It’s always interesting to see the way really smart university communications people design a campaign around a priority message or initiative for their campus. A colleague I have long admired is Heather Swain at Michigan State University, and it didn’t surprise me when our headline scanning picked up a series of announcements and news coverage about MSU programs and outreach across the state of Michigan.
That led me to investigate MSU’s website, where I found this terrific microsite gathering together the university’s impact across the state, titled “MI Spartan Impact.” The site includes an interact map of the state, as well as special sections highlighting initiatives in Detroit and Flint.
I wrote Heather to ask about this effort, and she said it is “tied to our strategy to ensure a drumbeat of content that helps legislators and the public in the communities that elect them understand the return on investment in MSU. This ‘return,’ so to speak, extends all across the state and improves quality of life in a multiplicity of positive ways.”
Heather explained, “We have made a special effort to call attention to how we are making a difference in some of Michigan’s hardest hit cities—Flint and Detroit—but also in key areas of growing influence and impact like Grand Rapids, as well as in communities all across the state. This work is part of our heritage and commitment as the state’s land-grant university. As we showcase through MI Spartan Impact, we are active in all 83 counties in Michigan. All of this continuous communication helps underpin our formal advocacy program.” Heather’s office works closely with MSU’s Governmental Affairs on both the advocacy and statewide impact communications.
In addition to the innovative website, I’ve listed below some of the announcements issued by the university over a 6-week period, many of which received external media coverage as well. The headlines and messaging in the stories make clear that MSU programs provide a benefit to key regions of the state.
This model is easy for other institutions, whatever their size and resources, to emulate across a range of topics. It requires identifying the strategic priority, looking for opportunities for new and incremental programs and investments that serve the goal, and then building a sustained communication program around them. These campaigns can be resource-intensive, of course, but they don’t have to be. Rather it is a matter of working smarter and targeting the message in an ongoing and consistent way.