How business schools can provide reassurance in the media during the COVID-19 pandemic

How can business schools effectively use the media to share reassuring stories during the corona virus pandemic? Account Director Stephanie Mullins, from specialist business education PR consultancy BlueSky Education, shares her thoughts. 

The business school community is facing one of its greatest challenges in this generation, COVID-19, which has led to many schools switching to different ways of teaching and operating.

COVID-19 has brought closures to campuses and many schools were faced with the challenge of putting all of their services online. As well as this, schools are also wondering if and how they should proactively promote their schools and programmes when the media attention is solely focussed on COVID-19.

While there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment, like other crises, the industry will tackle these challenges. Schools need to keep engaging and growing their audience so they are in a better position when the education market bounces back.

Obviously, schools have prioritised their faculty and students by ensuring they are safe and communicating with them to ensure they are getting the same quality of learning online. The faculty of management, economics and social sciences at the University of Cologne, for example, have been using social media to communicate to their students about online education and have conducted webinars to ensure students get the most out of online teaching.

Perhaps as a result we’ll see potential long-term effects on business education such as virtual classrooms becoming more of a permanent fixture that will even benefit the industry.

But now most institutions have addressed the initial practicalities, how can schools effectively use the media to promote their school today? The answer is by achieving media coverage that shares expertise and reassuring stories about COVID-19.

Why is the media obsessed with COVID-19 and how can business schools help?

There’s extraordinary public appetite for news around COVID-19 and its impact. Between the start of 2020 and the end of March, searches for “corona” multiplied more than a hundredfold according to Google Trends.

A journalist’s aim is to inform and educate the public, as a result, they have to feature news about coronavirus because it’s having such a major impact on people, organisations and industries.

Business schools, and their PR agencies, can add so much value to the conversation – knowledge, guidance, inspiration and insights – especially for businesses and individuals that are facing unprecedented challenges, whether that is financially or mentally. And this often comes in the form of research findings or expert opinions.

They can also tell the world what they are doing themselves to overcome the barriers students and staff are facing. They can spread a little positivity and show that despite the uncertain times, they are making progress.

MIP Politecnico di Milano is the perfect example of a school that has highlighted how they have faced these challenges. The school is located in Northern Italy, an area that has been one of the worst hit by COVID-19, with mass illness, campus closures, and a city-wide lockdown. Despite this, MIP did not let it stop their teaching and in fact became one of the first schools to move all of their classes online, utilising their strong existing experience in education technology. Their story was featured in national newspapers as well as education titles, showing that schools can really get through this challenging time.

Institutional action to academic expertise in the media

Nyenrode Business University have been using their expertise to explain and help the public to understand why there was so much panic buying during the imminent threat of COVID-19. Dr Ali Fenwick, a professor and an expert in human behaviour, spoke to journalists all over the world and explained that people panic bought because their brains’ survival mode kicked in and overrode any rational decision-making.

Meanwhile, a professor from the UCL School of Management who conducted research into how people cope with moral conflict and effectively linked it to the current crisis, revealed how people would prefer the government to manage this crisis. Highlighting that during this pandemic, most people would want drastic measures put in place to control it.

From a business perspective, in an article designed to deliver on the need for advice on remote working right now, Alliance Manchester Business School, Imperial College Business School and emlyon business school shared their management expertise with Forbes about remote leadership and how leaders can effectively manage anxious, distracted and stressed teams, a topic that is vital for running organisations as many employees are working completely remotely for the first time.

Media stories range from academic insights to alumni successes during COVID-19

Student and alumni stories are a good way to show how business schools and universities benefit society by producing key workers. London School of Economics Department of Management, has an alumnus, Renzo DiCarlo, who is leading the way on the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. He spoke with BusinessBecause about how his Executive Global Master’s in Management gave him the necessary leadership skills to lead his team through this global pandemic. With all the negative news being published, there’s a clear appetite for more positive and proactive stories like this.

We are living in uncertain times, COVID-19 was unexpected and has impacted us more than our most of our governments had initially predicted. Now is the time for universities and business schools to share their expertise to help tackle the challenge we face – using all the tools they have at their disposal, from their owned communications to independent news platforms and social media. And if these institutions can use PR to cement their brand in the hearts and minds of people now, it bodes well for application numbers and the general resilience of business schools in the future.

Though we face mounting ambiguity today, like crises that have gone before, there will be a time in the future that is brighter. And when the world recovers from this devastating pandemic, experience has shown that organisations that have continued to engage with, and grow, their audiences, will be in a much more favourable position.