Ten months after its formation and four months after moving into a new building, Knox’s Office of Communications is striving to address the needs of offices across campus it had not previously served, despite limitations on staffing and the learning curve associated with the reorganization.
The office, consolidated from Advancement Communications, Public Relations and Web & New Media Services in April 2012, is charged with creating communications material for anyone on campus who may need it, providing a clear place to go for needs that had previously often been addressed in an ad-hoc manner.
“We have the client of Admission, the client of Advancement and the client of everything else,” Chief Communication Officer Sean Riedel said. “They’re looking to us for a lot of expertise in ways that I don’t know that they’ve ever really looked to anyone before.”
The office’s first major project was putting together the summer mailings series to incoming students. What had once been a few jam-packed envelopes was expanded to include weekly emails, postcards and letters united around the same look and feel, carrying messaging used during the admissions process into students’ Knox experiences.
Since the start of the school year, Communications has been able to step back and reevaluate various publications that the college has used for years, especially in the Office of Admission. On top of existing projects, however, is the need to get a feel for the voices and needs of offices such as Sustainability and Student Development, with which the Communications staff has not worked before.
“We haven’t been together in this way as an office for a full academic year to get an understanding of the ebbs and flows of what types of events are coming up and when publications are going out,” Chief Communication Officer Megan Scott said. “Learning the feel of when things happen is going to help us.”
As the office nears the end of its first year together, several major projects are on the horizon, including communications to support the upcoming capital campaign and the initiative to grow the student body. With so much to do, Riedel said the biggest challenge will be prioritizing with a staff that, aside from the addition of one photographer, has not increased in size since the reorganization.
“When new things really start coming in … it’s just kind of adding on top of what everybody was already doing as full-time work,” Riedel said.
Given restrictions on college resources, however, Riedel does not see hiring additional staff as a possibility.
“We just need to work smarter and more effectively,” he said. “We’ve got really good people here. They’re working hard.”
One advantage of the new system is the ability to repurpose publications created for one client for another. Scott cited the example of a brochure that Communications had created for the Office of Advancement, which featured profiles on student research and internships. These same stories were also able to be used by the Office of Admission.
“Before, Advancement was working on a brochure over here, and Admission was working on things over here, and … by the time we found out what everyone was working on, you’d already made plans for this publication here, and we had done it over here,” Scott said.
Although the consolidation occurred in April, Communications did not have a central hub until October, when renovations were completed on the former Alexander Lumber building on the corner of South and Prairie Streets.
The new facility features a student workspace, formal and informal meeting spaces and walls that function as whiteboards — a stark contrast to the narrow hallway in Borzello Hall where many offices were formerly located. The space is open enough that staff engage with what others are working on while still allowing for privacy.
“If they [staff] need to be heads down writing or designing, they can do that,” Riedel said. “But when people’s doors are open, you can really hear what other people are doing … so you can chime in whether you get up from your desk or not.”
For Scott, the advantages of the new arrangement can be summed up in one day from last summer, when Director of Communications Cheri Siebken was working on an email to incoming students. Web & New Media Manager Jamie Jones, who now works only a few doors down, was able to assist with a web banner, and Graphic Designer Ami Jontz helped with the overall design.
“To know that if Cheri had a question, we were able to pull all those people into one office and … get a really great product in about five minutes, was amazing,” Scott said.