University of Bristol – measuring reputation in online media.

In the UK market, the University of Bristol enjoys a strong reputation for academic excellence. For its Media & PR team, nurturing and protecting that reputation is not just a day job, but a strategically important role that contributes measurably to the university’s success.

Metricomm was able to confirm the importance of Bristol’s communication activities during a recent project to assess the health of the university’s reputation in online media, which are increasingly a key source of information for its many stakeholders, including prospective and current students, staff and commercial partners. The Metricomm analysis demonstrated that the Bristol team successfully challenged the media dominance of Oxbridge during 2022 and raised its share of engaged audience compared to other key competitors in the UK. This success came at a time when the media was focused more than ever on stories about universities, maintaining a level of coverage that increased noticeably during the pandemic.

Metricomm specialises in determining the effectiveness of media coverage on consumer behaviour, which for Bristol involved measuring the impact of the university’s coverage on Google searches and Google Analytics. Of course, not all news about universities has been positive. Many students are struggling with the rising cost of living and other widely reported issues including lack of accommodation and increasing levels of poor mental health. The Bristol team wanted to benchmark its media reputation against other UK institutions to understand how it was associated with difficult issues. Metricomm also identified the media most likely to generate the best results for the University, which has given greater focus to the Media & PR Team’s proactive activities.

In collaboration with the Media & PR team, Metricomm identified a broad range of topics and themes that were helping to shape reputation, including academic subjects, leading academics, famous alumni and specialist research institutes. These were measured quantitatively to generate like-for-like comparisons with other institutions, using Metricomm’s sophisticated text mining and statistical analysis capabilities. Knowing what the university is currently ‘famous for’ and identifying gaps against desired positioning will help the team to focus their efforts on finding and sharing stories they feel should be better emphasised.

Although it is ranked 61st in the QS World University Rankings 2023, the university also wanted to know more about whether its PR strategy was working further afield. For any university, attracting top academic talent and encouraging research collaboration with other leading global institutions is a priority. So too is competing for the large pool of international students who view the UK highly favourably as a place to study but may be less familiar with some university brands or locations. Metricomm examined the university’s media reputation in target countries and was also able to compare its level of audience interest, expressed through Google search, to that achieved by other global institutions.

The project culminated in a day-long workshop, where Metricomm worked alongside the Bristol team to draw key conclusions from the findings, as the starting point for a strategic review of media and PR objectives and activities.

Philippa Walker, Head of Media & PR at the University of Bristol, welcomed the Metricomm evaluation enthusiastically. “I knew my team was achieving excellent media coverage, but it has always proved difficult to show how this has real impact and brings about tangible benefits to the university. Metricomm’s insights have helped us evidence this impact, while also putting some of the negative issues into context within the sector. They were also able to provide a level of competitor evaluation that we’ve never had access to previously. Metricomm took a novel and genuinely actionable approach to media evaluation, which has made us think about how audiences respond to coverage in the digital world. Such insights will definitely influence our media targeting and content planning going forward.”