Elizabeth Keserauskis

Building relationships and making connections

Acting Like an Agency

The University Marketing and Communications (UMC) team structure is set up as a strategic communications agency serving our internal clients. With a client-facing level around our core tactical services, we operate as an integrated marketing team for the University. Our services include strategy development, web strategy, interactive media, graphic design, publication and copywriting, media relations, advertising development, market research, event management, social media integration, email marketing, photography, video production, and more. Our team leaders are empowered as relationship managers, serving as a liaison for various internal clients, helping them clarify their marketing objectives and formulating strategies to meet the objectives. I presented this poster at the AASCU Strategic Communicators conference in Washington, D.C., April 2013.

Acting Like an Agency

 

 

 

 

May 14, 2013 Posted by | engaging, higher education, leadership, marketing, relationships | , | Leave a comment

Event Quality as a Reflection of Leadership

I recently participated in the a conference for commencement planning officers, the North American Association of Commencement Officers (NAACO). A session that particularly stood out for me was “building an emotional connection: the influence of high touch event communication on donor support.”

At the beginning of the session, the discussion revolved around how a poorly run event can lead the donor to assume the institutional leadership is not strong. Wow! I am pretty sure that most leaders of an institution must either not understand this, or underestimate the amount of time and attention a high end event can require. Otherwise more time and resources would surely be put towards events! Research was displayed showing there is a direct correlation between the donors perceived quality of the event and the perceived quality of the institutional leadership. Powerful stuff! And a new way to think about events and the way I position them to the leadership of an organization.

We also discussed event branding, things like using the same typeface for ALL events and event pieces down to the name tags. Makes complete sense–we have such a challenge convincing folks why consistent font usage is important in general; I can’t wait to start rolling that out with all campus events!

And I know I had not yet thought to brand the dessert! It’s one of the last things consumed that evening/event, take advantage of the opportunity to reinforce the message!

Great stuff- I am so glad that I found a worthwhile session.

February 7, 2012 Posted by | communication, connecting, events, leadership, resources | , , , , | Leave a comment

Agility

After a particularly frustrating series of days working for a state institution, I was reflecting on the concept of agility and how important it is for an organization. More appropriately, I was ranting about how NOT agile a public higher education organization is. So I decided to Google “business agility”. And since Wikipedia is clearly the destination for accurate information (*sarcasm*) and you really should believe everything you read on the Internet (*more sarcasm*), it was only natural to include information from their entry (which, by the way, is cited as Dyer, L. and Ericksen, J. (2009). Complexity-based Agile Enterprises: Putting Self-Organizing Emergence to Work. In A. Wilkinson et al (eds.). The Sage Handbook of Human Resource Management. London: Sage: 436–457.)

Agility is a concept that incorporates the ideas of flexibility, balance, adaptability, and coordination under one umbrella. In a business context, agility typically refers to the ability of an organization to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes in productive and cost-effective ways.

Where to begin pointing out the ways we are not agile? I often feel like each day I am trying to change the course of a cruise ship with a canoe paddle. All frustration with the business practices required by the State of Illinois aside, let’s focus on the communication side of a business.

We cannot craft messages and responses by committee anymore. The world is moving too fast and the situation will have changed and incorporated more information faster than the statement can be reviewed by 3 of the required 7 people. What about establishing the core values, mission, brand platform and promise, and overarching key messages, and then deputize people to be company ambassadors at all levels?

Also, if your entire communication/sales strategy is based largely on printed material and direct mail, how up-to-date do you think the information is that people will have in their hands? I am not advocating banishing all printed material, as they have a time and place. However I am suggesting that our customers are so much more savvy than ever before and will go to the places where they want to consume information (websites, blogs, social networks, friend networks, etc) rather than try to figure out how a business is trying to force them to consume the information. Meeting the customers where they are looking for information requires agility in a business, and specifically in the marketing and sales areas. It also requires the leaders of both areas to buy into the concept, versus continuing with “the way it has always been done”.

Going back to the Wikipedia entry,

There are several key distinctions between the agile enterprise and the traditional bureaucratic organization. The most notable is the agile enterprise’s use of fluid role definitions that allow for dynamic decision making structures. Unlike the rigid hierarchies characterizing traditional bureaucracies, organizational structures within agile enterprises are more likely to fluidly adapt to changing business conditions into structures that support the current direction and any emergent competitive advantage. (Dyer, L. & Ericksen, J. (2007). Dynamic Organizations: Achieving Marketplace Agility Through Workforce Scalability. In J. Storey (ed.). Human Resource Management: A Critical Text (3rd edition). London: Thomson Learning: 263–280.)

