Communications Changes Signal Commitment to Universitywide Goals

Communications Changes Signal Commitment to Universitywide Goals

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

UNH is making a major shift in how it manages and executes universitywide communications. A new department of Communications and Public Affairs is taking shape and will be up and running this summer under the leadership of Joel Seligman, UNH’s chief communications officer.  

Communications and Public Affairs, an integral part of University Advancement, will align messages across the university’s three campuses, shift the balance of output from print to digital, consolidate public affairs and outreach functions, more fully project the university’s research portfolio in balance with enrollment and advancement, and bring employees serving these university-wide functions together under one roof. Employees are currently based in three different buildings.  

“These exciting changes are long overdue,” said President Mark Huddleston. “Even before my arrival seven years ago, the communications landscape had begun to shift dramatically from print to digital for high school students, alumni, and for our own students, staff, and faculty.”  

“We’re catching up with these changes in how people all over the world consume information and are approaching these important groups across multiple communications platforms,” said Huddleston. “Marketing and branding UNH in a distinctive, relevant, and authentic way is one of our top strategic priorities.”  

“We have a number of mission-critical outreach initiatives that occupy a significant part of our communications bandwidth,” said Debbie Dutton, president of the UNH Foundation and vice president for University Advancement. Dutton noted that recruiting qualified, talented students is the university’s top communication priority. Additionally, the state appropriation and advocacy process will pick up steam this fall for New Hampshire’s next biennium in Concord. And, UNH will celebrate its Sesquicentennial in 2015-16, and at the same time launch the public phase of the university’s fundraising campaign.  

“Our messages must be aligned as we communicate about the priorities of UNH and where we’re headed in the future,” Dutton said. “Our new approach is already taking us in the right direction.” She cited the release of UNH’s new graphic identity last winter, and a new advertising campaign for student recruitment this spring among several changes already showing results. 

Renewing the Structure 

During the past six weeks, most employees in the former University Communications and Marketing (UCM) office as well as others across USNH have applied for positions in the new organization, first posted for internal candidates on March 26.  

After a careful assessment of the skills and experience of each internal applicant, 17 employees from UCM, two employees from other UNH offices, and two employees from other USNH institutions were offered positions in the new Communications and Public Affairs department. Six positions could not be filled internally and were posted externally earlier this week. Those searches will continue until filled.  

“It has been a very difficult and painful period for everyone, especially the employees who have now left our department,” said Seligman. “We have taken every step available to make their transitions as compassionate and smooth as possible but it was a lot of change in a relatively short amount of time.”  

Since the restructuring was announced in late March, all 30 employees in the former department have had access to career counseling and job search coaching provided through Snowden Associates of Portsmouth. The services have been funded by UNH and will continue for those who were laid off last week. Laid off employees – approximately a dozen -- will also have a nine month period in which they will receive priority in all searches across USNH for which they meet minimum job requirements.  

Once hiring is complete, the new Communications and Public Affairs department will employ approximately 30 people, the same number as the previous UCM department.  

Admissions Success

 The university has already seen improvements in important areas in the past year. Next fall’s incoming first year class may very well be the largest in the university’s history, reversing a decline over the past several years in enrollment among New Hampshire residents.  

“We’ve launched a highly personalized digital communication platform to communicate with prospective students,” said Mark Rubinstein, vice president for Student and Academic Services. “This type of digital channel reaches high school students with tailored content and we are developing it even further.” 

The admissions communications channel, called “Uniquely UNH”, is one of several new strategies credited for this year’s superb results in admissions. UNH plans to go in a similar direction for some communication with alumni, parents, donors, and even the internal UNH community of faculty, staff, and students.  

UNH also advertised aggressively for the first time on social media and other digital platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Pandora, and Hulu. Broadcast and cable ads, complemented by new web landing pages and special online features for high school students, all followed aligned messaging around “more than a matter of degree” – a tagline emphasizing the exciting and endless opportunities inside and outside UNH classrooms.  

These communication efforts complemented increased travel, high school visits, and enhanced on-campus programming in collaboration with the colleges and other offices.  

 New Approaches, Veteran Leaders 

Seligman spent 20 years in communications at Cornell, Boston University, and the University of Chicago before coming to UNH last fall. As a communications and branding consultant, he has worked for University of Michigan, Swarthmore College, St. Anselm College, Northeastern University, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Oregon, and others.  

“The transition will take several years to complete,” Seligman said, “but we’ve taken many steps forward in the past few months. We are building an incredibly talented, cross-disciplinary team with wonderful skills to execute our communications and branding goals.” Planning for the restructuring began shortly after his arrival last fall, he said. Yet, even while embracing new approaches and new technologies, the department will benefit from the leadership of several long-time UNH employees.  

Mica Stark ’96 recently transitioned to the new role of assistant vice president for Public Affairs, overseeing external outreach to the media, federal and state government, and the Durham community. Erika Mantz will continue in her role as director of Media Relations and lead a new internal communications program. Public Affairs will also incorporate the existing leadership communications function serving President Huddleston. Stark joined UNH in 2008 and most recently served as special assistant to the president for government relations and strategic initiatives. Mantz joined UNH in 2000.  

Bridget Finnegan was appointed to the new position of creative director, overseeing content creation for UNH’s major periodicals and projects on all platforms – web, targeted emails, print, video, photography, social media, and emerging trends. This cross-disciplinary group will produce UNH Today, unh.edu, UNH Magazine, and some new marquee communications focused on research, New Hampshire, and the Believe campaign. Finnegan joined UNH in 2001 and most recently served as founding director of New and Emerging Media.  

Scott Jones now serves in the new role of director of Client Services. His team will be the primary entry-point for clients of Communications and Public Affairs. This new “front door” will also manage projects throughout the creative process, on all platforms, to ensure timelines are established and maintained from start to finish. Jones joined UNH in 2002 and most recently served as director of Video and Photographic Services.  

Kim Billings ’81 is temporarily serving in the new role of director of marketing, overseeing the construction of the UNH brand toolkit, a growing advertising portfolio, and a merchandising program. She will also begin efforts to better align and integrate communicators across campus, a role she will take on full time when a national search for a marketing director is completed later this year. Ultimately, the Marketing Department will be collectively responsible for stewardship of the UNH brand throughout the university. Billings joined UNH in 1985 and most recently served as director of Advancement Communications. 

Communications and Public Affairs is located in the New England Center, 15 Strafford Avenue. They can be reached at cpa@unh.edu or 2-6000.