How business schools are targeting new markets in search of applicants

Is quantity better than quality? Not always when it comes to student applications says Stephanie Mullins, Associate Director at specialist business education PR consultancy, BlueSky Education. She explores how business schools are reaching new applicants.

As many business schools examine their application numbers, it’s easy to see why more and more are considering including new markets in their communications and marketing strategies.

It goes beyond the fact that they want to ensure diverse cohorts. It’s ensuring that the school attracts top-quality applicants – high application numbers aren’t enough alone.

To capture both quality and quantity, schools must be visible in the places and outlets that these impressive potential candidates are already engaged with. Yet the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t made this simple. Those people that were planning to physically attend an MBA fair, for instance, haven’t been able to do so over the past few months, so where does that leave business schools?

There are options

One of the most effective options for institutions is to feature in the media, but not any old media. Crucially, schools must be visible – and making an impression – in the outlets that their target demographic are reading and engaging with.

Take the Wall Street Journal as an example of a publication that many institutions would be eager to feature in. It’s one of the largest news outlets in the US by circulation and its website reaches a global audience of 22.4 million digital readers per month. It’s business-focussed and incredibly well-regarded. This audience, and the scale of it, makes the WSJ one of the gold standard publications for business school media coverage.

BlueSky Education developed a strategy on behalf of two of our clients – Imperial College Business School and Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University (RSM) – for them to feature in the WSJ earlier this month. Targeting the outlet by developing a theme designed specifically for an individual reporter, we secured features for both institutions on the topic of international MBA students looking for alternative places to study to the US.

Being at the front of the queue is another way to target key publications such as this; spot the trend, tackle it and talk about it with the media before anyone else. Using an example to demonstrate this, Italy was one of the first countries to be severely affected by the pandemic and thus schools there had to tackle their response and sort logistics ahead of many others. MIP Politecnico di Milano moved swiftly and effectively to online teaching and, with our support, became one of the first institutions to feature widely in the press on this topic, meaning they secured visibility in globally-renowned media including the Financial Times.

New geographical markets

If we look beyond internationally renowned media to national media in individual countries, further strategies can be utilised to deliver visibility for business schools and tap into new markets.

Here, relevance is key. To really have an impact internationally, outside of their home countries, schools must provide content that is interesting to the audiences that they are trying to influence. This could mean using their students’ stories to reach out to a student’s home country – if it’s one of their geographical target markets. Our work with NEOMA Business School, for instance, ensured that one of their star students was interviewed about the impact of the pandemic on their studies for Valor Economico, the largest financial newspaper in Brazil. It’s exactly the sort of readership that would consider a business school programme, and a successful or inspirational story like the one that was published can really inspire someone to imagine that they are in that student’s shoes, encouraging them to apply to the same school. It’s a powerful weapon that every business school has in their arsenal.

Another way to offer relevance to audiences in international markets is through research. Take our recent work with Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands, a well-crafted press release went viral because it was based on research that revealed the psychology behind bulk-buying – a phenomenon that occurred in many countries across the globe at the beginning of the pandemic. Given the wide-reaching relevance of this information, and text designed to be easily understandable, targeted at journalists and editors that often write on similar topics, coverage numbers stacked up. Highlights include the German, Spanish and Australian versions of Business Insider and even an opportunity for the academic to be interviewed on live TV with Al Jazeera.

Invest the time and resources to achieve success

Targeting individual reporters with tailored pitches, identifying trends, or providing relevance with student stories or interesting research are all great ways to tap into new markets. It’s ensuring that institutions have the time and resources to invest in these efforts that’s key to their success.