How can we change the state and structure of public higher education (Illinois specifically for my knowledge base) to become more agile? To me that is the new million dollar idea. Wish me luck finding it.

June 25, 2011 Posted by | communication, higher education, leadership | , , | 2 Comments

My Debut(s) On the Radio Waves!

Since last summer, the campus radio station (WSIE 88.7FM The Jazz Station) has been under my supervision. This has been an extremely interesting area to work on, as I have in the past only been on the other side of the coin by buying radio advertising. Working with the radio station has brought a few unique opportunities to test my “radio voice”! First, I recorded the 10 second tag on a commercial for the university, and just two days ago I recorded a holiday greeting for the station. An alternative career path? Maybe not. But it was certainly fun to do! And, I didn’t have to pay talent fees…

December 16, 2010 Posted by | leadership, relationships | , , | Leave a comment

The Rationale for Centralized Marketing Structure in Universities

I recently drafted a memo internally discussing proposed organizational changes. Though targeted toward higher education, the points are well made for any industry:

The rules have changed for marketing and communications professionals both in general, but especially at the university level. We are challenged to keep up with constantly evolving technology and consumer behavior patterns, even more so with the advent of the Internet and the explosion of social media marketing tools. The good news is that we have greater and more direct access to our customers, reducing the reliance on the traditional news media to communicate with our audiences.

The field of traditional public relations has evolved such that greater skills than just crafting the attention-grabbing press release are critical to job success.  Public relations materials are now for more than just mainstream media audiences. Our audiences do not just want to see our organization on TV or in the newspaper; they want to see us on the web. Marketers are now challenged with helping customers move through the decision-making process with great online content; providing authenticity, not spin; and encouraging participation, not generating propaganda.

Communicating in the 21st century requires us to consider the following factors:

  • We are in a competitive, global marketplace
  • This is a 24/7 media environment—not just the traditional 9a-5p
  • The marketplace is extremely consumer-centric
  • Consumers have an expectation of governance and fiscal responsibility

Challenges we must overcome include providing context and perspective, demonstrating our competitive advantage, and ensuring our customers have a consistent message and experience.

In the traditional PR environment, organizations or units at a university could effectively function with a single individual generating press releases and responding in a reactive media environment. Today, teams of professionals are better suited to proactively tell the stories of success, and distribute those stories via all appropriate channels: through the website, video, publications, social media outlets, traditional media outlets, direct-to-consumer communication, and so much more.

All of these advances in the marketing and communications field present opportunities, but also the challenge of remaining professionally current in the field. Being part of a larger team or unit allows an individual to participate in more non-traditional professional development by learning from their teammates.

Given the fiscal challenges of both the federal and state governments (especially my home state of Illinois) and the tough budget times we face ahead, we must find ways to be more efficient and take advantage of existing resources—now more than ever before. We no longer have the luxury of separate marketing teams for various areas of the University. In addition to meeting the new challenges in the marketing field, it is fiscally more responsible to have one consolidated group that can address the marketing needs of various areas and the University as a whole.

July 27, 2010 Posted by | higher education, leadership, marketing, public relations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There’s No Crying in Volleyball…or Marketing

volleyball as analogy for marketing strategyMy team and I experienced substantial frustration this weekend as we played in a grass triples volleyball tournament, the US Open of Grass Volleyball, or the Waupaca Boatride tournament in WI. Our fatal error causing the frustration: assuming. Yes, I admit our frustration was largely our doing thanks to assuming that the rules would be what we were used to, and assuming that our fellow players would have the same integrity and honesty that we did.

Without going into excruciating volleyball detail, essentially our competition was not holding themselves to the same high quality play standards we have grown accustomed to in outdoor play. Additionally, since the rules were essentially “police yourself”, there were a few dishonest folks who did not call their own net fouls.

So we lost more than we should have. However, that is no excuse for us not playing at minimum to our potential to overcome that. OR, changing our strategy to adapt to the “new” rules.

Yes, I am about to turn a volleyball tournament scenario into an analogy for marketing. I can’t help it- it’s what I do.

All too often the rules change at some point throughout our execution of our carefully planned marketing strategy. What defines us as marketing strategists is whether we can see that the rules have changed, and adapt our strategy and course accordingly. So many factors can change: the economy, a natural disaster, a product failure, a PR crisis, etc. We cannot possibly predict all of the options. We can however have a system in place to help detect the change in rules and help us adapt to a new direction. To me, that is a sign of a top notch marketing strategist.

