For the past year, my daughter, a high school senior, has been looking at colleges. We’ve visited several schools and engaged with many more through email, social media, and old-fashioned telephone calls.
As our journey has progressed, I’ve realized that there are a number of broader public relations lessons to be learned from the process, such as:
Everyone is in PR
Just because a member of your team is not the primary public relations professional (think customer service representative or your front-desk receptionist), it doesn’t mean they’re not a “face” for your company or organization.
One of our college visits included a tour of the campus on one of the school’s regular shuttle buses. During our ride, the shuttle driver proceeded to talk and text on his cell phone about an upcoming vacation. As a parent who knew this driver could be transporting my child, this was, at minimum, off-putting and, at maximum, a potential safety issue.
To ensure that you put your best foot forward, make sure you are well-represented by all team members and that each of them understands their roles in providing a positive image of your company or organization.
Organized communications matter
It’s confusing for your audience if your communications are disorganized.
Consider this: We first learned our daughter was accepted to one of her college choices when I received an email saying that she is eligible for the honors program. The problem was: We’d never received the initial notification that she’d actually been accepted. A week later, we received an acceptance email, and a week after that, we received an acceptance letter by mail.
When communications don’t cascade in an organized fashion, it may make you look foolish, and it can leave your audience perplexed.
Relationships make a difference
In the course of just under one year, my daughter has had four different contacts in the admissions office at her first-choice school. Due to high turnover and interim positions, we have not had a consistent contact at the university until recently. This has made building relationships a challenge as we plan a most significant life event.
Good relationships are a foundation of effective communications and an essential part of building long-term trust.
Subject-matter experts are helpful
One of the greatest benefits of the college process has been the ability to speak directly with students and professors in the programs my daughter is considering. While our admissions counselors have been helpful, getting the information “from the source” is both credible and legitimate.
That’s no different than in the business world. Spokespeople have value, but a team member with specific content expertise may be a better option for delivering strong, credible messages.
Message should be tailored to the audience
While it seems obvious, this can’t be stated enough: Know your audience when preparing your messages. My child is not thinking about graduation rates or career placement during her senior year of high school. She wants to know about student life, where she will live, what her classes will be like, and yes, what she’ll do for fun.
What I want to know: What’s it going to cost? What scholarships are available? Will she be safe and secure in her dorm?
When preparing your key messages, consider to whom you are speaking and what messages will resonate best with that particular audience. And remember, you may need to say the same thing in markedly different ways to achieve your communications goals.
Hinda Mitchell is vice president at CMA (@CMABuildsTrust), a national public relations agency based in Kansas City, Mo. A version of this story first appeared on the CMA blog.