Branding, reputation, marketing and customer engagement should form the four pillars of colleges' approach to communicating with employers, a new guide for principals and other senior staff recommends.
The 30-page best practice guide, published this week by the Association of Colleges, draws on a range of expertise, experience and research from within further education and beyond in an attempt to set out the dos and don'ts for business with employers.
Quoting the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw - that the greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished - Hiding the Wiring contains some blunt messages for college staff.
"Customers are not interested in the detail of how a college works," it says, quoting a paper from the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
"Customers now not only have more information and a greater choice, but are also able to voice their dissatisfaction more loudly," it says, quoting an Ipsos Mori report.
"The concept of reputation and its management is not as embedded in the FE sector as it is in other sectors," it says, quoting a report for the Lancashire Colleges Consortium and the Knowledge Partnership, a research company.
The guide lists issues that damage colleges' reputations with employers: getting into financial difficulty, frequent or large-scale redundancies, over-promising on delivery in order to make the sale and too great a turnover of principals.
The best methods of communicating with employers are, in order of effectiveness: direct-mail leaflets, printed prospectuses, websites, emails and telephone calls. In all communications, the guide warns against using jargon.
Martin Doel, the AoC's chief executive, said: "This short handbook is full of ideas and examples for communicating with different businesses, starting new relationships and holding on to them."
But a word of caution on building relationships comes in a quote from an article published in the Harvard Business Review in February 2002. "Try to build relationships with disinterested customers and you will seem like a stalker," it says.
Hiding the Wiring, www.aoc.co.ukenpublications.