Clearly we did not identify the changing landscape during our volleyball tournament and adapt our strategy accordingly. So for a few days I will just complain about the unfairness of the situation to anyone willing to listen. But then, I will be sure that the next time I play, I am ready to meet that challenge.

July 12, 2010 Posted by | leadership, marketing | , , , , | 2 Comments

The Importance of Doing the Right Thing

I know, it sounds like a lesson you learned in kindergarten. Unfortunately, many companies still don’t understand it though.

I’ve had several conversations lately about the PR implications of negative actions taken or substantial errors made by companies or employees. And inevitably, there is always a suggestion that we figure out how to “cover this up”. I shake my head, and my response is typically the same: has anyone thought about perhaps admitting an error, issuing a heartfelt apology, and outlining the steps you are taking to fix the problem and safeguard against repeating history?

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Wouldn’t you find it easier to forgive a company for a wrongdoing if they apologized and fixed it, versus tried to cover it up? How about Toyota’s recent mechanical problems–they were slow to speak in the public and apologize, but once they did, it focused the conversation away from trying to catch them to talking about how the problem is going to be fixed.

Yes, there will be a time when their brand will suffer. However, they have worked very hard in the past to build relationships with their customers, to the tune of significant brand loyalty. It will take some time, but it will be easier for them to rebuild trust than if they had not built that relationship foundation.

Sorry for the brand loyalty digression, but the message is the same. If you do the right thing to fulfill your mission and satisfy your customers, handling times of crisis becomes so much easier. So when we ask ourselves what we are going to do about a particular situation, the answer to me is easy: what is the right thing to do for our employees, our customers, and our other publics?

June 12, 2010 Posted by | leadership, public relations, relationships, reputation management | , , , , | Leave a comment

Convincing the Curmudgeon

What happens when someone in your organization, particularly someone who has decision making authority or budget control, is not convinced that the rules of marketing and public relations indeed have changed, especially with the advent of the internet and social media tools available to you?  What do you do, especially when they adamantly argue that if the process isn’t broken, why would you fix it?  How could you convince that type of curmudgeon to start employing some of the new techniques that will allow you to reach a greater audience, in a more authentic fashion, resulting in a greater return on your investments?

It is indeed a challenge and one that I recommend you tackle by starting with small victories and small samples of success.  For example, if your organization has never attempted to deploy a Google AdWords campaign or other search engine marketing strategies, perhaps you’d start with one small product or program, build that case and work then to show that there is value and a return on investment with a Google AdWords strategy. It doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing everything else that they’ve always been doing to promote that particular product or program, but you do this in conjunction with it so that you can compare the results of both strategies.

Interestingly though, if you’re embarking on a new strategy like Google AdWords, you’re often going to find that there are some other key pieces of your communications program that are not up to snuff in this case.  For example, when you’re starting a Google AdWords strategy or an SEO campaign, your website has to be written such that humans actually want to read it, but also contain the key phrases that are relevant to your particular search strategy. You’re going to have to start creating several variations of landing pages to test effectiveness of copy, call to action, and other parts of the sales process.

Almost equally important is whether your website or that particular micro-site or section of your website is doing a good job of moving people through the sales process. Traditionally, especially in higher education, people have been resistant to consider the recruitment and enrollment process as a sales cycle.

The reason it is important for everyone to understand that your website is a part of the sales conversation is that if you’re suddenly driving all of this great traffic to your website – potential customers, potential students, whoever it might be – but your website does not do a good job of converting them into true leads for your business or, ultimately, purchasers of your product or service, then you might as well burn a pile of dollar bills . If, when they get to your website, they are not converting, it’s like opening the doors to your business and allowing a bunch of people to come in the door but then telling them that we don’t want you to buy anything.

So, you really need to pay full attention to your web content before you embark on the search engine marketing strategy or search engine optimization strategy. Not only are there practical implications of your Google AdWords quality score getting slapped if the key phase is not on the page, etc., but also now that you have the great inquiry coming to your site, potential customers want to make sure that you’re converting them and leading them into, ultimately, sales – however you might define that.

It is mission critical to be sure and convince that program or service area of your website that it needs to a well oiled sales conversation machine and moving people though that great content. In a later blog post I will discuss how to develop the best content to move people through that great sales conversation.

