Demystifying transformation – 5 ways to transform your business school PR

In June, I had the pleasure of attending the EFMD Marcom, External Relations and Alumni Relations conference at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands.

After months of restrictions, it was great to catch up with friends and colleagues from the business school world.

The overall theme was: “Demystifying transformation”. Various sessions dived into what that meant in practice, including how business schools should respond to corporate transformations, international challenges in marketing, media and recruitment, and what learning/teaching trends will continue or die out post-pandemic.

The conference made me reflect on my area of expertise – media relations for business schools. Achieving regular, positive media coverage for your school can support many strategic goals – from student recruitment to attracting new research funding.

But many business schools struggle to get their voice heard. The reasons for these are varied, ranging from internal misunderstandings about what makes an attractive media story to trying to be all things to all people rather than being known for a specific area of expertise.

If your school isn’t achieving the reputation that you want, here are some ideas for how you could transform your media relations efforts.

1. Re-focus on organisational outcomes

PR, like every other activity within your school, has to help you achieve your organisational goals.

That could be recruiting students from international markets or building your reputation in certain areas, such as sustainability or entrepreneurship.

While most schools know the theory, it is not so easy to practice.

It is easy to get side-tracked by internal stakeholders who want you to support their project, for example. Or plough ahead with a project, even though you know in your heart that a story isn’t strong enough.

If that sounds familiar, take a step back. With each story, ask yourself: will this support our strategic plan? If not, you may need to say “no” more often.

2. Step up internal education

You can’t expect everyone in your business school to be a PR expert. But I see a lot of time and effort wasted on stories that simply aren’t newsworthy.

Journalists are not interested in obvious self-promotion. They want stories that provide value to their readers.

If you haven’t done so already, now is a good time to set up a programme to ensure that faculty and programme teams know what journalists do and don’t want.

Invite them to put stories forward for editorial assessment. But set expectations so that they understand that if you turn their story down, there will be other opportunities in the future. And invest in media training – it will pay dividends in the future.

This programme should be a living thing – as new faculty join your school, ensure that they too are on board.

3. Get smarter with your media targeting

Linked to the need to focus on organisation outcomes (see point 1), you won’t get ROI on your PR unless you target the right media outlets.

When you are under pressure to get coverage, it’s tempting to play the ‘numbers game’. This usually involves sending out press releases to a wide press list, scattergun fashion, hoping that something hits the target.

The problem with this approach is that although you may have some success, it’s unlikely to be fruitful from a strategic perspective.

It’s time to take a different approach. Cultivate relationships with the most influential journalists in the business education and leadership space. Use exclusives.

It’s back to that old cliché – sometimes less is more.

4. Re-define your strongest topic areas 

When you look at your press coverage, is it clear what your business school’s specialisms are?

Or are you trying to be all things to all people?

The belief that you need to support every project can be counter-productive. It takes valuable resources away from your press team and can annoy journalists if you continually pitch weak stories.

Ask yourself: what do we want your school to be known for? And how can we increase our activities in that space?

Even in quiet times, don’t be tempted to pad out your programme with inferior story pitches. Instead, you can use these moments to take stock, reflect and indulge in deeper, more strategic thinking.

5. Re-work your processes

Building a long-term reputation in the media needs consistent activity. It’s not just a question of pitching a story one week and then waiting an entire month until you speak to the press again.

If your PR programme is stop-start, there are several things you might want to consider:

  • How do stories get to our press office in the first place? How can we improve our newsgathering processes?
  • Are we using the full breadth of opportunities in our target media? PR isn’t just about news stories – you can also target blogs, profile interviews, podcasts, and more
  • Are we making new relationships with journalists? The reality is that journalists move around at a steady rate. This can be a great opportunity – particularly if they move to a higher profile outlet. But it’s also important to a build relationship with whoever replaced them.
  • Do we have enough capacity and skills within the team to achieve our reputational goals? For instance, do we have to rely on a parent university press office, and do they provide enough resources?

PR is not a vanity exercise – it’s about building your reputation for the long term. By taking action, you will transform PR for your business school – and get press coverage that supports your strategic goals.

About the author: Toby Roe is the Co-Founder of Roe Communications, a specialist PR agency for business schools.