I visited two university campuses last week to consult on proactive communication. One of the institutions is an urban Hispanic Serving Institution with an annual enrollment of nearly 50,000 students, and the other is an urban Historically Black University with approximately 10,000 students.
Student profiles for the two institutions are relatively similar; both have strong community support and each is an anchor for job growth in their respective regions. Interestingly, one of the institutions is willing to shout its successes (real or perceived) from the rooftop, while the other doesn't want to be viewed as bragging despite having metrics that show success in recruiting and retaining students.
It's rare that my advice to institutions is similar, much less for universities starting from such different points in their communications. However, the core of my advice follows similar tenets:
- It's not bragging if it's true. We need to be honest about our institutions, but that honesty can include examples of true excellence and data-supported claims of distinction.
- Hope is not a strategy. By just hoping people know what your institution does well or how your college is unique, you waste resources and miss communications opportunities.
- Stop wasting your time comparing yourself to your peers. You lose precious time talking about a competitor. Instead, why not spend that time differentiating your institution?
- Don't overstate your offerings or outcomes. Trust is hard to rebuild once lost, and hits to an institution's reputation may take a generation to overcome.
- Public relations does not equate to “spinning.” Spinning is riding stationary bikes in an exercise class. Professionals in our field help advance images and reputations.
Both institutions have the ability to set the stage for strong outreach to their key audiences if they start by believing in their offerings and sharing honest successes.
Teresa Valerio Parrot is SVP and leader of the higher education practice at Widmeyer Communications.