Integrating digital. Or not.

Paul Redfern from Gettysburg College makes the case for Chief Marketing Officers should make a commitment to digital-first thinking.

July 14, 2015

We’ve devoted years of conference chatter to integrating digital into our traditional communications environments. But is it time to turn the tables and let digital take the lead?

I think so. In fact, that’s the direction we’ve taken at Gettysburg College.

How do we build a digital-first team?

Are the right people on the bus, as Jim Collins asks in Good to Great? And in the right seats? If not, what investments (conferences and professional development opportunities) will help them grow new skill sets? What equipment or tools are needed for them to do their jobs well, in a digital environment?

And what if you just can’t grow your own? It may mean sacrificing one kind of in-house expertise for another, as our team did by hiring a media relations consultant. It might mean making a tough choice like realigning a copyeditor position for a multimedia producer or a graphic artist for a web developer. Consider outsourcing specialized talents to free up your staff.

I came to that critical realization after a conversation with Bill Johnson from Halstead Communications, a media relations consultant. During the course of our lunch I realized that in-house, we might never match his level of expertise and relationships with the media. If I wanted to increase Gettysburg College’s national visibility in the media in a short period of time, (say, during the 150th commemoration of the Civil War) the best investment I could make was to work with a media relations expert. Our media visibility has increased more than 100 percent and I have freed up my staff’s time to allow for a digital-first approach with better story development, strategic projects, and a stronger web presence and multimedia presence.

Digital first

I first came into my role with an enrollment and web communications perspective, asking myself and others about the digital potential of everything we produce:

  • How will that news story cascade into social media?
  • What multimedia or infographic assets should connect to it?
  • Should we only be tapping print magazine content for the web, or should the content move in both directions?
  • How do those postcards and event collaterals relate to what audiences will find on the web?

Working in a digital-first world means that you are going to try new things and fail. And you may do it often. What works on Facebook one month might not work the next. New social media platforms and trends emerge, which need to be evaluated and tested. You and your staff need to be nimble, and you need nimble business processes. One of the true advantages of digital is that, depending on your platform, you can get results almost immediately. Or at least a clear idea whether something is working or not.

Finally a digital-first world means integration. It means that writers talk to designers who talk to multimedia people. It means cross-promotion from social media to the web to print. It means your team is constantly moving and talking and communicating and collaborating. And it is hard. That’s where Chief Marketing Officers come in, helping to make connections, fill gaps, and keep up the momentum.

So if integrating digital into conventional communications feels too studied or complicated, consider committing to digital-first.

Paul Redfern leads the communications and marketing team at Gettysburg College and is a frequent presenter on marketing and brand topics at national conferences.


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