In Singapore, competition is intense in the higher education sector, with six universities fighting for the best students in a population of just five million. To increase its share of top students, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) designed and implemented a strategic corporate reputation program to improve the perception of the university among current students and alumni, as well as prospective students and their parents.
As the communication program was intended to be longstanding with the intention to bring about attitude and behavioral changes, a study was produced and conducted over several years–in 2011, 2012 and 2013–to determine the effectiveness and longevity of the campaign. Its communication goals included:
1. Increasing positive perceptions of the NTU brand among the primary target audience of current and prospective students and the secondary audience of parents and alumni.
2. Establishing a strong NTU presence in the mainstream media and harnessing the media as a key influencer of public opinion in Singapore.
3. Branding NTU as a global university on the rise.
In 2010 a stakeholder analysis was conducted via in-depth interviews, focus groups with current, past and prospective students and parents, and a content analysis of media coverage. This research revealed that prospective and current students were not aware of the university’s strengths. The research was also instrumental in revealing how the audience preferred to get their information. There was a lack of interest in corporate information and the younger demographics reveled that they were digitally connected, with Facebook and YouTube at the top of list of social media channels with which they engaged.
The results of the research showed that NTU needed a strategic communication plan that was multifaceted and yet integrated, that employed platforms favored by the primary target audience in a language and presentation style that resonated with them.
Facing a diverse target audience ranging from teens and twenty-somethings to more mature adults, the communication team decided to raise awareness of the university through four communication channels—earned, paid, owned and shared media. They also decided to be proactive with the media, making it their mantra to provide concise, timely and accurate information and keeping away from any corporatespeak. For this campaign, the emphasis was put on creative communications. Team members strived to tell stories that their target audience was interested in and in ways that was appropriate for the medium and would engage with the audience. The communication strategy was summed up in three words—newsy, breezy and easy.
Many of the campaign’s efforts were integrated across the four media pillars and across various channels. For instance, an integrated multimedia platform was created called HEY! A trendy print magazine was designed. The print stories were repackaged online, for mobile devices and enhanced with multimedia features such as videos and photo galleries. Videos produced for HEY! were played on NTU’s YouTube channel and campus video walls. HEY! Online showcased additional features such as student blogs and social media features.
NTU students were encouraged to participate and were assigned projects as writers, video producers, illustrators, animators and photographers. Their work not only helped to showcase the quality of an NTU education, but also helped to keep the content relevant for its intended audience.
The results from NTU’s communication efforts showed that the university’s integrated and multifaceted strategy paid off. For the first time, NTU received multiple-page media coverage of its key corporate initiatives in Singapore’s No. 1 daily paper. Also, the survey of parents and top students conducted in 2013 revealed that their perceptions of NTU as good or very good increased to 73% after they started reading about NTU in the media. Additionally, the annual evaluation studies of HEY! revealed that the positive effects have been sustained from 2012 to 2014.
As communicators in higher education grapple with traditional and new media forms, NTU’s successes have shown how an integrated model of communication can reach out to multiaudience stakeholders and change perceptions.