If you’ve ever felt that public relations was a mysterious black box, then this episode is for you. We discuss public relations for higher ed with Barbara Pierce, president of Tipping Point Communications. Barbara has over 25 years experience leading global, national, and regional public relations initiatives, and she’s worked extensively in higher education.

We start by hearing Barbara’s favorite definition of public relations, and then we jump into the major shifts that have drastically changed how PR is practiced in recent years. Barbara shares her insights into how marketing and PR teams can become better aligned, and she gives actionable advice on how schools can increase the odds of getting their stories picked up by media outlets. Towards the end of our discussion, we talk about how schools can better prepare for crisis communication scenarios before they happen.

Episode Highlights

Defining Public Relations

For some, public relations is synonymous with publicity and crisis communications. In Barbara’s view, PR is about an organization consistently doing the right thing and taking credit for it, with the goal of continually reiterating who the organization is and what it stand for in example. While that will necessarily involve news releases, photo ops, story pitches, and the like, the ultimate purpose of those activities is to build the organization’s reputation.

How Public Relations has Changed

Barbara cites three trends that have shaken up PR over the past several years:

  1. Social media. No surprises here, but it’s worth remembering that in the past, an organization’s connection to the public was almost entirely mediated by third-party media outlets who translated their message to the masses. Today, much of that communication happens immediately and for you, in many cases by anonymous parties who aren’t always operating ethically.
  2. The dissolution of traditional media outlets. For years, the daily paper served as the public’s lifeline to important information. These days, a community is lucky if the paper comes out once day, and the reporters responsible for generating the content are working harder than ever. Often they’re covering a dozen beats, while also blogging and taking photo and video.
  3. Us versus them. In the last two to five years, as many have noted, the tone of public debate has become more aggressive and divisive. Nuanced intellectual conversations are increasingly hard to have and there’s no opportunity for people or organizations to agree with some things but not others. This all or nothing mindset has made communications and reputation management particularly difficult.

Lowering the Walls Between Departments

The practice of PR, like so many other marketing and communications activities, can no longer be thought of as a distinct, stand-alone discipline. In the past, public relations staff were thought of as publicists and crisis experts. Today, PR’s responsibilities overlap with SEO, paid media, and social media marketing and others.

For institutions of higher learning to succeed in this new environment, it’s critical that leaders open up to new ways of operating while also providing teams with clarity around what the institution stands for and where it’s going.  That clarity of purpose is especially important for public relations professionals who’s job requires navigating interpersonal relationships with those inside and outside the organization.

Earning Your Next Media Placement

The dissolution of traditional media outlets represents both a challenge and an opportunity for gaining media exposure for your institution. While journalists are more overworked and time-crunched than ever before, they’re also more receptive to stories they can easily publish with minimal effort.

While there are no guarantees your story will be picked up, Barbara cites a few ways you can give your story the best chance.

  1. Relevance. First and foremost, your story must be relevant to the media outlets target audience and advertisers. If you’re pitching a story about a new bit of research one of your faculty just published, you must remember that what got the research published in an academic journal is likley NOT the same thing that will get it published in a consumer media outlet. You need a compelling connection to something consumer audiences cares about.
  2. Fairness and completeness.  According to Barbara, the goal should be to deliver a story “tied up with a bow”. That means including a wide range of perspectives in the article and giving adequate air time to contrary viewpoints. If the story is fairly done, not overly commercialized, and compelling to their audience, you’ll hit a home run.

Preparing for the Worst

Inevitably, your institution will encounter a crisis that puts it in the public spotlight, an if your plan is to wing it, you’ll almost certainly fail. Barbara advises teams to meet twice a year to review and update crisis communications plans.

She outlines three key steps for teams to follow: anticipate, prepare, and respond. Importantly, the first two happen well before a crisis emerges.

  1. Anticipate. In this phase, key stakeholders from executive leadership, campus safety, operations, legal, and communications gather to consider likely scenarios, the institution’s stance, and how they will operate. Obvious examples include a controversial speaker arriving on campus or a student getting injured or killed in a dramatic fashion.
  2. Prepare. During this phase, the PR team prepares approved responses for each scenario. While most of these responses will never be needed, having them well-organized and ready to go at a moment’s notice is critical.
  3. Respond. When a crisis hits, teams execute the plan. Even though the stress will be high, the entire team can operate confidently because they’ve talked it through, they know where they stand, and they know what they need to say.

