Introducing Mike Roe

15,000. That’s how many taglines and headlines Mike Roe estimates he’s written over the span of his more than 20 years in Hollywood and higher ed. Here at SimpsonScarborough, we are very much looking forward to our clients being the beneficiaries of his next 15,000. We are very excited to announce that Mike has joined our team as Creative Director. In addition to his tagline-writing prowess, Mike has a natural talent and appreciation for integrating research insights into creative strategy—the foundation of our company’s approach to building brands that inspire and endure.

Mike is not only a really nice guy with a quietly hilarious sense of humor and deep knowledge of The Smiths, he’s also an award-winning writer, including receiving an ADDY Best of Show for his work on the College of William & Mary’s For the Bold campaign. Following his graduation from the University of Notre Dame, where he studied Marketing and Theatre, Mike worked in Los Angeles for well over a decade, writing movie poster taglines and theatrical trailers for each of the major studios.

After a brief stint in web marketing (and being named by Atlantic Publishing as one of the nation’s top SEO/SEM writers), he set his sights on higher education, first as Notre Dame’s only in-house marketing writer, then as an Associate Creative Director on the agency side. He has contributed to branding initiatives for the University of Arizona, Lehigh University, Wake Forest University, Springfield College, Bethel University, Hawai’i Pacific University, and many others.

Please join us in welcoming Mike to the SimpsonScarborough team. To get an idea of his creative chops, see if you can match each of the lines he’s written below to their usage.

1. A sacred space at a sacred place.
2. This season, Cruella’s pulling out all the spots.
3. He came. He cleaned. He conquered.
4. Strong & True
5. Car fragrances that give you a lift.
a. Bath & Body Works Scentportables
b. 125th Anniversary of Fighting Irish Football
c. 102 Dalmatians movie trailer
d. Brochure for the Cedar Grove Cemetery at University of Notre Dame
e. Joe Dirt movie poster


Answers: 1d; 2c; 3e; 4b; 5a

Connecting with Those Elusive Graduate-Student Alumni

A client recently asked me, “How can we maximize our graduate alumni engagement?”

The answer is, of course, not simple, but there are five fundamentals that we most frequently see rise to the top in our graduate alumni engagement studies.

  1. Maximize grad students’ sense of connection before they graduate.

This may seem obvious, but quite often when we ask our clients what they are doing to connect with current graduate students, they don’t have a good answer. Grad students typically spend less time on campus, and therefore are not as immersed in the fabric of an institution as undergrads. Institutions must work harder to connect and engage with them to help them form a strong bond. For example, ensure graduate students have opportunities to gather and build community outside of the classroom, and consider establishing traditions specifically for graduate students that can become points of nostalgia in the future.

  1. Offer alumni benefits that they actually want.

You can’t assume which benefits are most valuable to your alumni. Ask them. Do they need intellectual resources and professional development activities? Do they want more social opportunities to engage with other alums? Maybe it’s both. The answers will vary by institution, so connecting with your own graduate alumni and determining which topics, programs, and services they desire is imperative. In our research, we have helped clients test the resonance of ideas including specific career development programs and services; access to online resources and job listings; alumni networking events; leisure book clubs; and many more. The key is finding exactly what will work for your graduate alumni base and remembering that it will not necessarily be the same as what will work for your undergraduate alumni.

  1. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

While research is important, don’t let a lack of data paralyze your efforts. A little trial-and-error is fine so long as it’s not your only strategy. Some recent ideas our clients have tested among their alumni populations include hosting alumni events with like-schools (e.g. regional technical schools, other Ivy League institutions, etc.) to expand networking capabilities or planning a week-long retreat for alumni from multiple single-sex institutions. Sometimes those “what if?” ideas yield pleasant surprises.

  1. Keep detailed reports on your efforts.

Even when you do your due diligence, there will be times when alums say they’re interested in something and then don’t take advantage of it when offered. The key is to track performance over time. That’s the only way to know if an idea just isn’t realistic, or if there are other factors at play in the lack of participation (timing, cost, location, etc.).

  1. Nurture graduate alumni engagement each and every year.

Reunions are a key focal point of alumni relations and fundraising. But ensuring that alumni are staying engaged during non-reunion years is imperative. How many times have you heard, “I only hear from School X when they want something”? Cultivating a pattern of engagement and giving among your alumni is possible, but only if you include frequent touchpoints that aren’t focused on fundraising or another call to action.

Are you doing anything out-of-the-box at your institution? Send your stories to, and we’ll publish the best ones in a future issue!

That Question That Comes Up in Every Research Presentation, Part 2

In March, we dug into our normative database to provide some comparative data on survey response rates and Net Promoter Scores. Since it’s graduation time, it seems fitting to look at what we’ve gleaned about alumni engagement over our past decade of research work.

