Protecting Your Institution’s Brand During Times of Crisis

From sexual assault to conflicts of interest, from controversial speakers to fraternity hazing, every day seems to bring a new scandal to the pages of the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed. As marketing and communications professionals, we say a little prayer every morning that our institution isn’t the next headline. Maintaining a brand is tough enough on a good day; if a crisis hits, how do we protect the brand that we’ve worked so hard to build?

The good news is that a strong brand has an emotional connection with its constituents that will serve it well even when under duress. Take for instance the Tylenol case back in 1982, a huge crisis management case study. Seven people in the Chicago area died after taking cyanide-laced capsules. Tylenol’s response: recall 31 million bottles from store shelves (something that companies did not do back in those days) and offer a safer replacement. At the time, Tylenol accounted for 17% of Johnson & Johnson’s net income, and some predicted the company wouldn’t survive the recall. But fast forward several decades, and Johnson & Johnson is known as a pharmaceutical powerhouse. Little did the company know then that its swift and honest response to crisis instilled a trust and belief in the brand that lives on today.

Having worked with colleges and universities during and after crises, we find that the same principles that helped Johnson & Johnson survive the 1980s Tylenol scandal apply to higher education crisis management.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

The worst response to a crisis is to bury your head in the sand and hope not many people will hear or read about it. You can never overcommunicate the steps the institution has taken/is taking to address a crisis situation. In our research, when we have asked respondents if they feel an institution has appropriately and effectively communicated about an incident, we find that they often answer, “don’t know.” To put it bluntly: If they don’t know, you haven’t effectively communicated.

Your constituents are emotionally attached to your brand, and they deserve to know what is happening. A recent Washington Post article about the 2011 Penn State Sandusky scandal quoted the following comment from an alum during a July 2017 board of trustees meeting: “Hundreds of thousands of alumni who care about our past and our future have been deceived and, in the process, disenfranchised.” It’s been six years since the story broke. This  shows not only that it takes time to recover from a crisis but also how important it is to inform your constituents of a problem as expediently as possible and to continue proactive communications that will address the concerns of all your audiences, internal and external. Like the Tylenol case, it is the steps you take during and after the incident that will build your brand back up.

Campus safety is your best asset.

In higher education, any campus incident that happens always makes audiences question their safety. In our research, we find that prospects and their parents are more likely to be concerned with campus safety in general AND even more so after any major incident. Especially moms and parents of females. Consider a communications strategy or even a paid media campaign in targeted markets that boasts not only about campus safety but also the institutional character and culture.

The inside is just as, if not more, important than the outside.

When a crisis hits, the first thing you may be thinking is what do prospects, parents, area residents, counselors, and peers think of the institution, and how do we put together the best traditional and digital communications strategy that will lessen their concerns? In your planning, however, don’t overlook the power of the people who live and breathe your brand every day. Hearing correct information from your students, faculty, staff and alumni is one of the best ways to counteract external misperceptions, so good internal communication is paramount for a successful external campaign. It’s even better when your brand ambassadors can authentically tout the great things the institution is doing to address the situation and maintain a campus culture people want to be a part of.

Building a brand takes a lot of work, and protecting it during a crisis is even harder. In the end, strong brands will survive, and how you handle these situations is what will prevail. For even more advice, visit this SimpsonScarborough blog post written by Simon Barker, managing director of Blue Moon Consulting Group.

You Heard It Here First

Higher ed marketing is a complex and growing industry with its own unique set of needs and challenges. Recognizing the need to shape new leaders in the field, the University of Texas has launched the Institute for Higher Education Marketing, an intense and specialized professional development opportunity for mid- to senior level marketing and brand managers at colleges, universities, and agencies that work in the higher ed space. Now accepting applications, the pilot Institute will begin with a 4 ½-day cohort experience in Austin, Texas, the week of May 7, 2018.  Participants will learn from world-class faculty and experts like Haley Rushing, Co-Founder of the Purpose Institute, who has helped organizations from Southwest Airlines to Whole Foods to IMG align their brands and values, and Maytal Saar-Tsechansky, University of Texas professor, data mining expert, and co-founder of The Institute, the first of its kind, will award participants a University of Texas credential upon completion of the program. For more information or to apply, contact Teri Lucie Thompson at

Congratulations to the 2018 CASE SimpsonScarborough Scholars!

