Stepping Outside SUNY: Lessons Learned on a Nationwide, 10+ Campus Tour


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In 2011, Danielle Valenti spent several weeks visiting colleges and universities across the US to learn about their communications and marketing functions. She gathered her observations of best practices into this presentation for the 2012 SUNYCUAD conference.

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  • Welcome[AMY INTRODUCTION]In the fall of 2011, readMedia’s Danielle Valenti visited colleges across the country: from small liberal arts colleges like Marist, to state flagships like University of Kansas, Georgia Tech, and Clemson, to mid-size institutions like Eastern Connecticut State University.Her goal was to soak in as many best practices as possible when it comes to marketing, communication, and social media. She also documented observations on how different institutions were structured and organized when it came to the communications function.The goal of this presentation is to share some of Danielle’s observationsand to hopefully get you thinking about what’s happening on your campus. I also want to make this interactive, so please feel free to add examples from your institutions!
  • Centralized VS Decentralized Before starting this trip, Danielle was well aware that the vertical and horizontal elements of higher education add a unique complexity, but one of the interesting things she learned was that departments within a decentralized institution always spoke as if they were competing  for resources on campus. They were more focused on promoting their own interests rather than those of the institution as a whole. And they weren’t afraid to voice that opinion.Lack of support from various departments proved to be a common theme at many institutions. Danielle observed that institutions that had some sort of centralized function were able to implement new projects and ideas at a much faster pace and in a more strategic manner.Common themes on a decentralized campus:There was a lot of unnecessary duplicationSharing decision-making across the organization made it really tough to move forward in a timely mannerPeople were afraid to trust others with their ideas, often because they were competing for resourcesSome Silos were impossible to break intoCommon themes on a centralized campus:They were able to cross unit “silos,” in order to respond to campus prioritiesHelped with shrinking resourcesStrategic vision is brought into everythingFar and away, Danielle observed that colleges with a more centralized communications structure – a chief communications officer or VP who reported directly to the president, sat on the cabinet, and had oversight of all marketing and communications activities under one umbrella, were more strategic and effective than the decentralized organizations.
  • Student-CentricOne of the more common themes Danielle took from her travels is that not every faculty and staff member is focused on being student-centered and that trickles down into the campus culture. However, she came away with some great examples of institutions that place and emphasis on student communications. Lebanon Valley College, a small liberal arts college in PA, is a great example of a student-centered campus. From the moment Danielle walked in to the communications office, it was all about the students. How is this going to benefit our students? How can we promote this idea to the students? How can we tweak this idea so our students will get the most out of it? What do the students think?The faculty and staff at Lebanon Valley College have the students’ best interest at heart in everything they do and you automatically feel that after one conversation.  And Faculty and staff from different departments openly communicate with one another because they all have a common focus around student success. The relationships the communication department has created with students and even other departments, also serves as research for all marketing and communication initiatives.Now you might be thinking “well, this is so much easier on a small campus”, but Georgia Tech is another example of student-focused communication.
  • Georgia TechI want to start off by giving Georgia Tech’s Michael Warden credit for a lot of the information I’m about to share. Georgia Tech feels that higher education doesn’t invest in internal communications with students at the same level/priority as it does in external communications and most institutions rely on a one-way communications model to communication with stakeholders. And most of the communication models are outdated:mass communication•Newspapers/newsletters•Memos/e-memos and “blast” emails•Flyers/Posters/Brochures•Websites
  • Their new model focuses on engagement… two way conversation!And to do this they had adopt new practices, like:Forging successful relationships with students and parentsFinding what worked on campus via student research andlistening to the voice of their studentsAll of these two way communication models allowed them to make sure that their marketing and communication decisions are informed and reflected a student-focused theme.
