How an education writing strategy could protect your institution’s future

by Sophie Cole

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Covid-19 has heavily impacted higher education. Many organisations struggled to get it right when the pesky pandemic made an impromptu appearance on everyone’s curriculum. Students fled from universities and colleges to the safety of home, leaving a Silent Hill-esque hush to settle upon campuses.

Primary and secondary education providers have battled through the communications minefield, too, after facing the ultimate crisis comms stress test. But a lack of readily available information about quarantine rules, active cases and a messy move to paper-free comms and home-schooling has caused parents headaches and heartache. Managing disparate emails with scraps of school news can feel like a full-time job.

Now, as we (hopefully) emerge from this crisis, university students across the world feel let down, feeling as though their universities have ‘taken their money and run‘. Meanwhile, parents of younger students are reeling from a year of grappling to stay across the demands of home-schooling and unpredictable school closures. Even if organisations feel they have done all they could in difficult circumstances, precious trust has been damaged.

Poor communication has made a bewildering and stressful period even more so. And at a time when student reviews have more weight than ever on prospective students’ decisions, repairing it should be a priority. Taking a fresh look at your education writing could be the key to getting it right – but only if you’re willing to take an honest look at what the last year has taught us all.

The pitfalls of unplanned communication

Higher education

In many ways, Covid-19 has simply brought higher education’s woes to a head. As McKinsey puts it, “many universities were contending with declining enrolment and budget shortfalls even before the pandemic“. Today’s students have more learning opportunities than ever, and not all are drawn to a formal education approach. Coupled with the perceived breaches of trust over the past year, universities could struggle to maintain a healthy student pipeline without a rethink.

It’s not just new students and staff that higher education providers need to consider. Current students and staff may have felt, and still feel, lost at sea amid ever-changing guidance and restrictions. If you want to maintain a strong community feel and remind those who have chosen your institution that you value their contribution, you need to reassure and (to labour the metaphor) anchor them with considered, strategically distributed and relevant information.

Primary and secondary

Ensuring students stay happy and healthy has required a monumental effort from teachers and parents over the past year. By now, all parties are burned (and Zoomed) out and have little tolerance for confusing and disjointed communication.

A scattergun approach to keeping everyone in the know is exactly the opposite of what schools need right now. If you want to get parents and teachers on your side and children back on the path to a bright future, you need to be clear and concise and consider how you can make your communications more effective.

Can education learn lessons from the commercial sector?

Education providers (particularly those operating in the public sector) don’t often see themselves as businesses. But there are many valuable lessons schools and universities could learn. Corporations can’t afford to get their communications wrong to keep precious stakeholders and customers engaged and make sure their financial backing holds steady. Words are one of the most powerful tools any organisation can use to win, build and nurture these precious relationships.

Even though the people you’re trying to engage may not be paying customers in the traditional sense, it can help to approach relationship building as if they are. Focusing on growing relationships and encouraging your students, staff and prospective enrollees to choose you and advocate for your organisation should be your number one priority.

Creating a robust education writing strategy

To develop an effective communications plan, you must carry out a thorough and honest audit of the last year’s comms. And if you don’t think you can do this from an impartial perspective, get some outside help. Ask yourself (or get someone else to ask) questions like:

  • What worked (and what, painfully, did not) over the past year?
  • Have we delivered on what we promised? If not, why not?
  • Did you provide enough information at crucial points? Or did you overwhelm students and staff with information overload?

The answers could make you squirm a little, but a bit of uncomfortable accountability will help you understand how to get it right in future. Next, you must spend time and resources understanding your “customers” journey (in this case, students and their parents/guardians). In doing so, you can understand when, where and how you can better connect and give them the information they need and want.

And going forward, regular reviews should be part of your quarterly communications plan. It’s ok if you occasionally miss the mark due to a genuine well-intentioned error. But regular check-ins can help you avoid making the same, potentially costly, communications mistake more than once.

If you need specialist education writing and communications strategy help, we’re the people for the job. Get in touch to see how we could help you transform yours.

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