Believe it or not, being a marketer in the world of higher education comes with its own unique set of challenges; while the fundamentals of public relations at colleges and universities are similar to those of other organizations and businesses, higher ed PR pros must constantly work to juggle different messages for different departments across different audiences. While this may seem complicated (and even overwhelming), here are three ways higher ed PR professionals can.
Every college and university has a faculty full of experts on a wide range of topics. The great news is that this provides a breadth of PR opportunities—but, at the same time, it can also make it difficult for marketers to know where the stories are, and which stories to tell.
An easy way to stay on top of things happening around campus—and interesting stories—is to meet regularly with the heads of each department. PR pros should strive to keep in regular contact with these subject matter experts not only to develop a rapport, but to have a better sense for what is happening within their department—especially should an opportunity to weigh in on breaking news arise.
Different departments have different agendas, making PR a delicate balancing act; faculty, staff and students all have their own interests and stories to tell. Taking the time to learn everyone’s priorities and passions will better position you to advance their cause (thereby advancing your school) and can help PR experts identify media opportunities with greater ease. It will also help ensure that any talking points or PR materials for each department are always up-to-date.
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The “silo mentality” — where each department within an institution acts individually, rather than collectively — can present another challenge for PR pros. To avoid getting stuck in bureaucratic red tape, identify allies who can help you navigate the administration to get the necessary resources and approvals. Improving response times and reducing delays is important to capitalize on both planned and unplanned media opportunities.
Higher ed PR pros not only work with several different departments, they working with several different audiences, as well. Administration, alumni, faculty, parents, students and prospective students all have their own needs and expectations when it comes to marketing communications. Make sure your annual PR plan is comprehensive and takes into account all audiences — both internal and external. Since strategies and tactics aren’t always interchangeable with each audience, higher ed PR pros need to seek out creative and effective channels to reach each of them and should follow the Platinum Rule to reach audiences the way they want to be reached.
The strategic integration of PR in higher education can support the mission, raise the profile, and contribute to the success of colleges and universities—but it comes with its own unique challenges. Understanding, managing, and leveraging what makes each institution different—as well as how and where to communicate your messages for different audiences—is vital in today’s highly competitive higher education market.
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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in February 2016 and has been updated for accuracy.