Archive for June, 2011

An innovative “look” begins with an inspired vision that is anchored in actual institutional strengths, connected to current market needs and trends, and consistently articulated by all levels of leadership.  That accomplished, imaginative writing style and design play essential supportive roles.

Writing these days must be crisp, concise and adapted to the characteristics of each new technology.  Recent research, commissioned by an association I work with, revealed that even university presidents rarely read lengthy position papers and monographs.  The reality of the way busy people spend time, and the requirements of new media, suggest that crisp bites of information are preferred, and in most cases they are more effective. Thus, writing style must fit the medium, as well as the media behaviors, of each audience.

An impression of innovation is also better achieved when the writer and designer are able to work together. When a designer can hear and see the message develop before they ever go to work, the design is always much more effective. All too often the artist begins with minimal instruction, and then works in a vacuum with disappointing results.  The design may be award-winning, but communication effectiveness is not.

To be effective, the entire process must be guided by a set of minimal standards that guarantee carrying forward the general design “look” of the organization (brand identity), and the design look of  the appropriate program or division (sub-brand identity). Then, talented commercial artists are able to reinforce the brand and sub-brand, while at the same time support the purpose and content of the communication. 

Make no mistake, however, achieving this will require the proper interactive  process between writer and designer. Even those using outside free-lance writers and designers can achieve this result if branding standards and work procedures are defined first. Then, those hired outside can be required to sign on as if they were working inside. 

Organizations large and small are able to achieve an innovative “look” when they have articulate visionary leadership, clear brand standards, and use interactive creative processes. 


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Last week I had the privilege of leading a series of marketing discussions at the University of Queensland, a progressive public institution of more than 40,000 students in Brisbane, Australia.

I met with the  president’s executive team, as well as administrators and faculty from all corners of the campus. Many bright and talented advancement professionals and educators were in my groups, and I was reminded once again how very large  institutions can go about establishing an innovative reputation, and “look.” It was still one more example of how institutions in all parts of the world are quickly developing their marketing expertise. In fact, I am now finding that many are moving ahead of U.S. institutions in their innovative thinking.

So, just what does it mean when your institution does not “look innovative” enough to be competitive in a changing market?

It can mean that your program offerings are not seen as up to date. Or, it can mean that those leaders who speak on behalf of your institution are not positioning it as a change leader in an industry that is becoming more and more international. It can also mean that your use of  technology in marketing, or in the classroom, does not demonstrate how communication tactics are changing.  Or, it can mean that a clear brand identity is not reinforced by consistent design elements that are selected for both academic substance and gaining attention.  In other words, the design of your marketing materials might be too inconsistent, or even too trendy to be credible.

The president of  the University of Queensland has a vision of global leadership which he articulates around three  basic themes: learning, discovery and engagement. Further, he  “activates” his simple vision by bringing more than 100 key administrators and faculty together as an expanded “executive team.”  These internal and external opinion leaders are charged to become “word-of-mouth” advocates for developing what he calls, “an institutional culture of advancement.”  This means that he positions the field of advancement more centrally, and that through this team everyone in the institution is asked to accept advancing the institution, and telling its’ story in every way possible, as a central part of their job. In my mind, this is the highest form of “integrated” marketing, and it is a basic formula for achieving an innovative “look.” 

Once you have the right branding message for your leadership, the right communication technology, and the right basic design standards reinforcing that brand message, you will have the right competitive elements in place. Then, you will know you have achieved  an  innovative “look” when your key constituents are saying: “Those people are going places, and I want to be a part of it!”

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It seems it was not too long ago that I was traveling to many parts of the world to teach introductory marketing seminars, and how to adapt those basic ideas to the  academy. It was the new  “hot topic.” Traditional public relations was well established, but strategic and integrated marketing certainly were not. In fact, in most academic institutions, the “M” word was never even spoken!

Now when I go abroad, I am amazed at what I find. In many institutions, marketing is  more sophisticated and better staffed than in some U.S. institutions. Rather than simply making a presentation about marketing, my experience has become more “let’s learn from each other and exchange our best ideas.”  And I must say, this way is much more fun and productive.

In preparing for my recent trip to the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, I reviewed the institution’s new strategic plan. I was impressed by its’ substance and breadth and  how well it is crafted to enable the integration of strategic marketing goals. The plan articulates a clear and comprehensive vision for leadership in global engagement, and  is well structured, concise, and simply presented. Unlike many other plans, this one is designed to be easily used and implemented by every faculty, school, and institute in this university of over 40,000 students.

In addition, I reviewed a background paper about “campaign readiness,” and another on “engagement beyond the century.” Both demonstrated an uncommon understanding of the growing need for aggressive philanthropy in public institutions, for systematic reputation building, for a well differentiated brand identity, and for an ambitious and comprehensive alumni relations program.

Institutions in many parts of the world are advancing quickly before our eyes.  Higher education is now an international industry, with an intense world-wide competition underway for top students, private funding, and prestige. It will certainly be exciting to watch those leading the University of Queensland in the days and months ahead. They are clearly on their way to a very bright future.

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Everyone understands the importance of body language.  We know that how we look (facial expression, gestures, dress, etc.) when we make a statement either reinforces the message, cancels its credibility, or sends a completely different secondary message. This is true for institutions, and for individuals.

This week the Texas Legislature failed to pass the bill authorizing the state budget before the close of the regular session. The culprit was a Senator’s filibuster protesting dramatic cuts in public education.  The governor immediately called a special session, which brings into play a whole different set of voting rules.  Members can now start over on a new bill, or pass the entire current bill by a simple majority.  They can also revisit and change elements of the bill that were blocked during the regular session by the minority.

The ultimate consequence is that a bill which cuts a whopping $4 Billion from public education, putting thousands of teachers and others out of work, is now likely to pass.

I understand that many think this super drastic action is necessary in these hard economic times. Others feel just as sincerely that the economy can be rebuilt with a more balanced approach. My “communication” concern here is that many of the victors this week in Texas “looked” so self-satisfied about winning.

The legislature by majority vote is now likely to bring enormous pain to countless Texas families. And instead of demonstrating compassion and empathy about the eventual consequences, they focused on looking happy about the victory.

At both the state and federal levels, it is worrisome to think about what body language might be telling us about so many of our current political leaders.

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