What Did You Say?


The stage was set, the lighting was fabulous, the sound was crystal clear – and yet no one heard a word you said. The room was filled with the right people gathered in the perfect place – and still no one listened to you. Even worse – you weren’t aware of the problem for weeks; not until you tried to build on the moment and discovered that the strongest memory was one of a “great time,” had at your expense.

Not so bad…but not necessarily all that good, especially considering the time, talent and treasure that went into the making of said experience.

It’s almost ironic. Institutions filled with professionals who are experts in – and often teachers of – how best to communicate with their publics and articulate key messages fall victim time and again to engagement plans that are long on calendar items but short on strategy.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to shake things up a bit, map out what you want to say and determine how best to be seen and heard. As you embark on planning for the next round of engagement activities, we invite you to think about and steer clear of some of the most common messaging pitfalls we encounter:

  •  Alma mater fatigue – alumni feel barraged by too much contact from too many areas of the institution. Most alumni will not distinguish between alumni affairs and the development office, nor will they understand why their academic department AND the president’s office is inviting them to the same event – or worse, why each is inviting them to a different event on the same day.
  • Shot gun approach – the institution does not know enough about specific constituencies and therefore it runs the risk of sending along relatively generic and frequently off-point information.
  • Best kept secret – whether because internal culture eschews “bragging” or because of missed marketing opportunities, the institution’s story and claims to fame remain hidden from view…and from the very people who would take immense pride in spreading the word.
  • Dwelling in the past – the institution is out of touch with the actual present day interests or even the probable socio-economic interests of its key stakeholder groups. Conversely, stakeholders cling to an outdated perception of the institution – what it was, not what it is today or could be tomorrow.
  • Tone deafness – constituents are confused (or put off) by the tone, look and feel of certain connection points, for example, communications materials associated with events or milestone moments.
  • Identity crisis – constituents do not recognize and therefore cannot articulate what is distinctive about an institution, let alone what is truly unique.

Not quite sure how to think it through in a different way? As always, we’d love to help.

Best Practices
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