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Communications Planning begins

Our first meeting of the State COMM steering committee is Tuesday and I’m looking forward to working with everyone as we develop a strategic communications plan for NC State University.  Lots of work to do but before you know it, we’ll have a plan that makes sense for the university and for all the units within the university.  No, we probably won’t actually develop the unit plans (that would take too long) but we’ll have a framework everyone can work with.

As part of the communications plan, we’ll also focus on refining the North Carolina State University brand.  Who we are. What we stand for.  That kind of thing.  This will happen later in the process, but the work we do in the early stages will help us develop the understanding and awareness of who we are, in our eyes and in the eyes of our key audiences.  I plan to use a lot of the work we did at the University of Florida as thought starters and to provide ideas and direction.

When I was at Harley, a branding consultant walked us through a lengthy process on the way to understanding who we were.  You’d think it was easy.  Harley-Davidson.  Big, heavyweight American motorcycles with lots of chrome, and a unique sound.  Right!  Nope.  The process helped us focus on what/who we really were; a dream.  “We fulfill dreams through the experiences of motorcycling…”

As I’ve said throughout my career, I believe branding is an investment in the future; it is an investment in the company’s future ability to compete with other companies in the same industry for the consumer dollar.  On the higher education side, branding is the university’s future ability to compete effectively for students, faculty, staff, and funding.

A brand is not a name, a logo, a product, a program, a tag line or a :30 second television commercial. It is a relationship – one that exists between an entity and its constituency; a company and its customers; a university and its students, alumni, faculty, staff, etc.  Companies spend billions each year establishing, growing and protecting their brands, because they know that stronger brands consistently out-perform weaker ones.

The same applies to the academic world…but unless I’m badly mistaken, we’re not spending billions.  Few are even spending millions.  Yet universities must continually compete for their “customers” in order to remain viable.  Because of our budget constraints, universities rely more on pubic relations, the media, and alumni to get the job done.  I talk about creating disciples for NC  State and that’s what we’ve got to focus on.  We do it right and we send forth a throng of true believers to spread the word of North Carolina State.

Why focus on the true believers.  Well, they want you to succeed. They want you to do good. They support you in good times and in bad. They are willing to forgive your mistakes because they love you.  What do the poets say, “Love conquers all things; let us too surrender to love.”

I recognize that we do not operate in a vacuum. Our peers all market aggressively and many have already begun their own branding campaigns. Here in the Triangle we compete with our peers almost everyday and like NC State, they are among the best in the world.  The competition is fierce.

The reality is that the most recognizable institutions (those with the highest brand awareness?) consistently attract the best students, staff and faculty as well as secure the most funding, gain the greatest accolades, and receive the most recognition by the media. All of these are critical factors in the health, growth and overall long-term success of an institution.

So, it’s our responsibility to shape the messages for NC State University.  It’s our responsibility to nurture that love.  It’s a big responsibility.  Hundreds of thousands of alumni are counting on us.  Millions of North Carolinians are counting on us.  Like I said, it’s a big responsibility.

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