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Inside Moves
Inside Moves

As technologies and job descriptions change, communications and marketing offices opt for strategic realignment

By Maura King Scully


Shorts      

Gary Neill, represented by www.ba-reps.com, for CASE



Time to reorganize. Upon hearing these words, cynics are prone to dismiss such an effort as an exercise in reshuffling spaces on the organizational chart. Realists, on the other hand, recognize reorganizations for what they are: opportunities to do things better—to change business as usual to reflect best practices, new tools and technologies, and current challenges in the marketplace.

At educational institutions, perhaps no area is as sensitive to those shifts as communications and marketing offices. The advances in technology and increase in media outlets in the past decade have had communications and marketing professionals continually considering how to remake their offices to work effectively. Today, technology (particularly social media) and tightened budgets brought on by the economic downturn are, in many cases, fueling the reorganizations and restructuring that have been taking place at many schools, colleges, and universities.

Rae Goldsmith, CASE's vice president of advancement resources and a former campus communicator, has been watching these changes with interest and says these necessary shifts are a byproduct of heightened expectations of accountability as well as financial pressures.

"It's a competitive need as institutions better define themselves," Goldsmith says. "What we're seeing now is work organized around areas of expertise rather than medium, like Web and print. Organizations are thinking more strategically about how it's all fitting together, and structures are starting to reflect that strategy."

Contemporary communications and marketing departments are becoming less defined by tactics and tools and are moving more toward a strategic alignment of teams with shared goals, observes Goldsmith. "It's really the next phase of integrated marketing."

Strategic shift

That's precisely how Ivor Lawrence viewed the reorganization of marketing operations at the U.K.'s Sheffield Hallam University. When he arrived as director of marketing in 2006, marketing was organized functionally.

"I had a vision of reorganizing around target markets," says Lawrence, who came to the university from the corporate world. Rather than having each faculty (the U.K. equivalent of a U.S. institution's schools or colleges) be responsible for its own marketing, the university brought all of the marketing resources together to create three new teams: one for undergraduate students, one for international students, and another for business-to-business—an important market for Sheffield Hallam. In turn, marketing research and creative services support the teams.

And as communications and marketing becomes more strategic, the person in charge increasingly is moving up the organizational chart.

"Fifteen years ago, you didn't typically see vice presidents of communications and marketing," Goldsmith says. "But the landscape has become much more complex. There's a growing understanding of the importance of brand, strong institutional identity, and consistent messaging. More and more, presidents are looking for leadership in this area."

These professionals, who now have vice president or vice chancellor in their titles, are re-examining the role of their units in creatively and effectively meeting their institution's needs. And while financial pressures may contribute to—or sometimes start—the conversation, these reorganizations are not knee-jerk reactions to shrinking budgets. Strategy is generally the focus, which is creating a more intentional approach to communications and marketing.

Such was the case at Vassar College in New York when three divisions—college relations, development, and alumni relations—recently merged to become two: the Office of Communications and the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development.

"Due to the financial crisis, we were looking for ways to streamline and be more economical," explains Susan DeKrey, vice president for communications. "Working with colleagues in alumni and development, we made some wonderfully positive changes, allowing us to pool resources and work more effectively."

These changes involved physically moving the editor of the alumni magazine and the director of development communications into the Office of Communications. Both report to their respective divisions, but each also works with DeKrey and her team, which holds regular meetings to help determine what information can be repurposed and how.

"We always had close working relationships, but now we see one another daily," DeKrey says. "If there's a question on design or photography, we can now easily look at it together and make decisions on the spot."

Leadership matters

Changes in leadership often lead to a revamping of organizational structure, as in 2008 when a new chancellor arrived at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

"The priority became to emphasize communication both internally and externally to affirm UMass' place as the flagship institution in Massachusetts," says Ed Blaguszewski, executive director of news and media relations. As a result, the position of vice chancellor of university relations was created.

The next step was to reorganize the core group of communications and marketing resources and bring in some additional elements, such as the website and admissions marketing, into the same division under one vice chancellor. Before the reorganization, several vice presidents were in charge of different pieces of the puzzle—advancement had the website and magazine; public affairs had the news office, community relations, events, and government affairs; and administration and finance had publications because "they were considered a revenue-generating line," Blaguszewski says. "We needed to get all of these pieces together, and get everyone singing off the same song sheet."

Now, university relations holds an editorial board meeting each week during which all the teams gather to share ideas.

"It's gotten people talking and working together more effectively," Blaguszewski says. "It gets everyone in the same room, thinking, ‘What's the message, and what's the best way to talk about it?'"

One outcome has been an increase in repurposing information for different outlets and different audiences, thereby maximizing exposure.

