To Tell a Statistics Story

Campus communicators are always on the hunt for a good story. The story can take shape as full-fledged news on, it can morph into a tweet, or maybe it grabs attention on a postcard. Editing a story is one thing; finding it is a whole ‘nother. Finding stories that communicate our brand requires building connections and relationships. Listening. Conversations online and in person.

Director of Admissions Allison Carter recently drafted copy for a Statistics postcard. The story was rich—and real. I asked Ali how she came across the juicy bit. Turns out she spoke with the student, Hannah, in 2015, and featured her in a Michigan Tech Night presentation. Hannah graduated in December 2015 to work at Domino’s. Professor Linda Ott led Ali to her.

This is a wonderful example of an on-brand story. It’s a story that will pop off the piece of paper and connect with our audience. Have a look:
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Four Writers, One Paragraph

All writers take great care in crafting meaningful words. Perhaps none more so than marketing writers, whose jobs it is to say a lot—in a very crowded market (and on a very small postcard).

University Marketing and Communications’ editorial team gets together for a short half-hour each Monday to conduct a group brand edit. We take a small bit of raw copy, and brandify it together. We get to learn from each other and walk away with words we can use. Here’s what we came up with this week:

The Original

[Header] Twelve days until Midyear Commencement. Snow is falling. Students are making that final push. It’s busy.

[Intro] I have fond memories of this part of the academic year—the return from Thanksgiving to that combination of exhaustion, excitement, and anticipation of some time at home with family and friends. It seems as if we’re a long way from Orientation Week in August, but time has certainly flown.

Version 1

[Header] Snow. Commencement. And the Final Push.

[Intro] We’ve returned from Thanksgiving break. There’s excitement, exhaustion, and anticipation in the air. We’re a long way from O-week.  

Version 2

[Header] Twelve days until graduation. It’s snowing. Students making that final push. It’s busy.

[Intro] I think fondly of this time of year—the exhaustion, excitement, and anticipation of some time at home with family and friends. We’re a long way from Orientation Week, but time has flown.

Version 3

[Header] Snow is falling. Students are cramming. It’s always busy this time of year.

[Intro] The return from Thanksgiving brings exhaustion, excitement, and anticipation of some time at home with family and friends. Orientation week wasn’t too long ago, but time has flown.

Version 4

[Header] Finals pressure, falling snow, and holiday spirit in the air. And for some Huskies, that moment they’ve been waiting for: Midyear Commencement.

[Intro] Orientation. Wasn’t that yesterday? And now, you just got back from Thanksgiving—and it’s almost time to celebrate more time at home with family and friends.

Then we mashed them all together and came up with a rock-solid, totally branded version we all loved; you’ll read this in the upcoming edition of Tech Alum newsletter!


Snow. Commencement. And the Final Push.

Orientation. Wasn’t that yesterday? Students are back from Thanksgiving break. There’s excitement, exhaustion, and anticipation in the air. And for some Huskies, that moment they’ve been waiting for: Midyear Commencement.

–Shannon Rinkinen
Brand Manager

Where Does Brand Belong?

The Michigan Tech brand—what our audience thinks and feels about us—is, philosophically, everywhere. It’s in our culture, our events, our sports, and our bulletins. It’s in the air. When we think where brand language lives in our marketing and communications, it may surprise you to know that brand doesn’t—and shouldn’t—live everywhere.

So, Where Does Brand Live?

Brand language should be in a few essential places:

  • Headlines
  • Email subject lines
  • Captions
  • Pull-out quotes
  • Covers
  • Social Media
  • Ads
  • Transitions

So do not despair, there will always be room for the nuts and bolts of your program, features and benefits (55,000 square feet of lab space!), deadlines, and due dates. The fine print.

How Can We Work Together?

While brand language draws readers in and connects them to Michigan Tech, the content you—subject matter expert—provide gives readers the valuable details they need to know. When collaborating with UMC on external marketing pieces, often, clients provide draft content and UMC writers will take the lead on brand language.  Headlines that highlight the people, experiences and opportunities at Michigan Tech. Subject lines that influence. Value-added captions. And pull quotes that evoke our human, honest approach. Both types of content are necessary to create a successful, strategic piece.

Can you think of other important places for brand language? We’d love to hear your ideas—email

Shannon Rinkinen
Brand Manager

Brand Vs. Campaign

All too often marketing professionals blur the lines between brand and campaigns. It’s easy to do. Buzzwords like “brand campaign” muddy the waters even more. It is important to note that a brand and a campaign are different. Understanding this concept is key to successful brand management.

A campaign is for a targeted cause or initiative. Brand is enduring.

Campaigns should align with the brand, and target a specific goal. Sometimes a business or institution will have several campaigns concurrently, and that’s okay. However the one enduring theme that unites multiple campaigns together is brand.

