How to make your education regeneration project a PR success
Written by Adam Ogden, PR and content manager, Freshfield.
At some stage, every university, college and school will undergo a major capital development programme.
But large regeneration projects aren’t just a way to improve facilities for your students – they are also an opportunity to engage with key stakeholders, build relationships and boost your organisation’s overall reputation.
Expanding or renovating a campus facility can be an exciting process but it can also be equally disruptive. Projects can last years and impact on students, staff, residents and businesses who might not immediately see the true value of your endeavours.
Preparing an all-encompassing communications strategy is the key to making your education project a PR success.
Take stock of your stakeholders
Starting the planning before a spade hits the ground is crucial, as is recognising the full impact of your development and who will be affected.
It may be too simple to assume that your students and staff will be the only people interested in your plans. For example, during the lifetime of the project, future students, local businesses, local residents, politicians and other stakeholders could all become involved. While your focus may be on the work site, the impact could be felt by commuters over 50 miles away.
Conducting a full stakeholder mapping exercise should be your first priority when approaching a regeneration communications strategy. Fully assess the ways that any audience could be impacted over the lifecycle of the project and scope out the milestones to ensure that they are fully informed and any risks mitigated from start to finish.
Problems in a development strategy normally take place when an audience assumes information in the absence of clear communication – developing a chain reaction of false information which could be avoided by forward planning and engagement. Bringing your key audiences along with you on your journey from day one can make life a lot easier down the road.
Engagement – more than just a buzzword
Developments are disruptive, most notably when your college or university campus is in a built-up area such as in a city or town. There is no escaping the fact that large deliveries, road closures, access problems and loud machinery will affect people in a way that creates problems.
However, genuine engagement can help to mitigate the effect.
Good engagement can define a project. Hold genuine consultations and conversations with your stakeholders on your plans at the earliest possible stage and embrace the listening phase of the consultation rather than it being a box ticking exercise. Where possible, encourage project teams to be flexible on supporting local stakeholders, whether that is changing the order of road closures to support local businesses or adapting the times for heavy deliveries or noisier parts of the work.
Neither is engagement a one-time exercise. Frequent conversations with stakeholders, either in person, using newsletters or emails, or in person through a public liaison officer, will help manage the project throughout.
Build community ownership that reflects your values
The temptation with developments can be to focus purely on key milestones, such as sod cutting, topping out or final launches. This light touch approach can be attractive to teams as it requires less work out of a busy job, particularly as for most in-house marketing teams, development communications take place on top of an already hectic workload.
But if you dig a little deeper, the human stories of these developments can come to the fore, and with them bring a real affinity to the project from your key audiences.
From the student apprentice starting work, to the local labour hired on site and the independent business benefitting from an influx of workers nearby, promoting the wider benefits of your project can show the positive effect and create a sense of local pride and ownership.
Showing your values through your regeneration will also reflect well on your organisation’s overall reputation, building a sense of community and goodwill which can make future projects easier.
Regardless of the size of your development, the level of disruption, or the quality of your finished facilities, strong communications planning and strategy can help your project become a success. It can also help the operations of a development to run smoother, by reducing the time project teams spend dealing with external distractions or issues.
As a flagship development, your organisation’s reputation will be closely linked to that of your regeneration project. Plan early, develop your strategy and fully embrace it and you’ll be on your way towards a successful PR strategy for your regeneration project.
Freshfield’s education PR specialists have decades of experience helping organisations to create and develop successful communications strategies and plans, particularly around large built environment projects. Please contact Adam Ogden if you would like to discuss.