How the message specialists can help
I would be wealthy if I had a nickel for every time a member of the faculty, staff, administration or board said, “I didn’t realize you could help with that.”
Far too often, the marcom (marketing/communications) and public relations office is brought into a situation requiring communication to internal and external stakeholders late in the process. I have learned through experience that the more people understand what marcom professionals do, the better the outcome.
So, with that in mind, here is a bird’s-eye view of what we do, why we do it and how we can help. We view the situation as others will perceive it. We are skilled at understanding our audiences’ perceptions of our institution. We regularly measure stakeholder awareness, perception, preference, tone and loyalty—both qualitatively and quantitatively—and can use this information to inform how best to reach target audiences in meaningful ways.
We always protect the brand. One of our highest priorities is protecting our brand. Reputational risk is always in the back of our mind and we take a long-term view of current issues and situations in light of how they will impact what others perceive us to represent. Our financial situation can ebb and flow from one semester to the next, but our brand reputation is a long-term investment that requires constant attention.
We inform internal audiences first. We do not want our employees to learn about good (or bad) news from our local media so we always strive to inform our internal constituencies before a story breaks in the news. We have a variety of methods at our disposal to accomplish this, including text messaging, auto-dial calls (in emergent situations), campuswide emails and posts on our website.
We use multiple media. We know that not everyone is responsive to any single form of communication, so we use multiple methods of informing our audiences, from high-tech (including video messages and e-newsletters) to high-touch (such as presentations to groups or individuals). We use all appropriate methods of getting our message to target audiences, including social media, so our message sticks. If the message is a positive one, we continue to press both internal communication channels as well as external media on additional story angles so that the good news is shared even more widely. We also have the tools to measure how our message is being received, both in terms of volume and tone.
We are on the front lines with reporters. We handle questions from the press and respond appropriately. We serve as spokespeople for any situation, protecting the institution’s brand, shielding the organization and leadership from personal or vindictive criticism that can occur in the middle of a controversy or negative situation. If an announcement warrants an event or “press conference” to share good or bad news, we organize it, publicize the date, time and location, and manage the event for internal and external awareness and understanding.
We develop key message points. Based on obtaining factual information (good or bad) from internal sources, we develop key message points that can be converted into a public statement, frequently asked questions and answers, and written collateral.
We don’t spin. “Spinning” a story is disingenuous, deceptive and often viewed by the media as manipulative. We ask hard questions internally to understand the truth, and then thoughtfully develop statements that are understandable and authentic (and with which our legal team is comfortable) to provide to our internal and external audiences.
We put things in context based on current events. We monitor what’s happening locally, regionally and beyond. We enhance good stories by relating them to the news of the day/week/month. We put bad news in perspective as it relates to the larger world. To do these things well, we depend on relationships with others on campus to keep us informed of both positive and negative developments. So, consider this an open invitation: Get to know us and let us help spread the word about your latest initiatives.
David Brond was vice president for strategic communications and external relations at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute when this article was written. He is now vice president/director of account services for ab+c Creative Intelligence.