Thursday, September 22, 2011

Higher Editing: Eliminate these common errors

Have you hugged your editor today? If not, you can at least make sure you're avoiding the following common errors in your higher education prose:
  • Incorrect use of "alumni." If you don't want to accidentally change the gender of an honored graduate, please commit the following list to memory:
  • More than one graduate, including at least one male: ALUMNI
  • More than one graduate, all female: ALUMNAE
  • One male graduate: ALUMNUS
  • One female graduate: ALUMNA
  • There's no such thing as an "ALUM" unless you're talking about chemistry (the subject itself, not your academic department)
  • Hosting a "first annual" event. There's no such thing. There are "first" or "inaugural" events, both of which imply that there will be subsequent events. However, you can't have an "annual" event until it is held two consecutive years.
  • "Univeristy." This is one that spell-check should catch every time, but it still gets by on occasion.
  • "Graduating a school." This isn't my personal pet peeve, but it is one brought up by legal writing guru Bryan Garner during his commencement speech last year. Correct usage: graduating from a school.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Preventing rogue tweets on your institutional account

Admit it: If you manage both institutional and personal Twitter accounts, you've probably posted at least one rogue tweet.

You may have caught it and deleted it right away, but someone probably saw it. You just hope that someone wasn't your boss or a troll.

So what steps can you take to avoid causing a rogue tweet?
  • Tweet from separate programs or devices. Many dual-Twitterers create boundaries by tweeting institutionally from their work computer and by tweeting personally from their mobile devices. This approach makes it easy to shift persona with less risk.
  • Set your tweeting program's default account to your personal one. If you're going to accidentally tweet from the wrong account, it's much less risky to post a straight-laced institutional news item from your personal account than to post a snarky comment for your college or school. This trick is great if you don't have a smartphone.
  • Don't tweet angry (or when otherwise mentally compromised). You shouldn't do this anyway, but tweeting angry (or when #gettngslizzerd) from an institutional account will most certainly grab the attention of your followers. Tweet from both personal and institutional accounts as though your boss, HR office or university president is watching at all times (because they just might be), and even if you mix up accounts, there's not much harm. Heck, one time I accidentally posted a higher ed marketing link from the law school account and the university retweeted it.
  • Share these tips with other institutional tweeting colleagues so they don't rogue tweet, either.
Do you have other tips on preventing rogue tweets?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Top three myths that you don't know will kill your blog

I love to read blogs that offer practical tips, scan-able lists, and quick advice, and I enjoy writing in a similar style. But there can be too much of a good thing. Inspired by a brief Twitter exchange with @mStonerBlog and @andrewcareaga, I thought I'd share my own top-three list of tired blog memes:
  • Things you don't know, have missed, and aren't going to find anywhere else. In this world of information overload, no one wants to miss out on a big story amidst all of the noise.
  • Things you think you know, but what you know is wrong. Have you been misled by myths? Thankfully, there are blog posts that will clear up the confusion!
  • Concepts that will kill other concepts, kick other concept's tail, or are dead. Email, Facebook and Google social media projects may seem like living organisms. They might seem threatening at times, or even look like they're being threatened. But they don't have a pulse. They do not have weapons or a physical presence. They cannot fight, receive medical treatment, or be thrown in jail for their transgressions.
P.S. Some might add that top-three (or top five, 10, etc.) lists have also passed their prime. Considering that David Letterman's top-10 list has endured for more than 25 years, I think the theme is immortal.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Graduation collaboration: Sharing the workload on commencement programs

There are few higher education publication projects that are more collaboratively time-intensive than the commencement program. It's a document that will be treasured for decades by graduates and parents alike, and whether your institution is graduating 50 students or 5,000—it had better be accurate.

Of course, reaching perfection can be an elusive goal for any publication, let alone a commencement program. It's a herculean task requiring extensive collaboration from the registrar's office, student affairs, academic deans, faculty award committees, etc. Academic recognitions may not be finalized until weeks before the event, and it's tempting to delay production for the inevitable last-minute changes.

Since our communications office began producing our graduation-related programs two years ago, we've found Adobe InCopy to be an invaluable tool for managing the process. It's a basic word processor that can link directly into an Adobe InDesign document, where the graphic designer can alter the appearance and organization of the layout. Think of it as a content management system for a printed document, instead of a website.

By saving the files to a shared campus file space and separating sections of the program into different linked files, several users in different departments can update the document at once. Once the information has been finalized by the various offices, the communications office finishes the publication and sends it to the printer.

To train other departments on how to use InCopy to update the program, I used TechSmith's free version of its Jing screen-capture video software to narrate the steps for finding the files and editing them in the program. Watch the training video.