Links and Resources in this Episode

Website: https://www.tippingpointcomm.com/

Transcript

Jarrett Smith: In this episode, we’ll be talking about public relations. If you’re like me and you’ve often felt that public relations is a little bit of a mysterious black box, then this episode is for you. We’ll be hearing from Barbara Pierce, president of Tipping Point Communications. Barbara has over 25 years experience leading global, national, and regional public relations initiatives, and she’s worked extensively in higher education.

Jarrett Smith: We start by hearing Barbara’s favorite definition of public relations, and then we jump into the major shifts that have drastically changed how PR is practiced in recent years. Barbara shares her insights into how marketing and PR teams can become better aligned, and she gives actionable advice on how schools can increase the odds of getting their stories picked up by media outlets. Towards the end of our discussion, we talk about how schools can better prepare for crisis communication scenarios before they happen. This was an enlightening episode, and I hope you get as much out of it as I did. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Barbara Pierce.

Jarrett Smith: Barbara, welcome to the show.

Barbara Pierce: Thanks, Jarrett. Glad to be here.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah. Really happy to have you here and so excited to talk about the role of PR in higher education. I think it’s going to be a fun discussion. We’ve got a lot of good stuff to talk about. Before we get into that, I was hoping you could just give us a little introduction to you and your work and your background before we get started.

Barbara Pierce: You bet. Tipping Point Communications is a firm in Rochester, New York. I’ve been working with my business partner Michelle Ashby for the past seven years, and Tipping Point’s existed since 2005. Before that, I worked in agencies for about 15 of my 25 year experience, and have worked on everything from public companies to very small nonprofits and a lot of higher education institutions in between. I’ll also say that I did spend five years at Eastman Kodak Company, so got a lot of global experience and did a lot of really exciting, and exciting can sometimes be good or challenging, times throughout my career.

Jarrett Smith: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Good. Thanks for that. I think a good place to start off would be taking a little bit of time to actually really define what we mean by public relations. It’s just kind of been my observation that a lot of folks, even those of us in marketing that work alongside PR pros on a daily basis, may not really understand classically what is the role of PR, what are they really doing here in this practice.

Barbara Pierce: My favorite definition of public relations is doing the right thing and taking credit for it. Public relations relies on action in the organization and living up to what it claims to be, walking the talk, if you will. PR is not talking the talk and trying to convince everybody through a whole bunch of really glossy, shiny words that we’re better than we are. Instead, it’s reiterating what it is we’re doing for our brand, for our organization, for the community, for our customers.

The other key thing about public relations that I think is important for people to consider is that it’s operating all the time. It’s really a matter of reputation management. That’s another definition that some people like to use. It infuses … And it’s not just marketing. It’s not just the proactive publicity around a campaign or a product or a service you offer. It is literally communicating everything there is to say about you and who you are. Again, that reputation management kind of ties back to the “do the right thing and take credit for it” idea.

Jarrett Smith: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I know you’ve been in the industry for a long time, and you’ve seen a lot of trends come and go, but I’m just curious, what sort of big shifts have you seen over the past 20 years or so in the practice of PR and our understanding of how it fits within our organization?

Barbara Pierce: There are three things that I can talk to as it relates to this. Obviously, the first and foremost thing that every PR person worth their salt will identify is social media and the online world and what that has meant to PR because it used to be you really relied on a lot of third parties in the media to translate your message to the masses. Now, it’s happening immediately for you and by those who aren’t really necessarily operating forthrightly, maybe. A lot of anonymity online, so what you’re finding is social media and online resources have really changed the world.

Tied to that, the second thing I’d note, is the dissolving of traditional media outlets. Most of your listeners probably are living in a market in which they barely have a daily paper anymore. It used to be, in some of the markets we operate in, they had multiple daily papers. We’re lucky if you’re seeing them print every day, and when they do, they’re practically no more than flyers. Those who you’re working with in the media space, their life has changed. You’re dealing with a reporter who’s now doing three times as many beats as they ever had to. Not only are they running 12 beats instead of three, they’re also blogging, they’re bringing video cameras to their interviews, they’re taking photographs, they’re carrying tripods along with them, and these are print reporters that we’re talking about. The change in the media landscape is the second big shift, and that really does tie, I think, to what’s going on in the online world, where it’s all about click. Everything that’s happening in the social media space is really impacting the media space as well.

Thirdly, and this is a more recent phenomenon, something that’s really changed, I would say, maybe in the last two to five years is the level of us versus them. It’s so on or off. There’s no gray space in between anymore. Intellectual conversations really are kind of hard to have.

