Battle stations: How university communicators are responding to coronavirus

Posted on Mar 24, 2020

Battle stations: How university communicators are responding to coronavirus

World 100 Reputation Network members are on the front-line in the response to impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global higher education.

We spoke to senior global colleagues to understand the key role that communications, marketing and international teams are playing as universities grapple with the challenges.

The W100 will be monitoring news on the response across the world, and connecting members to share good practice; keep an eye on our Twitter feed.

The key challenge for reputation management teams in the response to the impact of Covid-19 has been around the pace of change.  As governments adjust their advice and introduce restrictions, universities have had to be agile in adapting practices for delivering research and teaching: and in communicating those changes.

“My original background was in crisis comms,” says Eilis O’Brien, Director of Communications & Marketing at University College Dublin. “But this is beyond anything I’ve seen.”

“I am spending most of my time in ‘zoom’ meetings, re-writing pieces of communication for key audiences, and crafting comms from senior management team.”

Universities such as Manchester have been focused on adapting communications channels to ensure timely and joined-up messages with internal audiences initially.  There is a particular challenge in ensuring that messages are consistent across large, highly devolved institutions.

McMaster University in Canada has had a strong focus on effective co-ordination of messaging, with senior leaders brought onto their Crisis Management Group to ensure that decision-making and communications can be streamlined.

“We have assigned writers to each Vice President and Dean to ensure professional and joined-up comms,” says Andrea Farquhar, Assistant Vice-President, Communications and Public Affairs, and the team is on call to help as messages in decentralised areas of campus are developed and need review and approval.

The important role played by reputation management specialists is also emphasised at the University of Sydney.   ‘Our crisis management team can meet several times a day depending on the latest developments,” says Vice Principal (External Relations) Tania Rhodes-Taylor.  ‘Our directors for marketing and comms, media and recruitment and admissions are part of that team, and no comms go out that has not been co-developed or reviewed by that team. “ 

Using staff resources flexibly has been important, says Tania. ‘With events spaces closed and industry partners concentrating in the main on their own priorities, we have re-deployed those staff to help where they are needed, she says. ‘They are good at talking to people, so are being used in student support or communications roles.”

 

Share your stories of the role your teams are playing in the crisis, and look out for forthcoming W100 Webinars on the subject.