Collaborating to Leverage a Historic Event

For biggest reputational impact, join forces with other institutions.

August 20, 2015

He’s been named TIME’S “Person of the Year” and has captured the minds and hearts of millions of people around the world—many of whom had given up on the Catholic Church. No matter what your religion, one thing is for sure, everyone is talking about Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope. So, when the Vatican announced last winter that Pope Francis would be visiting the U.S. in September, the nation’s 28 Jesuit colleges and universities quickly realized that this presented an incredible opportunity to promote their shared Jesuit identity on a national scale.

In April 2015, the chief marketing and communication officers from more than half of the U.S. Jesuit colleges and universities met at Loyola University Maryland for an annual summit hosted by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU). During one of the sessions, participants engaged in a lengthy conversation about the Pope’s visit and the opportunities it presented to collaborate with each other to promote Jesuit higher education. By the end of the meeting, representatives from 10 institutions volunteered to work together with AJCU to develop a multi-faceted marketing and communication plan.

During several conference calls and many e-mail exchanges over the next two months, the steering committee developed artwork, a tagline, budget and social media plan. This was a true collaboration: Loyola University Maryland’s graphic designer created artwork featuring an image of Pope Francis taken by a Loyola student; Marquette University led the social media plan with the support of staff from Loyola Marymount University and Saint Peter’s University; Fairfield University coordinated digital advertisements; and staff from AJCU and the University of San Francisco wrote the marketing and communication plan.

In July 2015, AJCU shared the plan with all marketing and communications officers from the 28 institutions: An advertisement featuring Pope Francis with the tagline, “Transformational Leaders Are Jesuit Educated,” the hashtag #JesuitEducated, and the names of all 28 institutions will be featured on NYTimes.com, Roll Call (both print and online), Facebook, Google and Twitter during the week of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. The ad will link to a webpage on a new microsite featuring the names of all 28 colleges and universities with hyperlinks to their individual institutional websites, ensuring that every institution will have equal opportunities for increased traffic and interest from the national public. The ad will also be on display as a 70 by 50 foot banner at the 30th Street Train Station in Philadelphia.

The final component is a social media campaign utilizing the hashtag #JesuitEducated, which launched on July 31, the feast day of St. Ignatius Loyola (founder of the Jesuits). Almost immediately, the hashtag started taking off on social media and news outlets—including U.S. Catholic—began promoting the campaign to their followers. The “Jesuit stamp of approval” from Fr. Jim Martin, S.J. (editor of America Magazine with nearly 60,000 Twitter followers) really helped to get the word out.

When it comes to collaboration, you don’t have to have a force of 28 institutions. For example, take a look at the football rivalry between Lafayette College and Lehigh University. The institutions played their 150th game in New York City’s Yankee Stadium last year. The two schools worked together to promote this lesser-known rivalry, which was taking place on a national stage. They landed coverage on NPR’s weekly “Only a Game”, an Associated Press feature, and The New York Times story.

In another recent example, three women’s colleges, Mount Holyoke, Simmons and Smith, worked together to turn a large leadership event into a historic learning opportunity. Numerous national news outlets, including The Christian Science Monitor, covered a two-week gathering of women leaders sponsored by the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP). Their articles showed how collaboration between these three schools played a key role in helping women from around the world rebuild their war-torn countries.

While it’s still early to tell what kind of impact the Jesuit schools’ campaign will have on media coverage, increased traffic to schools’ websites and, of course, applications, one immediate outcome is the ease with which true collaboration went into putting this together. The AJCU marketing and communications network is one of more than 30 affinity groups sponsored by the Association for administrators, faculty and staff at all 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in specific roles on campus (e.g. CFOs, provosts, HR directors, etc.). These groups meet annually at one of their institutions to share best practices, network and collaborate on mutually-beneficial projects and programs, and use listservs to stay in touch for the rest of the year. The relationships that have developed from these groups have been critical for the Association’s work to support Jesuit higher education in the U.S. and without their support and “buy-in,” projects like the Pope Francis campaign could not come together so easily.

Reporters love trend pitches and this approach is a great way to package the entire story for them. So, the next time that you are working on a major event (e.g. events related to the 2016 election, the 2016 Olympics or a national conference/visit by a prominent figure in your city), instead of thinking how can “I" get national attention for this event, ask how together, “We” can get into the national spotlight?

Deanna Howes is director of communications at the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. Cristal Steuer is associate director of national media relations at the College of the Holy Cross


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