Rebranding – Finnish Universities Share ExperienceSeptember 29, 2015
Fr om 23-26 September, representatives of the press departments of Project 5-100 universities underwent training procedures hosted by leading universities of Finland as part of the effectiveness improvement program. Their visit started in Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT), which is placed in the 276-300 group in the Times Higher Education (THE) Ranking and is currently in 31st place in THE Under 50 Ranking. Marjo Loisa (Director for Communications) shared her university’s story of successful rebranding in 2009 with her Russian colleagues. The rebranding campaign, she explained, uses the slogan “Trailblazer - Show the way. Never follow”, which dynamically reinforced the image of university and thus helped to attract foreign students. Loisa also talked about the structure of her communication department and its mission: to focus on the target audience and not on some abstract number of people, and to focus on the quality of publications and not on their number.
Leila Armila (Coordinator of the Alumni Club) spoke about the tools for building effective relationships with alumni.
Janne Hokkanen (Director for International Relations) spoke in detail about the methods of foreign student recruitment, noting that 30% of their students come from Russia. At the end of the visit, the Russian delegation was introduced to the concept of a Green Campus at LUT, which is oriented toward “green” energy and technology. LUT have built one of Finland’s biggest solar battery systems, which is located on the roof of the university; they have their own wind generator, an electric car, electric motorcycle and electric bus. They are also implementing an effective waste recycling approach.
On the following day, Russian media and PR specialists attended the presentation of Kirsti Lehmusto (Communications Director) at the University of Helsinki, which is now in 67th place in the ARWU academic rankings and is aiming at getting into the top 50. Ms. Lehmusto spoke about the recent rebranding of her university, which was designed to create an image of a university that is open to the world. The underlying theme of the campaign was expressed by the slogan “Science can be branded”, and the visual media used in the campaign depicted various academic and scientific concepts of the university told in a simple and understandable language. What is interesting is that some advertising posters depicted famous scientists who worked at the university, and probably this was done in an effort to popularize science in the minds of the general public. In this regard, the university made several interesting moves. One of these clever moves was to organize the so-called ThinkTalks in the cozy Science cafe & bar shop. Scientists make topical presentations at these ThinkTalks, and anyone can buy the university’s publications, souvenirs or just have a cup of coffee and listen to intelligent conversation. New Russia is one of the most popular topics in the café. Another invention of the University of Helsinki is the Vox-Forum which is held 4 times a year. 3 scientists and 3 journalists are invited to participate in each Vox-Forum and talk about interesting modern problems and issues. This format is very popular and attracts about 700 people each time it is held.
The Russian visitors were also told about foreign student recruitment. According to the university, Russian students make up 17% of the Master’s degree student body – the second largest group of foreign students at the university after those coming from China. Education expos, advertising on educational portals, social networks and blogs, the efforts of the university’s “ambassadors” – these are some of the elements of the promotion campaign.
Similar to the previous trip to the USA, the participants in the training program continued getting to know the key players of the national media market. Antero Mukka (Chief Editor of one of Finland's largest newspapers Helsingin Sanomat) introduced the participants in the workshop to his newspaper and to its principles. He noted that the periodical cooperates with the leading education institutions in his country, including the Universities of Helsinki and Aalto. In response to a question asked from the audience, Mukka noted that the editorial policy of the periodical is independent and the editorial board would be very interested in publishing scientific news from Russia.
Jukka Ruukki (Scientific News Editor) spoke about the popularity of information regarding the latest research in Finland. Science is the third most interesting topic to the Finns after environmental problems and sports. The publishing house, which puts out this newspaper, also owns “Tiede” monthly, which is the most popular magazine in terms of writing about “popular science” topics.
After the meeting, the Russian visitors and the Helsingin Sanomat employees discussed what kinds of news could be interesting for the paper and agreed to keep the editorial board informed of the achievements of the universities in the area of research.
The introduction to the Finnish system of education continued in the University of Tampere, which is extremely popular among students. Katja Kannonlahti (Communications Director) said that 20,000 people apply to study at the university every year and only 1,900 are accepted.Explaining such great interest in her institution, Kannonlahti explained that both the university and the city have a very good reputation, reinforced by positive feedback from students and alumni; the university offers a large number of disciplines – from Medicine to Theater. Ms. Kannonlahti also spoke about her department’s work with the media, emphasizing that almost half of the professors of the university provide regular comments to the journalists writing about their research. Once a year, the university’s press service invites journalists to talk about the achievements of the university and also organizes special events for the media when important topics need to be discussed.
Representatives of the university shared their insights and know-how with regard to attracting foreign students and alumni relations with their Russian colleagues. In both cases, they use social networks. For example, in order to recruit Russian students to the university, a project was put in force wherein a Russian student shares stories of her life and study-experience in Tampere with numerous subscribers to her blog. In terms of alumni relations, the university goes beyond organizing reunions; they organize trips to visit the cities wh ere former students live. The Russian specialists found this idea inspiring.Hopefully, it will be realized soon.
Cooperation with graduates became one of the main topics also in the presentation of University of Aalto. Its representative Kaisa Hölttä highlighted the work of the university site, as well as special AlumniNet network, synchronized with LinkedIn and a portal for university graduates, which help former students to learn about the University's news, events and actions. The second presentation was also devoted to various channels of communication, including sites, social networks, newsletters, communication with the mass-media, and measurement of their efficiency.
Overall, the trip to Finland was very useful for both parties. Russian specialists had the opportunity to study the best cases and practices of Finnish universities, and their Finnish colleagues were very interested in some of the creative ideas of the press departments of Project 5-100 universities.