  • Student CommunicatorGeorgia Tech actually added a student communicator to their internal communications team to make the Georgia Tech brand more accessible to students.By adding a student communicator, they were able to:•Develop communications tools that directly engage students in their brand•Develop student engagement strategies for the institution; focus on consistency and relevance in the messages around student engagement  •Consult with various departments and student organizations on  student engagement and brand strategiesSome of the responsibilities of the student communicator are:•Gauge student perspectives and opinions on campus in a personal way (1:1 meetings, club setting, etc.)•Gather students’ opinions of current institutional projects and decisions•Build relationships with faculty, staff and student leaders to share information and learn of student opportunities•Identify, write and track student stories to enhance relevance to students.•Identify students to represent the institution both externally and internally
  • Georgia Tech also concentrated on other areas that promoted a student-centered focus:• Student Experience Study to determine overall satisfaction•  Parents Program Surveys for feedback on initiatives•  Brand Perceptions Studies to learn about brand strengths and Georgia Tech differentiators•  Student Communications Research for feedback on their student-managed newspaper/radio station
  • Marketing Student AffairsAnother common theme that ties back into being student-focused was the idea of marketing student affairs to improve the overall student experience.  After implementing a more student-centric communication strategy, Georgia Tech decided to leverage that research, cross-silos, and work with student affairs to:Promote student successCreate consistent messaging and brandingIncrease program awareness and student participationThey were also able to promote collaboration for the Student Experience Survey campaign. This gave it more credibility and increased engagement. This is a great example of you can create a student-focused approach that allows your institution to connect with students - even if you don’t have access to all of your students.
  • From this survey came a really good rubric for thinking about how they communicate with students and what the post pressing concerns were.It’s key to note that GT’s centralized communication structure really played a role here and allowed it to take on this project. The VP of Comms, the VP of Student Affairs, key leaders from student services and parent services were all involved in an institution-wide effort to improve communications to students and engage them better. One of the things Danielle said after talking with them about this initiative was that she couldn’t possibly imagine how it would have worked at some of the other campuses she visited that did not have that strong, centralized communications structure.And it wasn’t all talk, either – they made a real point to take action on the feedback they receive, both from the surveys and the observations and reports from their student communicator.
  • Some of the student feedback they received was that there were too many different websites and areas to check.They hated that they would get a dozen emails a day. Many students suggested and email digest instead of tons of one-off emails. Subscribe to email topics of interest!Better “one-stop shops” on the web for information. So Georgia Tech created Blogs @ Tech to try and consolidate and give a consistent look and feel.
  • One of common problems Danielle noticed was that many institutions were over extending themselves when it came to social media and most of them didn’t have an actual strategy in place. They feel the need to jump on every social media bandwagon to create the desired engagement, instead of focusing their energy (and talent) in a few select areas (for strategic reasons!). And they end up wearing themselves thin by trying to be everything to everyone.Eastern Connecticut State University and Emporia State University were feeling the pressure to create more engagement online and in social media, but instead of throwing ideas around to see what sticks, they created a strategy around relationship marketing using the readMedia platform to engage stakeholders online and in social networks through a structured badge granting process. So, basically, they gave students control of their social media strategy.
  • These two institutions looked at their communications from a content perspective and thought: how can we generate more content and more exposure in social media without just sitting on Facebook and Twitter all day? How do we make it more authentic and get more people engaged in sharing our brand messaging?They developed Editorial Calendars of student achievements and activities, and worked with student writers and workers who created the story templatesThe colleges were able to flood the zone with stories – structured badge granting program made up of personalized storiesMake students the brand ambassadors and sharers of content in social networksEastern and Emporia created social media content, based on the activities and achievements of their students. It’s the idea of mass personalization in a very personalized way. They create thousands of personalized achievements online for students on a variety of topics from enrollment and graduation to Dean's List and community service. And every story receives a “verified badge” – think Foursquare and GetGlue, but these badges actually mean something.Students (and parents!) are then notified via email when a story and badge has been created about them. After receiving a link to their achievement, the student’s and parent’s become their brand ambassadors by sharing their achievements with friends and family on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets.It’s also a great way to manage parents’ expectations by communicating positive outcomes online and in social media.
  • By having students and parents sharing these achievements, Eastern and Emporia were able to access the social graph of their students; the network effect kicks in – these students and parents are creating third party endorsements, which is the most trusted form of advertising. Eastern and Emporia put their brand messaging in the hands of their students and allowed them to spread it into their social networks.Not only was this student-centric, like Georgia Tech, but it also helped them promote programs and activities and showcase the opportunities available on their campuses.
