Business School PR

Definitive guide to business school PR


  1. Writing a viral press release on academic research
  2. Writing the wrongs - avoiding an underwhelming headline
  3. Utilising news trends to gain great coverage for your clients
  4. Using social media to secure increased exposure for your client’s coverage
  5. Effectively engaging with journalists
  6. Becoming an effective media spokesperson

Writing a viral press release on academic research

There will always be a debate over whether business schools should hire a PR agency – but the chasm that separates what people think is a good news topic and a genuinely interesting article is astounding. The reality is that institutes fail to differentiate themselves, often boasting a USP that isn’t actually that unique – and when it comes to media relations it’s no different. Every business school has an MBA for example, and shouting about a generic story like this is the perfect way to get ignored by journalists. Academic research however, is the type of content that journalist’s lap up – it’s the key to getting media coverage and setting yourself apart from the competition.

A business school’s faculty is one of its greatest assets when attempting to break through the noise of what is a very crowded market. Faculty research is diverse, relevant to current or emerging trends, and interesting. Not only does this provide an intriguing story for the press, but it also highlights your expertise in certain fields – a great attraction tool – who wouldn’t want to learn from the professors of ground-breaking research in their area of study?

Structuring a press release is just as important as the content itself. Four paragraphs and a couple of quotes is plenty - keep things short and to the point and avoid a ‘salesy’ tone. A length of 250-400 words is ideal, exceeding this means you have unnecessary waffle that adds nothing to the release – if a sentence doesn’t tell you something useful or interesting, strike it out.

It doesn’t matter how compelling the research may be, academic writing simply doesn’t work for the media. With a primary audience of experts, journals are written extremely formally, filled with jargon and go into in-depth detail on an array of complex theories. The aim is to inform rather than to engage, and this style of writing is based on the assumption that readers will already have an extremely good understanding of the ideas that are being discussed, which will fail to capture the interest of a target audience outside the world of academia.

Mastering the art of ghost-writing with PR is therefore integral if you want your press release to be a success, and this is even more important with academic research. It’s a fine balance between your own tone, one that captures the personality of the professor, and also resonates with the readership of the publications you are targeting. Picking up the phone and querying complex areas of the paper is a great way to clear up any doubt surrounding jargon that can then be translated to more reader-friendly terms. It will further aid you in grasping the way they speak – by including phrases they use regularly in your piece it will encapsulate their voice. However, make sure you’re prepared with questions – if they don’t have time to write a press release, they won’t have time to talk you through all of their findings.

Writing the wrongs - avoiding an underwhelming headline

The headline is the make or break of your press release, it’s the difference between your article getting the coverage you yearn for and disappearing into the abyss. On too many occasions an extremely well-written and intriguing piece will be disregarded because it lacks a catchy headline that sells the content.

The media has changed – with fewer opportunities for coverage in higher education supplements it’s become increasingly difficult to get a release in the national press. On the flipside, the spread of the media has increased, with more digital publications surfacing and appealing to target audiences, which provides additional platforms to gain valuable coverage.

GRABBING ATTENTION IS KEY – unfortunately it’s not as easy as a few block capitals with journalists. Be bold, or even contrary, as this will make a journalist want to read on and ultimately run your piece. Consider your audience – with the increase in breadth of the media, you need to ensure your headline appeals to your target audience, which may now be wider (or narrower, if you’re solely targeting smaller publications). Make sure your headline is shareable, SEO friendly and above all, interesting – would you read this article?

The headline should always be active and don’t be personal – avoid ‘I’. Keep it short, to the point and easy to read – if it’s too long or includes jargon it will only distance your piece from the reader. Finally, there is a fine line between a snappy headline and one that loses focus of your target audience – it’s fine to get creative, but make sure you’re not being too clever otherwise the point you’re trying to make may be lost.

Using social media to secure increased exposure for your client’s coverage

…So, land those feet firmly back on the ground! When measuring ROI, too often there is a focus on volume rather than the quality of the coverage – thousands of impressions and a high click through rate means nothing if it’s not reaching your target audience.

Quality can be split into two categories; content and exposure. First of all, the coverage should be assessed in terms of the topic – how interesting is it? Is it a hot topic - will your target audience want to read it? Further considerations should include the publication it’s in, the length of the piece, whether names and images have been used to give a few examples. These factors will determine the impact the piece has with the initial readership and beyond when you begin to share it.

Quality through exposure however, is ensuring your release has maximum reach but to a relevant audience, and social media is a great tool to achieve this. First and foremost, ensure your coverage is SEO friendly before you send it out, and that it is key word optimised. This gives it the best chance of people finding it organically as well as on social media. Using hashtags when sharing will place your post into the suitable industry or topic threads that people are searching for. Tagging the publication and client will also provide an opportunity for pertinent exposure, by encouraging them to share it on their social accounts it will be seen by a wider and directly relevant readership.