Jarrett Smith: Right.

Barbara Pierce: It’s all or nothing. It’s my way, or you’re either with me or you’re against me. The opportunity to have intellectual conversation and debate and communicate nuance in your communications, it’s really hard to do right now.

Jarrett Smith: To kind of have the benefit of the doubt long enough to get a nuanced point across.

Barbara Pierce: Yeah. That’s true, but the patience or maybe the brain space or the willingness to listen to a nuanced point of view, you’re either everything or you’re nothing. You can see it in politics. There’s no opportunity to agree with some things and not with other things. It’s really made communications, reputation management, difficult.

Jarrett Smith: I wasn’t surprised that you said social media, but then I had never really spent any time thinking of what does sort of the working day life of a print journalist look like. How has that changed the way PR practitioners have to approach their world? How has it changed the work itself? I realize that’s also a ridiculously broad question.

Barbara Pierce: It’s huge. What’s interesting is that we’re talking about institutions of higher learning. We’re coming from a communications/marketing perspective. Very similarly, in both areas, there used to be pretty clear silos, pretty clear definitions about what you did and what I did and what the next person did down the hall. In departments, what each department did. Now, it’s all overlapping, and it requires us to also have a lot of an open mind, a much bigger open mind, to imagining that what you’re doing and what I’m doing is a lot more connected than it used to be.

Jarrett Smith: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That leads to the question of, how … If things are a lot more integrated, there’s a lot more overlap now between, say, the world of marketing and the world of PR, we just take social media, you can argue that PR needs to own social media, you can argue that marketing needs to own it, and it’s not just that. It’s influencers. It’s sponsored content. It’s regular web content. What are some things that you’ve seen organizations do particularly well to align folks? Are there any things you could point to to say, “These folks have kind of … They’re starting to sing from the same hymnal. There’s a fairly well aligned team”? Is there anything you can point to there?

Barbara Pierce: I think the organizations that, and again, this is doing the right thing and taking credit for it, the organizations that require the individuals who work there to be open-minded and growth-minded, it’s critical. In day to day operations, I’ve worked with folks who have been in the business for 50 years, and they are open-minded and they listen and consider other perspectives and bring everyone together. Then I’ve worked with those who’ve been in the business for 10 years and who do it this way because we’ve always done it this way and this is the way to do it. The former is the best way to be. It really does come from the top. The top of the organization needs to be open and considering the impact of all of this new technology, this new way of being, on their institutions and their day to day lives. If they’re not open to that, then you can see it affect the entire organization. People live in silos. The right arm doesn’t know what the left arm is doing. You can see them trip over their own shoelaces.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah. What’s interesting was I was kind of expecting you to say a specific set of policies or procedures, but this is more of the mindset of continuous improvement. The policies and procedures are going to change, and who knows what we’re going to be doing 10 years from now.

Barbara Pierce: Sometimes inserting a policy and a procedure, imagining documenting something, is like a philosophy. Again, it comes back to the way of being. It’s really hard to document that. It’s about having clarity at the top about where we’re going, what we stand for, and who we are, and then everyone understanding it and operating within those philosophical guidelines. PR is a lot looser than programming or even media buying and planning because we are operating in between people. Today, with social media as crazy as it is and individuals becoming their own publishers, it’s all about interpersonal engagement and interaction. It’s really hard to document all that in a policy and a procedure.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah. Interesting. I think a lot of us tend to think of PR as being kind of very reactive sort of thing in nature, and I know it can be. There’s certainly that aspect to it, but I know that’s also probably not the best case scenario. It’s better to be proactive when you can. Can you talk a little bit about what proactive PR looks like in an organization?

Barbara Pierce: Proactive public relations is critical, to be honest, in preparation for those reactive times, but also … The reason why it’s important to be proactive to the reactive times is PR sets the groundwork for who you are. It helps people understand what you stand for. The proactive PR you should be doing, whether it be thought leadership, again, highlight a professor doing some really meaningful research and pushing out really compelling insights … Reiterating who it is you are in example, that’s important. What that does is it helps people understand who you are before you find yourself in a reactive mode. News releases, photo ops, story pitches, all of those things are building blocks to build the façade or the front perspective, perception, of who it is you are. Then if something was to go wrong … And by the way, it will. When it does-

Jarrett Smith: It’s not an if, it’s a when.

Barbara Pierce: … you’ve got all of that to fall back on, the reputation that you’ve built to fall back on. If you would rather keep your head down and not build up a reputation, when something goes wrong, you’ve got nothing to stand on because nobody knows who you are.

