Reaching the right audience: Business School communications part I

An executive MBA graduate of London Business School’s prestigious Sloan Masters programme, Sarah Seedsman specialises in market research and marketing for Business Schools.

In the first of a two-part interview (you can find part two here), Seedsman considers how the lines of communication between Business Schools and students have changed and how to get your global alumni network speaking one common language – the language of your Business School. 

What has been the biggest change in how students are communicating with Business Schools?

I think the biggest change now is that prospective students are roving across a large range of platforms to get information online.

They are looking to verify what they’ve heard about a Business School and what the official marketing is saying about a School. They move across social media channels and professional platforms such as LinkedIn, where they use the LinkedIn directory to look at alumni profiles and contact them. They also go to student review platforms. A Business School’s website is still a key site of reference and information, but what we’re seeing is an era of moving away from traditional brochures and forms of communication.

At the same time, the personal touch is still preferred in communications. GMAC did a survey last year that indicated how the majority of candidates still preferred email as their official channel of communication. So, some tried and tested methods still hold true.

How do you turn your alumni into active supporters of the Business School?

This has to start offline rather than online. Students who have a very good student experience have much higher levels of pride. There is that nexus of student experience to alumni. It then becomes about the engagement strategy to keep those feelings of pride and positivity strong.

Within that strategy it’s about what channels you use. It is also about using those channels to build a strong community and sense of belonging. That is where social platforms can serve you well when using alumni groups and enabling them to connect online.

If you just think of alumni as just a list of names, it will sound a little bit cold and more clinical. You create a community through advocacy and, in a community, people will do anything for people in need within that community, including the School itself.

Alumni relations teams who communicate with transparency and honesty in a frank but personal way, are going to be able to enrol that alumni engagement. This will come in handy post-Covid-19 when students might not want to study internationally. You want to get your alumni to talk to potential applicants and convince them that this School and this degree is the right choice.

Business Schools are inherently international. How do you ensure that your communications are relevant to a global audience?

This is about understanding your audience and the audience that you want to reach, and why.

Say, for example, if you wanted to raise your School’s brand profile as an institution with great supply chain management faculty research in it and were looking to reach an international audience.  You need to look for research which is relevant to international supply chain. If you are trying to talk to a global audience about supply chain management in one country only, that won’t work.

Its thinking about the content and the audience and getting that match right. So many issues around business are global so should work for a global audience. If, for example, you have thought leadership on leadership itself, this will vary in different cultures because they will have different approaches to leadership based on their culture and/or political systems. As long as you contextualise what you are sharing, it can still be relevant to a wider audience.

You can target your presence online for certain regions or countries depending on the tools you are using. I think when you are talking to students and alumni, they become part of your community regardless of where they come from, or where they go and work. They speak the language of your Business School and a global Business language.

Is a Business School’s ranking more about its quality or its ability to tell good stories about their Business School?

I would almost say that rankings aren’t about either. There is much debate over whether rankings’ criteria show the quality of a Business School. There are certainly many good Schools that are not ranked.

Telling good stories is interesting because these can either supplement the rankings position you have ended up with if you are not as high up the rankings as you would like to be, or they can provide evidence about your qualities if you are not ranked. 

Prospective students use rankings as a tool and reference. They don’t just look at the ranking number. We are finding that they look deeply into the criteria and profile for lots of different Schools to get a wider picture of whether a School is the right match. This is where good stories and the evidence behind them come in – they show what the School’s strengths are and why they are particularly good fit for an individual candidate.

Read part II of this two-part interview, which focuses on the use of social media.

Sarah Seedsman is Executive Director for Engagement, Insights and Consulting at Media Minds Global.

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