SimpsonScarborough is pleased to announce the selection of the CASE SimpsonScarborough Scholars for 2018. Launched in honor of our late founding partner Christopher Simpson, the program supports the professional development of four promising higher ed marcom practitioners every year. Each scholar receives CASE Premier-level member benefits, access to customized research through CASE’s InfoCenter, attendance at the Summer Institute for Communications and Marketing, and more. This year’s CASE SimpsonScarborough Scholars are:

Scott Butterworth
Director of Communications
National Cathedral School, Washington, D.C.

Roles and responsibilities: As a member of National Cathedral School’s senior administrative team, Scott oversees the school’s communications activities—from crisis communications to directing all writing, photography, videography and design, ensuring adherence to brand standards.

Nominated by: Kathleen O’Neill Jamieson, Head of School, and Keely Boomhower, Associate Director of Development and Donor Relations, who describe Scott as a dedicated and trusted colleague. “In addition to his significant professional experience with a leading, national newspaper,” wrote Jamieson, “he is a wonderful colleague who commits to others’ success and rolls up his sleeves as needed.”

Jaya Franklin
Associate Director of Communications
Georgia State University College of Law, Atlanta, Georgia

Roles and responsibilities: Jaya oversees the College’s website and provides communications services to multiple departments, from developing content to tracking projects to ensure they are completed on time and within budget. She also provides staff communications training and advises faculty and staff on industry best practices.

Nominated by: Wendy Reiser Cromwell, Director of Communications, and Ely Abbott, Assistant Dean of Development, who noted Jaya’s leadership skills, willingness to take initiative, and commitment to getting things done professionally and on time. “Jaya frequently is assigned a project with little guidance but takes the initiative to seek information to complete it,” Cromwell says. “She is not afraid to ask questions.”

Junji Nishihata
Faculty Communications Officer
McGill University, Montreal, Quebec

Roles and responsibilities: Junji manages production of University advancement collateral, supports media relations outreach, and writes speeches for deans and other faculty at advancement events.

Nominated by: Krish Dasgupta, Director of University Advancement – Faculty of Engineering, and Dianne Fagan, Director of Strategic Initiatives, who noted Junji’s extensive background in corporate communication, his commitment to quality, and potential to excel in the field of advancement communication. I believe that as our profession globalizes,” wrote Dasgupta, “it is important to invest in individuals like Junji who have an international perspective and are able to operate in other cultures.”

Teresa Sullivan
Communications Director
The Country School, Madison, Connecticut

Roles and responsibilities: Teresa manages all School communications, including internal communications; developing marcom materials; and managing the school website, blog, and social media channels.

Nominated by: Head of School John Fixx, Director of Technology William Leidt, and former Director of Development David Beecher, who described Teresa as focused, efficient, and creative. They noted that Teresa has transitioned into the communications role while continuing to teach middle school English at the school. “Opportunities like the CASE SimpsonScarborough Scholar program are created for people exactly like Teresa – a valued member of our school community looking to better herself and the people around her.”


Social (Media) Cues, Part II: Give Instagram More Love in 2018

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Paul McCartney penned that line some 50 years ago. But it feels as relevant as ever for today’s marketers on social media.

Because let’s face it — the world in 2018 is a loud and contentious place. Between the trolls, the fiery hot takes, and the fake news, it’s getting harder and harder to make a statement about your brand without unintentionally stirring up fire and fury in the process.

Which is exactly why all of us need more Instagram in our lives.

Exploding as a platform, and pacing toward a billion users in 2018, Instagram is proof that a simpler, more visual platform wins the day. Not only are more young people using IG, but — more importantly — fewer trolls are as well.

Most importantly, Instagram is one of the last true happy places on social — a consistent safe harbor for good vibes. A channel where your stunning photos of #campuslife are more likely to invite encouraging replies like, “Gorgeous!” or “Love this!” than cynical riffs on the latest news item of the day.

In short, IG is where your brand can share — and feel — the love. So let’s talk about three newer ways to use this channel for creating smart, fun campaigns in 2018.

Tell Your (Instagram) Stories in Real Time

We marketers love talking about how we’re “storytellers.” Well, the growing Instagram Stories feature provides us with a perfect opportunity to prove it.

One of the most common complaints we hear from our friends in admissions is, “If I could just get prospective students to campus, I could win them over.”

