I was fortunate to be able to have a chance to meet with RPI’s Vice President of Strategic Communications and External Relations, David Brond, and the Assisstant Director of News and Editorial Services Mike Mullaney. Here is the conversation:
James: I understand you recently came to RPI?
Brond: Yes, this is actually my forth month here. I came here right before commencement of last year. It’s a great time of year to start at a university because you get a chance to see the end of the academic year activities and a lot of the work that we do in strategic communications is sort of preparing for the upcoming academic year so during the course of the summer we’re doing a lot of work with enrollment management and a lot of prep work to start the year so the summertime is a good time to get work done. [In the] fall I’m looking forward to meeting more faculty, more engagement with students, going to some classes, going to some sporting events, and being seen with part of the life and student experiences here at Rensselaer.
James: How did you decide to come to RPI?
Brond: Well, it was interesting. The last two positions I’ve had were at more public universities, and both of those positions gave me some unique opportunities of building brands at places that didn’t have established brands, or needed to strengthen their brands, or were competing to be higher echelon universities or had higher aspirations for that. The most recent experience was at a major health system and a university, a brand new name university so it was creating a brand. I felt that for myself personally and professionally I was looking for something that was a little bit closer to the Northeast. I’d been in Georgia before this, my family is in Massachusetts, my son is in Baltimore, [and]my daughter is in Massachusetts as well as my immediate family, so [the] location made sense. This is also going back to the career-wise: a private university with an established strong brand, that’s something that I’m excited about. You can always enhance it, but it’s not starting from scratch in any means because of the reputation [of RPI]. Years agoI worked with a faculty member who a provost at the time at Delaware years ago who used to work here for a number of years and he was the one that mentioned the opportunity to me. I came here, met with some of the leadership. The way I define
potential opportunities are, Does it have the right product to be able to sell? In my world marketing, communications, and external relations, [RPI] certainly does from its brand, from the student life, from its innovative learning from a research stand-point, and does it have the right leadership? When you have a president who has been doing something for fifteen years, that’s pretty unusual. She and her leadership team know where to go and how to go about doing it, so I said, It’s got those two things, its closer to home. So here I am. Next January and February, when it gets really cold, my wife and I are going to be complaining because we don’t own snow shovels, because we gave all of that up when we got to Georgia.
James: How do you think your strategies to get the name out have changed moving to a more established university?
Brond: One of the things that we do is, when you’re in an organization that does not have a brand, you need to go chase. You need to go be a little bit assertive and be able to put your logo, your association, [and] your brand places. One of the things that I’ve learned and caveats I have is, great brands don’t chase customers. It doesn’t mean we don’t try to attract a class of freshman as established as you and your colleagues are. It doesn’t mean we don’t pursue research opportunities, but we can stay at a level where we know within ourselves who we are, and this is not to mean that its highbrow or that we’re better than others, but we are really very good. And so, not chasing customers, not chasing after things allows us to keep our brand and protect our brand and heighten our brand because it is the Rensselaer brand. So the strategy changes a little bit that way. Some of the things are still exactly the same; you still want to make sure that the faculty and the staff are as engaged in whats going on here, the internal marketing. Every year, you still get a freshman class that doesn’t know the history and the traditions or the things that go on and you want to make sure that they become stewards for four years and alumni for life, who then give back to the organization. The same principles still hold.
James: What do you think your goals are for this year?
Brond: Well, this year, for me personally, the key is to get to know the organization. I’ve been doing this for a number of years, I know how to do the specifics of the role, and what we’re involved with is everything from refreshing the website (to) handling the proactive and reactive media issues, news and editorial sources, to publications, creative services, university events, and community government relations. The blocking and tackling of those things we can do. It’s then how do you do that at Rensselaer to put the fright face of Rensselaer out there. Specifically this yearsome specific goals that we have are refreshing our website is a huge projectvv, we want to have a better, cleaner, more responsive looking field, and adaptability for people on mobile phones for our homepage, for some other selected pages and we’ll continue to grow that to multiple pages. We want to continue to staff appropriately. Our division, Strategic Communication and External Relations has been absent a couple of key positions. We are also starting something which is really important, not we but the school, we are at our 190th year at this university’s founding. That means it’s 10 years from 200, so we’re not going to start a countdown clock, but we are going to have a number of events that begin to start to celebrate and I did want to give you some of the specifics because I’d really like to engage students, knowing that this building we’re in, the center for biotechnology and interdisciplinary studies is celebrating its tenth year. Lally is coming off its 50 year. This president is celebrating her fifteenth year, and chemical and biological engineering its hundredth year. These are important milestones that I think overtime people will realize all the great things that are happening here…things that our loans have done, how the world has been changed. Why not change the world right? How the world has been changed by Rensselaer by virtue of celebrating these milestones and these anniversaries starting now and for the next 10 years building up to this huge bicentennial when you and your colleagues will all come back and celebrate all of the things that have happened.
After discussing Brond’s goals, he discussed about how social media has changed his job. Brond said that it has changed many aspects of it, and although it isn’t the only tool to rely on, it adds a great deal. He specifically mentioned how it had changed how students learned about school closings. Brond mentioned how social media has not only made it easier to get in touch with students, it had also made it easier for students to get in touch with him and other staff. Brond also mentioned how his biggest challenge in communications and external relations is “being able to say yes to everyone”, and how prioritizing was inevitable when dealing with so many issues. Although they would like to help everyone, and try their best to, there is only so much time and so many resources.
Mulaney also spoke briefly about his strategies for getting the RPI name out, and he emphasized how important it was to his department to create networks and learn from the community, to see what they are interested so they can better address them. Much of Brond’s work will be demonstrated this year, and hopefully everyone will attend the upcoming milestone events for RPI.