April 5, 2012

Amott consolidates college communications offices

Following over a decade of decentralization, Knox once again has a central Office of Communications to unify marketing messages and produce a more coherent image for the college.

The new office, which will assume responsibilities previously given to Advancement Communications, Web & New Media Services and the Public Relations Office, was officially created on April 1. The idea, however, occurred to President Teresa Amott even before she set foot on campus.

“Since my appointment last February, I have observed major College communication efforts in action … I have also taken note of the amount of time spent coordinating between these areas … and by the difficulty sequencing communication projects that rely open individuals so widely dispersed across campus,” Amott said in an email to faculty and staff.

The consolidation of Knox’s communication efforts comes on the eve of several major projects in which the new office will play a role, including a comprehensive capital campaign and a review of how the college markets itself to prospective students — all of which would be on the college’s plate regardless of the communications infrastructure.

“It just drives home the point that having a really smooth shop from the communications end is going to be really important,” former Director of Advancement Communications Megan Scott ’96 said. “I can’t imagine having to do all of these projects and having us all sort of be separate.”

Scott, along with former Associate Director of Web & New Media Services Sean Riedel, will serve as Co-Chief Communications Officer. Current Director of Public Relations Karrie Heartlein will serve as Director of Government and Community Relations. All of these shifts required time, Amott said.

“A personnel matter is personal,” Amott said. “When you are dealing with people’s jobs and responsibilities … you don’t want to move hastily.”

The last time the college had a central communications office was in the late 1990s. As digital media became more important, efforts gradually became more and more spread out across different offices. In the fall of 2010, the college created the Integrated Marketing and Communications Team (IMCT) in an attempt to allow for better utilization of resources, but something was still missing.

“There was no real good way to make sure we weren’t stepping on each other’s toes,” Scott said. “IMCT was a huge stride forward for us, but the idea that we were all going back to our respective corners just … didn’t do quite enough.”

The college hopes to eventually install the Office of Communications in the recently purchased Alexander Lumber building on S. Prairie St., near Administrative Services. For the next four or five months, however, communications personnel will remain in their current offices around campus.

Scott and Riedel will also have to adjust to working in a new configuration after spending two years as members of the IMCT and several years before that in an even less centralized system. However, decentralized did not necessarily mean disorganized.

“People are used to calling a very specific person for a very specific thing,” Riedel said. “Getting that cultural shift for the campus [will be] … a communications challenge for us. We don’t want people to feel disconnected from the services they really need.”

A similar shift will also occur among communications personnel. While copywriters will continue to write and photographers will continue to take photographs, Scott pointed out that there will be more opportunities for employees, including student workers, to branch out.

“We have such a good team of creative people,” Riedel said. “I’m hoping we’ll be able to draw together a creative energy that really propels us … forward. We’re so very task-based and almost reactive, and now we’re going to be able to lead the energy.”

As the new office comes together, Amott hopes that its ability to draw on strengths from around campus for projects such as the capital campaign will translate into the sort of results that Knox needs to maintain the opportunities it affords its students.

“Those are big projects for us because they really relate to the financial resources of the institution and the quality of the student body, which I think is pretty remarkable,” Amott said. “We want to be sure that we can keep it that way.”

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