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Change is coming, but are we ready?

EUPRIO’s President Denis Ancion tells NIC MITCHELL about a meeting of Dutch members which focused on the vital role of internal communications – a key theme for our forthcoming annual conference in Canterbury this June. The image shows international students at a “Mix & Mingle” event in Maastricht, a key audience for university branding worldwide.

Creating more visibility for EUPRIO. This is one of the most important ambitions for the association in the years to come.

To help this process, we introduced the idea last year of inviting our members in different countries to meet together to discuss the theme of the next conference. And it seems to be working, at least in The Netherlands.

For last month nearly 50 Dutch EUPRIO members met in Utrecht to discuss the issue of internal branding and the importance of activating of own internal audiences for branding purposes – the theme for our annual conference being held at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, from June 27-30, 2013.

The Dutch meeting showed what a ‘hot’ issue activating internal audiences has become – and that it is not only a puzzle to do this effectively, but also sometimes threatening for the communication departments themselves.

For a strategy aiming at activating students, staff and alumni also implies bringing them into a position to do the job previously done by communication departments. This means that the role of communication professionals in the organisation has to change. And that this change has to take place while traditional work still needs to be done: an extra challenge!

New role

Will we have enough time to take up our new role? Does the organisation understand that transition doesn’t mean that communication professionals are no longer needed?

I don’t have the answers, but the afternoon in Utrecht made one thing very clear: the coming years are going to be really exciting and the theme we have chosen to focus in Canterbury is highly relevant.

Our Dutch EUPRIO meeting heard from two external consultants, Ronald Schepers and Huib Koeleman, who confronted the participants with their observations.

Recognisible brand claims

Schepers, who has experience of working on branding and communications projects at various higher education institutions in the Netherlands, got some stick for claiming that our current branding efforts concentrated too much on sending a message towards external audiences. “We forget that a strong brand has to be oriented at our own students and staff (and that we need to become a employer brand) as well”, he said. “Internal audiences need to recognise themselves in our messages, have a feeling that what we claim in our branding propositions is recognisible for them or challenges them to live up to the claim.”

That we forget to involve our own people, he claimed, is proved by the fact that only one Dutch university is in top 100 of the best companies in the Netherlands.

Is he right or wrong?

Perhaps, the answer is less important than realising what we think about branding is changing and that in world today there is no difference between external and internal communications. With all the actions we take, we have to be aware of this fact.

Activating internal audiences

Huib Koeleman, a well-known expert on internal communications in the Netherlands, stepped over to another interesting angle in the discussion. How to activate internal audiences knowing that there is not one recipe for this. Every organisation has its own characteristics.

To be effective in communication one has to understand how communication and decision-making works in the organisation. Managers and communicators have to adapt to this to be successful.

The audience didn’t feel his message was completely new, but accepted that we rarely approach internal communication projects with this awareness or make it part of our strategic planning.

Did our meeting in Utrecht lead to answers or spectacular new insights?

No, I don’t think so. But if you ask me was it worthwhile to exchange ideas and thoughts my answer is, without any hesitation, yes!

Agenda for Kent

Just by meeting and discussing the theme we are now all aware that this issue will dominate our agendas in the coming years, that we can learn from each other, and that an important step is taken to have interesting and good discussions to cope with this major challenge when we meet again at our annual conference in Kent this June.

We know that we can help each other in this period of dramatic change and that the choices of new roles and activities we undertake will be of great value for the organisations we represent in the increasingly competitive global higher education environment.

What about other countries in Europe? Is this issue also high on your agenda and are people aware of the big changes that lie ahead? I am curious know. So please, give me your thoughts, and tell us of experiences when we meet again in Canterbury in June.

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