The first thing I would recommend to people doing proactive publicity is remember relationships are first and foremost, relationships with your regional media outlets, all of your beat reporters, industry beat reporters. All the people you’re going to need to tell your side of the story if and when something goes wrong, you need to be building relationships with them now, introducing them to who you are and what you stand for now, through that positive publicity.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah. Good stuff. I know enrollment is such a big area of focus right now as the space gets more and more competitive. Can you talk a little bit about how higher ed institutions can effectively use PR as part of their enrollment marketing approach?

Barbara Pierce: I would say, and I haven’t use this word yet, but I believe in it strongly, relevance. You’ve got a young group of people who are looking to define further who they are, and this is the first big step that a lot of them are taking on their own, probably 99% of them. This is the first big decision that they’re making on their own, and it’s really going to set the path for them moving forward. How can you be as relevant to them as possible?

Every institution of higher education has different objectives. This is probably a primary one. This is a very specific target audience. Considering, much like we do for all other marketing initiatives, what does this audience need to hear, what is important, what are their value drivers, and communicating that through public relations initiatives to reinforce, again, your reputation as a really cool … You want to be the reputation of the party school? Do you want to have the reputation of a really compelling, forward looking organization that is going to put people out who are going to get great jobs, move on to great advanced degrees, etc.? It depends on what it is you want and the type of people you want to draw as to what picture you paint of yourself to these kids.

Jarrett Smith: Yeah. I know in PR we oftentimes think about earning media attention. It’s easy to say, hard to do to get picked up, and I’m sure folks have had the experience of, “We’ve got this really great thing happening on our campus. We’ve got this amazing research we’re doing or this new innovative, new program”, and it’s top of mind for everybody in the university. Yet, it doesn’t seem to garner attention outside that group and get picked up by the media. What’s going on there, and what do schools need to be thinking about when they’re trying to actually intentionally go after some sort of placement?

Barbara Pierce: When we’re talking about earned media placements, we’ve got a middle man between us and the audiences that we want to reach. We have to be relevant to that middle man as well. That middle man is the media outlet, the reporter, the editor. What they’re looking for today … It used to be that they wanted to be top of the fold, headline top of the fold. Now they need clicks. They’re all operating to clicks. Much like the web team is operating to clicks, so are these reporters operating to clicks. The relevance to them would be providing them with a story that the organization knows is going to really be compelling to people reading online, really going to be compelling to advertisers and audiences. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality of it today. Also keeping in mind that this reporter has got a dozen beats, if not more. How do we provide this reporter with the best story that will not only get a lot of attention, but be easy for them to finish?

Barbara Pierce: We like to say we give reporters a story that’s tied up with a bow. Give them all of the perspectives, contrary opinions. “Here we’ve got this professor. We’ve got this individual that’s an expert in the field. We’ve got this student. You’ve got everybody that you need. One stop shop.” The reporter, if it’s fairly done and not overly commercialized, if it’s fairly done and it’s a really compelling story, they’re likely to jump all over it because they can get something done that’s really going to be compelling.

Jarrett Smith: Check off that box-

Barbara Pierce: Right.

Jarrett Smith: … move to the next thing.

Barbara Pierce: And it’s the relevance too. Here’s the challenge that we’re working with. When we are in an institution of higher learning, we believe so deeply in what it is we’re doing. Our professor whose life’s work it is we’re promoting believes so deeply in what he’s doing that of course it’s a big story. Until you take a look at the world though and make that work relevant to the rest of the world, the reporter’s not going to be as interested as, again, the guy who’s doing it for his life’s work.

Jarrett Smith: Right. What got it placed in the academic journal is not the same thing that’s going to get it placed in a consumer media outlet.

Barbara Pierce: It’s not. By the way, it’s that consumer media outlet that’s going to post it online and share it in their feeds, where it’s going to get around to the influencers who are going to influence your student, your perspective student. How do I make it really relevant to mom, to dad, to the guidance counselors in school? They’re going to see it every day. We’ve got to make it interesting and relevant to them. Tie it to public, current events. Tie it to what’s happening in your community. Tie it to what’s happening in the US or in the world. That’s when there’s, what we call, clickbait in a story.

