Successful Communications Panel

communications panel

Panel:
Monica Wittstock, Assistant Director of Communications, Law School
Amy Leyden, Director of Marketing & Sales, McNamara Alumni Center
Lisa Gruszka, Director of Orientation Programs, Orientation & Transition Experiences

Moderator:
Shawn Welch, Assistant Director, Printing Services

The panel of University communicators shared their experiences planning and executing highly successful marketing and communications campaigns at the University. Between the panel members and the moderator, all have years of service with the University ranging from 14-20 years.

Shawn opened the conversation with asking, “What excites you about being a U Communicator?

  • Monica: She has a love for communications and for advancing missions and goals for the organization. She also continues to learn through the new and emerging technologies.
  • Lisa: She works with new students and families, and she gets to watch how they interact with the communications that are put out. She mentioned how great it is to see all of the students together at convocation because she knows her team had a part in bringing them all together.
  • Amy: She never imagined she would be at the same job for 20 years. She loves the product she sells and believes the team she hired has excellent customer service. The evolution of communications keeps her interested with the development of digital print and social media. She continues to be energized and challenged by the ways we can communicate.

Shawn noted how there’s motivation and pride for the U and how at Printing Services they often remind themselves of the academic mission.

Shawn asked, “What’s been the most challenging project or part of communication?”

  • Lisa: She stated because they’re a central unit they often contend with competing interest, such as other colleges or departments. Everyone has a different angle.
    • A key challenge is communicating the messages that are important at that specific time.
    • They often help identify what the best strategy for communicating is because there’s 50-70 departments communicating to students.
    • Another challenge is working with the new generation of students and understanding them, learning how they may not be reading the communications being sent out.
  • Amy: A big challenge is convincing people who aren’t familiar with the U to come to the U for events. Non-U clients often assume there’s difficulties finding location and parking, and they worry about students interfering. They have a lot of messaging to assure people that this is all managed. Images have also been super important in messaging in order to sell the venue.
  • Monica: They’re a top 20 law school and so they’re in competition with others. Their challenge is making sure their messaging says that Minneapolis is the place to come. Print materials and social media are used to get messaging out and to help make events look more fun.
    • Budget is another challenge because they want to do more than is affordable.
    • Faculty can be a challenge because they have ideas on how they want things to look that isn’t in line with how the department communicates.
      • They have to make sure they stay on brand.
      • They have to help faculty understand why.

Shawn asked, “How did you overcome a challenge and what made it successful?”

  • Monica: Their annual impact of giving report is a big project. The challenge is getting people to donate. It was proven successful because the report delivers the message that state funding is getting less each year and that donations are very important. They received many donations after the report.
  • Lisa: The biggest project undertaken is the Gold Book. They used to take about six weeks to stuff about 14,000 folders with papers and it became overwhelming for students and families. After researching what other colleges and universities were doing, they worked with Shawn and Lisa at Printing Services to create the Gold Book. It’s written from the student’s perspective rather than from the department’s. The publication is theme-based, meaning there’s a section on safety that encompasses more than policing, as an example.
    • It took a lot of coaching with departments to get them to change how they communicate.
    • They used an external editor to ensure there’s one voice rather than many throughout the publication.
  • Amy: The website is one of the most important marketing pieces. They figured out it wasn’t beneficial to brand as belonging to the U because it doesn’t capture non-U clients. Since they’re privately owned, they can do things differently. When redesigning the website, they radically suggested moving away from the U of M branding. Instead, they played on the architecture of the building and used rich colors like gold and copper. Moving off brand has been really effective has it’s bringing in outside business. They have won two national awards: TheKnot.com and UniqueVenues.com.

Shawn: “What does your planning process look like? What details are important?”

  • Lisa: They figure out what challenge they want to solve, such as having students read their newsletter. Branding heavily with maroon and gold and using special cut-out tabs were elements they wanted to include. There’s a lot of negotiating back and forth what the end product should look like. Her process is to always come with an idea, ask if it’s possible, and work through the steps to make it happen.
  • Monica: A lot of print is used at the law school. They have to figure out what their goal is and how to fit it into the overall message. Many of their donors are not digital savvy and that affects their focus. She primarily has worked with Julie Longo, meeting with her and talking over the vision. They often go over what has been done in the past. It’s iterative. The trust that people can have with the printing and design team helps make for an excellent product as well.
  • Amy: She loves that printing will meet her where she’s at. She often sketches out the ideas on paper and gives it to Shawn. They’ll have a dialogue of what’s recommended or what should be tweaked. She always asks for a sample before deciding on mass production. Open communication has been key and it needs to be clear.

Shawn: “Can you share about what’s comping up or what’s currently being worked on?”

  • Amy: In February 2020, it will be McNamara’s 20th anniversary. They’ll probably have a commemorative logo and an ice rink out on the plaza. They want to do things that will integrate with the U community. They’re also thinking of events they’ll host themselves that are more mission driven, such as a blood drive.
  • Lisa: They’re looking at what they’re doing with the web and video. She also is looking at the challenge of getting ahead of SnapChat as one of the communication channels that students are using.
  • Monica: They’re converting to Drupal8. Redesigning the website is one of their big projects. They’re also working with the digital version of the alumni magazine.

Questions from the audience

  • For Amy: What advice do you have on giving your users a platform to share about their experiences at McNamara?
    • Amy: Clients are their great ambassadors and help sell the venue. Tagging and general social media is in their favor as well. They also ask to share posts and they receive a lot of testimonials from clients.
  • For Lisa: How can other departments be more strategic in their communications? How do you open up those conversations so that they’re not in silos?
    • Lisa: They do an audit where they take all of the communication that’s shared by departments at orientation. A content map is created and they figure out how often information is being shared. They look for redundancies, which to eliminate and which that need to be emphasized such as academic expectations. Departments get coached on what their message is so it’s not being continuously repeated. Moving to SalesForce will help them track messages being communicated easier.
  • For everyone: Can you talk about some different measures to evaluate whether your communication is successful or not?
    • Amy: They have a form that asks “how did you hear about us.” They also have a promo code sometimes and, if it’s used, that tells them of success as well.
    • Monica: Anything that gets sent to donors has special tracking. They’re able to compare how many people have donated versus how many received letters. They also check their mentions and social media.