It’s hard to put into words how profoundly the practice of public relations has changed over the last decade. Technology has created more direct channels for us to engage our audiences, content has become king, and social media has turned pretty much everything on its head. Those working in PR for higher education face an even more complex landscape with unique challenges and opportunities. We have a lot of customers in the education space and have seen this first hand, which prompted me to put down some of my thoughts for PR pros working in higher education to take into consideration when crafting their PR strategy.
One way to begin developing a PR strategy is to list each of the audiences your messages need to reach. Most lists will include prospective students, current students, alumni, parents, trustees, donors and the surrounding community. In some cases even local, state, and/or federal government officials comprise a target audience. Communicating with so many diverse groups requires careful planning, execution, and measurement. When analyzing your approach, ask if it is balanced and whether any particular audience is being neglected.
Disappearing Traditional Press
Traditional news media outlets are contracting. This means there are fewer journalists who cover higher education and very few who cover academic research. While there are still great opportunities to earn traditional media coverage, a PR strategy for higher education must include tactics for telling your own story and connecting with audiences directly.
Journalists Like to Quote Academics
Although the traditional press corps is getting smaller, faculty can still be leveraged to provide an authoritative and detached point of view for journalists covering the events of the day. Academics are an important resource for writers provided that the information they share is timely and relevant. (Check out this Forbes article for a few pitfalls to avoid when dealing with journalists.)
Social Media Engagement
Social media should not be seen by PR pros in higher education as only a channel for telling your story. It is far more than that. By monitoring the discussions that go on about your institution, faculty, students and higher education in general, you can learn what tends to engage your audience and let their preferences drive your PR and content development strategies. Social media also offers the opportunity to develop the personality of your institution. Injecting a bit of levity and humor on social networks is an effective way to make your institution more approachable. Be aware though, social media PR fails tend to do so on a grander scale.
It is an exciting time to be a PR professional in any segment. The practice of PR for higher education is particularly important in this age of contracting budgets, increasing competition, and escalating pressure to perform. If you make sure your strategy addresses these challenges and leverages these opportunities, you’ll be well positioned to succeed.