Communications strategy | University of Oxford
Interior of the Divinity School
Interior of the Divinity School
Credit: Whitaker Studio. This image comes from Oxford University Images

Communications strategy

Planning an effective communications strategy

Time spent planning is time well spent

When you’re under pressure to deliver a project you want to produce evidence of progress quickly. But you risk failure if your aims and objectives are not clear.

Firstly identify an aim, or vision, for your project

For example: ‘We want to have the most highly rated department of its kind in the UK, and be in the top three in the world’. Maintaining focus on a long-term goal gives your department or team a shared sense of purpose.

Use SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-specific)

For example, ‘We want to raise £10 million for a building extension that is ready to accommodate an extra 30 researchers by October 2014’. In October 2014 answering the question ‘Did we succeed?’ will be very easy. Without SMART objectives you won’t have anything against which to measure your success.

Which audiences do you need to reach in order to achieve your objectives?

Concentrate your effort on the audiences with the greatest power to affect whether you achieve your objectives or not.

But don’t ignore the people who have influence over the ‘powerful’ audiences

Have a dialogue with people who have a potentially negative influence, while encouraging those audiences with a potentially positive influence to support your project. And remember your internal audience – your academics, staff and students.

What do you want your audiences to do and think?

How can you best persuade them? Identify some clear messages tailored to each audience, while avoiding any contradictory messages.

What are the best means by which to encourage your audiences to do and think what you want?

For example, if your audience is small and localised then knocking on doors, distributing a flyer and inviting people to a meeting would be more effective than using mass communications like the media and the web. This isn’t to say that you can’t use a combination of communications, but work out how you can best target your audiences.

What help do you need?

Are those needed going to be available at the times you need them? Will this cost anything? If you plan ahead you can bid for funds and for people's time as necessary. For example, if you want a glossy brochure work out how long it is going to take to write the text, find photographs, and commission the design and printing.

Work backwards from your target date and identify what needs to be done and when

Use a timetable of activity and review it frequently with the project team. This holds people to account and will alert you to any problems. Work out which people and committees you need to seek approval from and ensure that is factored into your timetable.

At the start of the project work out how you are going to demonstrate your success

It could be proving that a fundraising target has been reached, or a building has been constructed, but also think about qualitative evaluation. What do the researchers in the new building think of it? Does it meet their needs? If you can demonstrate that they are happy then that’s a bonus.

External Communications: An Oxford Education

We wanted to give external audiences an insight into the Oxford experience from applying through studying to the career achievements of our alumni.

We wanted them to understand: the investment we make in widening participation and access; the rigour of the application and interview process; the benefits afforded by tutorial teaching, access to state-of-the-art facilities, and being taught in a multidisciplinary college environment; and the skills that our graduates take with them into the workplace.

We wanted potential applicants to see Oxford as a worthwhile investment

By producing a printed document and associated webpages we brought all this information together, and featured case studies of students and alumni to give our messages authenticity.

We wanted potential applicants to see Oxford as a worthwhile investment, offering them an exceptional education and improving their long-term employment prospects. We also wanted politicians and the media to see that the admissions process is fair and rigorous, and that an Oxford education offers value for money, contributes to the UK economy, and improves the UK’s international standing.

The document was sent to employers, politicians, donors and the media and the webpages promoted to a wider audience including potential applicants and school and college teachers. The webpages give the project longevity because they can be constantly updated with new text and case studies.

The document was a useful lobbying tool during the Browne Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance and continues to be promoted to external audiences – particularly potential applicants and their teachers – who want an insight into the Oxford experience, its quality and benefits for graduates and society.

Writing a communications strategy

Took place on 21 May and 29 May 2013

A communications strategy is an invaluable means of clearly identifying your objectives, audiences, tactics, timescales, and ultimately how you’re going to measure your success. It is essential for major projects, but also a useful means of reassessing ongoing work and identifying any changes that need to be made.

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