Most higher ed communications leaders recognize the importance of a strong communications platform for their institution’s president or chancellor. It’s not about self-aggrandizement for the boss, but the understanding that the presidential bully pulpit is a key component of an integrated, comprehensive communications strategy to advance mindshare, reputation and engagement.
An essay published by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania captured our attention: “Overlooking Communication: Why Strategists are Missing a Trick.” It is true in almost every organization we’ve experienced that leaders underestimate how much, and what kind of, communication is needed to move an organization toward a strategic vision.
Authors Mark Leiter and Jeff Pundyk write: “Executives crafting strategy often miss a powerful trick — instead of making communication a top priority throughout the entire strategy development journey, they typically focus on communication only as they approach the final stages of their work.
“This may have worked when things moved slower. With every passing year, however, the available ‘time to decision’ is shrinking while executives are buried in a daily communication avalanche. Cutting through the clutter requires strategic content that is crisp, compelling and inspiring at every point in the strategy process and beyond.”
I’ve overseen three university presidential transitions, and now in our consulting roles Julie and I have advised several in-house teams as they plan for a new president or chancellor.
It’s an important time in the life of an institution, and strategic communications planning is critical – both to ensure a smooth transition and to create a solid foundation for a new leader’s future direction. The most effective communications efforts happen with careful pre-planning and coordination among several college units. When this works well, everyone comes together to craft strategies that celebrate the legacy of where the institution has been, and excitement about the next chapter.
After facilitating quite a few in-house planning sessions with colleagues and clients, I offer some guideposts for making the most of leadership transition:
I came across an interesting article in The Atlantic recently, and noted it for further reflection. The story, “Employers Are Looking for ‘Influencers’ within their Own Ranks,” looks at the trend of companies tapping their employees to serve as brand ambassadors and social media influencers. Although the context is for-profit business, the concept is directly relevant to college and university marketing.
Higher ed communications typically focus on external promotion: media placements, enrollment marketing, videos and photos for social media campaigns. When internal communication is considered, it’s usually in the context of a problem: addressing a lack of trust or campus concerns around a specific issue. Rarely has it been a strategic and intentional part of a broader communications program.
A trio of news articles in February and March on the reach and impact of the global fake news machine completely blew my mind, and I’ve been ruminating on them ever since. It struck me that these developments have huge implications for higher education, both for college and university leaders and for the communications people who support them. Continue reading