Leveraging Faculty as a Brand Differentiator
How Faculty Engagement Can Enhance Public Relations
Competition is fierce in the ever-changing higher education landscape, and degree programs need to work hard to stand out, requiring enrollment teams to build unique marketing strategies. This is where faculty support can be a valuable asset.
Your institution has thought leaders, industry experts, and decorated doctors on staff. You can use their knowledge and expertise to enhance your school’s public relations strategy and differentiate your program from the crowd. By partnering with these faculty members to create meaningful content, you’ll also gain opportunities to use that content in social media posts, internal newsletters, paid advertising campaigns, and so much more.
Why Faculty-Focused Marketing Strategies Work
Think about the strategies your enrollment team has built in order to reach and capture prospective students. We’d venture to say the majority of them include digital touch points. However, your team may be missing out on opportunities for more organic digital touch points. Today, PR has expanded further into the digital realm, and that provides you with additional ways for prospective students to discover your brand.
Build a Credible Relationship With the Press
To add credibility to their articles, reporters seek out reliable thought leaders to explain complex issues. This creates a unique opportunity for the experts at your university to show up and be the knowledgeable partners reporters are seeking.
On top of being experts, your faculty members likely engage in research projects and groundbreaking learning as well, positioning your faculty (and programs) at the forefront of their respective fields. When faculty members become known as consistently reliable thought leaders, reporters seek them out for consulting, quotes, and even original op-ed pieces.
Increase Brand Awareness
The authoritative position mentioned above creates opportunities for your program to get mentioned in a variety of online and print media, whether through an article with a brief expert quote or a larger piece featuring a professor’s program or research project. This can help bring awareness to your institution in many ways. Anyone who reads these articles will learn about your faculty members and will also become familiar with your brand.
By capturing prospective students’ attention in the context of published commentary, your faculty member will likely be seen in an impressive light, adding a tangible key benefit to your program in an organic way. It’s not an advertisement or an outreach email, it’s an honorable mention that signifies genuine merit.
While your digital marketing team can share thought leadership pieces on your institution’s blog, having features and full-length articles placed on other sites adds backlink opportunities that will ultimately improve your search rankings. Backlinks occur when a publication links back to your institution’s website when mentioning featured faculty members. Having a strong backlink profile positively impacts your website’s search rankings and supplements your wider search engine optimization (SEO) strategies.
At Archer Education, the PR wins we’ve achieved on behalf of our institutional partners have obtained backlinks from high-ranking news and industry sites such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Business Insider, and Healthline. This type of footprint can boost your organic search rankings, increasing a prospective student’s chances of stumbling upon your site.
Another factor that plays a role in searchability is defined as “EAT,” which is an acronym for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. While PR features improve each of these from a reputation perspective, EAT also affects SEO. No, a computer isn’t really able to accurately define and target these humanlike attributes. But there are real people called quality raters who help guide Google’s algorithm toward expert, authoritative, trustworthy sources.
How to Implement a PR Strategy Leveraging Faculty
Implementing a faculty-focused strategy requires planning, collaboration, and consistent upkeep. Follow the steps below to get started and make the most of your partnership with faculty.
Preplan to Prepare
Faculty members aren’t going to be able to dedicate much time to writing articles and speaking with reporters. With this, enrollment and marketing teams should spend time creating a step-by-step guide to getting started with faculty engagement in marketing. This requires setting goals, defining tactics, and determining how team members can support and guide faculty members in an effort to help them reach their potential. This should happen prior to engaging with faculty members to ensure they are prepared with actionable and clear steps to success.
Identify Faculty Members and Their Passions
Once you have a rock-solid strategy, share it with potential subject matter experts who might be interested in providing commentary and bylines. The best candidates are those who have a passion for their field, a curiosity to learn more, and a desire for publishing.
To get buy-in, ensure they understand the added value they can bring to your institution and, more importantly, to their personal brands.
In turn, your marketing and enrollment teams should look closely at these faculty members to gauge the potential these experts have for published work and, ideally, a digital presence. Get help from program and marketing directors and other in-touch leadership members.
Once you’ve teamed up with interested faculty members, it’s time to explore their interests. At Archer, we sit down with every faculty member we work with for at least an hour to hear what subjects are most important to them. Marketing teams need to get to know the potential candidates, the topics they’re focused on, and what they want to discuss in the near future. This way, PR representatives who pitch to the media can consider potential publishing fits.
Some questions to consider include: Who is the audience for this subject matter expert? What outlets will be interested in their point of view? Narrow your focus as you map out who you will connect with based on each individual faculty member you believe has potential.
Pitch Relevant Stories
After you’ve clearly determined your faculty partners and compiled a list of relevant publications, you can begin the process of pitching engaging stories. This is the most important step of them all. Be thoughtful and concise, down to the subject line, and don’t forget to personalize your outreach for the relevant reporter and publication. Ensure you have PR software and a team that is proactively pitching the faculty’s expertise to the media and tying them into relevant stories and to relevant reporters and editors.
PR teams need to utilize the news cycle and stay on top of events as they happen. Turn on Google alerts, subscribe to daily newsletters, and be prepared to find an angle in the moment. The news cycle churns quickly and every second counts.
Examples of effective storytelling by faculty members who tie important topics to breaking news stories include Tulane University’s Master of Social Work associate professor Reggie Ferreira’s coverage of climate change and mental health and psychiatric disorders in COVID-19 patients.
Stand Out With the Help of Your Faculty
Faculty members make up a huge and important part of the student experience. True product differentiators, your faculty members are unique to your program, and reputable mentions in the press help capture the attention of prospective students. Especially if they are published regularly through nurtured relationships with the press.
If you’re looking for a professional team to help you with anything from pitching to building a faculty-focused strategy, Archer Education partners with accredited universities to help higher ed marketers and leaders accelerate online learning growth and enrollment. If you’d like to learn more, contact our team and explore our tech-enabled marketing, enrollment, and retention services.
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