Publications & Products
Office Space: Backing the Brand
Office Space: Backing the Brand

Certificate program improves brand understanding, builds skills

By Beth DeMauro


Sophie Casson for CASE



When Thomas Snyder signed up to take a pilot workshop for the Communicator Certificate Program at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in June 2007, it was as a favor to a co-worker. He didn't expect to get much out of it. Three months and several three-hour courses later, he became the program's first graduate.

After that first workshop, Communication Resources—an overview of the departments that support communications at Rutgers and the resources available at the university's three regional campuses—Snyder realized there was a lot to learn about the university where he had worked for nearly two decades. So the business manager at the Camden campus' student center signed up for another course, and another, until he had completed the six core courses and three electives required to earn a communicator certificate.

Since then, an additional 117 employees have completed the program, and another 134 are currently enrolled. The series of professional development workshops is designed to help full-time employees who are involved in managing and communicating the Rutgers brand understand the university's communications campaign, better tell the Rutgers story, promote their unit's programs, and enhance their skills. In fact, completing the program within 18 months is now a job requirement for anyone hired in an external affairs position. In addition to including the certificate on their annual performance review, our human resources office advises people that it could benefit them when applying for other university positions.

However, because some noncommunications staff members play an unofficial role in managing the brand, the program is open to any part- or full-time faculty or staff member interested in better representing the university. Whether in a communications position or not, many take individual workshops to enhance their knowledge and skills.

Snyder, who refers to himself as "a business guy," says the courses made him see how much his work relates to communications—from dealing with advertising and promoting events to talking with students and parents. "I realize now that communication ties in with just about everything I do."

Taking root

Development of the certificate program coincided with the 2006 launch of the branding campaign, "Jersey Roots, Global Reach," which also included a new visual identity system. Recognizing the importance of communicating the new brand to the Rutgers community, the Department of University Relations worked with human resources to create the initiative, which has five main goals:

  • Promote the Rutgers brand by sharing resources that ensure consistent university messaging and the proper use of the Rutgers identity,
  • Explain communications policies at Rutgers,
  • Support individuals and units in defining and achieving communications goals,
  • Provide professional development to enhance communications skills and knowledge, and
  • Provide opportunities for networking.

A team of 15 people from a cross-section of university departments developed the initial curricula, and many on the team volunteered to serve as instructors, with training from human resources. Collaboration among a number of departments provided different and varied ideas and points of view, spurred creativity, and enhanced the level of expertise, all of which helped create a comprehensive program.

We held pilot sessions for each three-hour workshop and concluded them with a group critique, which provided useful information for honing content and shaping future topics. The core foundation courses introduce the critical elements of the university's branding program, including message and strategy, visual identity and graphic standards, and university resources and policies. Related electives cover topics such as copyrights, event planning, assessment, and graphic design.

Employees can go online to learn more about the program and sign up for a class (uhr.rutgers.edu/ld/PDCCertificateProgram.htm). Once enrolled, they can keep track of their progress toward a certificate, which must be completed within 18 months.

In the nearly four years it has existed, the program has evolved based on the university's needs and feedback from participant surveys conducted at the end of every workshop. We've developed and added a foundation course in media relations and electives in social media, video, and photography. Workshops on public speaking and developing effective presentations are under consideration. Future plans include expanding our videoconferencing capabilities to better serve employees at our other campuses and remote research facilities.

Success without a shoestring

There has never been a budget for this program, which is free for participants. The 35 or so instructors who contribute their time and expertise are communications professionals from university relations or other units throughout Rutgers. Any materials instructors produce for the workshops are contributed by their departments. Human resources provides classroom space and equipment for presentations.

While we don't have tangible incentives to offer our volunteer instructors, we know they garner satisfaction from contributing to the success of the university's branding effort and enjoy the opportunity to showcase their know-how. Through networking with colleagues, they often discover resources, make contacts, and share ideas that are useful in their own work. Also, during biannual "train-the-trainer" sessions run by human resources, they have the opportunity to improve their teaching skills.

Meanwhile, participants report an increase in morale and personal pride, in addition to the credibility that comes with earning a university-sponsored certificate. (Each graduate receives a certificate signed by the vice president for university relations and the vice president for faculty and staff resources.) Other benefits participants have cited include:

  • More efficient sharing of resources among departments;
  • Development of comprehensive, consistent communication and marketing plans that enhance departmental image and reduce wasted effort;
  • Increased knowledge of best practices for marketing and public relations; and
  • Community building.

In an assessment of the program conducted last August, 79 percent of enrollees said they planned to complete the certificate program. The remaining 21 percent were taking individual workshops to enhance their skills.

We've learned that major programming can be done well at a minimal cost by leveraging existing resources. The program has proven to be more cost-effective than off-campus options. An informal survey last fall of private professional development providers in New Jersey found that the average low-end cost for similar programs is approximately $129 per person, per session. At that rate, a professional development program equivalent to ours would have cost approximately $500,000—and counting. But unlike something developed by an external provider, our certificate program is targeted to Rutgers' organizational needs, business scenarios, and brand.

We know through anecdotal evidence that the program is meeting the goals we had set, especially the proper and consistent use of Rutgers' visual identity standards by units across the university. In the words of one survey respondent: "I am more conscious (and proud) of the Rutgers identity. I am also the ‘go-to' person in my unit for questions pertaining to the identity and campus resources for communications."

Snyder, for example, still uses the knowledge he gained while pursuing his certificate.

"As business officials, one of our primary functions is to safeguard the university's financial assets," he says. "Our university identity is one of our greatest assets. We must all use it properly and consistently to help our brand image."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

About the Author Beth DeMauro

Beth DeMauro is the director of strategic communications and brand manager at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She manages the Communicator Certificate Program and teaches one of the foundation courses.

 

Comments

 

Add a Comment

You must be logged in to comment . Your name and institution will show with your comment.

April 2011 Digital Edition

Download the April 2011 CURRENTS digital edition.

View digital edition