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As higher education marketers, we can often get caught up in our standard projects -- the magazines, the media campaigns, the website updates -- and then an institutional milestone strikes. Whether it’s an anniversary, a comprehensive fundraising campaign, a new school launch or even a name change, it can throw off your department’s bandwidth overnight -- even though you presumably knew it was coming.

After celebrating 150-year anniversaries at two institutions, I can sympathize. These six best practices will help manage the next milestone that comes your way.

  1. Develop a visual identity. First things first: most milestones should have a dedicated visual identity. This way, any marketing collateral tied to the milestone will stand out. I hesitate to say a new logo specifically, as creating a logo for everything can be a slippery slope. It really depends on the magnitude of what you’re celebrating. Partner with your on-campus designers or bring in an outside creative to brainstorm how you’ll make this milestone stand out visually. It could just be a dedicated color palette or a sub-branded logo. Once you’ve settled on an identity, start building buzz by sharing the new look online, in print and across campus on environmental signage.
  2. Amplify existing events and publications. Most institutions already have a packed event calendar, and it’s very likely you’ll find stakeholders want to add new milestone-related events as you plan. Instead of creating new events with no built-in audience, consider elevating your existing events and tying them into the milestone. The same goes for your standard publications, like newsletters and the alumni magazine. Who doesn’t love a special issue?
  3. Invest in a dedicated microsite. Your main .edu is thousands -- if not tens of thousands -- of pages, so how will a milestone stand out in the crowd? Launching a milestone-specific microsite can serve as a one-stop digital home for all of the related news, events and storytelling you develop. Microsites typically feature pared-down navigation, and they can take more design liberties than your main website. As noted SEO expert Neil Patel explains, “By redirecting visitors to a specific microsite, you can wholly capture their attention. It also forces people to focus on your campaign, cause, or event.”
  4. Get social. Building social engagement around your milestone is often the most cost-effective approach with the widest reach. To start, settle on a dedicated, branded hashtag. This will unite all your milestone-related posts. You can also put out the call for user submissions across your social channels. As content grows, use a service like Juicer to create a moderated social feed for your website or to display on-campus signage. The #Dartmouth250 feed is a great example of how dynamic this feed can become over time.
  5. Recruit help from across campus. Reach out to your campus archivist, long-serving faculty and staff members, and alumni. There are so many ways to draw on your institution’s history when you’re celebrating any milestone, and they likely have the stories to prove it. As you’re talking with them, you can develop a list of interesting stories, about people, history and events associated with the milestone, to share with the local media.
  6. And then expand the celebration off campus. Speaking of local, consider partnering with external institutions and organizations, like a nearby history museum, libraries, schools, arts organizations, business community, municipality or companies that employ your students, to raise the visibility of the celebration. These partnerships can expand the range of ways you celebrate, e.g., partnering on an exhibit, concert or lecture, offering restaurant and retail discounts, etc.

Whatever the milestone, these guidelines will help magnify its impact across campus and beyond.

Jonathan Shearer is the executive director of marketing and communications at Elmhurst University in Illinois.

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