Another technical trick for checking accuracy is to save every official name to your InDesign user dictionary. It won't catch every mistake, but running a spell-check to the entire document after this step can catch some elusive name errors.

Photo courtesy of under Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Favorite tactic: The annual 1L student focus group

It's no secret that good marketing requires knowing your audience, and you can't really know your audience without researching it.

For many higher ed communicators, research can feel like a complicated, time-consuming task. However I've found that scheduling at least one focus group with our first-year students every spring can yield rich feedback that inspires my planning for the rest of the year. Here is how I make the most of it:
  • Strategically select your sample. Our primary marketing audience is prospective law students, but gathering these students—let alone getting candid answers from them—isn't always practical. The next best thing is to gather 8-10 highly qualified first-year students who can still remember the process and are already on your campus. We want the opinions of those who "shopped around" and were accepted to multiple schools, so I invite students from a geographically diverse sample with high admissions statistics.
  • Ensure good attendance. Plan the focus group at a time when many are available, along with a small incentive for attending (we find that providing a decent lunch works well). Draft an attention-grabbing email message that lets the sample know that your institution values their opinions and will use their feedback when making future decisions.
  • Find a fair moderator. The moderator should have some distance from the topics being discussed while still understanding the goals of the research. The person should be friendly and warm, able to spark conversation and get the participants comfortable with sharing their opinions.
  • Ask about media consumption. What resources did they refer to when selecting what schools to apply to? What media outlets do they find most credible? What helped them make their final decision? How did they first become interested in your institution?
  • Let them review your current tactics. Show the group ads and publications that are being targeted to prospective students. What messages resonate? What doesn't work? How do your tactics compare with those of the other schools they applied to? Don't forget to include your website in the discussion.
  • Test out new ideas. Bring samples of new concepts to get their first impressions. Probe into why certain ideas have more impact than others.
While this research approach won't yield scientific or generalizable results, it can go a long way to giving you deeper insights into what those close to your target audience wants for the cost of lunch catering and a few hours of staff time.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How to find great vendors

From local printers to national agencies, every higher ed marketer needs to find new vendors every once in a while. So what are the best ways to find one?
  • References, references, references. There's no better way to choose vendors than by good referrals. Ask your network who they recommend. If you don't know anyone who could make a recommendation, this is a great question to break the ice. Listservs or professional LinkedIn groups can also be helpful places to request suggestions. (Conversely, if you find a vendor you like who wasn't referred, make sure to call a few of their clients before you hire the company.)
  • Your professional organizations. If you're a member of a communications organization, check out their website for recommendations or sponsors who cater to your market. The CASE Yellow Pages is one resource that covers a variety of education-related companies, and the College and University Editors' Photographers List includes freelancers from around the nation referred by fellow communicators.
  • Industry networks and organizations. Check out the portfolios of creative freelancers on, where you can search by various fields (including academia). The Graphic Artists Guild also makes member portfolios available on its website, and the Professional Photographers of America offers a Find-a-Photographer site.
What are your favorite resources for finding vendors?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

QR codes: the good, the bad and the ugly

Looking for an easy, trackable way to drive people to your website? Never fear, QR codes are here!

You don't have to be a smartphone user to notice these trendy little marks popping up on everything from magazine ads to outdoor signage. For the uninitiated, these little QR (quick response) codes are just text that can be scanned into a smartphone using one of the many available QR reader apps. The text may be a sentence, an e-mail address, or (most often) a Web page, and readers will often open the links into a Web browser.

While I'm still using a dumbphone, I'm jumping into this trend head-on for our print advertising and direct mail pieces. As much as we want people to visit our website, it makes sense to make this process easier. We have yet to know whether this is a temporary fad or the start of a lasting bridge between the print and online world, but the cost is minimal enough to make this worth a try.

Smartphones aren't necessary to generate these codes, and you don't need to pay a dime to generate codes with analytics. They are ugly, but as long as you keep some of the contrast, you can spruce up the look slightly in Photoshop. So how do you get started?
  • Set up a free account with a URL shortening service that offers QR codes and analytics. Right now, and both include QR code generation for all shortened links, and they also track clicks. Accounts for both of these services are free, and I wouldn't be surprised if market pressure leads similar services to follow suit in the near future.
  • Make sure your site is (at least moderately) friendly for mobile devices. If a huge portion of your website is Flash-driven, you'll want to phase that out before driving mobile users to it. Smartphone users will expect that the sites they're going to have been created just for them, so don't violate this expectation by making it incompatible with their phones.
  • Focus on function, then form. Designing around these codes can be tough. They're not inherently attractive, and they need to be at least .75" square in size to work. Test them out *every* time you use them, just like you should for a regular Web address. The more phones you can test on your first few designs, the better. Once you know the original code works, then you can experiment with color variations (then test them again).
Happy coding!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Marketing to those who hate marketing: Bling

A professor showed me a clever piece the other day with a simple diagonal die-cut that was accordion-folded for five panels, creating an attractive and interesting zig-zag effect. He hated it.