In the meantime, be sure to create a few small victory opportunities to convince the curmudgeons in your company!

April 8, 2010 Posted by | higher education, leadership, marketing, sales | , , , | Leave a comment

Most productive CEOs

I recently read an article in Inc. magazine that featured several CEOs talking about work habits that have contributed to their success, or helped them be more efficient, in their particular business environment. The first CEO that caught my attention was Caterina Fake of Hunch who talked about keeping her schedule completely free-form, and working on what she wants to work on, whenever she wants to work on it—whatever seems right at the time. That approach would be great if you only had to work on certain things and could delegate everything else to a person below you. But for me, her approach doesn’t provide a good suggestion of how to help prioritize my day, or do a better job of delegating, so that I can sit and focus or work on the things that I want to work on at that particular time. After testing that strategy for a few days, I would up with a lot of work that didn’t get done during the week, waiting for me to do over the weekend. That isn’t helping me achieve work-life balance. Perhaps I am not delegating well enough.

One interesting, great thing she mentioned in the article is that when she conducts her staff meetings, everyone is standing during the entire meeting.  Also, everyone drinks 16 oz. of water before the meeting starts, and the meeting is over when the first person has to go to the restroom. To me, that seems like an incentive to keep your meetings short, to the point, brief, and not waste your time meeting for the sake of meeting, but rather get out there and get something done for your company. Go build a relationship. Go check an item off your to-do list. I brought that suggestion to the next regular staff meeting I have to attend. Everyone seemed to agree–let’s see if it gets implemented.

The other CEO that caught my attention in this article was Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks, who claims that he only conducts business and correspondence through email. He does not utilize voicemail or meetings. If you do require his attention in a meeting or by voicemail, it better be something very good and important…likely conducting millions of dollars of business.

Now, there’s something lost for me when you communicate only exclusively through email. First of all, you assume, and insist, that everyone you deal with also operates through email. To me, a sign of a good manager of people is that you adapt your communication style to fit the needs of those working for you. My job is to bring out the best in people and help them achieve their potential. So if, for example, someone’s personality or style is not conducive to business via email exclusively, are you isolating them? Are you potentially surrounding yourself with people who are like you, rather than surrounding yourself with a rich, diverse mix of people who bring different trades, ideas, thoughts, and processes to the table?

I think an emphasis on diversity brings a richer mix of ideas and innovations to the table. But then again, Mark Cuban has made quite a bit of money and is quite successful at what he does. I guess, once you get to that point, you can tell everyone around you how you prefer to do business. But in the meantime, those of us who are still stuck in the middle and trying to work our way up will need to continue to adapt to the communication styles of those who are reporting to us. Also, you can’t tell inflection, personality, or emotion through written, email correspondence.  There’s something to be said for working either via the phone or in person, being able to get to know someone just a little bit better.

I also ask, how do these ‘unique’ work styles affect relationships with the customer? If you will only communicate with them via email, or you won’t commit to a schedule or timeline, is that helping further the relationship or to begin a new relationship? Unless you are in a business where your customers have no choice but to do business with you, I would suggest that you be willing to meet your customers where they are comfortable conducting business and communnicating with you. That will likely lead to a multi-layered communication strategy to address the varying needs.

March 17, 2010 Posted by | connecting, leadership, relationships | , , , , | Leave a comment

Coloring Outside the Lines

There are some times we need to color in the lines, and sometimes it is acceptable to color outside the lines. This morning, I saw an example of where we sometimes just need to pay attention to solid white line. As I merged into an exit lane to get on the highway, I realized in this situation there is an extended white line for a reason – to allow semis to enter the highway gracefully. Ninety percent of people cut quickly over the solid white line, so I’ve made it a habit to follow the rules, color within the lines, and wait to transition until the solid white line becomes a broken white line.  Just a personal pet peeve of mine. However, there are times that we should push the boundaries, cross the solid line, and color outside the lines.

So I ask you, what are you doing in your marketing strategy to color outside the lines?  Are you challenging the old perception of how things should be done?  Are you incorporating new social media strategies into your plan, perhaps without asking permission? Are you testing and showing ROI before trying to convince the world that new social media technologies are useful tools? How are you coloring outside the lines?

Or, who are you allowing to stay in their safe zone by not pushing boundaries, not coloring outside the lines, not transitioning onto the exit ramp at a different place, a different speed, with a new, different vehicle? Start coloring outside the lines (in the right places, of course!) today!

February 10, 2010 Posted by | leadership, marketing | , , , | Leave a comment