With Instagram Stories and Instagram Live, you can have a similar effect in real-time. Try short videos of campus tours or quick chats with students and professors to put your prospective students or faculty recruits at the true heart of your campus.

For example, Arizona State University uses quick, fun video posts to answer common questions about the school, such as “How is the weather?”  (Even better, they have their students do all the talking.)

Highlight Your Best Moments

Instagram Stories has been hot for about a year now. But new tricks and updates are making the feature more and more popular every day.

Last month, Instagram launched Story Highlights, which lets you gather and collect your recent stories into collections on your profile page. At first, this may not seem like much of an update. But it’s actually a little feature that adds a ton of versatility — a great way to get more mileage out of your live Stories (see above) and keep them visible to first time or returning visitors.

Highlighting stories lets you present more sides of your brand’s personality — showing prospects more of what makes you authentically you.

We dig the way University of Oregon is using this new feature to aim a spotlight on individuals around campus, and then is anchoring the stories to their profile. Smart stuff.


Use Hashtags that People Will Follow

As of December, you can also follow hashtags on Instagram, which opens up a whole new range of opportunities to put your school in prospective students’ feeds. We’ve already talked about the importance of using popular hashtags to tap into relevant conversations. With this new feature, you can use popular tags like #collegelife (or, for a more targeted admissions campaign, #campusvisit), to make yourself more visible — more frequently — to prospective students who follow them.

As trolls run wild on Facebook and Twitter, positive vibes are still flowing over on Instagram. Between posting Stories and following hashtags, we suggest giving IG more of your marketing mix, and your heart, in 2018. We truly think you’ll see that love returned.

After all, Sir Paul is never wrong.

The Impact of Mobile Devices in Survey Responses

Back in August 2015, we started a blog series about our attempts to better monitor mobile device usage for online surveys and its impact on data quality, response time, and respondent experience. Not surprisingly, we found that prospective undergraduate students were the most likely of all of the audiences we study to be using mobile devices to take surveys. What did shock us was the extent to which this was true, with prospective undergraduate students more often taking our surveys on mobile devices, such as phones and tablets, than on computers. To ring in the new year, we thought it might be a good time to revisit the topic and see how things have changed for the prospective undergraduate student audience in the past two years.

We looked at data from recent surveys with undergraduate prospects and compared it to the data from 2015. I don’t think it will surprise anyone that mobile device usage for online surveys has increased by 16%.

Why do we care?

When we first started digging into the impact of mobile device usage on online surveys, we worried whether taking our surveys on such a small screen would increase the burden on survey respondents, increase the length of time it takes to complete a survey, or have a negative impact on the quality of data we collect. With constant improvements and advancements in mobile phones, however, as well as efforts on behalf of our survey programming tool, Qualtrics, to enhance usability, the burden on respondents has been less of a concern than we had feared it could be.

What’s more, again due to advancements in technology, increasing the length of time it takes respondents to complete surveys has not been an issue with mobile, either. In fact, in some cases a mobile device makes a survey easier to take, and we’ve also found that mobile respondents are often completing surveys faster than those who are taking them on a computer.

So what about data quality?

Data quality is always top of mind in everything we do. Every waking hour we are thinking about the quality of our data and what could impact it. Sometimes we find data quality concerns popping up in our dreams (not totally joking here). So regardless of how well things are going, we still worry about the impact of mobile respondents on the quality of our data, constantly asking ourselves questions such as:

  • Are mobile respondents more passive survey-takers?
  • Are mobile respondents actively thinking about the questions they are answering at the same level as those taking the survey on a computer?
  • Are there differences in the way mobile respondents answer survey questions? Are they selecting fewer responses? Are they answering open-ended questions with the same level of thought (or at all)?

The answer to each of these questions is yes and no. We do see some differences in how mobile respondents participate in surveys, but they are small. In recent replication studies we have completed, we have found that some of these trends apply to both mobile and computer respondents; they are selecting fewer responses and taking less time with the surveys in general. We are getting good quality data from our surveys, but sometimes it looks a little different from the data we got five years ago—not because of real change, but because of changes in the way respondents are participating in the surveys. Because of this, we have started reporting some benchmarking questions a little differently than just looking at Year 1 vs Year 2 percentage change. We will explore this and how we account for changes in survey respondent behavior when analyzing replication data in a future newsletter.