Assess and Adjust: Higher Ed PR Plans in 2016

Colleges_and_UniversitiesAdjustments. Whether it’s adjustments sports teams make to their game plan or how an organization adjusts to a specific issue, market trend or the competition, leaders are defined by how quickly they assess their strengths and weaknesses and tweak their strategy in a timely way. The end goal remains the same: to produce optimal results.

As the new year begins, now is as good a time as ever for communications teams—emphasis on teams—to review your institution’s PR plan. For colleges and universities, the beginning of a new semester may provide a timely opportunity for assessing your work before campus hits full stride. Many PR professionals regularly make sure the team’s hard work is paying off and tracking to goals. Others haven’t been able to take the PR plan off the shelf as they address the daily grind of things like the latest campus issues, guest speakers, news and events, student protests and donor gifts.

Keeping in mind that PR plans are designed to be both foundational and flexible, the following are simple considerations as you assess key areas of your plan and make any necessary adjustments. This approach is relevant for all organizations, not just colleges and universities.

  1. Objectives: What’s the status of your institution’s business goals? How well aligned is your PR plan to meet these business goals? For instance, if increased student enrollment is an overall goal and the Enrollment Management division reports numbers that are significantly below the targeted expectations at this time, how do the PR goals change or become re-prioritized?
  2. Strategies and tactics: What’s the most strategic and effective way to reach your existing or revised goals? Should efforts be shifted to reach goals? Are there opportunities to more fully integrate the plan with the communications work of the Admissions Office? In the example above about challenges with enrollment numbers, does the PR focus need to shift to produce content that is most relevant to the student experience, a particular major, innovation and entrepreneurship, or internship opportunities? Is there an appropriate mix of print and multimedia content? What stories would resonate most in the media to help reach a desired outcome?
  3. Barriers to success: Are their new issues that the college is facing in terms of infrastructure investments, budgetary restrictions and reputation management that stand in the way of PR success? What creative ideas can be implemented to address any barriers? Are there new opportunities for collaboration from across disciplines?
  4. Results measurement: In addition to quantifying results and assessing outcomes, it’s equally important to determine if specific metrics still matter. You need to make sure they are meaningful. Also, just because a metric was met doesn’t mean it goes away.


Sitting down with the key leaders from academics, student affairs, admissions, career services, alumni relations and other divisions to hear how they are doing in terms of reaching their goals is something that is likely already happening, but formalizing around the PR plan review is a valuable practice. Face-to-face meetings can help demonstrate a genuine interest and build further awareness for the role of PR. You want to be in a situation at the end of the fiscal year where a division such as donor relations has exceeded their goals in terms of money and donors and it can be tracked back to the support and services provided by the PR team.

Finally, build in meeting time with your team to assess what you have already accomplished and discuss the opportunities and refinements for moving forward in the next semester or quarter. The team will gain a sense of ownership and be motivated to reach shared, achievable goals. It will help you have a sharper focus and determine what revisions, if any, are needed in 2016.