How business schools can succeed in the new age of the expert

How can business schools effectively share their expertise now that the public are hungry to hear from experts? Account Director Stephanie Mullins, from specialist business education PR consultancy BlueSky Education, shares her thoughts on what the impact of the pandemic has been on audiences – and how business schools can best use this time to meet their communications goals.

“People in this country have had enough of experts,” declared Michael Gove, a British MP, in June 2016. He was wide of the mark then – even more now.

We’ve seen that the COVID-19 pandemic has driven a public hunger for experts. The world wants to hear the truth about what this horrendous virus is and the effects it has on our health, businesses and every other aspect of our lives. That has created an incredible appetite for academic comment that business schools can feed to meet their goals.

We know that business schools use academic comment to demonstrate to the public, and other institutions, the expertise of their faculty. This can help to attract applicants to their institution, whether that’s high-profile academics applying for a role or students joining their courses. Also, for the readers, it positions the business school as a leading expert in that specific topic.

What topics are experts commenting on?

At present, publication after publication are looking for experts to give comment on the effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on lots of different sectors; the economy, travel and tourism, oil prices, business school applications, as well as the longer-lasting impacts the pandemic will have. Here are a few examples of expert comment in various publications:

  1. Kiran Fernandes, Professor of Operations Management from Durham University Business School, alongside other academics, conducted research into the supply chain of over 1.7 million companies in the Midlands and North of England, finding that almost one-third of them were at risk of collapse due to COVID-19. Professor Fernandes said, “The Durham University Business School is part of our region’s ecosystem. It is critical and timely that we work with our regional businesses and ecosystems to ensure that our expertise can be used to make them develop both short-term and long-term resilience strategies to survive the post-COVID-19 environment.”

This expert comment was important for businesses in the Midlands and North of England as it gave great insight into how Durham University Business School would be vital in supporting regional business post-COVID. This led to it featuring in a vast number of regional press outlets, such as Shropshire Star, Corby Telegraph, and Northern Echo, and was also mentioned in a wider article on small business support in The Economist.

  1. Expert comment from Leif Anders Thorsrud, an Associate Professor and expert in economic prognoses at BI Norwegian Business School, featured in a Forbes article looking at the wider economic impact on Europe. He said, “the fact that the virus is suppressing global demand on a large scale means that the price of oil is dropping too and this is especially bad for an oil exporter like Norway. The value of our main driver of growth – the oil price – had dropped more than 60 percent since February.”

This comment on the economic impact of the pandemic has come from a veritable expert on economics offering a reliable view on how Norway’s economy, and similar economies, will be affected. It positions the school as having world-class experts that are sought after for comment in major global publications.

  1. At the very start of the pandemic, people all over the world were bulk-buying; a behavioural phenomenon which a behavioural scientist, Dr. Ali Fenwick from Nyenrode Business University, helped to explain. Dr. Fenwick said, “bulk buying brings us back to the fundamentals of social psychology which says when we don’t know what to do, we tend to follow other people like us. So, we will rush out and buy more because we believe others are doing the same.”

This was comment from a behavioural expert explaining why certain people were behaving a certain way, allowing readers to understand why so many were participating in bulk-buying. His expert comment was featured in a number of publications, including AMBA, Management Today, and Business Insider. He was also contacted to take part in a number of broadcast opportunities, including Al Jazeera. This was excellent visibility for the academic and the institution, boosting brand awareness.

Ultimately, expert comment from academics like these offers independent and impartial research-based evidence, allowing people to make a well-informed choice, which is what makes this insight so appealing to readers and therefore journalists. Analyses and data don’t take sides or favour one political party over another or tell you who you should vote for. For example, the UK in a Changing Europe programme was set up during the EU Referendum to provide research-based evidence to the general public to ensure they were as well-informed as they possibly could be when voting. When a politician or spokesperson that might have an agenda makes a statement, expert comment can point out and explain why that statement could be unfounded or simply untrue. This improves the quality of debate and benefits the general public by giving them all the facts before making a decision.

How can business schools contribute?

Many of those in business school PR roles are effectively using their media connections but some in-house communications teams have reported a saturation point with their go-to media contacts. I’d suggest that now is the time to reach out to new media, forge new alliances with journalists, editors and agencies, looking beyond domestic media to other countries or international outlets – there’s a home for insights, it’s about finding the right target. It’s something that I’ve seen my colleagues have become incredibly adept at.

Afterall, the COVID-19 pandemic was neither predicted nor desired by anyone. Yet it’s been incredibly effective at encouraging pockets of proactivity and positivity, from highlighting the need for academic considerations to bringing business schools and their communities together.

Jenifer L. Lewis, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Director of Degree Programs at Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Business, said: “Our campus community is coming together in many ways and, although separated by distance, we are truly embodying our NU motto, “One university, one team!”

And I think it goes beyond that as researchers and experts share help and advice with the public through the media – one institution, one community, one world – meeting institutional goals as well as societal ones really is possible.