The University of Michigan’s decision to involve every unit in addressing DEI is based on the understanding that effective culture change requires an ongoing commitment throughout the organization.
An important tool for fostering awareness, understanding, and commitment to DEI, as well as demonstrating accountability and transparency, are efforts for internal and external communication, marketing, and the communication of DEI efforts and progress.
When developing a DEI Strategic Plan at a campus level, it is critical to strategize how you will manage communication and marketing efforts for your internal and external constituents, both at a central level and across your campus. With DEI work, it is especially important to keep your community informed and engaged, while being as transparent as possible about – and throughout – the process.
Bringing together communications staff members and university leaders guiding your DEI Strategic Plan will enable you to set a course that is purposeful and proactive, rather than rote and reactive. Listening to students, staff and faculty about what they want and expect in terms of communications about DEI will help guide both the message and methods you use to market programs and events and to communicate about issues and progress.
Communications and marketing work typically involve units across a University or College – from the central administration to the department level. Each voice will be unique, yet ideally will be consistent with the overall message and tone you are aiming to convey about your DEI Strategic Plan and the initiatives that it encompasses.
While a thoughtful and well-executed strategy will generally guide the overall message of this work, if unforeseen circumstances arise (protests, inaccurate/false information, etc.), it is essential to have a coordinated plan of action with key leaders and your public affairs team. This will enable you to quickly and properly navigate challenging situations that may impact your community and the efforts to advance an inclusive community.
Overall, while the DEI work itself is what is of utmost importance if the plans for and impact of this work isn’t communicated effectively and consistently, much can be lost in terms of impact and support. Effective storytelling that is honest, represents diversity, equity and inclusion in all its forms, and that brings home the values, expectations, and benefits of DEI can make all the difference to the real and perceived impact of your DEI Strategic Plan.
In the short term, every news story, event, and public-facing report should be approached as a smaller piece to a larger goal. Each component of informing and educating your University community is part of the larger goal to transform and change the University culture surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion. Specific goals include:
- Making DEI part of all marketing and communications efforts, rather than as an add on or separate focus. This means attending to diversity broadly in decisions about stories that are covered and images that are used, considering all aspects of diversity from intellectual interests and discipline to gender and race/ethnicity to age, religion, political/ideological perspective (i.e., including conservative and liberal voices) disability status, citizenship, academic rank/role or classification level and more
- Developing thoughtful and timely marketing and communications pieces to promote significant DEI events and activities in collaboration with planners and stakeholders
- Being responsive to incidents that may impact members of your community in collaboration with DEI and other campus leaders and coordinating this responsiveness with DEI point people across campus
- Addressing questions and concerns in a way that demonstrates the institution’s unshirking commitment and value of DEI as a core component of excellence and its ability to objectively review its work and adjust if needed
As such, the audience you are reaching includes everyone on campus and everyone affiliated with campus, including students, staff and faculty, your board of trustees or regents, local and state officials (especially if you are at a public institution), alumni/ae, donors, and community members.
At times you may also want to reach a regional or national audience to share news or resources that can advance DEI work on a broader scale.
Communications professionals at the central level of your campus will want to collaborate closely with those involved with planning and implementing the DEI strategic plan, and with communications professionals that focus on a campus level on public affairs, social media, or other special functions.
Collaboration is also key with communications professionals working in units across your campus, including schools and colleges as well as libraries, institutes, health care systems, admissions, residence life, etc.
Learning about and considering the needs and interests of different constituency groups, and groups within them, such as undergraduate students vs. graduate students and faculty vs. staff members, is critical to developing communications strategies and messaging.
In the year before the DEI Strategic Plan was launched, communications were critical to keeping the campus informed. Plans for marketing and communications were developed to coincide with the initial launch of the plan in fall 2016.
An infographic was designed to depict the 5-year strategic planning implementation process. News stories provided updates on the process that was underway.
The launch of the DEI Strategic Plan centered on the DEI Summit, a week of campus events and activities designed to create visibility for the Plan while providing educational opportunities around DEI.
A robust marketing and communications campaign promoting the DEI Summit was developed with posters, banners, and emails to faculty, staff and students. A DEI web site was developed to provide ongoing information about the DEI Strategic Plan and the DEI Summit events.
