On being relevant

A recent post by Andy Shaindlin on his Alumni Futures blog got me thinking about relevance. Andy’s post — about issues facing alumni relations in the year ahead — really struck a chord, especially the part about the relevance of alumni relations organizations in this era of budget reductions.

Andy wrote:

I’m concerned about “mattering.”

Senior administrators are questioning the relevance of alumni relations in the face of external and internal changes (i.e., competition for scarce resources). Will alumni organizations matter?

It’s an important question, and not just for alumni organizations. From my perspective as a communications director, the issue of relevance matters on several levels:

  • Mission. How relevant is our department’s mission to the institution’s? How about to our stakeholders? (Does our department even have a mission? And if so, do we al know what it is?) Then there’s the institution’s mission. How relevant is that to stakeholders and audiences? An organization’s communications and marketing staff ought to be conveying the institution’s mission to various stakeholders, right? So the relevance of institutional mission should set the tone for the institution’s messages, and thereby set the agenda for the communications/marketing office. Which leads to the next issue…
  • Messaging. How relevant are our organization’s messages to constituents? Are they connecting? Are the messages we (communications people) transmit in step with the organization’s mission? How well are we serving as the spokespeople for our organizations?
  • Delivery. What about the ways in which we transmit the messages? How relevant are our delivery systems? To reach our stakeholders, do we rely mostly — or even solely — on traditional vehicles, such as press releases, alumni magazines, newsletters and direct mail? Are those the best approaches? Should we consider mixing it up a bit — or even eliminating some old vehicles that our stakeholders no longer pay attention to?
  • Organization. Then there’s the ultimate relevance question we must ask ourselves: If your (my) organization were to suddenly cease to exist, would the institution still function as well as it does now? Would it matter? Answer that question honestly, and you should get a good idea of whether — and how much — your department or organization matters.

Lots of questions, I know. I hope you’re asking yourself some of them.

How do you plan to remain (or become) relevant in the changing world of 2010?

Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

2 thoughts on “On being relevant”

  1. Great post! As a grad student and soon-to-be-alum, I can personally identify with the behavioral shift that’s happening. I also happened to spend some time last term studying changes in Higher Ed constituent engagement models, and I find that your thoughts about relevant messaging & delivery are spot on.

    The delivery vehicles and constituent engagement channels that seemed to work so well in the past – I don’t see how they’ll get much traction going forward. For instance, I can’t imagine myself or my wife checking out the alumni mag, newsletters, attending roadshows or *shudder* reading direct mail. Chances are it’ll get filtered out at something like earthclassmail.com! Just like in any other sphere, value capture is moving away within the ecosystem from schools and alumni groups to more agile players. After all, FaceBook started off because Harvard didn’t have a good online directory for the student dorms.

    If relevant content gets delivered through the social/mobile web (LinkedIn, Google Reader, mobile apps, etc.) – and gets followed up through “offline” events & channels, then that’s relevant, sustainable engagement. Schools have an unfair advantage because of the physical channel infrastructure, but I suspect that alone won’t be enough.

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