Taking Your Faculty Public

When b-school administrators fail to encourage faculty to engage in public forums, they lose out on opportunities to raise the visibility of their schools.

I often hear deans make statements such as "Our school is not as visible as it should be," or "We need to engage more broadly with the business community." One key way for them to move the needle on these points is to make sure faculty participate in external communications.

But too often, schools not only fail to encourage faculty engagement in public outreach, they disincentivize it. In their book Most Likely to Succeed, Tony Wagner and Ted Ointersmith note that most schools base tenure decisions on two factors: research output and politics. As a result, activities such as blogging, doing press reviews, or even writing books for a general audience can be viewed at many institutions as deviations away from serious research.

To overcome these barriers, a school's leaders and communications teams must shift their institutional culture. The following tactics are great first steps:

Model public communications. Whether it is engaging with the press, blogging, or using social media, deans should be communicating regularly with the public. By modeling this behavior, they and their marketing teams are in better positions to encourage faculty to do the same.

Highlight contributors. Send out regular, perhaps monthly, email notifications that praise faculty who have been mentioned in the media or have used social media to make a positive impact. Although the communications team can help by ghostwriting, editing, and disseminating the email, these messages should be sent from an academic leader's email address, not via an automated message.

Leverage physical spaces. When I worked as director of public relations for a business school, one of my first actions was to display print copies of the press where faculty had been mentioned on boards in strategic locations throughout the school. We also periodically would assemble a press clippings booklet and distribute it to faculty.

Reinforce the message at faculty meetings. During every in-person meeting, take a few minutes to highlight faculty engagement activities, particularly those tied to the school's mission.

Give awards. Many schools give out teaching and research awards to professors. Why not also give awards to professors who have made an impact through their communications efforts?

Deliver a robust learning program. While speaking at an academic conference, I asked the 200 or so professors in the room how many had been trained during their PhD studies to communicate their research to academic audiences. Every hand went up. I then asked how many had been trained to communicate the ramifications of research to external audiences. Every hand went down. That's why I believe schools should offer ongoing- not one-off-training.

Schools see far greater engagement with content when it is shared by individual faculty.

Schools can bring in communications specialists to offer experiential workshops where faculty can learn and apply best practices. They also can set up an interactive communications channel where individuals can ask questions and share best practices with each other.

Another idea is to schedule monthly brown bag lunches, where professors can take turns sharing their experiences with colleagues, whether they have done a major television interview or written a viral blog post. Marketing staff could explain how faculty can share their research with larger audiences using new social media tools.

Create an ambassador program. Schools see far greater engagement when content is shared by individual faculty than when it's shared under the institutional logo. That's why one of my clients has formed a team of faculty ambassadors who highlight the school's thought leadership on LinkedIn. The communications team can provide the content; the ambassadors need only copy it or tweak the language to interject some of their opinions before they disseminate it on their channels.

Change the system. The ideal solution, of course, is to ensure that public communications efforts are accounted for in the tenure process. One creative approach to this might be, for example, bundling public communications activities into the category of citizenship or service.

All of the above tactics are about changing the culture. So, don't just talk to faculty about why engaging in external communications is important. Demonstrate it, recognize it, and reward it on an ongoing basis.

Kevin Anselmo is the founder and principal of Experiential Communications, a consultancy providing communications services and training to higher education institutions. Previously, he worked in full-time communications roles for IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Duke University's Fuqua School of Business in Durham, North Carolina.