It’s crazy how many people fail to utilise social media’s worst kept secret… #PR #BizEd via @BlueSky_Edu

…be social – it’s in the name after all! Encouraging discussion in your piece and when you share it across social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn is a great way to increase its impact. As discussed earlier, being provocative or even controversial in your press release is the best option for starting a conversation and improving engagement – the more people that are liking and commenting, the more likely it is to appear on other people’s news feeds or in industry trend threads. If you want your coverage to get more shares, use your past analytics to ascertain when your target audience is online and the peak times for interaction, then post during these periods. You can also use this information to know when to be visible online yourself, in order to engage with those who are commenting. It seems obvious, but make sure your content is actually shareable, and include CTAs (Call To Action) which encourage readers to share or comment. Finally, promote employee advocacy in-house – employees are one of your best assets when trying to increase exposure. The reach of your coverage can be vastly improved as each employee will have a whole network of relevant followers and connections that could be interested in your article.

Effectively engaging with journalists

…Well actually it’s both, but with the changing press landscape, it’s now arguably more important to know who to target than it is to be able to write newsworthy content. In fact, the publication you’re targeting, and more specifically the person you’re sending it to (and why), should be your first consideration.

Pitching to the right journalist is essential if your release is going to earn coverage. Identify the right person within the publication (is there an education correspondent?) and research their style of writing and the topics they like to cover – without appealing to these you’ll be immediately dismissed. Location should be considered as well, for example varying time zones will directly affect a journalist’s ability to interview your client at a time that suits them.

After the right contact is identified, it’s essential to know how to engage with a journalist. The busiest profession is always under debate, but there’s no doubt that journalism is up there. The never-ending calls and emails would drive even the sanest person mad! Therefore, it’s integral that you don’t annoy them to give your press release the best chance of getting coverage.

With this in mind…

Journalists don’t want your life story… get to the point! #PR #BizEd via @BlueSky_Edu

An effective pitch will be short and concise, journalists haven’t got time to read an essay on who you are and what you do (nor do they care!), and likewise don’t want a ten minute phone conversation. Develop an elevator pitch (not a sales pitch), be engaging and highlight how your piece is relevant to their readership straight away - wasting their time will only irritate them. Another top tip is to research press days, this is an extremely busy period and calling when the publication is going to press is likely to get you ignored, and potentially blacklisted.

Once a successful initial contact has been made, it’s important to build the relationship. Providing quality content on a regular basis with a succinct pitch is a great start, but reliability is paramount. Make sure you stick to deadlines or you risk tarnishing the positive working relationship you’ve built. Likewise, no one likes a diva – the nature of journalism means your article might be replaced by a more interesting story. If this happens stay professional and move on, otherwise they may be reluctant to deal with you next time.

Becoming an effective media spokesperson

Press coverage, particularly on the international stage, is one of the most important outcomes of PR for business schools. Whether you’re securing media interviews for travelling faculty, or you are the spokesperson yourself, being media trained is extremely advantageous when looking to nurture the relationships you have with the press.

There is a clear contrast in the way academic journals and the press releases covering their research are written – and if you want to gain coverage for your school, this needs to be reflected in your correspondence with the media. Using language that will resonate with the reader of the publication is vital – remember, they are unlikely to have a vigorous background in academia and will struggle to understand complex theories and jargon.

80% of success is just showing up… #PR #BizEd via @BlueSky_Edu

…Woody Allen may have been talking about life, but it is relevant for PR as well. Being visible and taking every opportunity to talk to the media will only enhance your reputation and put you in favour with journalists. Not only this, but the more you speak to the press the better you will get at it – after all, practice makes perfect!

However, not everyone will be well versed in tackling the media. Firstly, ensure you know the organisation inside out, which shouldn’t be an issue for the faculty, but if you’re the spokesperson you need to be aware of the experts that you need to work with when the press come calling. Be strong and positive – avoid appearing nervous, hesitant or weak. To achieve this it’s important to prepare for any media interactions, have a company script and don’t defer from it – the press love a juicy story and any slip up could be detrimental, particularly in a crisis situation. One more important thing to remember is there is no such thing as off the record! Journalists can use anything you say to them, so if you feel like you need to say this beforehand then don’t say it at all – it could be damaging to you and your business school’s reputation.

Your media relationships are the difference between the good, the bad, and the ugly… #PR #BizEd via @BlueSky_Edu

Being an effective media spokesperson ultimately comes down to relationships. Identify which media outlets are important for your organisation, know the relevant correspondents and actively build a relationship with them – this gives you the opportunity to get the best out of the good (and bad) stories.

Responding at speed will help develop your press relationships – quick and helpful replies will ensure you become the person to contact. Not only is this valuable for gaining great coverage, but also ensures a crisis situation can be averted, or at the very least the damage can be limited. If you don’t know an answer, honesty will always triumph – journalists can sniff out a lie and you will always be caught out. Instead, ask for a deadline and respond within this time – even if it’s to say you still don’t know but you’re actively working towards an answer, this will always sit better than hiding in the shadows.

Need help developing a valuable communications strategy for business and higher  education? Download our e-book here for your go-to PR guide.