Outsourcing higher education communications

By Sharon Aschaiek | Sept. 12, 2018

outsourcing communications

The higher education marketplace is crowded. Competition to attract students is fierce. Universities and colleges are also competing for funding and talent. So when it comes to standing out, effective communications is more important than ever.

At the same time, some post-secondary schools have limited communication resources, in terms of both dollars and expertise. Sometimes, there’s a gap between what your communications team wants to achieve, and what’s actually doable. Many communication managers face the challenge of creatively stretching tight budgets.

That’s where outsourcing can be a good idea. Contracting out specific communication functions lets you access specialized expertise you may not have expertise, and/or complete desired projects in a flexible, cost-effective way.

When to outsource

Here are some times where it makes sense to bring on board an external communicator:

Busy times of year: Get help with completing communication projects when there’s an overflow of work, or when staff numbers are low, without make a long-term hiring commitment.

Specialized expertise: Use the services of an experienced communicator with strengths that may be missing from your in-house team, such as copywriting, copy editing, proofreading or project management.

New projects: Launch your new communication initiative on time and in a seamless fashion by having an additional communicator on hand to assist with content strategy and development.

Improving existing communications: If you’re looking to enhance your current communications materials, an external communicator brings a fresh and objective perspective to auditing and rewriting content.

Making it work

To get the most value out of working with an external communicator, remember these top tips:

Find the right fit: Carefully evaluate the expertise of the prospective communication consultant to ensure they have skills and work experiences to fulfil the project requirements. Review their portfolio, and if needed, ask them to send additional work samples. Request referrals of past clients to get additional input on their competencies and work style. Professional membership organizations such as the International Association of Business Communicators can help you find qualified consultants in your area.

Consider value: While budgets typically dictate which service providers we choose, be careful of making price the ultimate deciding factor. As with any type of purchase, the lowest fee doesn’t usually equal the best value. Communicators usually set their fees according to their level of experience and depth of expertise — research going rates to know what to expect. Also, remember that you are already likely saving money by hiring a consultant for the project’s defined period, versus hiring a staff communicator.

Get it in writing: To keep the project on track, clarify the roles of both parties and avoid misunderstandings, use a contract that clearly indicates all the project terms. The contract should include terms on areas such as the responsibilities of both parties, services to be provided, project deliverables, workback schedule, intellectual property rights, fee structure and confidentiality.

Be inclusive: Make sure to introduce your consultant to the in-house team members working on the project, and that they understand how everyone will work together. Provide the consultant with access to any cloud-based project management software being used to facilitate the work. Also ensure the contractor has all the relevant support materials needed to do their job.

Stay in touch: Establish the protocol for checking in with each other on the project’s progress. Determine how, and how often, how you will provide feedback on the consultant’s work, and make yourself available to answer questions. Ongoing communication about the project’s status will make it easier to resolve any issues as they arise.

Explore further: If the scope of your project expands and you find that you don’t have certain expertise in house, check with your consultant to see how else they might be able to help. Many offer a range of communication services, such as content consulting, writing, editing, project management, graphic design and photography. Or, they may be able to source other suitable professionals from their network of communicators.

Higher Ed Communications regularly collaborates with universities and colleges on their communication projects. If you’d like to learn more about how I can support your school with writing, editing or content consulting services, let’s talk.

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