So how DO you promote a university?

Let’s say you want to help a university become better known, and in particular more popular with students. What should you focus on? Universities aren’t homogeneous entities: they sometimes seem like a flag of convenience for a loose alliance of individuals with differing agendas. So what exactly is the ‘university’ you’re seeking to promote? Whatever it says on the letterhead, I’d suggest that a university has the following elements contributing to its external image:

the university itself as a corporate body

faculties and/or schools and/or departments

the subjects it teaches/researches, which may or may not map on to the faculties etc.

courses

research institutes and centres

individual academics (with their own reputations, even brands) and their academic/creative output

ditto alumni

students, perhaps a Students Union

projects and initiatives of varying durations (eg Centres of Excellence in Learning and Teaching)

campuses and buildings (including sometimes iconic architecture)

facilities for the public, eg theatres, galleries, sports facilities

cultural/sporting groups, eg choirs, teams

Universities are also linked to or associated with

towns, cities, regions

national initiatives such as Aimhigher and Education UK

professional bodies, areas of employment.

That’s a lot of stuff, fun to draw as a molecule diagram but a bit scary too. Which of these elements should one bring to the fore? I think it depends on a number of things:

audience and timing, eg potential students may typically want to know about courses while deciding where to apply, and focus on campus end environment while deciding which offer to accept

the medium, eg newspapers are more likely to run articles about/by/quoting individual academics (with interesting/novel/controversial things to say) than about your nice new building or great course.

But in a sense ‘it’s all good’ and all needs to be communicated somehow. It’s important therefore to put together good content about each of the elements, telling each kind of story well, showing those things that can be shown, then:

structuring your overall communications so that any of the audiences can pull down whatever is most meaningful to them at the time

planning some proactive comms so that key audiences get the relevant bits put before their eyes in an appealing way, at the right time.

Simple!