Current vs. Desired Level of Engagement

In years of asking our alumni survey respondents to rate their current and desired levels of engagement with their institutions, desired engagement is nearly always greater than current engagement. Across all our studies, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1=not at all engaged and 10=extremely engaged, the mean current engagement rating is 4.0, compared to a mean desired engagement rating of 5.5. This does vary a bit by school type, as shown below:

  • Current level of engagement: mean of 4.0 (29 schools)
    • Privates: 4.0 (19 schools)
    • Publics: 3.9 (10 schools)
  • Desired level of engagement: mean of 5.5 (27 schools)
    • Privates: 5.6 (19 schools)
    • Publics: 5.7 (8 schools)

Ways in Which Alumni Want to Engage

What can colleges and universities do to bridge this gap? How do alumni want to engage? Our research tells us alumni want more non-monetary interactions with their institutions. Specifically, they are interested in interacting in some of the following ways:

  • Mentoring current students and alumni
  • Speaking to a class as a guest lecturer
  • Participating in educational opportunities, such as webinars, lectures, or panels by current students, faculty, or fellow alumni
  • Attending networking events with current students and alumni—preferably in their local area
  • Receiving personalized communications
  • Attending events tailored to their career or major/program
  • Attending athletic events

While we want alumni to give back in monetary ways—and many will eventually—they need to be engaged and to feel connected to their institutions in other ways that make them more inclined to give. We don’t want them to dismiss us because it seems we are only asking for financial support. Molly Jackson, Associate VP at SimpsonScarborough, offers some great advice here for engaging with graduate alumni that can be applied to all alumni.

This is the second article in a three-part series in which we share general information we have gleaned from our work over the past decade. Part I explored survey response rates and Net Promoter Scores.

Four Steps to Redefining Issues Management

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

–Yogi Berra

Used on a college campus, the phrase “issues management” is often seen as either futile fortune-telling or “spin” – a desperate attempt to put a good face on a set of bad facts or decisions. But the reality is, not undertaking issues management is akin to saying we don’t have enough time to install smoke detectors because we are too busy putting out fires. With universities’ and colleges’ reputations under fire from all sides these days, issues management becomes a critical exercise of identifying and then taking steps to reduce the chance that a potential threat will have a significant and corrosive impact on your organization’s reputation (i.e., become a crisis).

At Blue Moon Consulting Group, we believe that issues management should be a strategic part of not only protecting but also building an institution’s reputation. In our new whitepaper, “Beyond Spin—Bridging the Gap Between Stakeholder Expectations and Decision-Making,” we outline a comprehensive process that’s built around a four-part framework that we call a CASE Options Analysis. Simplified, it involves having your team analyze each of your institution’s top 15 or so potential issues to determine which of four strategic categories it falls into:

CHANGE: The toughest issues that can potentially threaten the institution’s reputation and the credibility of its leadership. Requires immediate and comprehensive action.

ACCEPT: When the cost of solving an issue is actually higher than the potential cost associated with the risk, you may decide to essentially do nothing now and continue to monitor. 

STRENGTHEN/BUILD: Rather than exposing risks or vulnerabilities, some “problems” actually present an opportunity for institutional innovation or leadership. 

EDUCATE: Driven by a mere lack of understanding about some aspect of the institution, these types of issues can be easily addressed by more robust or strategic communications efforts.

Issues management does take some effort, and it will take some time – but less than the time spent in constant fire-fighting and react-respond mode.

Simon Barker is Managing Director at Blue Moon Consulting Group, a consultancy that focuses on risk management. To find out more about Blue Moon’s higher-ed practice and to download other whitepapers, please visit

Weathering a Storm: The Critical Distinction Between Brand and Reputation in Times of Crisis

An institution’s, company’s, or even an individual’s brand is interconnected with its reputation—so much so that the two terms are frequently used interchangeably. However, reputation and brand have important distinctions. While the two are not mutually exclusive, it is important to distinguish between your institution’s brand and its reputation and work on maintaining both, especially during (or in anticipation of) times of crisis.

Your reputation is a general assessment of your institution — sometimes based on comparing points of parity with other institutions, other times to public perceptions of the industry itself. For colleges and universities, reputation can be tied to the sometimes-dreaded rankings (i.e. U.S. News & World Report, Businessweek), stigmas associated with the type of institution (i.e. community college, liberal arts, etc.), or general media attention to the value of higher education.

Your brand, on the other hand, is the sum of all associations your audiences have with your institution — ideally with points of differentiation from competitors and consistency across interactions. Your brand can be boiled down to how your institution engages with the world and what faculty, staff, current students, alumni, and other stakeholders consistently value about their relationship with your institution.

A strong brand can overpower a reputational dip; a weak brand becomes victim to a reputational threat. When institutions with strong reputations let brand maintenance slide, or when institutions with strong brands start taking their reputation for granted, they become more vulnerable to a crisis.

For an extreme example, think about Volkswagen and its emissions scandal. A historically strong brand — praised for the iconic “Think Small” campaign and the bold release of the “The Force” Super Bowl commercial— it could not withstand the negative impact of the “diesel dupe.” Looking at the Harris Poll ranking of The Reputation of America’s 100 Most Visible Companies, Volkswagen’s reputation has clearly plummeted. From 2015 to 2016, its reputation quotient score dropped 20.46 points from a ‘Very Good’ score of 75.21 to a ‘Very Poor’ score of 54.75. In 2017, the once-beloved brand has regained some ground and has a ‘Poor’ score of 63.46, but still ranks towards the bottom of the list — only one spot below cable behemoth Comcast and two below the scandal-plagued BP. However, in the face of adversity, the company continues to deliver a strong message focused on high quality, reliability, and fun. Only time will tell if Volkswagen will be able to shift brand associations away from the emissions debacle back to its desired brand messaging and fully recover its score.

While reputation and brand are closely correlated, acknowledging both the nuances and the interconnectedness of brand and reputation allows marketers and communications professionals to fairly measure efforts and create realistic benchmarks. You may not be able to overcome the negative associations from a reputational downturn as quickly as leadership would like. But, if your brand is truly integrated and consistently implemented, your intended brand associations can still shine through. A strong brand can endure and has the power to mend a weakened reputation.