3 minute read

3 ways it pays to keep your competitors close

Higher education institutions often strive to set themselves apart from the crowd. For their programmes to be viewed differently – more innovative, more industry-focused, more competitive, better respected – from similar market offerings. The ideal of being “unique” is highly sought.

And, as a result, they often find themselves at odds with their peers.

Whilst a bit of healthy competition is by no means a bad thing, there are some downsides to this continued rivalry especially when it comes to media relations.

Whether attempting to secure greater visibility for your diversity stats, inclusion efforts, faculty perspectives or tech prowess, all too often such outreach to media fails to result in a response.

Never mind the fact that the information you’re sharing is genuinely interesting (although sometimes you realise it might not be!) communications staff are often faced with journalists either turning their institution’s news down, or ignoring it entirely.

Why? There’s a multitude of reasons of course, but most commonly it comes down to these two…

  • The “unique” offering put to a journalist, in reality, really isn’t unique at all
  • There’s no story

talking to a journalist-1

To the first point, chances are, your institution is not the first to achieve a 50/50 gender split in the classroom, or launch a net-zero strategy, or to have a faculty member voicing their vision on the future of EdTech. It is rare when a truly unique perspective or idea is put forward from an institution.

To the second – this is where it requires a communications professional to truly understand the media, and difference between journalism and advertising. Your stats might be fantastic, you might have a majority female class or an innovative new teaching space, but what is the wider story here, beyond an institution’s self-promotion?

Promotion is, of course, the goal in mind for these institutions, but top tier media – or any media for that matter – do not exist simply to push the promotional messages of those who reach out to them. If that is what you seek then paid placements, whilst less authentic and credible to the reader, are the way to go.

If your institution often misses out when looking to attract mainstream media attention you might benefit from abandoning your “unique” mission and getting cosy with your competitors. Whilst it may sound counter-intuitive, there really strength to be found in numbers.

shake hands with the competition

Here are three reasons why partnering up can work wonders for boosting your media visibility:

1. Your statements becomes more impactful

The grim reality is that the relevance, and thus the impact of the information you’re sharing with the media often decreases the further it travels outside of your school’s immediate community, even when these topics reflect popular discussions. It can be hard to reach new audiences when you have a rapidly decreasing common ground.

But, taking a wider look at the market – what your competitors are doing, and bringing in what they are saying, lends your own statements a greater degree of relevance, as well as showing an editor that not only are your spokespeople aware of what goes on beyond your institution’s walls but that you have an objective opinion about it.

2. You can create something new

The question any credible reporter will ask upon receiving your press release or your pitch is, “so what?”. Alone, your school might not be able answer that question sufficiently. However, when partnered with evidence from a handful of other institutions (whether this compliments the information you’re sharing or contradicts it) you can present the journalist with the foundation of a richer story – the creation of a trend which encompasses a group of respected institutions. At this point it becomes worth it for a journalist to sit up and take notice. Far from diluting your message, working in this way gives your institution an opportunity to lead an entirely new discussion – and often on a much more visible platform.

3. You can benefit from the reputations of others

It’s always a benefit to be seen in good company. Partnering with other institutions when it comes to media engagement can not only bring greater attention to the story you’re hoping to tell but, if you pick your partners well, can bring your institution an additional advantage of benefitting from their good reputations. Sharing the spotlight with well-regarded institutions can elevate your institution in the minds of readers and journalists alike, and placing your experts alongside their own thought leaders can help allow you to share a perhaps rare equal footing with the elites.


On an international scale, partnering with the local, well-respected institutions in countries where you are hoping to build your profile can lend you an element of trust and even respect by proxy.


Author: Kerry Ruffle 

Kerry is the Head of Practice at BlueSky Education and a former BBC journalist.

Recognised in the graduate management education arena as a leading authority on communications for the industry, Kerry has more than a decade of experience in the media and public relations.

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