Yale engages in global PR

Dedicated readers of The Guardian, a major British newspaper, would know that Yale President Richard Levin is not a fan of goat cheese. A Chinese college student who subscribes to the magazine China Campus might be familiar with Levin’s academic degrees from Stanford, Oxford and Yale.

When Levin travels abroad — which is usually several times a semester — his name and face often appear on television and in local newspapers. This publicity is part of the administration’s carefully cultivated strategy to raise the University’s international profile.

The branding efforts, jointly spearheaded by the Office of Public Affairs and the Office of International Affairs, tend to focus on areas where the University’s name does not have the cachet it might have in countries from which Yale historically has accepted many students. As part of these efforts, Yale has hired a public relations firm to help promote stories to international media outlets.

“There is a recognition that in some parts of the world, Yale is not top of mind like some of our peer institutions,” said Helaine Klasky, the director of OPA.

Yale is less known than Harvard in some regions of the world because of its smaller alumni base, Levin said. Harvard also enrolls many foreign leaders in its executive education programs at its business school, which has traditionally given it more publicity abroad, he said.

The effort comes as part of Yale’s broader aim to make itself a global institution, which began in earnest after the Yale Corporation convened specifically to discuss internationalization in 1997. The Office of International Affairs was created in 2003, and a framework detailing Yale’s globalization goals was released in December 2005.

Levin said broad name recognition attracts the world’s best scholars and makes possible collaborations with foreign universities. Yale’s efforts have focused on India, East Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, Levin said.

“We are trying to increase Yale’s global visibility,” Levin said. “Obviously you can do that by making international trips and getting faculty to collaborate, but it’s also helpful to have a direct relationship with foreign media based in this country.”

Cultivating close ties with foreign journalists encourages them to look to Yale when searching for experts in certain fields or when writing about higher education, Klasky said.

The recent outreach efforts have been largely successful, Klasky said. Although OPA is not able to collect all articles that mention Yale in the international press, the University’s name appeared in at least 3,200 articles in foreign media outlets last year.

Yale’s outreach efforts include establishing Bulldog summer programs, which organize internships for University students around the globe; notifying local reporters when faculty members and students travel abroad; and publicizing work done by Yale researchers that could be of particular interest in particular regions. Since 2005, Yale has hosted several delegations of foreign journalists, including groups from Latin America and the Middle East. The delegations typically tour the campus and meet with faculty and students over the course of a day, Klasky said.

Torsten Riecke, one of the journalists who visited New Haven, said his visit to campus encouraged him to use Yale in stories about higher education. Riecke, who is a correspondent for the German business newspaper Handelsblatt, has written about Yale’s collaboration with Fudan University in China and has interviewed Levin about elite higher education in America.

Riecke said only a handful of America’s most prestigious universities appear with any regularity in the German media and in the minds of German students and scholars.

“Institutions like Yale, Princeton, Harvard and Stanford are in very high regard as elite places for education and magnets for highly talented people,” he said.

The most recent group of journalists to visit campus came on a rainy Thursday earlier this month. The agenda for the day included a press conference with Levin in Woodbridge Hall to discuss the upcoming trip of 100 Yale students and faculty members to China. In addition to a campus tour and the press conference, the journalists interacted with Yale students who are from China and students who study Chinese.

Ned Mitchell ’09, one of the students who met with the journalists, said his conversations with the reporters began with standard questions about his experience as a student in the United States and evolved into discussions of politics and society. Mitchell is a member of the Yale delegation that will be visiting China in May.

“It was an interesting conversation, especially because you could hear the type of unfiltered comments you wouldn’t otherwise hear,” he said.

As a result of Yale’s efforts, Levin himself has been the subject of many feature articles and wrote an August 2006 cover piece in Newsweek International about the globalization of universities. Yale was ranked the third most global university in that issue, behind Harvard and Stanford.

Other universities make similar concerted efforts to court attention abroad. Tanya Domi, who is in charge of international affairs in Columbia’s press office, said Columbia hires public relations firms in countries around the globe to help with promotion efforts. Columbia also reaches out to foreign journalists when prominent speakers from their region visit the school to give talks. Domi said Columbia’s location in New York City also affords it opportunities to work closely with foreign journalists based in the city.

“We are in New York, one of the top media capitals of the world,” she said.

Domi said Columbia has been able to raise its international profile significantly as a result of its efforts.

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