  • One year of readMedia:Created content for 111 storiesGenerated over 11,500 individual student achievementsEmailed these personalized stories to over 12,000students and parentsStudents and parents shared 1,110 of these stories on social media sites Resulting in 29,000 online viewsAchievements received over 1 million impressions in FacebookEastern and Emporia were able to identify a platform that not only engaged their students, but gave their students control of their content, allowing them to share their personal stories and achievements with their social networks. In turn, making their students their most powerful brand ambassadors.
  • Interesting CampaignsIn this last section, I’m going to share a few marketing campaigns and branding initiatives that stuck out to Danielle.
  • ClemsonThe first campaign I’m going to talk about is Clemson’s Determined Spirit branding campaign.  
  • Clemson’s goal was to rise to be one of the nation’s top 20 public universities, and to do that they strongly felt that enhancing the public perception of their academic program through a cohesive brand experience was going to be the key factor in reaching their goal.They started off by exploring what sets the Clemson experience apart. The communications audit revealed that inadvertent misuse of the tiger paw athletic symbol was diluting the great athletic brand and fragmenting serious consideration of Clemson academics. Brand Identity development showed the need to bring variety and sophistication to the orange and purple with an extended color palette.Further Brand ID development created, tested and established the typeface, photo style and –  and most important – the “Determined Spirit” brand theme.
  • To Clemson, Determined Spirit is the shared sense that drives progress, unites family, generates diverse stories, shapes experience. The foundation of the University rests on the determination of Thomas Green Clemson to create a high seminary of learning. Current President, Jim Barker, and the board of trustees, even showed determined spirit when they declare Clemson would be one of the nation’s top 20 public universities.  Determined spirit is in their DNA
  • Clemson’s new lookClemson’s Tiger Paw is already among the best-known collegiate icons in the nation. The new architecture does not alter the paw, but places it alongside the University seal and redesigned word-mark as one of three master brand symbols in the new architecture. The new academic symbol is placed alongside the Clemson University logo. These marks are all strong enough to identify Clemson in the marketplace.
  • An extended color palette was drawn from the lake, light and land of this land-grant institution. All visuals and content demonstrate tenacity, achievement, spirit, intense focus or absorption in an activity, pushing through, state of heightened emotions. The focus is on real-life stories of true determination and rich, storytelling imagery that evokes personal interaction.  One of their challenges was that they needed faculty, staff and students become fluent in the new brand look and language. Sothey created an extensive set of tools — descriptive messages, templates and a photo archive — to help them become fluent in the new brand look and language. This toolbox helps them deliver consistent, on-target messages in any medium.But what’s interesting about this campaign is the fact that determined spirit really lives in everything Clemson does. The faculty and staff have fully embraced the “Determined Spirit” and every decision their president makes reflects it. They’ve created a 2020 roadmap that outlines their goals and focus tied into the campaign and they even have things like a link to the “Top Ranked Public Universities” right on their website, even though they’re currently ranked #25.
  • Union College, KYUnion College is a small liberal arts college in Kentucky. And they have a great campaign that focuses on a personal, one to one education.Their actual tagline is: “Where Higher Education is One to One”The reason this campaign sticks out is because they do a great job capitalizing on their small size. And they’re another example of a collegedoing a great job with integrating their marketing campaign. As you poke around their website and view different marketing materials, you always get that 1:1 feeling. Here are a few examples of that:•Education at Union College is about individuals: “ On paper, our student- teacher ratio is 12:1. In reality it's 1:1”•What is 1:1? Well, it’s Personal – Personal Attention, Personal Discoveries, Personal Connections, Personally Meaningful , A Personal Education --  Intensely Personal•“Through 1:1 counseling with your academic advisor, you’ll chart your course. Your advisor will help you select classes each semester and keep you on track to meeting your future goals and guiding you through to graduation day.”“Make your education personal, by connecting one to one with your peers and professors. Connecting one to one goes beyond people—it also applies to how you relate your classroom knowledge to the real world through service, internships, study abroad, or field experiences. Faculty and staff work with you one to one in and out of the classroom to create an educational experience that’s all yours, preparing you for a good life—however you define it.”This campaign does a good job of portraying the campus culture via marketing. It’s easy for perspective students to grasp 1:1 and automatically feel comfortable.
