Campaign: Defend Student Visas
Client: Study Group
PR team: TopLine Communications
Timescale: Dec 2010-March 2011
Last December, Conservative immigration minister Damian Green announced a public consultation on the reform of the student visa system, which proposed to reduce the number of international students that could come into the UK. Study Group, an independent provider of international students to the UK higher education sector, wanted to make sure the Government understood the impact this could have on the economy.
International students contribute £10bn a year to the UK economy in tuition fees and living costs. At the same time public opinion was shifting against international students following a scandal in 2009 where a handful of colleges were associated with potential terrorists trying to get into the UK on student visas.
Study Group joined forces with competitors and agreed to appoint a lobbying firm. It also hired TopLine Communications to run a media relations campaign.
To raise awareness of grounds for objecting to the proposal
To support the lobbying campaign carried out by the five leading independent educators of international students.
Strategy and plan
The PR team pulled together all the information on the issue from universities, independent providers and public sector bodies to form a central hub of information. It created an international education factsheet as a reference point for journalists.
The second step was to unify industry objection to the planned proposals. Working with Study Group, the PR team created a list of stakeholders and invited them to a press conference and debate held in London.
Diary alerts were then sent out to relevant media. After the event, a video of the press conference was uploaded to YouTube and photographs were made available. A media release summarising the objections was also distributed the following day.
Measurement and evaluation
The campaign generated 76 pieces of coverage including four pieces in the Financial Times, BBC online, guardian.co.uk and a double-page feature in Times Higher Education. The YouTube video of the conference had more than 1,750 views.
Two days after the press conference, Green said he would take the sector's views into consideration. Deputy PM Nick Clegg's special adviser also advised lobbyists to 'keep the pressure up by being vocal in the press'.
The Home Affairs Select Committee, which would make the decision on the reform, visited Study Group's flagship UK college to meet students who would have not been able to study in the UK under the proposals. Two pieces condemning the proposals appeared in the Financial Times
When Home Secretary Theresa May announced the outcome of the consultation on 21 March, one of the key proposals - raising the level of English that foreign students have to achieve before studying in the UK - was dropped as a result of the campaign.
SECOND OPINION - CHRIS CALLAND, ACCOUNT DIRECTOR, PLMR
Like any successful media relations campaign, this one was built around plugging an information gap and making life easy for journalists.
The campaign also realised a golden rule of media relations in support of lobbying - involving as many stakeholders as possible to guard against accusations that any noise created is simply special pleading by an industry or company that stands to lose out.
Rather than stunts, the campaign also concentrated on using effective tools. Uploading a video of the press conference to YouTube was a reminder of how important it is to use social media platforms that are easily accessible to the broader public.
It's worth remembering that despite the populist appeal of the Government's immigration reforms, ministers came under attack from all quarters when the finer detail was announced.
Ultimately, this campaign didn't lose sight of the objective, which was to keep pressure on the Government by making noise in the media. On this criteria, it has to be seen as an unqualified success.