Public relations (PR) is the process of sharing information on an institution or person’s behalf to build relationships and manage public perception. Public relations professionals will enhance, build or protect reputations through media, creating and disseminating information for a person or institution. It is a cross-functional discipline that can partner with each institutional department, assisting them in accomplishing their goals. A public relations professional’s expertise can also be deployed in many ways such as creating brand awareness, raising brand visibility, crisis management, event management, and more.
Public relations in the higher education sector directly affects your institution’s brand awareness and recognition in several beneficial ways. First, public relations is essential as it can differentiate between a low-profile college or university and an institution that is highly regarded and connects with prospective students. Public relations establishes communication channels by creating narratives to advance an institution's agenda, providing and releasing accurate content, ensuring the content reaches the target audience, and reassuring them of your brand’s values. A higher education institute with a proactive public relations approach will go a long way.
Rising costs, competition, and skepticism have molded the higher education landscape into something we’ve never seen before. Coupled with the changing communications and media landscape–which includes a 24/7 news cycle, new technology, and instant and constant communication–has pushed universities to try to become more effective and efficient in telling their institutional stories. Institutional leaders are concerned about how higher education and their institutions present public value and communicate their impact on both the students they graduate and their communities.
But how are they using public relations and communications to deliver solutions for this?
Public relations allow educational institutions to increase their brand awareness, allowing the target audience to consume branded content in an organic way through their preferred medium. By highlighting the institute’s distinctive qualities and growing knowledge of its offerings, faculty, activities, and events, public relations can help higher education marketers attract prospective students. In addition, investing in public relations can help higher ed institutions raise funds and grants by raising visibility to an institution’s causes and agendas. This makes their school, college, or university more appealing to individuals, corporations, and government supporters.
From an education standpoint, public relations can benefit every institution differently and in various ways. Every institution will have its own unique objectives. These objectives may include raising the number of applicants, emphasizing new programs, sharing ranking success, or publicizing the outstanding research being conducted by their professors.
Conversely, prospective students can benefit from public relations by marketing the institute’s distinctive qualities and raising knowledge about its academic offers, faculty, activities, and events. Public relations also assists institutes in making the most of their online review presence. Not only does public relations help today’s institutions accomplish their goals by choosing an effective strategy to publicize themselves online, but it can also help manage when a crisis hits or your image is perceived incorrectly.
Public relations boost your content marketing strategies even more with the ability to inspire thought leadership. When you profile your competent faculty members or persuade national or industry journals to mention them, you may position them as thought leaders and reliable sources in their fields. This has the dual impact of strengthening a faculty member’s status in their sector and increasing your institution’s appeal to potential students interested in that faculty member’s area of expertise.
A good balance of earned media combined with social, paid, and owned media is necessary to create brand awareness. Combining efforts creates multifaceted outreach strategies that amplify the message further than relying on a single channel would. Earned media is the most critical facet of building a trustworthy reputation for newly launched brands.
In an effort to get your brand name out there, it’s imperative that you share stories. Write industry-specific blog posts for the company site, LinkedIn, and other online sources. The art of storytelling is a valuable asset for institutions that desire increased brand visibility. Publications embrace stories, not products. You will gain traction and give your company the desired coverage by crafting a story that people can connect with. Determining current trends are significant in creating relevant content. Social media is also handy for breaking the wall between your company and the public. Create hashtags on social media to promote your story and your company.
As much as we’d all like to be crisis-free, it’s an ideological concept. A crisis is inevitable for any brand. While there’s no escaping it, there certainly are ways to control a crisis before it takes on a life of its own. In the event of an emergency, institutions are at significant risk of losing control over the negative news. Brands can only address and repair bad customer experiences and crisis-causing news honestly and transparently. Institutions are responsible for how they react and respond in the height of a crisis. They should be able to anticipate people’s reactions during and after a crisis and quickly release their core response so that there’s no time wasted when the crisis hits.
Through public relations, brands, and institutions can create a two-way dialogue between themselves and their audiences. This allows brands to get student feedback, realize opportunities, tackle challenges head-on, etc. A great example of this is using social media to talk to an audience about a new brand innovation and collecting feedback to make any necessary changes that can optimize more effective communications upon launch.
Public relations is a function that higher education institutions must pay attention to. To get their message out, colleges or universities must make a coordinated, concerted effort to counteract others. Public relations is the gateway to increasing your public perception and sentiment. With a trusted public relations team by your side, you can build a regular rhythm of public relations activities that will elevate your brand and return on investment.
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