Student Voice: It’s all about (public) relations by Gillian Richard

May 17th, 2013 Karine Joly 1 Comment

The little story behind this guest blog post

Gillian RichardGillian Richard is a student at The University of Alabama and a member of their PRSSA chapter. She is also a member of Platform Magazine, an online, student-run publication at UA.

Last but not least, she is incredibly patient and has fantastic professional communication skills.

Gillian pitched me a story in late February. She wanted to write a guest post for this blog. I usually don’t publish guest posts – especially because they are often used for search engine optimization purposes by lead generation websites, not interested in your eye balls my dear readers but only by the Google juice this blog can deliver.

Yet, I decided to make an exception and accept Gillian’s offer, because I knew she could write something interesting for YOU.

Who doesn’t want to hear from a member of our top target audience?

Gillian submitted her piece very promptly and even added a few more examples at my request. She prepared the screenshots and followed up diligently with me. Unfortunately, the craziness that my work is today has prevented me from publishing this piece until today (my apologies again, Gillian!).

With students today, it’s all about (public) relations!

Life at a university or college offers much more independence to students, and because there is not as much structure, effective communication can be difficult. The University of Alabama has 33,602 students. Reaching out to that big of an audience can prove challenging, but there are certain techniques college PR departments can use to reach out to their target audiences.

Growing your enrollment through PR

One of the best ways that colleges and universities can implement PR strategies is marketing to potential students. Before we worry about how to talk to students, we must have students to talk to. So what’s the best way?

I can’t tell you, unfortunately.

However, I can tell you that it’s important to make sure your platform is appropriate and timely.

The world has changed significantly even in the three years since I applied to college. I had one college send me multiple letters a week. While keeping contact is key, don’t go overboard.

Also, your platform needs to match the audience.

Letters can be effective, because you do have to take into consideration that you are appealing to your student’s parents as well; however, today’s students are tech-savvy, so the Internet and social media are great ways to build a relationship with them.

pr2I also had colleges sending me letters after most of their scholarship deadlines had passed. That’s not helpful at all. Start your relationship-building tactics early, and give plenty of time for students to make their decision and still have time to meet any deadlines.

Higher ed strategies

One of the keys in communicating with college students is to stay relaxed.

Where I think so many administrative departments go wrong is in taking themselves too seriously. Your job is serious, but at the same time, college is a time to have fun, enjoy and learn, and we want that laid-back attitude when it comes to administration as much as possible.

During crisis situations, that relaxed attitude obviously has to change a little bit. However, keeping calm in times like this is more important than ever.

While I can only vouch for UA, our media relations department does it right in times of trouble. The tornado that came through Tuscaloosa almost two years ago is a prime example. We were constantly updated with emails, text alerts and even phone calls to keep us informed on what was happening on campus and in town. It’s important to remember while communicating in a crisis in the higher ed world, you’re responsible for keeping students informed, as well as their families.

Keeping open channels of communication, even just for day-to-day news, is imperative to having a successful communications program.

“The University of Alabama is always on top of their social media strategies. More often than not, I learn about campus events on Twitter before ever receiving a formal email,” said Haley Clemons, a student at the university. “Information is constantly being shared between students and faculty. It also makes it easy to sign up for events because links are easily accessible on my Twitter feed.”


Obviously social media is one of the best ways to reach out to students, not only because it’s quick and convenient, but also because it’s the most popular channel for news among that target audience.

“I’ve never felt disconnected from the University in terms of social media,” said Kaitlyn Honnold, public relations major at the University of Alabama. “If there’s even a bad thunderstorm, the university warns me about it through phone calls, Twitter, Facebook, emails and text messages.”

Being involved with social media means staying updated on current trends. I’m not saying that you should download Snapchat, but if it’s an outlet that you can use to effectively communicate with your student body and help you form positive relationships, it might be worth checking out.

It all boils down to this: When you’re working in higher education, students and parents need to know what’s going on quickly, and in a manner appealing to them.

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