The DEI Summit featured a Community Gathering where the President and Chief Diversity Officer presented the DEI Strategic Plan, highlighting its overarching strategies and key goals and objectives, as well as the resources and process to support it.
Coverage of the Diversity Summit Community Gathering led to campus news stories about the event and broader awareness of the launch of DEI Strategic Plan, both for the campus level and the many unit-based plans that comprised the combined centralized and decentralized model U-M deployed.
To assure continuous and strategic communication and marketing support of DEI efforts, both at the campuswide and unit levels, it is important to identify and/or appoint communication professionals across the University who can support the ongoing, multifaceted needs of communication, including, but not limited to storytelling, public affairs, social media and general news/updates.
As the U-M DEI Strategic Plan Implementation continued, each year the marketing and communications plan has been reviewed and revised, continuing to center on our annual DEI anchoring event, the DEI Summit. In the second year of implementation, the central marketing communications office partnered with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to produce the first DEI Strategic Plan Progress Report.
The promotion of the DEI Summit was continued, while adding promotion of the DEI Progress Report. This pattern continues, providing a regular accounting of progress against goals and an annual event that brings the campus together and focuses on the continuing efforts underway.
To facilitate communication and marketing efforts at the unit level, DEI Leads or others who engage in this work are encouraged to utilize communicators and marketers within their respective units to assist in amplifying their DEI work.
If a unit does not have the capacity to support critical DEI needs, they are encouraged to reach out to their campus Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or other centrally identified office or individuals who can assist in helping amplify the efforts happening at the unit level.
Providing guidance and updates to Communications professionals campuswide will foster accurate information sharing and a unified voice. Still, it is important to embrace the different approaches that work in different parts of the campus in terms of communications strategies and messaging. Providing email or publicity templates is another way to guide, but not dictate, unit-level communications.
Additionally, marketing and communication collaboration both amongst units and at the University-level, is essential when initiatives and events span across multiple units and/or stakeholders at the University. Providing means for ideas and strategies to be shared can help pollinate good ideas and approaches across your institution.
These efforts, again, are not separate from the overall marketing and communications work that is already done, but rather, extends and augments the effectiveness of that work in representing and reaching all members of the community.
At U-M, several tools are used to evaluate the impact of marketing and communications efforts related to DEI, including event attendance, and website, social media, email analytics. These tools, while helpful in identifying the impact, are one part of the evaluation process.
Occasionally, other factors can play into measuring outcomes, including urgent and unanticipated University priorities (which may compete for time and resources), unforeseen event attendance variations (due to elements such as weather and scheduling conflicts), and changes in personnel.
Building in feedback loops to gather evaluative information about your marketing and communications efforts is highly recommended, whether short surveys or focus groups or both.
Seeking input during the planning and design phase of marketing and communications work is a way to engage the community while better informing the materials created. Using multimedia formats such as video, social media, web sites, helps reach more people based on different preferences and learning styles, as is attending to accessibility in all marketing and communications materials.
In this way, evaluation of efforts and impact is threaded through the process of developing and implementing marketing and communications, and provides a closer connection with those you are trying to reach.
This can have a major impact on the perceptions of the DEI Strategic Plan, and whether there is a genuine interest in being transparent and accountable for both the process and the outcomes.
- When communicating both internally and externally, maintaining a close relationship with your University’s public affairs office and social media manager is essential in making sure messaging is consistent and thoughtful, especially when dealing with sensitive subject matter.
- Provide a central means of communication where people can submit questions. For example, utilizing a central email account allows a University voice, rather than an individual voice, serve as a response mechanism. Additionally, questions can be forwarded to appropriate individuals at your University, as needed, in order to provide the most timely and accurate information as possible to inquires.
- Develop a social media strategy, including the creation of DEI-related accounts to share public-facing content that provides transparency to your process.
- Some of the most powerful messaging will come from your constituents. It’s important to incorporate storytelling as a means of communication, both in providing authenticity and demonstrating the impact of this work. Video, interviews, quotes and statements accompanied by photos provide a richer means to communicate about DEI issues, efforts, and impact.