  • And another great thing about Union College is that you can tell that their students and alum truly respect, and love, the 1:1 culture. A lot of schools always promote “you won’t be just a number” so it’s nice to see something a little different.
  • Augusta College – LAST SLIDEAt Augustana College,viewbooks and visits were their main recruitment channels, but the media landscape has changed and they’ve had to get creative in the way they work. Admissions always gave a free t-shirt to everyone that visited their campus. And starting in 2010, they took it a step further and created the Good Fit T-Shirt Scholarship Competition where they award scholarships to high school seniors for submitting a photo of themselves wearing an Augie T-shirt. How it worksStudents have to show their “good fit” in four different categories:Best Group ShotBest Action ShotAt Another CollegeIn Famous LocationStudents submit their photos, entries are posted on the site, and viewers vote for their favorites. When voting is completed, there is one winner in each category, plus a people’s choice winner, of a one-time, $1,000 scholarship.The People’s Choice got nearly 6,000 VotesSubmissions are always great and have ranged from the site where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address in Gettysburg, PA, to country fairs and the Super Bowl Village, to photos of prospective students on rival campuses.
  • Stepping Outside SUNY: Lessons Learned on a Nationwide, 10+ Campus Tour

    1. 1. Stepping Outside SUNYLessons learned on a nationwide, 10-campus tourDanielle Valenti Amy MengelSUNYCUADJune 13, 2012
    2. 2. Decentralized vs. CentralizedDecentralized Centralized• Duplication • Crosses silos• Slow process • Resourceful• No trust • Strategize• Silos hard to break • Prioritize
    3. 3. Student-Centric
    4. 4. ISSUE:• Doesn’t invest in internal communications with students at the same level as external communications• Rely on one-way communication models to communication with stakeholders• Communication models are outdated: – Mass communication – Newsletters – Memos/e-memos and “blast” emails – Flyers/Posters/Brochures – No differentiation in content
    5. 5. New Focus: Engagement• Relationships with students and parents• Student research• Listen to feedbackTwo-way communication model – Informed decisions – Reflect a student-focus
    6. 6. Student Communicator – Develop tools that directly engage students – Focus on consistency of messaging to students – Feedback from student organizationsResponsibilities: – Gauge student perspectives on campus – Build relationships with faculty, staff and student leaders to learn of opportunities – Identify students to represent the institution – Identify, write and track stories to enhance relevance
    7. 7. Student-centered• Survey – Student Experience – Parent Program• Brand perception• Feedback on student-managed newspaper and radio
    8. 8. Marketing Student AffairsLeverage Research:• Promote student success• Create consistent brand messaging• Increase program awareness and student participation• Promote collaboration for Student Experience Survey Campaign
    9. 9. Student Content Survey
    10. 10. Social Media: What to do?
    11. 11. RESULTS:• 111 Story Templates• 11,500 Individual Student Achievements• 12,000 Email Notifications• 1,110 Social Media Shares• 29,000 Online views• 1 Million+ Facebook Newsfeed Impressions
    12. 12. Interesting Campaigns
    13. 13. Goal:• Rise to be one of the nation’s top 20 public universitiesHow?• Enhance public perception of academic brand – Tiger paw athletic symbol was diluting the brand and hurting Clemson’s academic brand – Extended color palette – Established typeface & photo style – Created “Determined Spirit” brand theme
    14. 14. Why?• “Determined Spirit is the shared sense that drives progress, unites family, generates diverse stories, shapes experience. The foundation of the University rests on the determination of Thomas Green Clemson to create a high seminary of learning.” It’s in our DNA
    15. 15. “All visuals and contentdemonstrate tenacity,achievement, spirit,intense focus orabsorption in an activity,pushing through, stateof heightened emotions.The focus is on real-lifestories of truedetermination and rich,storytelling imagery thatevokes personalinteraction.”
    16. 16. What is 1:1? Well, it’s Personal….•Personal Attention•Personal Discoveries•Personal Connections•Personally Meaningful•A Personal Education…..Intensely Personal
    17. 17. Questions?Amy Mengel Danielle Valenti518-429-2780 518-429-2798@amymengel