Of all the lessons taught within the College of Media & Communication (CoMC), one permeates lectures and curriculums no matter a student's major: strategic planning. A public relations specialist will draft a strategic plan for a potential crisis. Advertising agencies will craft a strategic plan for their next campaign. Even creative professionals deploy the process of strategic planning when working with their art. Mostly a self-explanatory term, strategic planning – and the ability to practice it – is often the difference between a successful communication professional and an average one.
But a university needs a strategic plan as much as a business, nonprofit, or even student might.
Texas Tech University published an updated strategic plan in 2018, one which was designed to guide the university into 2025. Amy Koerber, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for administration & finance, started working with CoMC in 2017, just before the new plan set colleges forth on a path for growth and development. She would lead the charge within CoMC from her new role.
“The university plan had three overarching areas,” Koerber said. “From the big plan, our mandate was to first create a college-level plan, then department-level plans.”
Texas Tech's public strategic plan document names the three areas of planning as “educate and empower diverse student body; enable innovative research and creative activities; and transform lives and communities through strategic outreach and scholarship.”
Koerber sought to form a committee within the college to prepare and implement a strategic plan driven by the university's directives. When she put out an open call for volunteers, more than two-thirds of CoMC's active faculty signed on.
“It was something like 47 people,” Koerber said. “I was thinking I'd have to twist some arms to find help, but it was a great moment of coming together, of understanding the enthusiasm and energy that exists in our faculty.”
The incredible response Koerber received represents the importance of strategic planning on the university and college level. Moreover, a strategic plan outfitted for CoMC stands as a testament to the practical knowledge being handed down to students from the communication professionals and scholars in Koerber's committee.
Coy Callison, Ph.D., professor and associate dean of graduate studies, understands the necessity of a strategic plan more than most, as CoMC offers a Master of Arts in Strategic Planning & Innovation.
“We try to keep the strategic plan in mind when making decisions,” Callison said. “It influences what classes we offer, what students we recruit and what partnerships we try to forge. The goal is to build and maintain an outstanding college, and the strategic plan offers direction.”
With many professors and administration thinking similarly, Koerber divided her bustling committee into subgroups and sent them off to plan and innovate – strategically, of course. The committee reconvened at the end of Koeber's suggested timeline and, after a few more discussions, CoMC had a strategic plan to fit its university-given directives.
“When you get 47 faculty in the room, it's no surprise there's going to be different ideas,” Koerber said. “But everyone did what they had to do, and I think we came out with something really great.”
In the end, the strategic plan became a symbol composed of a sturdy core and highlighted by a unique signature. Once again, another strategic choice.
Some of the plan's core values are “increase student and faculty diversity; contribute locally and globally; and meet industry demands.” As for the signature, David Perlmutter, Ph.D., professor and dean, asked one question in order to define the college's signature attributes.
“What's special about you?”
Perlmutter cites the Thomas Jay Harris Institute for Hispanic and International Communication (HIHIC) as a highly special component within CoMC.
“UT Austin doesn't have a Hispanic institute,” Perlmutter said. “The University of New Mexico doesn't have one, either. So, we have special goals for the institute because it's special. It's different than your get-dressed-in-the-morning type of goal.”
By combining core values and signature specialties, CoMC seeks to establish its foundation while pushing the limits of achievement.
“We are applying for a job,” Perlmutter said. “We're applying for a student to come be a student with us. We're applying for great faculty to join us. We're applying to be recognized nationally by our peers, to get big grants. What makes you stand out in that application from everybody else?”
Alongside the HIHIC, Koerber notes a recent surge in college research activity and reputation as a signature goal to which CoMC devotes great attention.
“Texas Tech has achieved R-1 status,” Koerber said. “R-1 universities denote an institution engaging in the highest levels of research, but the university must maintain those level to keep the status. It's been a big shift for our college to contribute to that. Media and communication research can be done with almost no funding at all. But if you look at our growth in funding, we're doing our best to take on big grants.”
Of note, CoMC has undertaken multiple projects within the National Science Foundation (NSF), using the large grants to research items such as chat bots or misinformation. Likewise, Callison pursues the research initiative of the strategic plan through his role in the CoMC Office of Graduate Studies.
“There is a service learning/engagement component of the graduate program,” Callison said. “M.A. students in particular work with industry clients in internships and professional research projects. As such, these graduate students are oftentimes the face of the college to people solving real problems in the real world.”
Although CoMC possesses strong core values and unique opportunities fit for boasting, all orchestrators of the strategic plan are aware of the rigors required to remain true to a plan designed for multiple years.
“You have to hit the renewal switch,” Perlmutter said. “We do our best to consistently remind staff and faculty of the plan when we're in big meetings, but, sometimes, stuff happens. Our plan from 2000 didn't account for COVID or supply shortages or the Great Resignation. You have to stay directed, plowing ahead towards that goal, while being able to stay flexible and adapt to a changing environment.”
Just to be sure he and his colleagues can move forward, Perlmutter hung a large poster of the strategic plan in his office and gave one to each administrator.
Although 2025 remains a distant number, Koerber, Perlmutter, Callison, and all CoMC faculty have proven they can dance the dance of a strategic plan.
“Just keep on doing what we do,” Koerber said. “That sounds kind of boring, I guess. But we're good at what we do.”