A university is a complex beast, and potential students are a pretty varied bunch, too. Every potential recruit has their reasons for studying, and they may be most attracted to your particular institution for its facilities, its location, or its reputation, among countless other factors. Convince them that your academics are super-inspiring and the research first-rate, however, and you may have won the greatest part of the battle – if only you can convince your academics to back you up!
We all know that marketing is not an academic’s priority. With busy schedules, highly focused minds and lots of demands on their time, they would often prefer to be left alone to concentrate on research and teaching. There’s a pretty good chance they won’t have given much thought to why marketing what they do is beneficial for recruitment – but with a collaborative attitude, it is possible for education marketers to get their academics on board.
On the most basic level, it can be of great benefit to convince your busy professors that talking about their work in any situation is a form of marketing. Being able to explain their research in simple terms to over-stimulated students at open days, and to journalists, peers and everyday people gets the word out there.
That said, it’s not all about pressing palms and kissing babies. Brand marketing is about story-telling; your academics have the stories, and today they have a range of ways to share them.
Social networks from LinkedIn to Twitter can be inspiring ways to lead a dialogue around a particular research topic or area. Likewise, many academics find their liveliest debate in the comments sections of the blogs that they write. It takes the work out of the lab and into a public realm in which all sorts of interested parties have contributions to make, and will spread the good word with enthusiasm. This kind of daily response and interaction can add a sense of value and community to the work that an academic does.
Back up strong social content with a clear, identifiable webpage and profile – it can be as little as a headshot and a droll byline – and suddenly your administration isn't faceless anymore: it is comprised of human beings who are passionate about what they do. Branding may sound unimportant to an academic, but a strong, compelling story can help potential students make big decisions with limited information.
If you can get individuals on board with the idea of marketing what they do, you can then channel that same passion into branding their department or university as a whole. Even the most resistant academic may have keen insights into how slogans, visuals, and events can capture the true essence of what makes their work vital. Try holding an initial group meeting to explain your strategy and ask for ideas. You could be pleasantly surprised where it leads.
One particular marketing tool that marketers might overlook is the curriculum itself. We live in an age of updates. Subjects, research developments, and teaching and learning techniques are in constant flux. Shifts in focus and new academic initiatives are often considered newsworthy. Encourage your faculty to embrace change in the curriculum for which they are responsible, and their program will earn a reputation for being dynamic, adaptable, and relevant.
There is a lot to be gained by nurturing this working relationship with your institution’s academics, but it is worth remembering that your respective trades operate on different timescales. Research is often slow, time-consuming, and unsexy. Even marketing-friendly researchers will likely see the branding process as a means to an end – that end being the research itself. If you can convince them that a healthy symbiosis can be developed between the two, then you could be on to a good thing.