In the age of self-isolation, priorities change. For decades, universities have worked in competition with each other for the best partnerships, staff and student enrolment figures. That competition has driven our institutions to new heights, improving their academic offering and the services they provide students.

Today, though, they’re putting those ideas aside to tackle a bigger priority – keeping the UK safe.

Under guidance from the government, a £20 million research investment has brought together 12 universities in a national attempt to map the spread of COVID 19. Queen’s, Exeter, Birmingham, UCL, Liverpool, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Nottingham, Oxford, Glasgow and Cardiff are all contributing resources to help sequence the virus genome and discover whether different strains are emerging.

This unique partnership and others like it are great examples of how your university research reputation and brand enable you to improve a critical positioning metric – share of voice.

What is share of voice?

Public relations companies have used share of voice (SoV) to describe market penetration for decades. Today, more and more marketers are using the term to help them describe the current awareness state for their brand. Your SoV is the total number of conversations about your brand as a percentage of the total number of conversations happening in your market. It shows you the amount of coverage your brand is receiving compared to your competitors.


Right now, the conversation happening in the social media landscape is largely covered by a single hashtag – #wearetogether. This useful tag is helping to showcase all the different ways universities are helping in the fight against COVID 19. A search on Twitter will bring up projects, case studies, articles and comments, from Newcastle’s early warning home testing kits to packed lunches at the University of York. The level of co-operation is extraordinary and unprecedented in living memory.

Collaboration and the brand conversation

In the age of COVID 19, collaboration is essential for any university that wants to maintain or gain SoV in the global market for two reasons. Firstly, COVID 19 is THE conversation that’s happening right now. Secondly,  it’s far too big of an issue for any one institution to take on alone. If your university wants to contribute to the fight against COVID 19, working across institutions is a must. 

And universities across the UK are rising to the challenge. The Genomics UK consortium is a fantastic example of this practice in action, but it doesn’t stop there. Institutions are partnering up to take on large-scale problems in an attempt to protect the general public. Imperial College London is working with the University of Kent to develop antibodies that target COVID 19 cells. Brunel, Lancaster and Surrey are collaborating on the development of a hand-held COVID 19 testing device to dramatically scale testing. In Nottingham, both regional universities have offered their resources to support active testing. And universities in Edinburgh, Liverpool and London are working under a £5 million research grant from the Medical Research Council to generate COVID 19 research.

The importance of peer review

Your existing brand – namely, your research reputation and visibility within the academic community – is the biggest asset you have in acquiring successful new collaborations. Take a close look at the application processes for major collaborations and you’ll discover why. The UK Research and Innovation council’s COVID 19 grant page stipulates that peer review is an important part of their assessment process. That means that the opinions of your academic peers plays into your chances of getting funding. A powerful institutional reputation improves the perceived weight of your applications for grants, collaborations and partnerships.

Communicating your values

Every university contributes to the fight against the virus in their own way. Right now, actions speak louder than words. Embedded in those actions are your values as a university – the route you envision towards a better tomorrow. For example, the University of Sunderland has shown its commitment to human capital by enabling medical students to contribute in hospitals across the country. By contrast, Cambridge University is investing in hard science to discover a vaccine for the virus. Other universities, like the University of Edinburgh, are focussing on financial support for students during this difficult period. These approaches highlight the priorities and culture of their respective institutions. 

When planning your communications strategy, be aware of the brand implications of each step you take in the fight against the virus. You can greatly strengthen your brand proposition by aligning your activities and collaborations with your institutional values. Keep them in mind when you’re writing your communications statements and show a united front driven by vision.

Today, doing helpful things is the only way to become a positive part of the global conversation. Universities must confront the challenges of the pandemic head-on through collaboration and hard work. Don’t forget that your brand is a powerful tool for building the relationships you need to make an impact.

To understand where your academic reputation stands right now, we recommend signing up for our Instant Reputation Review. In just 30 minutes, we’ll give you an overview of the state-of-play for your brand and offer several solutions to help you meet your KPIs.