39: Brand Journalism at University of Notre Dame w/ Andy Fuller

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Andy Fuller, Director of Strategic Content at University of Notre Dame, talks about their long-form journalism unit, the highly-engaging online experiences they’re building, and how they team up with media relations to get additional press from their efforts.

And the ultimate goal, I think, was to go beyond kind of the news release that we were always doing and to really try to deliver an experience online. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect e Tou podcast network. I'm Eric Olson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with Andy Fuller, director of strategic content at the University of Notre Dame. Andy, welcome to the show, Eric. Great to be here. Andy. I first connected in real life at content marketing world this past fall and I could have been more impressed with what his team is building from a long form journalism perspective and can't wait to chat with you all about it.

But before we dig too deep into that, and you can give the listeners a little bit better understanding of both the University of Notre Dame and your role there. Yeah, sure, thing. So strategic content is located in the Office of Public Affairs and Communications, so we are media relations, we are issues management and we're also marketing communications for the university. And strategic content is the long form brand journalism unit within OPAK. Awesome. So first question. While many media organizations are cutting staff, they're hedging their bets on short form content, you're going the exact opposite way, spending more time and larger budgets on long form content. Explain why that is? Yeah, so it's really kind of came out of a reorganization we did and we identified storytelling as a real gap in our output as a communications unit. So we had the marketing thing down, we were doing some other things well, but we were...

...inspired by some of the more cutting edge work being done out there in the media at large, especially places like the New York Times, and the ultimate goal, I think, was to go beyond kind of the news release that we were always doing and to really try to deliver and experience online. And we try to do it as sort of an add on within the existing org structure. But we thought if we were really serious about it and we believed in the power of storytelling to lift a brand, the way to do it was to create a team whose charge it was just to do long form stories, or at least that's their main charge. So that's that's how strategic content came about, really an effort to deliver an experience online. Talk US through what your story selection process looks like. What kinds of stories is your unit looking to tell and how connected does a Notre Dame student or a lum need to be to it for to be your story to tell? Yeah, you know, interestingly, we don't do an awful lot of alumni stories. We...

...have done some some more student stories, but really we're trying to focus on strategic priorities for the university and those are mostly the growing research enterprise, it's growing and established international presence and then, of course, the fact that that we're faith based institution. So that's really our story selection process begins there. Can we check boxes under one of those three really broad umbrellas? And Our al and I are doing great, great work in the world, but you know, we have an alumni unit who that. That's kind of taken care of that. But we're trying to do is we're trying to look for that faculty member that's doing research that can really give people a different understanding of Notre Dame than maybe they had before. You recently published a story called we built this city, which you all need to check out. It's ridiculous, which highlights Notre Dame students engaging in different areas of New York City, and the story uses very sophisticated visual design and beautiful web development. Help me understand your team structure in terms of what's all required to produce a story like this and...

...when are you relying on resources from your mark on team to make this level of web production happen? So you know that that thought process. Again, it's about delivering the experience, and the experience of going to New York City should feel a little bit different online than just text on a page. So these students were going to different spots in the city and we thought, well, the way to show that, of course, is just a map. That's where you could what did they do here in this spot? What did they do over here, you know, at the lower end of Manhattan? So that was really kind of our thought was, let's make this thing as interactive as possible while giving folks a sense of kind of the breadth of the trip. And what they were doing. So on my team I have a couple of web designers, I have a couple of writers, I do some writing from time to time, and so we have that part of it kind of covered. What we rely on Marcom for is the web development piece and then the photo and video as well. Now they serve the entire university as...

...well, so when I come in and need something done, I'm basically like a client for them. So that's how we rely on on Marcom. The relationship in the past three years has been outstanding. You know, I think everyone really kind of buys into to what we're doing and we do some fun stuff as well. So I think everyone's really on board with it. It's incredibly fun and incredibly impressive it. Talk to me about the integration between your department in your media relations team. You put so much work into these stories. Is your endgame always to get these stories pitched to larger national publications to make the effort worth it? Or do you see, you know, your own platforms as your own media channel and then you're seeing that as as the first landing spot? Yeah, definitely the ladder. So yeah, our our main thing is let's provide dynamic accountant for indeed add to you and our social channels, whatever channels that were producing and that we maintain ourselves. You mentioned the media relations thing. That's that's been a value at and it's been really...

