Evolving the Community College PR Office for the Digital Age

by Leigh-Anne Lawrence
Piedmont Virginia Community College
Charlottesville, VA

The ongoing demand for digital content – video, social media, and online and mobile advertising – continues to be a challenge for many community colleges. Limited resources, shrinking budgets and small staff sizes make it difficult to keep pace in a world where traditional and online campaigns must seamlessly align, and marketing content has to be produced on a continual basis just to stay competitive.

At Piedmont Virginia Community College, we knew we needed to step-up our digital marketing efforts and asked ourselves how this could be accomplished with a relatively small staff and modest marketing budget. Our answer was to get creative: first with the marketing team and then with the content.

In 2015, PVCC’s marketing and media relations office had a staff of three full-time people: the director, a public relations specialist and a web content specialist. The web content specialist, in particular, had a demanding workload since he was not only serving as the webmaster but was also responsible for producing promotional videos, filming large-scale events like graduation, and taking college photos. At the time, we were also outsourcing our graphic design projects, television commercials and radio spots to third-party vendors.

When our web content specialist left for graduate school, we found ourselves in a unique position to restructure the department – a decision that would ultimately change the way we marketed the college from that point onward.

Step 1: We took the former web content specialist position and removed the website maintenance and training component, transitioning that function to the information technology department. The removal of the website component meant that the position went from full time to part time, but this was still a change for the better. Instead of having one employee that was split between the website, photography and video production – three high-demand areas – we were able to create a new multimedia position that focused solely on producing videos and photography.

Even better: When we hired for the position, we selected someone who was skilled in commercial production, a change that allowed us to produce our TV and radio spots in-house for the first time in the college’s history. This provided substantial cost savings and allowed us more control over the video content. Now, we can create commercials, testimonials, social media promos and more.

Step 2: We stopped outsourcing our graphic design and reallocated those funds to hire a part-time graphic designer. Having a dedicated graphic designer on staff allowed us to not only begin producing more promotional and recruitment materials, but to complete a total redesign of the printed credit class schedule, a crucial component of our annual marketing campaign. The redesigned schedule is smaller in size and is now printed in full color as opposed to the original black-and-white, tabloid-sized format. The new design is also less expensive to print, allowing us to channel those funds back into the paid advertising budget.

These simple changes, put into place just over a year ago, have already netted amazing results, allowing us to enhance our social media efforts, dive into the world of targeted digital advertising, produce our own video content, and design new branded literature and graphics that are already enhancing enrollment and recruitment efforts. Like many PR departments, we’re still a work in progress, growing and evolving along with our industry, but we’re moving in the right direction. It can only get better from here.

Leigh-Anne Lawrence is the director of marketing and media relations at Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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