that you get it right. The key is to set out clear, broad goals, and then ascertain how you’re going to achieve those goals. In understanding how you’re going to achieve those long-term goals, you can begin to execute your strategy on a day-to-day basis. As the media coverage begins to come out, it’s then key that you look for the right metrics to truly understand the value of your efforts.
A well thought-through strategy, followed by effective execution and insightful metrics will give your school the much-needed edge in today’s competitive marketplace.