What’s Different About PR in Higher Education?

Mike Kennerknecht
Apr 19, 2016 · 3 min read

When I was in college, grownups would grumble, “College is different than the ‘real world.’” The same is true for public relations professionals: PR in higher education is different than PR in other industries. While the fundamentals of public relations at colleges and universities are similar to those at other organizations and businesses, there are unique challenges for higher ed PR pros.

Different topics

Every college and university is a vast resource of faculty experts on a wide range of topics. To maximize the breadth of opportunities, PR pros should understand each of their perspectives and contributions in their field of expertise. Making time to meet in advance and stay in touch regularly ensures everyone is better prepared for breaking news opportunities.

It’s critical that PR pros keep a watchful eye for newsworthy opportunities for faculty members and their expert opinions. Having faculty members in the news is great publicity for the school and can build the reputation for a particular discipline. Preparing a cheat sheet for the media and PR pros will help connect your experts to relevant media opportunities. Categorizing this handy reference document by topic and including brief bios will make it user-friendly.

Different departments

The “silo mentality” — where each department within an institution acts individually, rather than collectively — presents a 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.

Different departments also have different agendas, making PR a delicate balancing act. Faculty, staff and students from Athletics to Zoology all have their own interests, talents and stories to tell. Making the time to learn everyone’s priorities and passions will better position you to advance their cause.

Different audiences

Not only do the departments on campus have varying interests, they also have different audiences. Administration, alumni, athletics, faculty, parents, and students all have their own needs and expectations for communications. However, it’s also important for PR pros to identify their shared interests.

Ultimately, comprehensive PR plans for colleges and universities must take into account all audiences — internal and external. Since strategies and tactics aren’t always interchangeable with each audience, PR pros need to seek out creative and effective channels to reach each of them. PR pros should follow the Platinum Rule to reach audiences the way they want to be reached.

Making a difference

The strategic integration of PR in higher education can support the mission, raise the profile, and contribute to the success of colleges and universities. This involves understanding, managing, and leveraging what makes each institution different. Moreover, this is vitally important in an increasingly competitive higher education market.

At Tipping Point Media & Public Relations, we’ve worked with a wide-range of colleges and universities and our thoughtful approach has helped produce record results.

Originally published at blog.tippingpointcomm.com.

Mike Kennerknecht

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I do government relations & economic development at the University of Rochester. Former PR and political pro.