May 18, 2011

Knox shifts marketing focus

Although President-elect Teresa Amott will not officially take over until July 1, her enthusiasm is already being felt at Knox, particularly in how the college markets itself.

“Teresa has an integrated approach to marketing,” Dean of Admissions Paul Steenis said. “She brings ideas to the table about how to tell stories in a more timely way and organize resources more effectively.”

At her current post as provost of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., Amott works under President Mark Gearan, who served as Director of Communications at the White House during the Clinton administration.

“She comes from an institution that seems to have marketed itself very successfully,” Steenis said. “She sees daily a master of communication at work.”

Amott’s involvement in college marketing thus far has focused on connecting with next year’s freshmen, both through mailings and posts on the class of 2015 Facebook page. She has also expressed interest in meeting with all major communications personnel at Knox.

“She’s made comments about the website and stories already,” Steenis said. “Her thinking is that information needs to be timely and quick.”

Recently, Knox’s Integrated Marketing and Communications Team (IMCT) has churned out more in-depth, personal and timely pieces, all aimed at better conveying the Knox experience.

“It’s good, old-fashioned storytelling,” Steenis said. “The bottom line is that all good marketing is simply doing a good job of capturing what goes on here every day.”

Unlike many other colleges, Knox does not have a central communications office. The IMCT, in addition to the External Relations group created earlier during President Roger Taylor’s tenure, is a more decentralized way of managing communications, Vice President for Advancement and IMCT facilitator Beverly Holmes said.

“[Amott] is very interested in meeting with the team and finding out why we are the way we are,” she said.

The IMCT, which was created in the summer of 2010, brings together staff from the Offices of Admission, Advancement and Public Relations as well as the Athletics Department and Web Development. The group meets weekly to discuss Knox’s overall marketing strategy and coordinate their efforts.

“The most important letters there are I and T … we are a team. On Flunk Day, there wasn’t just one group covering it. We were all out there,” Holmes said.

Greater collaboration has enabled Knox’s various marketing groups to add more communication channels, including greater use of video and social media tools. Knox’s Facebook page now features regular updates on college events, often asking alumni to share their memories of similar activities.

“We want to see our constituents talking back to us, so we’re working on making postings much more interactive,” Holmes said.

So far, the IMCT has helped coordinate the announcement of Amott’s presidency and produced a live webcast on current Middle Eastern affairs featuring Professor of Political Science Bob Seibert, ’63, and Professor of Economics Roy Andersen. Progress is likely to continue under Amott’s direction.

“[Amott] believes every bit that good communication is every bit as powerful as a large endowment,” Holmes said. “She’s said, ‘I want to come and get involved; how can I be helpful?’”

Further changes are also likely to be made to the way Knox connects with prospective students, largely due to the increased presence of students on the Web.

“The [campus] visit isn’t the first time that prospective students have interaction with Knox people anymore,” Steenis said. “Because of social media, you don’t have to contact the Admissions Office to find out what Knox students are like. You can find them yourself.”

In recent years, the Office of Admissions has increased its presence on third-party sources, such as Cappex and Naviance, which let prospective students create profiles that can assist in matching them with colleges.

Still, it can be difficult to get an idea of what a student is like from a brief profile, Steenis said. Traits that colleges look for, such as intellectual curiosity and motivation, can be difficult to glean from a list of facts. This necessitates more than ever the need for a coherent message on the part of colleges.

“You cast a wide net and make sure you articulate your message in a way so that people understand who you are,” Steenis said. “Those who respond are likely to be well-matched.”

Next month, Admissions will begin a campaign through Cappex to get the word out about the college to students who might “be Knox.”

“We’re trying to put information in front of students … who want a liberal arts education at a small school,” Steenis said. “We get the word out and make connections.”

Amott was unreachable for comment.

Anna Meier

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