"In admissions marketing, we put particular focus on out-of-state audiences in an effort to increase enrollment from that sector," he says. Targeting communications to that group was a strategy that paid off. "Last year, we had our largest incoming class ever, with the highest percentage of out-of-state students."

In restructuring university relations, unit leaders realized they were missing an important piece of the puzzle. "We had a video department that was great; they'd tape events and do production. But as the whole environment changed, it was difficult that they weren't tied in to university relations," Blaguszewski says, noting that the department reported to a different vice president. "We lobbied to have them brought in."

Now that the video staff is part of the team, video is used much more as a communications tool. The unit has filmed pieces for individual colleges and departments and produced videos to link to campus news stories, such as a three-minute piece on Amherst being voted one of the best college towns in the United States.

About a year later and approximately 100 miles east at another Massachusetts institution, Andrew Gully came to Brandeis University as a new senior vice president for communications and external affairs with a fresh set of eyes and took a two-pronged approach.

"We wanted to improve internal communications and then do a better job externally. Part of it was developing new skills in a new environment, creating new and better platforms to communicate," he says. "In the old days, we just used to send something out and hope someone paid attention. We'd mail out 40,000 copies of our alumni magazine, and then it stopped there, dead in its tracks. Now we're jumping over that old world to be heard."

In rethinking how the office operated, Gully created a new position—associate vice president for communications—that would function as a chief operating officer. "Previously, the senior vice president was trying to run everything," he says.

According to Bill Burger, who filled the new post, the move created a unit that meets strategic and operational needs. "We're able to interact with more people more substantively," he says. "It means there are two of us thinking strategically about the day-to-day deliverables."

Change agents

The structures of communications and marketing offices are changing because the jobs within them are changing. These strategic realignments reflect the shifting nature of the work. More technologies and communication outlets have created a need for more people, more content, more creativity, more collaboration, and more planning, in addition to the ability to be timely and responsive.

"Social media has brought more tools, but not more resources to manage it," says Goldsmith. "That puts additional stress on institutions trying to get their message out."

One way The University of Southern Mississippi has responded to these challenges was to create the institution's first full-time director of social media.

"We decided we needed to be more strategic in our approach," says Jim Coll, who became chief communications officer late last year. "How we communicate on Facebook and Twitter shouldn't necessarily be the same as how we communicate through a news release. It's important that the clarity of the message remains intact, but the manner in which the message is presented is in many ways changing."

For example, the university started a video blog series in which the institution's president interviews faculty, staff, and students about campus news and events in their units, Coll notes. "In the past, we would have done our best to generate news coverage regarding a story of student success and communicate that same story to alumni through the alumni magazine," he says. "Those certainly remain valuable avenues, but reaching a vast array of audiences requires a vast array of communication tactics."

But dedicating a full-time staff member to social media doesn't mean the university is going to adopt every new technology or tool that comes along.

"With so many outlets created in recent years, it's easy to get caught up in trying to be everywhere all the time," Coll says. "As communicators, it's important to ask before diving in: How does this outlet help us reach our communication goals?"

Meanwhile, Deborah Blanchard, who arrived at Lynchburg College last summer as the Virginia institution's new director of college communications and marketing, has been working on improving online outreach. As a first major step, the website was brought into the fold of the renamed office, which previously had been known as public relations.

"We did a comprehensive review of the college's communications strategy," she says. "It became increasingly clear that communication with our stakeholders was not something that was just nice to do; it was necessary. We're working with everyone—alumni relations, enrollment, etc.—to move toward a strategic marketing communications program."

Blanchard also took a hard look at the budget. "I knew we needed to take some things off the plate to be able to incorporate new media, so I looked for opportunities where we could be more cost-effective and efficient."

A prime example was a printed monthly calendar that was out of date as soon as it rolled off the presses, she says. Eliminating it saved $9,000.

Expanding the department's social media portfolio is a work in progress. In working with units that are using social media and developing a policy to help guide their efforts, Blanchard hopes to continue raising the college's profile on these outlets.

"When I got here last year, there was very little social media," she says. "Facebook was being used as a bulletin board to post events, not an interactive engagement vehicle. Now, we're pretty consistently showing up on Facebook and Twitter." They're also using YouTube more, going from three videos last year to posting more than 20 in a three-month period this year.

Adjusting to change

The positive benefits of revamping communications and marketing can go well beyond departmental doors. Offices often report that their day-to-day workings with colleagues across campus are more strategic and proactive.

According to Blaguszewski at UMass Amherst, the reorganization demonstrated a commitment to marketing and branding within the division as well as to the wider campus community. "That helps us do our work by developing buy-in for consistent messaging," he says. "We're seen as a resource on campus with people wanting to come to us to get things done."

Being the go-to office can also make life easier: When departments come to you, they're more likely to take your advice.

