Changing Perceptions

How Public Relations Will Help You Rise Above The Negativity

Actions speak louder than words. Unfortunately the actions of a few have served to tarnish the reputation of the career college industry. They have placed a social stigma on schools that are providing quality educations.

In the minds of the public, words like “diploma mill” and “fraud” have become synonymous with career schools. This is because the only time they hear about career schools in the news is when something has gone horribly wrong. They don’t hear about the millions of graduates who have gone on to successful careers, or the innovative new programs being offered to fulfill the demand of the marketplace. Joe Public never hears how the school has given back to the community through outreach and volunteer programs.

“Our relationship with the community is the bridge to which we continually draw and contribute resources,” said Michael Stiglich, Regional Vice President of Admissions for CSi Central. “Our community becomes our students, our students become our graduates, and our graduates become our community. To the degree that this experience is positive is exactly proportionate to the degree that this transition is seamless.”

How do you change these negative perceptions? Buy more ad space? Unfortunately, this probably will not do the trick. Although traditional advertising can bring a school leads, it does little to change public opinion. The public has become cynical when it comes to advertising. The average American is subjected to 3,000 advertising messages a day. In this mass media jumble, the majority of ads are ignored, forgotten or disbelieved. Only a select few actually sink in with the public; even then, they realize it was a message that was bought and paid for.

One alternative that is gaining momentum for changing public perceptions of the career college industry is Public Relations. As illustrated by Al Ries and Laura Ries in the book The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR, 80 percent of the public believes what they read, see or hear in the news. This third-party endorsement could play an invaluable role for career schools. For example, the public may see an ad promoting the superior education a school offers, but those same readers are more likely to believe it if they see a story on the news or read an article about it in the paper.

Get the media talking

How do you get your local media talking about your school? The answer is: consistent and creative public relations plans. The media doesn’t know what’s going on at your school unless you tell them. Don’t be afraid to celebrate your achievements. Send press releases about student success stories; announce graduations or high placement rates. Inform the media about students who have gotten great jobs with the training they have received, announce new programs or your institution’s community involvement. The possibilities are endless.

Don’t get stuck in the belief that sending one or two press releases a year will be enough. The average reporter receives hundreds of press releases each week. In order to get past the clutter, your school must develop a constant presence on the reporter’s desk. By seeing press releases on a regular basis, the reporter will be more likely to follow up and place the story in the paper. Like any worthwhile relationship, developing a rapport with the media takes time and work, but in the end, the school will see results.

Press releases alone aren’t enough to change the perceptions of the public. Getting involved in the community is a great way to showcase your school’s commitment to being a local asset. Accomplishing this can be as simple as partnering with local charities or hosting events beneficial to the community.

Changing perceptions doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and dedication. Through a consistent public relations effort, your school will form a positive relationship not only with the media, but with the surrounding community as well. Your school will rise above the “diploma mill” stigma and prove that it is a quality organization providing life-changing training.

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