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The Value of Faculty Sourcing in Higher Education PR

By Taryn Schofield

Institutions of higher education are ecosystems of endless information, personalities and life experiences, all of which can be tapped to strengthen your higher education PR strategy. One key piece of this is leveraging the expertise of faculty to get in front of target media. Besides very institution-centric stories, faculty commentary included in coverage about specific trending topics or breaking news stories is likely the most common medium for higher education press hits.  

This is why, no matter what the end goal of your strategic communications plan may be, setting up a faculty sourcing infrastructure should be part of your execution. Here are just some of the ways faculty sourcing can promote your media relations bottom line:  

General Brand Building 

One of the most straightforward functions of a comprehensive higher education PR strategy is building brand awareness for your college or university. Faculty sourcing can be a critical part of these efforts. Having your professors mentioned with their university titles creates a media reference to your institution that will generate in online searches and make your school more visible to a wider audience. This is why it is particularly important to push for your professors’ university-affiliated titles to be used in any coverage. It’s not uncommon for professors to wear many hats, but sourcing efforts only help your institution reach its bottom line if the relevant title is being used as the individual’s credentials. This could help improve SEO and also give the college or university more content to highlight on owned channels, like social media, blogs and newsletters.  

Building Credibility 

Having your faculty speaking as experts on specific topics heightens the overall credibility of your university. There is a certain level of validation that comes with being tapped as an expert by a respected journalist or outlet. Many people look to the media for a certain level of credibility and that credibility is passed along to your faculty and your institution when they are contributing as experts to certain coverage. Faculty sourcing also establishes credibility and rapport with members of the media, which will allow for opportunities and stronger relationships.  

Relationship Building with Media  

Effective sourcing efforts should last in long-lasting relationships with key media targets. If faculty members emerge as reliable and insightful sources of commentary, it's likely that reporters will continue to revisit them for other opportunities. Building relationships with these reporters is not only key to securing more sourcing hits but they can also translate into larger opportunities, especially as those reporters change beats or take on larger roles at their respective publications. This could open up the door for larger feature stories on your college or university and/or securing media to moderate panels or attend institutional events.  

Establishing Areas of Expertise 

Many institutions have key focus areas they want to be viewed as specialists in, and professors speaking as experts in these areas can further establish that. Identifying key faculty members or topics you’d like to elevate is a great way to build your sourcing infrastructure and make your efforts more tactical. Once again, being quoted as a source by the media adds an extra layer of credibility. For example, if the Wall Street Journal quotes a professor of accounting in a breaking news story, it is likely that some audiences will assume that it's because the specific institution has a good accounting program. Having professors in these areas quoted more often also simply raises awareness that your institution offers these programs. All of this can be built up to help drive student applications and commitments and support a school’s aim to focus on specific specialty areas.  

Setting up a faculty sourcing infrastructure takes time, commitment and a lot of new monitoring, but it is an absolutely invaluable piece to any higher education PR strategy. At any institution, your faculty (along with your students) will be your greatest asset and you’ll need to elevate them to be successful. While it can be difficult to get their buy-in or convince them that doing press is worth their time, you will find faculty gems who become reliable sourcing superstars. As you’re setting up this infrastructure, be sure to offer faculty-wide media training, as well as one-on-one calls with professors to learn more about their background and expertise. These efforts will all help in making your sourcing strategy more impactful and conducive to your larger higher education communications goals.  

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