COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY administrators simply can't be everywhere at all times, ensuring the right things are said and done. We need help from the troops in promoting the institution's brand, and that requires keeping employees well informed. At St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas, we subscribe to the "everything speaks" model. Everything on campus-from the smile on the receptionist's face and the bright flowers lining the walkway, to the cleanliness of cafeteria utensils and the maze of phone loops-says something about your institution.
While faculty members form the heart of an institution, don't underestimate the significance of your staff. Receptionists, groundskeepers, and others in supportive roles are often the first people with whom prospective students interact, and poor initial contacts with prospective students result in institutions losing an average of 12 percent of enrollment, says Neal A. Raisman, founder and president of the customer-service consulting and research group Academic MAPS.
Effective internal communication ensures consistency in the institution's message and empowers employees with information they need to become brand ambassadors and help achieve goals. Furthermore, it enhances the sense of community on campus and conveys an atmosphere of openness that tells employees they are part of the institutional family and deserve to be kept apprised of "family matters."
At St. Edward's, we have developed several communications tactics to keep our people in the loop and show them they are vital to our university's mission.
- A daily e-newsletter. A few years ago, when our Marketing office surveyed employees, they let us know they were receiving too many university e-mails and suffering from in-box bloat. We responded by forming a daily e-newsletter, Horizon, for faculty and staff. It allows us to compile various broadcast e-mails into one package and keep employees posted on university and work-related news.
- The President's Meeting. To celebrate who we are, each semester St. Edward's conducts this campus wide meeting, its pep rally spirit drawing record crowds. Staff, faculty members, and students gather to hear a report from President George Martin, meet new employees, learn the latest university news, and preview new initiatives, such as advertising campaigns.
- A digitally printed employee newsletter. Readership plummeted when we switched our monthly photocopied employee newsletter, Hilltopics, to an Acrobat PDF file posted online each month. We soon revived it as a full-color, four-page newsletter published each fall and spring to coincide with the President's Meeting. It is our vehicle to recap employee news and feature departments that support the university's strategic goals, and digital printing keeps it affordable.
- A communications campaign. To keep students, faculty, and staff apprised of our master plan progress, we launched a "Change Is Good" communications campaign. Construction signs, a once-a-semester newsletter, and special events are used to explain projects reaching completion. Each medium features our mascot wearing a hard hat and giving a thumbs-up to the phrase "Change Is Good."
- Invitation-only meetings with the president. When our president announced plans to double enrollment and add several new buildings, some members of our university community worried it would negatively impact our small, close-knit, personalized offerings. To reassure people that St. Edward's would remain true to its heritage, we launched "Conversations with the President," a monthly opportunity for the president to meet with small groups of employees to explain strategic priorities and each employee's role in them. Every benefits-eligible staff member is invited at least once a year.
Valuable information also flows in the other direction. By attending these meetings, our marketing staff learns what's on the minds of employees and gets story leads and other ideas.
- Repeating good news. Accomplishments should not be shared once and forgotten. We get the most mileage out of our school's good news by repeating it over a variety of channels, including newsletters, letters, websites, the local press, and other media-devising creative ways to make sure it reaches the target audiences.
Paige Booth is vice president of Marketing at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. She joined the university in 2000 after spending 15 years in corporate marketing communications.