I’ve seen businesses operate without a brand. These businesses churn out campaign after campaign–sometimes successfully. This approach certainly gets attention. However, this model is not sustainable. Usually the goal of a business is to be around for many years to come. This means succeeding in business objectives (campaigns serve as support), while solidifying and nurturing the relationship a company has with its intended audience (branding is pivotal). Campaigns can build on one another via the brand, and use the success of the previous campaign to help launch and empower the next one. This builds equity. And over time, equity is a business’s greatest asset for future growth.

Spilling Water is a Missed Opportunity

Imagine a brand as being like a potted plant. And every drop of water is a campaign. With every drop the plant receives, the plant grows. The more water, the more growth. When a drop misses the plant, it isn’t helping the plant grow. Continually misfire the water droplets and the plant dies.

A brand needs strong campaigns to strengthen it. This means the campaigns must align with the brand. Of course campaigns can be successful without brand alignment, but they will not help your business or institution grow.

Re-potting the Plant

When a plant grows too big for its pot, it’s time to replant. This kind of growth doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time. Doing it too early can disrupt the plant’s roots–doing it too often, prevents the roots from establishing themselves.

The same logic applies to branding. One shouldn’t meddle all too often. Of course if the target audience changes, or the business’s mission changes, then it makes sense. The biggest mistake one can make is changing a brand too frequently. It takes time to build a relationship with a brand. When changes to the brand are being considered, one must first question whether or not the change should be within the current campaign (or campaigns) instead. A general rule of thumb is that brand adjustments should be considered every 5-10 years, while campaign adjustments can happen yearly.

At Michigan Tech, it is important understand how brand and campaigns connect. This relationship positively affects the success of the short- and long-term goals of our University. So the next time a campaign is being discussed, ask yourself this question: “Are we spilling water?”

–Ian Repp
Director, University Marketing and Communications

It’s Conference Season, Huskies!

University Communicators and HigherEdWeb 2016

October, it seems, is conference season in higher ed. In the last two weeks, UMCers have traveled to Tennessee, Nevada, and Texas, filling their minds and Twitter feeds with new ideas, concepts, and tactics in web, social media, brand, and science writing. An important part, after all that learning, is distilling and sharing the information applicable to Michigan Tech. Here goes nothing.

Facebook isn’t Dead

Remember when word got out that students didn’t use social media mainstay Facebook. Gasp! How will we reach them now? Well that’s not entirely a clear picture. They may not engage with you, but it’s not to say they aren’t on it. In fact, it was emphasized during #heweb16 that students don’t even really consider Facebook to be a form of social media. It’s just there. It’s part of life as they’ve always known it. And they’ll occasionally pop on much like you occasionally read a newspaper (made of actual, you know, paper). During the University Communicators huddle researcher Adam Peruta of Syracuse University, who studied the Facebook and Twitter analytics of hundreds of higher ed brands, distilled the information down into news-you-can-use for today’s Facebook landscape:

  • Become an early adopter of new technologies; there’s less competition.
  • When it comes to content, students want Athletics, Student Orgs, Entertainment, News, and Programming info
  • Direct/specific call to actions positively impact engagement (e.g. “Freshman, do this…)
    • General call to actions negatively impact engagement (e.g. Read this article for…)
  • Saturdays and Sundays get the most engagement.
  • Most engagement happens early in the day, and there’s less competition.
    • 9:00 a.m. is the sweet spot.
  • The more you post per day, the less engagement you get.
    •  1/1.5 times per day is preferred. 

Snapchat Success

Michigan Tech launched @michigan_tech in September. Snapchat is a natural platform for our brand for several reasons. First, we know prospective students are using the app. And secondly, we know that with thoughtful content planning, the platform offers a real lens at real students doing real things on campus—and around the world. Student Snapchat takeovers may be the closest thing to actually being on campus, meeting students—and unlike Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—it’s unfiltered and unedited <writers around the world collectively groan.> Now that’s not to say Snapchat is intuitive. If you don’t use it every day personally, it can feel like the most cumbersome one out there, in which cause you may appreciate these sentiments from #heweb16. Give it a chance, we say. Or at the very least download the app and friend us! 🙂

Bridging Social and Real Worlds

Joel Vertin put together this Storify summarizing relevant social and message components of #heweb16, and a common thread that struck me: our audiences want real. They want to see real people who sound like real people. Another common theme—and a real challenge—integrating the work we do on social into our existing traditional marketing and events. Beloit College (see Storify above) is one who’s doing this really well, and it’s yielding an impressive return.

The Bottomline is Brand

There will always be posts you NEED to do and posts you WANT to do. Fun posts and ho-hum posts. Ask yourself: How can you infuse brand into a post about Financial Aid? And that goes for just about anything: always bring it back to brand. UMC is here to help you with the “HOW?!” Among the things we learned and observed from the University Communicators conference last week, few schools have a holistic approach to brand. It tends to be one-sided—logo/visuals. Here at Michigan Tech, we have the added challenge of being thoughtful to the tone of our message. And we argue it’s the most important part of any brand.


