PR Tips for Small Colleges and Businesses

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By using strategies and tools that large universities and businesses use, small colleges and firms can have a competitive advantage.

Daniel Kennedy, former director of alumni communications for the University of Illinois, system-wide, and now owner of, has some advice for small colleges and business that handle their own public relations work in-house. "Think like the big guys," he advises. "Use the same strategies and tools to get more out of your communications efforts."

Specifically, he advises:

    Â•     Make sure you have a strategic plan, one that has a communications plan to support it. One Midwest school actually has a communications "plan" that says it needs to develop a communications plan. That's not a plan.

    Â•    Make each story count. Each release or story should have a goal, one that advances both the institution's strategic goal and the communications plan.

    Â•    If you don't have a crisis communications plan, develop one. If they do have one, dust it off and rehearse it. Better to find the bugs now when it doesn't matter than later when it does.

    Â•    When something bad does happen, don't hide and never say, "No comment." Be honest and be prompt with facts. And don't hide facts. They always show up, sooner or later.

    Â•    Count your publics. For small colleges, publics include staff, faculty, students, potential students, alums, parents of students, and members of your community, to name a few. For small businesses, publics include past, present and future customers, employees, competitors, community groups and the community at large, as well as end users of your products and services. Do your communications efforts reach all of your publics? They should, when appropriate.

    Â•    If you rely solely on your school's publications to get your word out, think outside the box and use e-wire services to target national audiences when you have stories that would interest national audiences. Sometimes, the only time you hear of a college is when something bad happens.

    Â•    Does your firm or school's web site have a journalist-friendly corner where reporters can review the credentials of resident experts (professors, engineers, etc.)? Makes the reporter's job easier, may get the school some ink.

    Â•    Be opportunistic with your resident experts. When news outside your institution happens, push them into the spotlight. If you have a professor who is knowledgeable about a trouble spot, for example, suggest that local (or national) television, radio and newspapers interview him.

Kennedy, whose work has appeared in such magazines as Life, Midwest Living and Board Member, says that using these strategies can make small schools and businesses more competitive.

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