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Developing a Communications Plan for Higher Education Institutions

Most institutions of higher education, including colleges and universities, have a process of shared governance and decentralization. There is often not a top-down, command and control structure similar to many other organizations. The shared governance philosophy fosters a sense of freedom and encourages independence but can also bring about public relations and other communication challenges. How can a communications team effectively develop communications plans for institutions of higher education that respect this principle but also drive a university-wide message and strategy?


  1. Bring stakeholders together during the planning process: As you develop a strategy and communications plan, invite representatives from different schools and departments to participate in the communication planning process. Bringing stakeholders together early in the process will help ensure that the plan reflects the diverse perspectives and needs of the university community.

  2. Establish clear communication channels and processes: Clear communication channels and protocols help ensure that all university community members are kept informed and can contribute to the communication planning process. Channels could include email lists, newsletters, project management tools, and other internal communication tools.

  3. Foster collaboration and coordination: Encourage collaboration and coordination among different schools and departments to ensure that you align your team's communication efforts with the university's overall message and strategy. This could involve setting up regular meetings or using project management tools to track progress and ensure everyone is working towards the same goals.

  4. Make the communications plan public: Once you and your team have completed the communications plan or strategy, make it public so there is a shared understanding of the plan and the direction your team is taking.

  5. Develop a central repository of resources and materials: Once your team develops a plan, creating a central repository can help ensure that all university community members have access to the same information and collateral, like branding, graphics, and talking points. Other practitioners can use these resources to support the university's communication efforts.

  6. Communicate regularly and transparently: After the team finalizes the plan, ensure your team has frequent touch bases with schools and departments. These touch points could involve regular updates on progress, as well as regular opportunities for feedback and input. Regular, transparent communication is critical to building trust and ensuring all university community members feel heard and valued, especially as you deploy and update the strategy.

Developing and executing communications plans for higher education institutions can take time and effort. Working in a university setting requires more collaboration, coordination, and well-designed processes to communicate effectively. With clear command and control relationships between university leaders and different schools or departments, it can be easier to drive a message and respond coherently to public relations challenges.

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