Office of the President


University of Wisconsin System
Integrated Marketing & Communications Conference

Thursday, May 31, 2012, UW-Stevens Point

Welcome Remarks by Kevin P. Reilly, UW System President

Good morning, everyone. On behalf of the University of Wisconsin System, it is my privilege to welcome you to the UW System Integrated Marketing & Communications Conference.  I am happy to see so many enthusiastic faces here, with so many of our institutions well represented.

As has been said, this is the second time in as many years that this conference has been convened. The decision to repeat the event was largely driven by the success of last year’s event – both in terms of the number of participants as well as the positive feedback received from colleagues.

The keen interest in this event does not surprise me. With the heightened awareness of the importance and value of higher education to our future success, the interest in – and expectations of – higher education are also increasing. At the same time, we face a very challenging time of decreasing resources …

But, as a wise man once said, life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends on what you’re made of.

We have gathered here at UW-Stevens Point to talk about polishing – and more specifically, about marketing and communications. We bring to this discussion a diverse range of backgrounds and expertise. But whether you call it “marketing” or “public relations” or “advocacy,” or some other label, this work has never been more important.

The job of the people in this room is, in many respects, to serve as a two-way liaison. You help explain the University to the world, while also explaining the world to the University.  

As it turns out, explaining us – the UW – to the world is no easy task. We are and we mean so many different things to people, and it takes real skill to translate “UW speak” into a language that people outside the University can understand and appreciate. Sometimes misunderstanding can seem unavoidable.

It reminds me of a story I once heard. In the days when you couldn't count on every lodging to have indoor plumbing, an English woman was planning a trip to Germany. She registered to stay in a small guesthouse owned by the local schoolmaster. She was concerned as to whether the guesthouse contained a WC. Many of you will know that in England, a bathroom is sometimes called a WC, which stands for water closet.

In any event, she wrote the schoolmaster inquiring about the location of the nearest WC. The schoolmaster, not fluent in English, asked the local priest if he knew the meaning of WC. Together they pondered possible meanings of the letters and concluded that the lady wanted to know if there was a "Wayside Chapel" near the house. A bathroom never entered their minds.

So the schoolmaster wrote the following reply:

“Dear Madam. I take great pleasure in informing you that the WC is located 9 miles from the house. It is situated in the middle of a grove of pine trees, surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people, and is open on Sundays and Thursdays. I suggest you arrive early, as there are many people expected in the summer months.  This is an unfortunate situation, especially if you are in the habit of going regularly.

“You will be pleased to know that many people bring their lunch to the WC, and make a day of it. Others prefer to wait till the last minute, and arrive just in time! The acoustics are excellent and even the most delicate sounds can be heard everywhere. The newest addition is a bell that rings every time a person enters. I look forward to escorting you there myself, and seating you in a place where you can be seen by all.”

The moral of the story – if there is one! – is that while miscommunication about the meaning of “WC” might be good for a chuckle, when it comes to the “UW,” we need to be very clear about what it means, and communicate that effectively.

The ways in which we explain the UW are diverse and ever-changing. Consider all the different platforms that are available now to carry our message – from traditional media outlets like newspaper, radio, and TV, to newer social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. That growing diversity of options presents us with both challenges and opportunities.

As we set about explaining the University to the world, we recognize that a big part of Integrated Marketing is the work of coordinating the efforts of many people spread across a diverse array of academic departments, programs, and campuses, all seeking to leverage those many communication channels in creative ways.

In other words, “explaining us” to anyone demands that all of “us” cooperate and collaborate more than ever. The skilled communicators and marketers here in this room must understand the organizational culture and internal dynamics of higher education in ways that build trust. That trust leads to cooperation… and cooperation leads to consistency, and true integration.

The way we explain ourselves also should reflect the way we think about ourselves, and that must change with the times. We no longer think about “UW System” as one monolithic entity. Rather, it’s an effective, efficient, increasingly flexible family of distinctive public colleges, universities, and statewide outreach networks.

The “distinctiveness” part is largely in your hands – the people who serve as caretakers of the UW brand (in fact, many, many established UW brands).

That’s the “explaining us to the world” part. The other part of the equation – explaining the world to us – is also vital to our overall success.

We need people who know our external audiences, who understand their unique interests, needs, and preferences. With that knowledge in hand, we need people who can help us tailor and deliver our message, explaining those UW brands most effectively to the broader community.

You are our eyes and ears… monitoring the pulse of all those traditional and non-traditional channels… tracking and evaluating our communications and marketing efforts… ensuring that the feedback loop provides chancellors and deans with the intelligence they need to make good decisions, and adjust their messaging accordingly.

At UW System, we’re trying to do that more systematically and more strategically, thinking carefully about the way we shape our short-term communications about the state budget and related issues, as well as our long-term approach to the UW system “brand.”

Let me explain how we’re thinking about this…

In the near term, we need to illustrate, in a more compelling and consistent manner, that our colleges, universities, and extension networks are a key ingredient in the state’s economic recovery, and long-term vitality.

But it’s really much broader than that. The recovery we seek is not just about jobs, sales receipts, and tax revenues. It’s about making people feel strong, safe, confident, and proud. We at the UW can be a big part of creating and renewing that feeling of strength, but only if state leaders see the UW as a smart place to invest scarce dollars for long-term return on investment.

In speaking to people about the value and relevance of our excellent statewide public university system, we must begin with the piece of that system they typically know best, namely the piece that is in their back yard, the piece they relate to on a local, personal, and perhaps emotional level.

We need to tap into that pride that people feel about their local UW campus, their own UW alma mater, or the place that their daughter – or their neighbor’s daughter – now goes to school. We must remind them of the UW’s positive impact on their daily lives.

That impact is not a top-down, one-way process. Rather, UW’s value can best be illustrated in how our institutions multiply the strength that people already have within themselves, whether it’s their own intellectual capacity, or their own entrepreneurial ideas. We must make clear to them how we serve as both conduit and catalyst for people from all walks of life.

As you know, our Growth Agenda for Wisconsin has focused a great deal of attention on the pressing need for more well-prepared college graduates. In today’s climate, perhaps we should think about this as part of a larger effort to help all Wisconsin people feel stronger, more secure, prouder, and more confident.

We’re also focused on stronger businesses, helping local industries and emerging businesses translate innovation into long-term success, transforming ideas into jobs and shoring up Wisconsin’s competitive edge.

With 26 campuses and 72 county offices, we have always been “stewards of place,” with a serious responsibility to enrich the communities we call home. But we have not always done a good job of explaining the UW’s strong impact on the quality of life around the state. Looking at how our state population is spread across many mid-size cities – some call them the “Tiger Cities” – it’s easy to see how UW has a footprint in every spot where communities are growing.

That’s just an early framework for how we’re thinking about our future communication strategy. We are focused on the way UW “multiplies the power of learners and doers,” and how investment in the UW institutions now can make everyone, and everyplace, feel a bit stronger and a lot more optimistic about our shared future.

I have the great honor of serving as President of one the world’s premier systems of higher education. In my travels, I am frequently reminded of how the University of Wisconsin is renowned and respected, how others hold us up as a model of excellence.  That admiration is both gratifying and humbling. Going back to the grindstone, it’s our role to polish that admiration further on our watch.

You have the job of celebrating our achievements every day. I commend you for that work, and I hope that you derive a great deal of professional satisfaction from knowing that your efforts are critical to our success.

I hope you enjoy a fruitful and fun conference! I’ll be happy to stick around for a few questions…