–Shannon Rinkinen
Brand Manager

Embrace the Crappy First Draft

As a writer, my job is to get words on paper. And not just any words—good words. Many of us stare at a blank Word doc, hoping letters will magically start to appear, or feel dread when they don’t. What we really need to do is embrace the act of writing and just do it.

That means welcoming a bad rough draft.

For branding, a bad rough draft can feel too rough. Even using our ‘real’ platform with dirty fingernails and rough edges, the end product is like Paul Rudd’s hair—effortless and casual, but somehow poised. That’s because styling and polishing comes after the crappy first draft.

You can’t edit something that doesn’t exist.

Plus, writing and editing activate different parts of the brain, so when you try to craft every. single. word.—it slams your process (like stalling a manual car in third gear).

The solution is simple: take a breath, do a few jumping jacks, grab a cup of coffee—then focus. Be a writer and get words down on paper. Later, let’s talk editing.

–Allison Mills
Science and Technology Writer

Brand is Like Your Favorite Radio Station

Brand can feel pie in the sky. But when you sit down at your desk at 8 a.m., needing to crank out an ask letter or a Facebook post, we want brand to feel tangible and accessible to everyone on Michigan Tech’s campus. When I think of brand I often think of it as a radio station.

What Music Belongs on Your Station?

You love your favorite radio station for everything it is—hard rock, heavy metal, punk, classical, or pop—and everything it’s not (talk, commercials, sappy love songs, or Broadway hits).

If Michigan Tech had a station on Sirius/XM it would be Honest Channel.

What words belong? What photos make sense? What would throw your audience off? (Think Celine Dion on Highway Country, Elvis on Hits One). Those are just a few considerations we can make when we think about Michigan Tech’s brand. We play music that makes sense on our station; the music our audience wants to hear.

Shannon Rinkinen
Brand Manager

Be Relentless in Your Message

You know Michigan Tech’s brand essence. You know how your department can plug into the big picture. And you’ve identified your brand stories. Now what?

Go For It

Tell your stories where it matters to your audience. The very same story may take shape as a blog post, a Facebook post, a Tech Today submission, a postcard, an email, a newsletter article, or a recruiter speaking with a prospective student. Don’t be shy here. Once you have a brand story that evokes honesty and resonates with your audience, tell it again and again. (You’ll want to keep hunting for stories, to keep them fresh year after year.)

Here are examples of how one brand story can morph from platform to platform. Here’s the story: First-year Michigan Tech student Jill Poliskey 3-D prints prosthetic hands for children in Nicaragua.

This is your awesome, uniquely yours story. No other higher-ed brand can tout it. What can you do with it? Plenty. Do what works for you, your audience, and the subject—some ideas:

  • Capture Jill on video talking about her work. Put it on social media or maybe your website.
  • Maybe Jill takes over your Twitter feed for a day, illustrating the step-by-step process of turning recycled plastics into a new, working hand.
  • Ask Jill to pen a short blog post, talking about her work and her goals.
  • Invite Jill to speak with a group of future Huskies, sharing her research experience while here at Michigan Tech.
  • Do a Snapchat takeover as Jill packs the hands up, ready to ship them across the globe.
  • When the prosthetic hands reach their new owners, share a picture of the children with Jill.

Don’t Be Afraid of Redundancy

You get the idea. There are dozens of creative ways to tell the same story. It’s unlikely your audience will see every slice of content, so don’t be afraid of a little redundancy.

If you have a gem of a brand story, but aren’t sure how to best capture and tell it, just reach out at

Shannon Rinkinen
Brand Manager

Michigan Tech Through the Lens

Take a camera onto Michigan Tech’s campus. See your environment from your own perspective, and then look through an artificial lens. They’re going to be different, but ideally, we’d like that difference to be as small as possible. Our visuals should portray what people actually experience on our campus. This effectively encompasses the visual brand identity for video: Keep it real. We have plenty of beautiful scenery and stunning natural light, so we want to make the most of what’s all around us and show it like it is. We want to show agility in capturing moments as they happen instead of staging them.

So whenever possible we take the camera off the tripod and let it move in the hand or on the shoulder. It’s not the same as being there, but we’ll keep trying.

Our essence remains the same throughout our brand, but video requires a few unique considerations. Like our overall brand strategy, we use specifics first. In the case of video we also want to hear those details voiced from the source. If that’s a researcher, a student, or a member of our staff, we want to be where they are and let them use their own words to represent their world within Michigan Tech. We want to stick to a single topic and lead the conversation with the punchline because our audience needs to know what they are watching right away. Effective communication takes priority in our approach to marketing—because we make content for people who want it.

–Ben Jaszczak