"Too showy, not serious enough," he described. He saved it as an example of what not to do when targeting faculty.

Tip #2: Forget the bells and whistles. For every person who gives a "wow—that's cool" reaction to an interesting publication shape or feature, you're likely to get two or more who respond with "wow—what a waste of tuition dollars." Depending on the purpose of the piece and your audience, some things can stand out in the mail for all the wrong reasons. Lenticular printing, die cuts, giveaways and other tactics may help distinguish a direct mail piece, but in a time when IHE budgets are being tightened nationwide, budget-conscious recipients may discount your institution's fiscal responsibility.

Solid message development and creative design doesn't require printed bling to be effective. Even if you've got the budget for such tactics, spending those funds on other applications is likely to give you much more bang for the buck.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Marketing to those who hate marketing: Why?

I think I may have put the cart before the horse on my last post by diving straight into tactics before strategy. So let's answer the bigger question: What's the point of marketing to groups who hate marketing?

First, let me better define marketing in this context. The first reference to marketing is what we do: developing and communicating programs that provide value to our defined markets. The second reference to marketing refers to advertising tactics meant to persuade individuals to buy a product or service.

There are two major audiences in graduate and professional schools who usually have disdain for traditional advertising: Gen Y students who value authenticity and academics who value substance over style. Notice any similarities?

Thankfully, the strategic approach for addressing both of these groups is the same. Be straightforward. Don't let form get in the way of function. And if you work for a great institution with solid academic programs, the best thing we can do is share its story without diluting the impact with tactics that could backfire (which is what the rest of this series will cover).

Related posts:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Marketing to those who hate marketing: Gloss

It's no secret that graduate and professional schools are full of savvy, smart consumers. High-achieving students and scholarly professors are, almost by definition, independent thinkers, and most hate to be marketed to.

So how can a professional communicator best reach these marketing-cynical audiences? By re-thinking typical marketing practices for a potentially skeptical audiences, small choices can make a big difference. For my next few posts, I'll hit on some simple ways your marketing communications can be more effective with academic audiences.

Tip #1: Watch the gloss. Nothing says "slick marketing piece" like a high-gloss design. While many--if not most--color designs look best on a coated sheet, there can be such thing as too much of a good thing. I once heard a professor mock a brochure from another institution as portraying its faculty as "god-like creatures" due to the super-shiny gloss spot varnish on its cover portraits. If you're going for a highly formal or serious academic message, consider skipping the shine entirely and print on an uncoated sheet.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Résumé advice from a hiring manager

We're in the process of hiring a communications coordinator for our office, which will be a hybrid position that's part administrative support and part graphic designer. We've received hundreds of applications from all ranges of experience levels, and it's fascinating to examine how people present their professional abilities.

Here are some quick tips for putting your best foot forward when applying for a higher ed communications job:
  • Remember your audience. Read the job description carefully and adapt your cover letter accordingly. Don't make the hiring individuals work to find how your skills and experience fit this particular position. If the job requires specific software expertise, make sure you mention that software somewhere in your résumé or cover letter. If you're vastly overqualified or live outside the region, explain why you're interested in the specific position. Double-check that your boilerplate language makes sense; stating that you're goal is to work for a Fortune 500 company or manage staff when you're applying for an entry-level position at a non-profit organization will send your application straight to the circular file.
  • Be confident, not cocky. It's one thing to say that your many years of experience may be a good match for an institution. It's another thing to openly state that you're so overqualified that the only reason you would apply for a low-level job would be for the tuition benefit. There are much more tasteful ways to explain your interest without the condescension. Also, if you have different versions of your résumé, make sure the file names on your attachments don't give away your omissions (e.g., "JaneDoe_withoutCEO.doc.").
  • Details, details, details. Review your application package many times in many ways. Spell-check it. Grammar-check it. Get your spouse/parent/child/friend to proofread it. Read it out loud to yourself. Put it away, and then read it again an hour later. (And for crying out loud, please don't misspell "detail-oriented.")
  • Distinguish yourself professionally. If you want a job communicating for an institution, make sure that your individual communications present a highly professional image. Send your attachments as PDFs so that fonts and formatting aren't lost. Keep your writing clear and concise, and use bullets and subheadings so your documents can be easily scanned. Adding light artistic touches to your application can be helpful for design-related positions, but don't let form get in the way of the function.