The Communications Task Force was struck in September 2008 to focus on integrated communications to both internal and external audiences. Internal communication was clearly identified as the primary institutional priority. The Task Force was mandated to review current practices to ensure effective and efficient communications at Queen's University and to improve internal communications by enhancing the consistency, clarity and relevance of university communications. It was also mandated to develop new initiatives and protocols to support this goal.
In developing its initial Report, the Task Force reviewed the purpose of internal communications, best practices, relevant challenges at the University, and the current status of the marketing and communications functions.
In the fall of 2008, the management of several pressing communications issues (such as the Aberdeen Street Party and the subsequent cancellation of Fall homecoming) took precedence and became the central work of the task force. Over the winter and spring of 2009, the task force was able to refocus on internal communications and generate several key documents related to current operations, benchmarking and best practices. During this time, new hires were made in both the communications and marketing department; Marketing and Communications went through a reporting reorganization; and the university communications function became strategically linked to the senior administrative offices of the university. This summer, the task force finalized working papers and wrote submissions to the Principal's Innovation Fund.
This final report includes the communication and marketing studies conducted by the Task Force, and executive summaries of each. It also includes next steps and a proposal for how best to maintain the improvements achieved over the past year, as well as how to continue enhancing the implementation of the university's communication needs.
Established by Marketing and Communications (M&C) prior to the Communications Task Force, QNET meets on a quarterly basis to provide a forum to share knowledge, collaborate, leverage expertise, and join in partnership to enhance integrated marketing communications efforts across campus and build more consistent communications for Queen's. With representation from all areas of the University by individuals who support communications and marketing efforts for Queen's, this group is now more actively engaged in the mandate and has strong participation. This group has now become one of the University's key internal communications vehicles for integrated marketing. A sub-group has been developed to allow for quick feedback on issues and quick dissemination of information and news for distribution within units.
The Director of University Communications now attends weekly P/VP meetings, which has led to enhanced issues management and support for P/VPs, and increased issues awareness. It has encouraged strategic discussion and provided a forum for P/VPs to offer guidance and direction to communications strategy and implementation. As of summer 2009, the director also attends P/VP Deans.
The Director, University Communications now reports to the Principal, with a dotted line report to the Executive Director, Marketing and Communications. This aligns the strategic direction of the University's communications from the Principal's office and cements the integrated marketing and communications model within the University's structure and institutional mandate.
An informal benchmarking study of communications best practices in Higher Education was completed in March 2009 to provide a baseline of comparator information. Many of the major findings/common themes in this study have been implemented or are in development at Queen's, as part of the Communications Task Force initiatives. Many are outlined throughout this final report.
An email survey of faculty and staff (via free Survey Monkey) was conducted in May, the first in four years. Results are being integrated into plans to enhance internal communications across the Queen's community, including the Gazette and the Queen's News Centre.
Results of this survey of the readers of the Alumni Review (again via free Survey Monkey) are being used to enhance this key alumni communications tool, and as input in the development of an improved online presence for the Review. It will be integrated into the new Queen's News Centre site.
In response to the increasing use of social media worldwide, and specifically within institutions of higher learning, M&C established a Social Media Task Force to research and review social media practices and make recommendations for use at Queen's University. The Social Media Task Force reviewed current social media best practices at Queen's and at other places of higher learning in Canada and the US. They identified the different types of social media, what type of communication each one was best suited for aligned with Queen's communication goals, what their potential downfalls/areas of caution were and created a set of guidelines for use of social media at Queen's. The guidelines were approved and are available to campus through the Queen's website.
In the late summer and fall of 2008 M&C/Advancement commissioned a reputation research survey (Ipsos-Reid) on behalf of the University to better understand current perceptions of Queen's among both internal and external audiences. This was the most comprehensive research of this kind that has been conducted at Queen's to date. The objective of the research was to measure visibility, performance and familiarity of our audiences on some key characteristics and reputation factors. Top-line (executive summary) findings were shared across the campus and with the Board of Trustees and one-on-one interviews with campus stakeholders and senior leadership were conducted throughout the spring and summer of 2009 and are ongoing. The participants in these interviews shared their perceptions of Queen's to complete the qualitative component of this research. The core themes that emerged will guide the brand development process.
The next steps in this process are:
The development of a brand promise: What we want to say about Queen's?
• Developed through consensus building with campus stakeholders
Development of brand identity
• Develop supporting brand identity including key messages, visuals and application of Queen's master brand across all units and faculties (Brand Guidelines)
Marketing and positioning strategy
• Build the profile of the Queen's master brand through departments, units, faculties, and other tactics like coordinated advertising and the campaign.
This phase requires direction from the academic planning exercise and input from the new Principal.
The Brand Brief is the guidebook for positioning and concept development and the creative development process. It is the "everything you need to know about Queen's at a glance" in an executive summary format. It includes reputation research highlights (key findings), core themes that have emerged during interviews and one-on-ones, rankings survey information (NSSE, Macleans, Student exit polls etc.), facts, figures and historical information about the essence of Queen's.
The Communications Task Force submitted a concept paper to the Principal's Innovation Fund requesting seed funding for an initiative to develop a coordinated Queen's advertising/media plan by employing the expertise of a professional media buyer to evaluate Queen's current advertising and recommend an institution-wide media plan to maximize the dollars spent across the institution that are currently spent without strategic planning. Currently there is no budget for central advertising nor is there an overarching strategy and media plan. All of the advertising dollars spent, are spent out of the units and faculties against faculty/unit priorities with little or no coordination. An effective media buy can accomplish all the necessary objectives (unit and faculty as well) and maximize the effectiveness of the dollars spent. This initiative does not seek to gain further advertising resources other than those to secure a professional media buyer, but to evaluate current advertising practice at Queen's and expenditure across the university, and make recommendations for efficiency and allocate spending against top University priorities. This will enable us to optimize our exposure as an institution and focus our declining resources in the areas that are best for the University.
Implementation currently expected late fall/early winter.
The Queen's News Centre is being revamped (using internal resources - M&C's e-communications unit) to enhance access to news and information for both internal and external audiences. The Queen's Gazette and Alumni Review online will be integrated. The web is a key communications vehicle for all Queen's campus groups (students, faculty, staff) as well as alumni, parents, other universities, government and the general public.
Over the past year, with support from M&C, the Principal's communications to the community have been enhanced. A dedicated "Financial Update" section of his website was developed and maintained; his three "live" updates were videotaped and posted. News and financial information at other Ontario, Canadian and international Universities is updated regularly.
A new website for the new Principal is being developed for launch September 1. A communications plan for the new Principal has been developed. The key first-year goal is to raise awareness about the Principal among all Queen's audiences.
A communications plan for the University has been drafted and will be aligned to the new Principal's vision and priorities.
One element that is expected to continue to be developed is earned media. The recent focus has been on national media. Queen's is the second most-oft quoted University of its peers in the Globe and Mail* and has increased its coverage when all others had decreased theirs.**
* Jan-March 2009 as per Infomart Search - updated stats are being compiled.
**Jan-March 2009 compared to Jan-March 2008 as per Informart Search - updated stats are being compiled.
Communications has recently filled a long-vacant position in news and media services, which will serve to enhance the department's earned media strategy and implementation, and move the University forward in developing more trained faculty experts and relationships with media.