Jarrett Smith: I kind of wanted to talk a little bit about the more reactive nature of PR. It’s I think no secret to anybody who’s been working in higher ed knows universities/colleges are kind of a lightening rod. You have this hotbed of controversy. You’ve got the principle of academic freedom and free speech, and the university’s seen as this oasis of that. As you mentioned earlier, people are more polarized now, more aggressive in their ideological leanings, than they’ve been in a long time. It puts the higher ed institution kind of right in the cross hairs. On top of that, you’ve also got hundreds or maybe thousands of young people that the school is in charge of and supposed to keep safe, and they want them to be safe. They’re not necessarily at a time in life where they’re … They’re interested in pushing boundaries. They may not be thinking safety first. It just seems like a really challenging environment.

Jarrett Smith: I guess I have a couple of questions that come out of this. The first one is, as a PR professional, when, not if, but when something comes out of left field that nobody really anticipated or this urgent, emergent issue, what is the mindset of the PR professional? I think a lot of us, for instance, in marketing, we may not be used to the pace that PR has to work at these days because things can explode so quickly. I’m just curious if you could speak to that a little bit. When you walk into a crisis situation, what’s that mindset? What are those primary things you’re looking to accomplish early on?

Barbara Pierce: As you were talking, the thing that came to my mind was how energizing … It’s funny to say. This is why I love doing public relations for colleges and universities because it’s the most unique environment of energy and thought and idea. This is where all of my easy, early … When we were just talking, you know how I said do the right thing and take credit for it? Gosh, how interesting is it for a university to have a very controversial speaker asked to use their facilities? What is doing the right thing in that case?

“First amendment. We’re a public university. We have to let them on campus.” Instantly, that’s not the right thing to a lot of other people because it’s a controversial speaker. You find yourselves in a real conundrum of intellectual, philosophical truth. Nobody’s wrong, because I just got done saying, we have to be open-minded. We have to have growth mindset. We might, but all of those individuals reacting to whatever they see as a decision on our part, it makes things really exciting. Let’s just admit that it’s a very exciting time to be in higher ed.

Barbara Pierce: As you walk into a crisis though … That moment … I give you that example because a lot of organizations have been facing that challenge. If you haven’t faced it, you’ve watched your neighbor face it or some of your competitors face it. In my opinion, there are three key parts to crisis communications, three phases if you will.

Anticipate, prepare, and respond. If you’ll notice, two-thirds of that happens before anything really hits the fan. That means if we are running an institution of higher learning and we haven’t thought about what it is we’re going to do and how we’re going to communicate, when, not if, but when either a controversial speaker comes to speak on campus, when a student gets injured or killed in some dramatic fashion, something else controversial happens … #MeToo has been a big thing, and we’ve got a lot of people, a lot of hormones, let’s admit it, on college campuses. Those are just three easy off the top of my head examples of things that every institution of higher education should be ready for.

When I say anticipate, perhaps everyone in your organization’s ready for what is likely to happen, prepare doesn’t mean that the president sits in his office and considers, the PR director sits in her office and considers, the director of admissions sits in her office and considers, what they would do. No. The entire organization needs to get together to determine what it stands for and how they would operate in these moments of crisis. If an organization isn’t doing it, I would say, twice a year, if you’re not doing it annually, you’re set up for a big drama, so I would encourage you to figure it out now.

Get together with the leaders of the organization. Safety and security needs to be involved. Legal needs to be involved. There needs to be a discussion about how you communicate in this moment, and then even draft some materials in that moment, because when we’re in crisis, we lose our minds and it’s just physiological. It’s fight or flight. That doesn’t look good in the moment of crisis, when the cameras are on you and you’re either freaking out or running for the hills. Get together, make a plan, so that way when something happens, you just fall into line like you’re going into a fire drill mode because you’ve been through this, you’ve talked through this, you know where you stand, you know where the statements are, everyone’s in agreement, and we don’t have to worry about thinking these things up in the heat of crisis.

Jarrett Smith: And I know you’ve pointed out to me in the past watching organizations that maybe don’t necessarily have the full spectrum of folks at the table that they need to in a crisis. There may be sort of one group that wrestles control away, like in a safety incident, for instance.

Barbara Pierce: Right.

Jarrett Smith: Can you talk a little bit about that?

Barbara Pierce: One of the things we like to point out to folks, safety and security, their job is critical to, again, the safety and security of the students on campus and to the employees and the staff and the faculty on campus. Operating and making decisions though about reputation isn’t their expertise, and perhaps they don’t even want that job, but too often incidents happen on campus that stay within that silo. Perhaps it goes to the president’s office, they’re aware that something bad had happened, but all of those kids who are there when that something bad happened and had their iPhones out and might have been taping the bad thing happening, if it doesn’t get to the communications team, the PR team, so that they can begin to prepare a response … I’d say 75% of the responses that we prepare as a PR firm never see the light of day, but they’re ready. The next time something like that happens, we’re prepared.

