Ideas, insights and inspirations.

Communicating before, during and after a capital campaign requires the kind of symphonic thinking that author Daniel Pink explores in A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. Strategic visions and campaign priorities can quickly deconstruct into campaign inventory and itemization — losing all connection to a larger and more compelling story about why a college matters and to the invitation for how donors might connect their singular sense of purpose to something larger. It’s not a matter of longer versus shorter content, but a question of what Pink calls the “relationship between relationships.” Pink talks of the three types of people that thrive when asked to overlay little and big pictures. Boundary Crossers: comfortable with abstraction, they understand how a concept like regulation can inspire donors to support the training of future financial accountants who will police insider trading and osteopathic doctors equipped to ease an epidemic of diabetes. Inventors: able to project new … Continue reading

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A familiar Chinese proverb instructs: “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.” The current situation in higher education defies that enduring wisdom. Change arrived suddenly, with little regard for institutional history or might. In this respect, all colleges stand on relatively common ground. All college presidents, to a degree, have become new college presidents. It might be tempting in this moment of great uncertainty to think that successful colleges/presidents will be those that summon deeper reserves of managerial will or command with greater “corporate turnaround” intensity. More likely, how you and your college navigates this public health crisis and its aftermath will come down to something as fundamental — albeit elusive — as how effectively and artfully you communicate. Every college has crisis communications plans in place, and these plans have served everyone — especially students — well through the initial weeks and months of this crisis. We know that eventually, the urgency of this moment will give way … Continue reading

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College marketing and communications teams increasingly look to boost video teams and budgets. All well and good, but we should not overlook the enduring value and impact of your still image library. It’s easy to grow complacent and assume that last year’s photos will meet this year’s needs. It’s tempting to hire less qualified photographers, and to cram too many shots into a long day of shooting. Here are 5 Quick Tips on how to build, maintain and mature your campus photo library. Frequency: Many college photo libraries grow stale without anyone noticing. If you want to maintain a viable collection of photos, plan on four, two-day shoots each year. Story needs and brand understanding change — as do seasons, fashion, hair, and the campus environment. You will need to schedule multiple shoots each year for photos to keep pace. Quality: Staff photographers spend so much time shooting grip-and-grin, raise-a-glass campus events that few have time to hone their editorial POV … Continue reading

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Today, there is a lot of advice around how to create high quality, student-centered content in the higher education space — from bringing student experiences to life through stories, photos and videos to creating content by involving passionate faculty, students and brand champions. However, far less is said regarding how to create an orchestrated effort around content publishing to ensure that your content receives the most visibility and positive engagement. Often, marketing teams get caught up in the demanding work of content creation and fall short when it comes to creating a well-thought-out content release plan. The result is limited exposure of a content piece that was incredibly time consuming to complete. At Elliance, for each piece of high-fidelity content — whether it’s an infographic, guide, video, blog post, story, etc. — we develop a content release plan to ensure maximum exposure among target audiences. While each piece of content demands unique considerations, here are a few recommendations that can be … Continue reading

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As revenue pressures grow across higher education, so do board- and cabinet-level imperatives to “define the brand.” Easier said than done, true. But also worth every ounce of effort. At its best, a brand discovery should yield an authentic and durable brand position (with a 10-year shelf life). Better yet, a brand discovery (well planned and executed) should liberate your institutional voice — a bright new vocabulary that establishes an emotional connection with prospects and other stakeholders; a way to articulate, with clarity, verve and imagination why you matter. Getting the brand and voice right can test any school and potential partner. Brand discovery is where you begin to look more closely at hidden assumptions and unexamined bias — on your way to a clearing where new light allows something fresh and unforeseen to emerge. Choose quality over quantity How you approach brand discovery, especially the rationing of scarce time on campus, will have a big impact on results. A … Continue reading

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Former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight famously said to an audience of newspaper reporters, “All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things.” Part joke, part poisoned-tipped joust, the heralded Knight voiced an ambivalence about writing and writers that lingers within many college marketing departments and their creative agencies. Entire blog columns and books have advanced the notion that “content is king.” That idea  traces to an 1996 essay by Microsoft founder Bill Gates who envisioned an Internet buoyed by fresh, enlivening content. Google Ngram shows that phrase rocketing straight into conventional wisdom. One could argue the theory, but the eye test says otherwise — the vast seas of web content carry mostly ephemera. My first digital assignment — a 155-character meta description — began my re-education in a new hyper language, one that promised greater speed and potency. As newspaper writers, we learned a seven-second rule — the average … Continue reading

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A colleague of mine spoke a phrase several months ago that won’t stop ringing a clear and undeniable truth in my ear. After I showed him video from a flash mob brand launch, he said, “I hate that kind of fake energy.” That bell rang again for me this week as imposter birthday greetings between dropping through my apartment door mail slot. Nice to hear from you, chiropractor I saw once and then ran from in horror. You too, hair stylist who binges a little too hard on caffeine and can’t stop her scissors from shaking. Welcome, dentist who bought one of my best friend’s once-thriving practice only to run it into the ground with incompetence. And let’s not forget you good neighbor State Farm agent who ceaselessly tries to upsell me renters insurance no matter how often I refuse. Anyone with access to a birthdate now feels emboldened to enter your private space without so much as the courtesy of knocking; to pose as a kind of trusted, intimate friend knowing full well … Continue reading

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  Snapchat is a social media super giant. With 26 million active users, over half of which are between the ages of 18 and 24, Snapchat is stealing hearts and seconds. Snapchat is currently the most popular social media app among teens. In fact, 77% of college students are using the app at least once a day. I even have friends who claim to be “anti social media” that are using the app regularly. Which begs the question, why aren’t more colleges and universities jumping on the snapwagon? One of the easiest ways that colleges and universities can make their mark on Snapchat is through Snapchat’s custom, geo-targeted filters, or Geofilters. Think of Geofilters as free billboards. Brands can work with companies like Elliance 😉 to create custom artwork that users can apply directly to the snaps they share. There are two kinds of Geofilters, long term and short term (or as Snapchat has coined them, Community and On-Demand filters.) … Continue reading

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I enjoyed a rare two-hour sit down recently with an entire marketing and communications team at a major university — and we never once talked about story. They, like many of you, spoke of feeling beleaguered by the demands of an unending news cycle, a tumbleweed website and the torture drip of “next in line” requests for this event press release or that event poster. I realized that as much as I believe in the power of good story telling, many in house departments have lost control of the conditions that might allow it to happen. In the spirit of giving, let’s all take a few minutes and give ourselves the gift of a good story.  I found a couple of recent examples from higher education — reminders that the mission of our college and university communications efforts is not to meet every trumped-up deadline, but to help make a lasting difference. As TV writer Steven Moffat says: “We’re all stories, in the end.” … Continue reading

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Why, despite our best intentions and efforts, can we all make bad decisions? Social scientists point to the phenomenon of “cognitive bias”  — a scholarly and polite way of saying that we should not so quickly and easily believe everything we initially perceive or think. The more complex the set of choices and decisions, the more prone we become to any one of the 100 or so variations of cognitive bias. In the higher education marketing realm, few things match a full brand discovery for complexity. We read and interpret reams of enrollment and financial data. We interview dozens of college representatives — students, faculty, staff, alumni and leaders. We pour over annual reports, strategic plans, course descriptions and faculty vitae. We reference third-party sources for reviews, comments, and insights. We tour campus. We calculate. We listen. We ponder. Opportunities for cognitive bias to creep into a brand discovery rival the chances of an insect or two crashing your next … Continue reading

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