By Lindsay Marcaccio

At some point in the last six months, due to the changing political, environmental and economical landscapes, we have all had to review strategies and pivot to adjust to the new normal of doing business. For Karen Cook senior manager, communications for the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary, this has been an opportunity to reaffirm best practices, and open up to different ideas about how to engage their audiences.

Cook and her team re-examined their communications strategy and found this is where best practices should prevail. “The basics of the strategy remain the same: listen to our audiences, understand what they want and need, and keep them engaged by responding to what we hear,” explained Cook.

Faculty of Nursing comms team
Maintaining balance between work and home allows Cook and her team to reach maximum creative potential.

Since in-person communication is extremely limited due to the pandemic, audiences are flooded with electronic messaging. For Cook, she and her team worked to prevent their messaging from getting lost in the online crowds. To engage their internal audiences, they hold virtual noon-hour events including trivia contests and an upcoming Halloween party complete with prizes. They decided to continue sending an internal newsletter to keep people informed.

To engage their external audiences, they reduced the number of emails sent, and are more strategic about the length and timing of those emails including keeping the subject line to an optimal 41 characters or less.

Cook and her team adapted all of their planned in-person events to a virtual platform. To launch their new office space, they invited an alumnus to take the audience on a virtual tour. Throughout the tour a cardboard cut-out of Florence Nightingale was placed in various rooms for the audience to find and win prizes. They also used the videos on their website. Pivoting to an online platform allows those who live outside of an event’s main location to attend, which enables organizers to reach a larger audience.

Cook advises being wary of overloading audiences with virtual events since people aren’t on the computer just for work. Between Zoom book clubs, birthday parties and Friday wine nights, the amount of screen time for everyone has increased. “Take a look at how you yourself would like interactions to be as a customer, and bring that into your professional life,” recommends Cook.

When asked how she is keeping her team motivated while working remotely, Cook responded it’s about maintaining balance to allow them to be productive and creative. The team needs to know they are supported and respected especially when work and home lives are enmeshed more than ever.

Cook feels things won’t go back to the way they were, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “For me personally, this has been the shake-up I needed to make me look at everything through a new lens,” stated Cook. That new lens is helping Cook to be open minded to new digital ways of showcasing her department and its strengths.

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