"It used to be that everyone was an expert on marketing. The faculties would come to us and tell us what they wanted to do, and we were constantly reacting," says Lawrence of Sheffield Hallam. "Now, we're leading the conversation. We're in at the front end when the faculties are talking about where they want to go and why and helping them figure out how to get there."

While there are definite benefits to organizational evolution, reorganization isn't a panacea, and change doesn't come without difficulties.

"The reality is that the college has operated one way throughout history," says Blanchard of Lynchburg College, citing the often slow pace of change at institutions. "People here think in terms of weeks or months to do things. I think in terms of hours, if not minutes."

Exacerbating the inertia are very real budget pressures, which may call for some creativity, says Michael Ruiz, director of university communications at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, which reorganized its communications office in 2007. An institution may not have either the sense of urgency or the resources to make changes quickly.

"When someone leaves, I try not to just replace them but consider how that money is best spent," Ruiz says. "Is it on a Web server? New computers? Student interns? You have to be like a chess player and think several moves ahead."

Then there's the conundrum of creating esprit de corps among disparate professionals. "The challenge in bringing a new group of people together is to develop a shared sense of mission and coordination," Blaguszewski says. "That takes time. You need to improve staff perception so that they see themselves as part of a bigger whole."

Bringing together staff with different functions and responsibilities who are used to working in different units may not be pretty at first, but getting them to work together is essential.

"It's tough because it's a culture clash," says Blanchard. "You're bringing together two different kinds of people. One is concerned with grammar, writing style, and weeks-long production schedules. The others are in what I call right-here-right-now mode. It's about work styles, personalities, and generational orientations. Later on ... team building won't be as important. But right now, it's job one."

Ruiz of SIUC subscribes to the advice often given for using social media: Don't be afraid to experiment—or to fail.

"My goal is to foster an atmosphere of experimentation, to say, ‘Here, let's try this.' If it doesn't work, it's not the end of the world," he says. "The more people [who are] coming to you suggesting crazy ideas the better. That means more people are bringing ideas to you."

But, he adds, stay focused on your game plan.

"You have to remember to keep an eye on your idea wall to remind you that there's a plan here, a strategy. But strategy doesn't mean it's set in stone. If it didn't achieve what you hoped, try something different. My message is: Don't give up. Keep asking. Keep going. Build relationships. Be willing to fail. People will see that you're trying. Even small changes can have big effects."

In Short

Off the Charts. If you're contemplating an organizational chart makeover, you may be in need of a little levity. Lighten the mood of a meeting or liven up a presentation about reorganization with some comic relief from two fictional offices we hope our workplaces don't resemble. Fans of the U.S. version of the TV show The Office will appreciate Dwight Schrute's take on the organizational chart of Dunder Mifflin's Scranton, Pa., office (bit.ly/OfficeChart), while anyone who's ever responded to a Dilbert cartoon with a knowing laugh will enjoy a selection of comic strips on the topic (bit.ly/DilbertCharts). Just please don't use them for inspiration.

Between the Lines. The lines and boxes on an organizational chart represent an outline of how work in your organization should flow. However, the BusinessWeek article "The Office Chart That Really Counts" (buswk.co/mapchart) suggests that organizations should evaluate how their workplaces actually function by mapping their informal networks. Such a relationship map helped one new manager "visualize the invisible, informal connections between people that are missing on a traditional organizational chart." While this strategy may highlight ways to improve communication and workflow and identify silos and bottlenecks, discretion and sensitivity are advisable, particularly as those with fewer connections, including higher-level managers, may feel threatened.

Giving Slides the Slip. Reorganizing involves meetings, and meetings mean presentations. If you're tired of slide-based presentations, Prezi (prezi.com) may be for you. Rather than individual slides, Prezi users create Web-based presentations on a blank backdrop by placing topics, points, and ideas in frames and then make connections, show relationships, or tell stories by zooming in on details and zooming out to get back to the big picture. Signing up for a free account gets you 100 MB in online storage space, and you can try the program out by converting an existing PowerPoint or Keynote presentation. See how at prezi.com/learn.

Look Out for Silos. In an effort to determine how communication in a large organization actually works, Harvard Business School researchers reviewed more than 100 million emails and 60 million electronic calendar entries at a company with more than 100,000 employees. The 2008 study Communication (and Coordination?) in a Modern, Complex Organization (bit.ly/HBScommstudy) found that communication more often moved along organizational lines (business units or job functions) rather than across them. A companion article, The Silo Lives! Analyzing Coordination and Communication in Multiunit Companies (bit.ly/SiloLives), is an insightful interview with one of the researchers on the impact of factors such as hierarchy and gender on internal communication.

About the Author Maura King Scully Maura King Scully

Maura King Scully is a freelance writer and a former staff member of the Boston College Alumni Association.

 

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