April 30, 2023
A successful marketing communications office plays a critical role in the trajectory of the school—ranging from increased enrollment and giving, to building a positive reputation in the local community.
When a new Marketing Communications Director joins the school staff, they should be professionally fluent in the following four areas:
- strategic marketing planning and implementation
- communications planning and implementation
- budget development and management
- crisis communications
Take note of that last bullet. The topic of crises may not come up during the hiring process—passed over in favor of the standard job responsibilities. But it should be a standard qualification for this role. As an administrator, ask yourself: Does your new Marketing Communications Director know how to create and implement a crisis communications plan?
Is Crisis Communications Relevant to Academia?
Overall, the idea of crisis communications is typically associated with high visibility or high risk industries—not the educational arena. Corporations dedicate entire teams to crisis management. Difficult situations facing companies or organizations are very different from those facing schools. However, the basic concept here remains the same: Having a communications department that is prepared to react allows for less chaos, consistent and clear messaging, and less room for mistakes during the actual crisis.
The following are just a few scenarios that may affect academic institutions:
- On-campus violence
- Natural disaster
Of course we all hope that none of these emergencies will hit our school, but we must not ignore the possibilities. So while your new Marketing Communications Director should spend the bulk of their time focused on strategic objectives, a crisis communications plan should be developed early in their tenure.
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Planning Points to Consider
Creating a crisis communications plan for a school involves several steps.
- Outline a range of possible situations. Include a number of scenarios that would constitute a crisis. There may be situations that emerge beyond those in your plan, and that’s all right. Consider this document as a guide to navigate any difficult situation.
- Identify the relevant parties. Determine what departments or administrators will be part of the communications response—what office or point person will be responsible for fact gathering and synthesizing the information as it comes in? Does the situation warrant a call to the school attorney?
- Identify key communicators. Who will talk to students? Who will talk to families? Who will talk to faculty and staff? What will be done via text, email, website, or phone calls? How will your core constituencies know where to access current information, and who will keep that resource updated?
- Identify key communicators for the media. Talking to reporters can be overwhelming if you’re unprepared. Media will approach anyone they can reach during a crisis—and if multiple people talk publicly, there is little chance that your messaging will remain consistent.
Last, even the most thorough crisis communications plan will not help anyone if it’s sitting in the Marketing Communications Director’s password-protected hard drive. While it may be updated over time, print a few copies of the most recent version and store them in several easily accessible offices. The digital file should be restricted to a few key personnel.
Of course, no one wants to face a crisis. But, being prepared with a communications response will allow the School Head and administration to put the focus where it belongs: on students and families.