In today’s competitive higher education landscape, standing out is more important than ever. Public relations for colleges and universities can be a game-changer, helping your institution build its brand, connect with the community, and achieve your goals. By using strategic communication and storytelling, you can enhance your visibility, attract more students, and foster strong relationships with your stakeholders. If you’re considering diving into PR (Public Relations) for the first time, it’s natural to feel a bit apprehensive. Here’s a friendly guide on how to manage PR effectively in higher education.

Understand the role of public relations in higher education

Public Relations (PR) in higher education means creating, managing, and promoting a positive image of your institution. It involves communicating with students, faculty, alumni, and the public to build trust and support enrolment and fundraising. Think of PR as a bridge that connects your institution’s stories with the wider world.

Benefits of public relations for colleges and universities

Effective PR can significantly impact higher education institutions by:

  • Boosting student enrolment: Media relations and storytelling can raise awareness and attract qualified applicants.
  • Improving brand awareness: Media coverage showcases the institution’s strengths, programs, and achievements.
  • Generating positive emotions: Engaging stories help create emotional connections with potential students and stakeholders.
  • Enhancing reputation and credibility: Positive media coverage builds trust and attracts students and faculty.

Key public relations tactics for higher education

  • Know your target audience. Understanding your target audience is essential. You can learn what prospective students, especially Gen Z and millennials, are looking for in education and tailor your messages accordingly. It may feel overwhelming, but think of it as getting to know new friends – the more you understand them, the better your relationship will be.
  • Employ a multichannel approach. To maximize visibility, you can use multiple communication channels, including newspapers, magazines, radio, television, blogs, social media, and online news sites. This approach ensures your message reaches a wide and diverse audience. Don’t worry about spreading too thin; start with what you’re comfortable with and gradually expand.
  • Develop impactful storytelling strategies. Creating compelling stories is central to an effective PR strategy. Focus on what interests your audience. Highlight unique aspects of your institution, such as innovative programs, student success stories, faculty achievements, and community impact. Think of it as sharing the heart and soul of your institution – what makes it special and worth talking about.
  • Build relationships with media contacts. Building and maintaining relationships with journalists, editors, and bloggers is crucial. You can engage with media personnel regularly to build trust and ensure they see your institution as a reliable source of information. This relationship can increase the likelihood of your stories being covered. 
  • Celebrate students, faculty, and alumni. Highlighting the achievements of students, faculty, and alumni can enhance your institution’s image. You can showcase their successes through press releases, social media posts, and feature stories. This builds credibility and fosters a sense of community and pride. Sharing these stories can be incredibly rewarding – it’s about celebrating your community.
  • Give an inside peek. Offer prospective students and stakeholders a behind-the-scenes look at your institution. You can share stories about campus life, teaching methods, and signature landmarks. Hosting virtual tours, webinars, and Q&A sessions can create a personal connection and make your institution more appealing. Let them see the vibrant life and culture that they could be a part of.
  • Work on brand identity. Your brand identity should reflect the unique values and strengths of your institution. Consistently communicate your brand across all platforms. You may highlight your institution’s thought leadership on trending topics, showcase campus events, and celebrate national and international achievements. Think of your brand as the personality of your institution – make it relatable and authentic.
  • Form a centralized public relations team. A centralized PR team ensures consistent messaging across all platforms. This team can analyze the performance of different content formats, develop strategies for various communication channels, and maintain a unified voice for the institution. Starting a team can seem daunting, but even a small, dedicated group can make a big impact.
  • Monitor and analyse results. Track, measure, and analyse the results of your PR efforts. You can establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics that align with your institution’s goals. Regularly reviewing the data will help you understand what’s working and adjust your strategies accordingly. Think of this as a feedback loop – it helps you learn and improve continually.
  • Be prepared for crisis management. Crisis management is a vital part of PR. You can develop a crisis communication plan that outlines how to respond to negative events or publicity. Ensure that your team is trained to handle crises effectively to protect your institution’s reputation. It’s like having an insurance policy – better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

Effective public relations in higher education is about more than just managing the spread of information; it’s about building a positive and lasting relationship with your stakeholders. By employing strategic media relations, impactful storytelling, and comprehensive communication strategies, colleges and universities can enhance their brand, attract more students, and achieve their institutional missions. Remember, PR is an ongoing effort that requires continuous evaluation and adaptation to stay relevant and effective. Embrace the journey – it can be as rewarding as it is essential.