Going Public in HE

Telling the world what your institution has to offer probably feels like a bread-and-butter activity for your institution, supported by expertise in your communications and marketing teams. But the number of ways in which you go about this can be limited.


Added by Anna Myers, June 2011.

There are what we might call conventional external communication methods, that would form part of any campaign to publicise your institution: seeding stories in the press (whether national or education-specific); your prospectus; internal and subscriber newsletters; your website; your conferences and open days; advertising banners and posters in your local area; use of agents and relationship-building with your local school and college networks… these have been active channels for publicising your institution.

Then there are what, depending on your viewpoint and involvement, we could still call emerging communication channels: social media tools including LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube. These have already become invaluable to complement the face-to-face and conventional ways that institutions reach the people they need to. Twitter tends to be viewed more ambiguously, but it’s worth remembering that this was the place where most fees announcements were first picked up and widely discussed. And don’t imagine that ‘new media’ are just for the younger, undergraduate demographic – an increasing proportion of managers and influencers in organisations you might wish to reach, use these media.

Then there are what could be called either contentious, or increasingly mainstream marketing activities. TV advertising, sponsorship, the more imaginative forms of PR, re-branding, or any high-profile, mass marketing approach is likely to attract not just the people you intended to reach, but also some strong criticism for advertising spend using taxpayer’s money.

Belt-tightening on public funding (regardless of the proportion of a university’s money actually coming directly from the government these days) makes scrutiny of any spend more intense. At the same time, HE is theoretically moving towards a market economy, in which you could claim that all forms of marketing should be available to us. With these apparently conflicting directions in mind, I have a couple of questions. Are we facing increasing challenges around what forms of external communication we can invest in? And if we are limited by virtue of the (perceptions of the) sector we’re in, does this mean we won’t ever have a market economy for HE in England?


Topics: Communicating your distinctiveness.

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Payback and Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI) in the public sector, COI November 2009 - In-depth report tackling how to evaluate the financial effectiveness and efficiency of government marketing communication.

This report makes interesting reading because, unlike commercial marketing communication, government communication is not primarily about generating financial payback. However, for both HE and the public sector, best practice and accountability dictate that financial evaluation is undertaken.