By Alfie Duffen on 13 June 2016
How PR skills are critical for academic stakeholder relations
We recently worked with our client, UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity, on the university’s Global Citizenship Programme. They had created a two week project for students which had PR at its core – even if the students may not have realised it.
The end goal for the students was to design a sustainable solution to a problem that local organisations in Hackney Wick, East London, were facing. To do this they had to meet with the representatives of the organisation to work out what the issue was. Then they did their own research in the field, talking face-to-face with stakeholders. Finally, they would design and present a solution.
The problems came in many forms, but many came back to public perception. People either weren’t happy with what they were getting from the organisation, or – in the case of the Mobile Garden City in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, a self-sustaining communal garden – they simply didn’t know it existed.
So the task was one we recognised all too well:
- Talk with the client to understand what they wanted to get across to their stakeholders;
- Research the most effective methods and channels for engaging with the stakeholders;
- Come up with a solution to meet the client’s need.
This is exactly what one of the student groups did. Tasked with finding a way to get more people involved with the Mobile Garden City run by R-urban, they visited residents in the surrounding area to understand the barriers.
Some said they had never heard of it. Others said they had seen it but weren’t sure what it was, since they couldn’t find much about it online. The group realised that this was a key issue, and it formed a large part of their solution. By increasing the Garden’s online presence, including giving it a voice on social media platforms, the young, tech-savvy local demographic would be able to connect with it much more easily. From there they would be more likely to share this interest with their followers, and so public engagement would grow.
From macro to micro
The challenge the IGP set the students was a micro-study of the way the Institute works at an organisational level. It collaborates with stakeholders to define an issue and create a solution that isn’t straight from a textbook, so that more sustainable and long-lasting prosperity is achieved.
The students were trained with skills that would help them do just this. They learned how to conduct effective interviews in order to gather the right information from their organisation. This was backed up with lessons in human-centred design and rapid prototyping, skills that allow for a solution which considers the client throughout the solution design process, ensuring that the final outcome meets their needs. Moreover, they were lectured on key concepts to enable them to better understand the issue they would have to solve.
The Institute for Global Prosperity has a wealth of knowledge and experience of cultivating mutually beneficial relationships with its wide array of stakeholders. Just like other PR skills – from good interview techniques to key message development, this is critical for ensuring your message is interpreted accurately by your audiences and – just as significantly in longer-term projects – that trust in your organisation is enhanced.