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The Transformation of Public Relations to Higher Education

It’s high time for a change in how we think about the practice of public relations in higher education. The prevailing model has been a “three-legged stool” — in which communications is a production-oriented job shop allied with alumni relations and development, and reporting to the institution’s chief fund-raiser. 

This model is based on an outdated and misguided understanding of public relations. It fails to recognize the strategic role of public relations as a high-level management function.

Fortunately, a new generation of presidents and boards are beginning to demand that the college or university public relations shop no longer be a “Kinko’s” or a “news bureau.” These new leaders expect more. They want the public relations office to become a team of strategists who help the university manage relationships with all key stakeholders through the use of two-way communications.

Senior public relations practitioners must understand this new approach, know how to practice strategically, and be able to add real value at the president’s table. But that’s not enough. The senior public relations leader also needs to know how to get her people to go there with her.

John Kotter’s eight-step model is a useful tool for managing change. I have used it on several transformation initiatives, including a recent project to improve internal communications at my university. I will discuss Kotter’s model in relation to this project and identify some lessons learned.

Joseph Brennan, associate vice president, University Communications, University of Buffalo, is a member of PRSA’s Counselors to Higher Education (CHE) executive committee.

Join Brennan along with Linda Thrane and Michael Warden, APR, for their co-presentation, The Transformation of Public Relations to Higher Education, at the PRSA 2008 International Conference: The Point of Connection, on Monday, October 27, 2008, in Detroit, MI!

About the author

Joseph Brennan

1 Comment

  • This is right on. The Marketing,Communications & Admissions ( team at the University of Central Florida in four short years has transformed itself into a powerhouse tool building and maintaining reputation, counseling the administration and attracting the best and brightest. There’s a changing wind in higher education that calls for adopting corporate models in this arena.

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