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How to plan for a new build

Publicity around a new building on campus can be difficult if you don’t plan for all eventualities. Your objective should always be the same: to get your community to support the project. Good planning and communication with your audiences are vital to maximise positive PR and minimise the negatives. Whatever the size of your building or project, it has the potential to cause trouble and it needs to be carefully thought through.

As soon as a new building is proposed and applications for funding are in, PR and marketing teams need to be involved. If the applications are successful you will need to be ready to communicate with several internal and external audiences. Staff, students, stakeholders and residents are just some of the audiences you will need to focus on, and a media strategy is also useful. If the project is likely to be controversial at any point, get your messages straight, ready for any media attention.

Below are some key tactics to managing a new build or expansion. The document attached also has advice on a communications plan, and key milestones to consider.

  1. Keep audiences up to date with regular communications and pictures. You could create a dedicated page on your website and update it regularly to keep the content fresh. Remember to include pictures and videos where possible. Share this regularly through social media.
  2. One college used a webcam on the roof of a neighbouring building so people could watch as the new building grew. It also meant that at the end of the programme they were able to create a film of the building as it was put up. Make use of the architect’s pictures and artist’s impressions – a picture creates a thousand words and may help to get people on side. However, remember that you can’t please all the people all the time, especially if your building is very modern.
  3. Staff and students need to be aware of what’s happening and know what to expect. You could create a noticeboard somewhere in college that everyone can see it, and also on the college intranet and update it regularly with architect’s plans, photos etc.
  4. If there are delays to the schedule, neighbours, staff, students or parents complain, take the time to respond and don’t ignore. Make sure you highlight the positive impact that the building will have, and how important it is to your college community. Make sure you always build in time to allow for delays, then any that do occur shouldn’t cause too many issues.
  5. There should be somewhere where comments or complaints can be registered and make sure these are handled quickly and professionally to prevent ill feeling. There should be a named contact – either at the construction company or college – and that someone needs to be always on hand, even out of hours, to respond to any issues or queries, especially if this relates to intruders at the construction site or health and safety concerns.
  6. Keep neighbours in the loop especially if they are likely to experience construction traffic, dirt and noise, or staff and students parking in their street. Hold a launch event just for them and give them a chance to tour the building. This will prevent neighbours getting frustrated or feeling ignored. One college, which was dogged by negative comments during their building process and afterwards when the students moved in, placated the complainants by inviting them to a three-course lunch in the new dining area, prepared by the catering students. This gave them a chance to experience the facility and led to letters of compliment to the principal and several becoming regular customers at the restaurant.
  7. If the building project affects staff and student parking, make sure they’re warned well in advance, so they can make alternative transport arrangements. Support them in this as much as you can.
  8. Think about financial considerations – if revenue funding or course funding is being cut, you will need clear messages about how and why this new building is being funded. As well as thinking about how the building will be used by students, consider how it could also be used by the community so they too see the impact.
  9. Think outside the box when it comes to press coverage – try construction or architecture magazines and if the companies involved are doing their own PR offer comments from your principal. Make sure the ‘Notes to Editors’ section of your press releases includes details about the college, how many students attend, the types of courses available, and pass rates to remind the media about your college’s good reputation.
  10. If you have design and construction students on campus, work with architects and construction teams to arrange work experience for them, and get media involved to show their readers the benefit to students.
  11. Make use of college anniversaries, or time capsules, to create positive messages around the new build and its part in the college history.
  12. If the new building has something new or unusual – such as a mock aeroplane cabin or hospital ward – invite regional TV along when it’s open and get students to demonstrate how it’s used and how it benefits them. If it’s for employer engagement, get a local employer to talk to the media about how it benefits them.

More information and advice can be found in this document.

If you need advice or support with a new build, please contact Press and PR Manager, Kate Parker on