How can business schools build a strong profile for international outreach?

Miranda Thomas, Associate Director at education specialist consultancy Communications ManagementBusiness schools operate in a competitive global market. Schools want the brightest international students, leading international academics and international partnerships that will give them an edge.

But building a profile in a country on the other side of the world isn’t easy. Ahead of our Inaugural Conference for Business School Professionals, Miranda Thomas, Associate Director at Communications Management (recent exhibitor at our 2016 Global Conference for Deans and Directors) discusses five things every school should consider:

1. Leverage your alumni

They are your biggest advocates and they’re all over the world – they’re a natural part of international outreach right? In many business schools alumni and marketing/communications teams don’t work together - they’re missing a trick. Work with your alumni team to map high profile alumni, alumni groups and enthusiastic advocates in your key markets. Can they help with local social media? Consider giving groups budgets to host regular events and encourage them to share films, pictures and memories via their online networks. Share their news via school alumni communications. Prioritise high profile alumni and involve them in profile-raising events and media work. Use your alumni as a sounding board to find out how your school is viewed in their market and how you can improve.

2. Don’t forget social

How does a prospective international student find information on your school? Google? Remember in some markets like China, Google, Twitter and Facebook aren’t easy to access. The good news is that in China, social media is wildly influential, and searchable. The first generation of children born after the instigation of the one child per couple policy in 1980, are now reaching their mid-30s. Known as the ‘lonely generations’ these sibling-less teens, 20s and 30-somethings use social media to connect with their ‘sibling-peers’. This sense of community has made the social sphere hugely popular. Friend recommendations on social media are a major factor in purchasing choices and Chinese consumers trust them much more than advertising. Social world of mouth is incredibly powerful – a huge opportunity for Schools keen to engage with potential students and partners. Consider building social presence in key markets such as China, working with international students and alumni or bringing in agency support.

3. Content needs to be relevant to the market

Media in the UAE are unlikely to be interested in academic research on the UK’s postal system, however interesting it is. When planning outreach activities – media, events, social, conference speaking, newsletters – make sure your offer is interesting to your target consumer. Find academics working in areas that translate. Look at what media in the country are talking about. Follow the business, political and economic trends and see where your School’s strengths can add to the conversation.

4. You’ll need to invest

Think long-term. You’ll only make an impact by sustaining activities and building media and social media profile and goodwill. Picking key regions and planning regular activities will serve you better than a scattergun approach.

5. Tie it all together

You already have activity taking place across the world – academics giving guest lectures, research partnerships, alumni groups, MBA tours. Map current activities in your key markets and pull activities together to make a bigger splash. For example, if you have senior academics travelling to Mumbai, tie in a high profile alumni event, media briefings, meetings with influential stakeholders and a social campaign.

By Miranda Thomas, Associate Director at education specialist consultancy Communications Management www.communicationsmanagement.co.uk.