...kind of an almost unexpected benefit. You know, as we're developing these stories, because we cover the university like a journalism unit, would you know what makes a good story out there in the external media is that we use kind of the same criteria when we're looking for stories internally. When we do that, you know we're developing these assets all the time. You know we're developing this map, we're getting these photos, these videos, and what that's allowed is it's allowed our media relations team the ability to really beef up their pitches. So when they're going to these external media outlets, they're using our materials and saying, Hey, here's this cool video, here's some photos. You're welcome to any or none of it. Just wanted to let you know that we're working on this story. It'll publish at a given date. So it's really kind of added some strength to our media relations efforts as well and we've seen some good results as a part of that. Let's talk about the results, because I'm so curious about how you continue to get buy in for this kind of effort. And so yeah, let's talk about results or or biggest...

...wins with any individual stories. So we had one that comes to mind. We have researchers up in retrofitted Gold Mine in South Dakota and they're a mile underground and they are studying reactions that create stars. So we went up there and we developed the story to publish on our site and a little while later it gets picked up in some science publications. There was a pitch to NBC that we're resulted in that. We had another one that landed and huff Po. We've been in some other kind of niche physics publications as well. So we've seen some some good results in the media relations and placement side. And then also we've seen really positive results on our main university website. Indeed at Eedu, where overall page views candidly, have kind of declined over the past several years. Now, we started to reverse that trend. We've seen that level off and maybe tick up a little bit as a result of kind of this commitment to creating an experience and dynamic content on the site. That's awesome.

That's so awesome. Each of the last two years it looks like you've produced about forty four long form content pieces. Is that the quantity quality, kind of ratio that you're shooting for eachier? Yeah, you know, I think you know when you and I talked before, I said, you know, hey, we want to get to a month. Well, that gets like twenty four and we've really surpassed where I thought would be a good output for our team. So yeah, I think there's no mandate from our vice president or anything like that that we have to do a certain number. We're just trying to cover the university in the best way we know how and sometimes that has meant reacting almost in real time and getting a story up on the website with some really good visuals and some nice design elements, you know, within twelve hours. So that's really why that number has kind of ticked up beyond that to a month mark. So yeah, you know, my thing is I want to do as many stories as we can do well and you...

...know, I've been very fortunate that, you know, my bosses have bought into that approach and and you know, let me do that as part of what I do you mentioned kind of the support for your unit comes from this higher level strategic goal for, you know, world class storytelling for Notre Dame at any next steps? Advice for other institutions who love the idea of having this kind of brand journalism department campus? Where should they start first and trying to win over their higher level leaders on this kind of strategy? Well, I think they should do their research on kind of what's popular and why it's popular out there. I wouldn't go into this thinking that I'm going to get my vice present to buy in because I really want to do this and it looks cool. You know, there's tons of research out there that talk about engagement at talks about storytelling, time on page, even among millennials, among you know, your future college students. They're spending more and more time online if you can give them something to spend time on. So there's a lot...

...of good case studies out there that talk about, you know, delivering that that experience. I would start there and then I would I would make sure you have access to good design talent and good writing. Sound sounds really simple, but you know, if I did not have that. In fact, we added that on a little bit later on as our team evolved. I wish I would have had that at day one, honestly, as having a designer right on my team that I could could bounce ideas off of. So start with design. Do Your Homework on why this thing could work, and he's such good stuff. What is the best place for listeners to connect with you they have any follow up questions? Yeah, hit me up on twitter. I'm at Andy A and Dy underscore fuller fuller and you get a lot of Portland trailblazers references, but beyond that you'll I do talk shot from time to time there as well. So yeah, hit me up. Auso again, thanks against so much for joining us today. And absolutely are attracting today's...

...new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges, downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom slash playbook you've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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