Feb 14, 2018 / in HomePR StrategyHigher Ed / by Katie Russell

PR pros in higher education face some unique challenges as well as exceptional opportunities, such as a growing increase in PR budgets nationwide. Colleges and universities need a PR plan that is different than that of other brands, and the spring season is the perfect time to pull the PR lever to drive enrollment, funding, and rankings!


We’ve had the opportunity to work with many academic institutions, and before 'Decision Day' rolls around...we wanted to share top tactics that work! In 2018 communications pros have to go beyond simply measuring goals or media monitoring. Without further ado...here are the top strategies to implement this year!

Tracking Coverage of Top University Researchers

For applicants & their parents, going to a top-tier research school is a huge factor in decision making. The caliber of research professors and their work directly affects enrollment, grants, and new opportunities for students.


So as a PR practitioner and/or PR team, tracking your influential faculty and their research is vital. It's important to break the university bubble and make sure new discoveries don’t just get written about in the local paper. Keep your finger on the pulse to ensure the research at your university is reaching the public eye!


Besides just tracking research professors, focusing on inner-university celebrities can benefit your institution. Tapping into these internal influencers enables you to reach a totally different audience. Set up tracking (shown below) on stellar alumni or professors to stay up to date on their funding, awards, publications, etc..


You may even be able to newsjack their mentions and score some web traffic to your site!

Engage in Proactive Crisis & Reputation Management

It’s tricky to be a college or university in 2018. Reputation threats are everywhere. From the #MeToo movement to racial tensions or political protests that can erupt at any moment, it doesn’t require much for your institution to be in headlines. PR teams should always be looking for opportunities to avoid a crisis by keeping careful tabs on the conversation. People rely on what they hear from friends, peers, and even random strangers who post ratings on the internet, more than information from faculty.

However, when a crisis does arise, this is no time to have your head in the sand. When it comes to reputation management, make sure that you have effective monitoring tools in place for both traditional and social media. It is important to understand the relationship of total coverage and how your brand reputation is being related to that. This will enable you to determine the scale of damage or lack thereof.


For example, your monitoring tools might determine that a student from your campus is all over the news with 50+ mentions after his participation in the Tide Pod Challenge...but less than 4% of that coverage mentions your institution in the headlines. So, in this case, issuing a public statement from your president might do more harm than good!



Develop a Strategic Plan For Thought Leadership

Colleges and universities face something of a blessing and a curse. Journalists love to quote academics, but you have a LOT of topics to choose from. All departments are working towards a main set of goals or core values, but each department also has individual goals or metrics to watch. This can lead to each department doing its own thing and creating a dilution of key messages.


Decide, as an institution, which stories are most important to share with the public. That doesn’t mean that you ignore an unexpected opportunity to chime in on a relevant topic, but every interaction with the media should be done thoughtfully and with the higher purpose in mind. Once decided, it's important to track how your top messages are resonating with your audience and which departments are getting the most impactful coverage.



Measure Your Success Across Each Audience

Not only do academic institutions have different departments on campus with diverging interests, but you also have multiple audiences. Students, parents, alumni, administration, faculty, and the community all have their own expectations and needs for communications. Of course, they do have some shared interests as well.


A comprehensive PR strategy must take into account each of these segments both internal and external. Identify the different communication channels, publications, and networks favored by each one. Tracking coverage in trade, national, state, or local publications (shown below) will help you

determine which campaigns or tactics resonate best with various audiences across the globe.


Integrate Your Strategy with Social Media

Social media is an increasingly important part of what PR professionals do, no matter which field, but for higher education, it is particularly important. What people want from each type of network is different, so you’ll need to think about your approach to Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and others.


It pays to connect with influencers on each network and let them help spread your content and messages. Of course, with the right monitoring software in place, these networks provide a view into what each of your audiences is thinking and talking about online. You can spot trends of interest, a brewing reputation disaster, or relevant hot topics and respond quickly.


Keep Your Eye on Industry Topics & Conversation Drivers

It’s 2018, so everything is somewhat political.  We try to stay clear of that, but there is no doubt that a growing number of people inside and outside of politics are focused on the value of higher education in general, and colleges and universities in particular.


Comms pros are the driving force needed to push back against any negative message or others threatening their success. And the best strategy to tackle a negative attack, is to showcase the benefits your university has to offer.


Every spokesperson should be prepared to address related questions and be comfortable explaining why the institution brings value to the community and everyone who attends it. Tracking trending topics (shown below) are vital to keeping your department heads and spokespeople knowledgeable on trending industry topics.


Keep a Close Watch on Your Peers

Rivalries aren’t only for football! Academics don’t think about competition in the same way that other brands do, but every institution is trying to share their own messages and get mentioned by the press. It pays to pay attention to what they are saying, what is working for them, and which messages are getting through to their audiences.


You may be able to make your own school apart of the conversation or learn some new tactics that you can emulate. PR analytics software enables you to measure your share of voice against your peers and see which messages are resonating for them.



PR in higher education isn’t easy, but you’ve got a lot to work with. If you have the right tools at your disposal, you can help achieve the most important goals of your organization.


Like the strategies we discussed? Request a personalized dashboard for your college or university below!

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About Katie Russell

Katie is the Marketing Campaigns Manager here at TrendKite! She loves getting creative with her campaign tactics and telling stories that help others. From project management to social media content, to copywriting, and creative strategy - she is one busy bee!