What Is PR for Higher Ed & How Does It Increase Student Enrollment?

Topics: Public Relations, Millennials + Gen Z, Digital Media, Higher Ed Marketing

Posted by: Marketing

In today’s crowded higher education marketplace, it’s not enough to simply offer the degrees and programs that applicants are looking for. You need to attract attention to your institution – both the tangible benefits it offers and the intangible assets that set it apart. 

The public image you create and promote is vital to recruiting students. In fact, PR for higher education takes a starring role among the top strategies for increasing student enrollment. Learn the best PR tactics for optimizing your university branding campaign.

Howard University Students


What exactly is PR?

According to Small Business Trends, “public relations (or PR) is the art of crafting and delivering messages that inform and persuade the public, and get people to change opinions or take action.” Unlike paid advertising, PR typically uses earned media coverage and promotional methods to generate publicity.






Organizations create messaging or generate news stories that attract the attention of media outlets and other influencers. In turn, these influencers share the content with their own audiences, amplifying the message, generating buzz and building the company’s brand.



Storytelling: Creating narratives that advance your agenda

Connections: Building relationships with those who broadcast your messaging and those who receive it.


Traditional PR campaigns sought out television, radio, newspaper, and/or magazine coverage. Today’s public relations efforts may also target website, blog and social media channels. The incursion of digital media outlets into the world of PR has blurred the lines between classic public relations and other types of marketing.

Public relations specialists utilize a wide variety of tools:

  • Press releases
  • Speeches
  • Pitching journalists
  • Hosting or sponsoring special events
  • Conducting market research
  • Networking
  • Online content creation
  • Crisis communications
  • Social media campaigns


+ Use a combo of testimonials and influencer marketing (one of today’s top strategies for increasing student enrollment).


What are the best PR for education tactics?

Universities, colleges and their associated programs and organizations have unique marketing needs and challenges. Strategies for increasing student enrollment are not identical to those that work for other types of businesses and organizations. 

With over 15 years of experience providing successful marketing solutions to higher ed clients, we know which tactics get results. We’ve found that media coverage, influencer marketing and promotional events are three of the most important strategies to include in university branding campaigns.


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Media Coverage

Earning coverage through broadcast media (TV and radio) and print media (newspapers and magazine) continues to be a viable PR strategy. In addition, coverage on internet media sites and popular blogs reaches both influencers and the general public.

News items you may wish to share include interesting student news, graduate success stories, institutional achievements, athletic wins, new program offerings, college surveys, university research and upcoming events.



“I dwell in possibility.”


Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing has exploded with the growth of social media. Mentions and shares on sites like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat reach millions of viewers.  Whether individuals share your content with their peers or high-profile influences speak favorably of your organization, you gain exposure, build positive brand awareness and engage more of your target audience. 

Examples of the types of influencers you should cultivate relationships with include bloggers, reporters, consumer advocates and industry experts. Once you’ve created connections with some key movers and shakers, maintain the association for continued coverage. 


MSSmedia Emerging Media




Promotional Events

Promotional events are an excellent way to reach millennials and Gen Z. As a rule, experiences have special value to members of these generations. Participating in post-secondary information nights at high schools and hosting on-campus open houses are two important strategies for increasing student enrollment. Optimize attendance by promoting your event on social media and offering free food or other giveaways.


+ Promote events on campus with our powerful college media strategies.


How can I optimize my university branding campaign to engage millennial and Gen Z audiences?

As a higher education marketer, you’re reaching out to an audience composed largely of millennials and members of Generation Z. As such, there are certain steps you can take to make your PR efforts as impactful as they can possibly be.


+ Discover the most effective ways of advertising to Generation Z.


Use Peer-to-Peer Marketing

Millennials and Gen Z are interested in authenticity, not salesmanship. They prefer insights from their peers, rather than paid sources. When you engage in well-conducted influencer marketing, you build trust in your brand while increasing audience engagement. As a marketer, there is almost nothing better than having fans spread the brand word for you.


MSSmedia Social Media Behavior




Support a Good Cause

Supporting a good cause is the perfect way to incentivize Millennials and Gen-Zers. Give these audiences something they can really get behind by showing that your organization cares about making the world a better place.

Create a Sense of Urgency

You want your target audience to share your content without being prompted. This means creating unique, fun and inspiring shareable content that your existing followers want others to see and experience with them. Forbes contributor Robert Wynne notes, “A good PR practitioner will analyze the organization, find the positive messages and translate those messages into positive stories.”

When your reputation reaches your target audience and speaks directly to them, you’ll generate meaningful results and move your KPI’s forward. Effective PR and good branding improve lead generation, application numbers and student enrollment.


See our complete guide: Recruiting Students – A Marketing Plan to Increase College Enrollment.




Editor's Note: This post has been fully updated as of May 2024.

Here at MSSmedia, we’ve been providing Education, Government, Real Estate & Lifestyle clients with succinct, optimized, and successful marketing solutions for more than 15 years. Consider MSSmedia a full-service, one-stop shop for all your Media and Public Relations needs. Your goals are our motivation. And our mission is to propel your message, further and faster, to achieve the outcomes you’re looking for. If you found this blog post helpful, please share!

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