Barbara Pierce: The 25% that do see the light of day, we had time to prepare it, and we come away with it so much better off reputationally because we were ready for it. Letting those things … The determination of whether this is going to be damaging to our reputation lie with an organization that’s more focused on safety and security of the facilities and of the people doesn’t necessarily jibe. You can see sometimes where those decisions maybe didn’t get over to the comms team fast enough.

Jarrett Smith: And likewise, if you’re making decisions purely based on reputation, but without thinking through maybe the legal implications or-

Barbara Pierce: Correct.

Jarrett Smith: It’s a complex environment, so there’s no-

Barbara Pierce: You’ve got the safety and security team. You’ve got your legal team. You’ve got your communications team. You’ve got your operations team. The lights still have to go on. The doors need to get unlocked. You’ve got all of these four groups, and then you’ve got your executive team who are going to be the spokespeople, who are going to answer to the parents, who are going to answer to the community leaders. Those would be the different areas that I would say need to be involved. For instance, in this crisis planning that we’re talking about, those groups sitting around the table and coming to an agreement is critical.

Jarrett Smith: It really kind of reminds me of, in marketing, there’s this idea of the T-shaped professional that’s been popular for the past few years and this idea that as a professional, you have deep domain expertise in something, whether it’s safety or PR or law or whatever it is, but that you understand enough of everybody else’s world that you can speak intelligently and know when you’re getting in over your head and you need to bring in the real expert.

Barbara Pierce: This is where that open-mindedness, that growth mindset, comes into play and working closely together. What better way for a PR professional to really understand what’s going on in safety and security than to be in their lockstep with you, understand it, be in the throws of the crisis, and vice versa? Pretty soon … What’s great is to watch teams like that, engaging together under a shared common goal, which is protecting the organization, the university, the college, working together, and then start to identify situations that another should be aware of well before a real crisis even bubbles up. You start to recognize, “Oh, this is what my security director was talking about. I’m going to give him a heads up on this. This is happening online, but he needs to know.” Well before. Then we’ve all grown.

I’ve been doing this a long time, as you pointed out, thank you very much, but I believe that I still have so much more to learn. What better way to do it than in there with someone else who’s got a wealth of information, 25 years of experience, in what they do? Working together is critical. As an executive or as a president of an organization, looking at your team and making sure they’re working together that well, being really open to each other really well, that’s when you really build a team that succeeds no matter what they face.

Jarrett Smith: Sounds like great advice. Barbara, to wrap up, I’m wondering if you could talk with us just a little bit about what you see on the horizon. What’s emerging in the PR space? Where do you think we’re going to be in the next couple of years? What do PR teams need to be thinking about?

Barbara Pierce: Right now, this divisiveness, we’re talking in 2019, this divisiveness that I’m seeing, I’ve never seen anything like it. Lack of ability or willingness to consider another’s point of view. I would point out to every PR professional, any marketing professional, that it’s become so black and white right now, so on or off, so one thing or the other, that we can’t see a lot of shades. Being aware of that and being very deliberate in the language that you use. That’s an immediate future. I don’t know what’s going to happen playing out of this. I do hope it’ll swing back around and we can have cogent and open conversations and disagreements that are more respectful.

Barbara Pierce: However, I will say that as a trend in our industry, and I’ve said this before, the silos are coming down. In marketing and communications, the silos are coming down. Public relations people used to be publicists or crisis experts. Now they’re also writing content. We always used to write newsletters. Now we’re writing content that are turning into sponsored content, which is a paid vehicle. We’re working so closely with digital, paid media, owned media, earned media. It’s all overlapping. An understanding … Again, that T-shape, the top of that T needs to get a little thicker than it used to be. That’s important.

Then all I would say is within universities, the silos between departments and between jobs need to start coming down. We’re seeing that. The most successful organizations are reducing the level of, the thickness of, those brick walls between departments. That’s what I expect to see more of.

Jarrett Smith: Very good. Barbara, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been a really fun, really interesting conversation, so thank you for that.

Barbara Pierce: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.

Jarrett Smith: The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta, a full service marketing firm dedicated to helping higher education institutions drive enrollment, increase yield, and capture donors’ attention. For more information, visit echodelta.co.

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