January 18, 2012

Cutting red tape around PR

With communications at Knox currently divided between five different offices and two coordinating committees, President Teresa Amott has begun exploring potential ways to streamline the college’s marketing efforts.

“It feels to me as though the organizational structure could … be simplified so that people can collaborate on these common projects with less bureaucratic impediment,” Amott said. “But feeling is not an analytical tool, so we’re talking and looking at it.”

Currently, the Integrated Marketing and Communications Team (IMCT), comprised of representatives from the Athletics Department, Office of Admissions, Office of Advancement, Public Relations Office and Web & New Media Services, oversee college communications. The External Relations Group, primarily made up of senior staff, also plays a role in communications.

“The fact that we have two coordinating committees suggests to me that we’re not as coordinated as we could be,” Amott said.

Even before Amott officially assumed the position of Knox’s 19th president, her influence was already being felt in Knox’s marketing, with news stories appearing on the college’s website at a much faster pace. Amott also began working to strengthen Knox’s social media presence through more frequent and engaging Facebook page updates; both the increased pace and amount of content have put strains on personnel and resources.

“Either we add more staff, which we don’t have the money to do, or we try to subtract some of the workload,” she said. “What I’m trying to understand is whether there’s work that’s just administrative and management.”

For example, under the current system, materials originating in Web & New Media Services that are targeted at alumni must be coordinated with the Office of Advancement and often with the Public Relations Office.

“They are three different offices reporting to three different people,” Amott said. “Getting [a project] on the schedule and into the workflow of three different entities adds a layer of administrative complexity, and I’m trying to decide if that layer … is a serious problem or not.”

In order to further examine the effectiveness of Knox’s marketing materials, Amott has engaged the education and nonprofit consulting firm Art & Science Group to examine marketing to prospective students to see if it successfully conveys the attributes of the Knox experience.

“The risk … is that those messages either are duplicative or, potentially even worse, that they’re not in alignment, not in sync,” Amott said. “I have seen relatively little of the latter.”

At institutions at which Amott has previously worked, a central communications office coordinated all marketing in order to prevent such problems. Although Knox did once have a such an office, it gradually dissolved beginning in the late 1990s as the marketing platforms available to the college diversified, particularly with the rise of online and digital media.

Attempts to re-integrate began during the 2008 redesign of the Knox website, when various constituencies realized that they shared similar goals and could perhaps better achieve them through working together.

“It didn’t matter the vehicle you were writing for,” Vice President for Advancement Beverly Holmes said. “We were all writing and marketing on behalf of Knox.”

The result was the creation of the IMCT in the fall of 2010, an initiative that has seemed to pay off over the past year.

“One thing I think we’re particularly proud of … is how quickly we’ve been able to reach out to the extended Knox community through things like live-streaming events,” Director of Advancement Communications Megan Scott said. “I think IMCT allowed that to happen: having a group of us being able to pool resources.”

Another effort undertaken by the IMCT was the 175th anniversary website, the planning for which began in July. The website was live by the beginning of September—a very fast turnaround for web development.

“That was a tremendous thing for us to really be able to engage a lot of people,” Associate Director of Web and New Media Services Sean Riedel said.

In response to a potential restructuring of communications at Knox, Holmes pointed to the importance of the centralization process begun through the IMCT regardless of what decision is made.

“As long as we keep that sort of centralized communication focus … I think we’ll be good,” she said. Scott also expressed confidence in the coordination that the IMCT has brought to Knox marketing and hopes that that will continue in the future.

“I think we’ve hit more of a stride with IMCT as of late where we’re working together on starting to think more collectively and pull things together,” Scott said. “I think … we can keep, as a group, moving in that direction.”

Anna Meier

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