Chief Encouragement Officer: Why Your Education Non-Profit Needs a Community-Centric Blog
Investing in regular posts that highlight the people in your community can help build your brand even without in-person events.
“If you’re doing your job well, they won’t even know that you’re doing your job at all.”
These were the parting words my boss gave me after leaving his role as in-house public relations director and jauntying off into the agency tinted sunset. He never did specify who “they” are — presumably my bosses, readers, or anyone with an opinion on what I’m doing (read: everyone) — but the sentiment couldn’t ring truer. In the age of normalized racism, COVID-19 mask skeptics, and the increasing chances of mail fraud ruining the 2020 Presidential Election, PR professionals are best served working from the shadows.
Despite his advice, it stands that any PR staffer is going to see a bit of the limelight. Particularly in the tight-knit, education realm, PR coordinators can be as visible as top executives. They are organizing community events and responding to local inquiries. In a way, fighting the spotlight might seem oxymoronic, making staffers look like they have something to hide.
Still, any half-decent public relations pro knows they aren’t the show. And now, as the coronavirus pandemic rages into its fifth month of halting daily life, PR workers should realize that they are taking up a new mantle: Chief Encouragement Officer.
The power of positivity can’t be understated. Corporations have gradually shifted their narratives away from commercials and ad spots discussing “These trying times” toward feel-good messages about community and persevering.
Over the last couple weeks Burger King rolled out commercials for its Whopper and 2-for-$5 deals. The burger giant enlisted the help of food reviewers like Daym Drops to put familiar, and easily excitable faces, to their products.
Though the average community college likely doesn’t have a Burger King budget to cast dozens of actors in an ad campaign, it can still spread a similar message through in-house blogging. As people continue to rethink their lives around the image of COVID-19, education non-profit PR Staffers can shift gears into Chief Encouragement Officers by putting a face to their community efforts through blogging, which will funnel back into their lead generation, fundraising, and social service goals.
The New Face of the Company
It’s no surprise digital events became all the rage in 2020. With employees forced to work from home, Facebook Live and Zoom became the de-facto conduits to create interpersonal connections. Likewise, organizations saw their members lead the charge with digital content creation, becoming the spokespeople during live stream events.
Regular blogging can supplement live stream efforts, both housing information about upcoming events as well as creating shareable content that can put a face to the organization in-between events. Blogging creates a highlight reel of feel-good moments while identifying the people behind some of the services students and the community can expect to receive and donors can expect to support.
Earlier this week, Bronx Community College (BCC) ran a piece on Erica Levy, the Assistant Director of Recruitment for the Office of Admissions Services. Levy is one of the first people BCC students meet, and is regularly engaging the community at in-person events.
The article delves into Levy’s backstory as a long-time member of BCC’s community, but also takes the time to explain some of the hesitations first-time college goers might have about enrolling during a pandemic. Levy’s words are humanizing and encouraging, taking what could otherwise be boiled down to a generic blog post and freshening the information by attributing it to an important member of the BCC Team.
Similarly, Hillsborough Community College (HCC) in Florida began its HCC Online video series, which sees students taking a minute to explain the shift to a virtual learning space.
HCC’s first video serves multiple purposes, introducing viewers to one of the college’s students, her professor (who was featured in an earlier video) and the positive impacts of virtual learning all in the span of 60 seconds. It’s a comprehensive strategy that requires little more than some stock music and a non-linear video editor.
Featuring community members on blogs and social feeds has an added bonus: it makes the subject feel good. Plenty of people have stories to tell, but not everyone has a platform to tell it. By encouraging them to tell their story, higher education PR professionals can put their key constituents into the spotlight.
Neither of these efforts are explicitly goal driven. These aren’t the pristine press kits or talking head spokespeople that push a predetermined narrative. They lack notable calls-to-action or catchphrases that encapsulate the typical PR campaign. But as supplementary materials in a larger plan around enrollment or giving, these pieces thrive by building engagement during a socially distant time.