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2021: Building bridges & moving mountains

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Renea Morris

Renea Morris

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Internal  •

The year 2021 has been tremendous in so many ways—full of wins as well as the occasional speed bump. We are happy to share some highlights from the year. 

Over the course of 2021, our collective teams have launched 84 websites, created the University’s first brand commercial and accompanying content marketing pieces, supported the launch of the James C. Kennedy Mountain Campus, helped to usher in a new chapter for DU with the installation of Chancellor Jeremy Haefner, and moved into the next phase of the University’s reputation work. Together, we have built narratives and stories, websites and landing pages, designs and creative, videos, social media campaigns, and more to strategically position our university in new markets and with new audiences.  

As we close out the year, we are proud to announce the launch of six new websites over the past month, including: 

With these launches, only 57 sites remain in the queue (33 of which are inline sites of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs) as a part of our web overhaul work. MarComm, in partnership with campus stakeholders, has launched 149 websites and 11,210 pages since Drupal’s introduction in September 2018.   

As this major CMS change is our top focus for the overhaul, we still have about 1,700 pages remaining to be migrated by spring. To remain efficient and nimble, we are focusing on copyediting and content finalization efforts in-house, while contracting migration and QA to two agency partners in the new year. 

The change in our website infrastructure is just the beginning of the foundational changes we have made this year. MarComm has filled 13 benefitted vacancies and introduced key positions to our organization, including but not limited to a content strategy manager, marketing manager, and communications manager. Additionally, we are partnering with IT to identify an email marketing and event management platform for the University as well as creating a sustainable support structure for our website and digital marketing ecosystem as we near the completion of the web overhaul project.  

Our reputation strategy work, the first phase of which began last year with research, is a multi-year initiative that will remain with us for many seasons to come. I want to take a moment to reflect on all the wins it has yielded just this year. Through the efforts of several working groups, we have drafted and tested five market differentiators—Unique Value Propositions—further honed our personality traits, started the development of a visual identity system and renovation of our logo, and launched DU’s largest brand campaign in recent history. This work has enabled us to form partnerships, collaborations, and connections—both internally and externally—in ways that we have not had the ability to capitalize on historically.  

While the strategic messaging and visual identity work will reach completion in the next year with rollout to follow, we have a couple of months of data on the initial rollout of the For the Difference campaign. I can share preliminarily that display retargeting is currently our strongest performing medium focused on prospective students, driving 100 percent of visits scheduled from the campaign in the month of October. TikTok also proved to be a strong performer for brand awareness, with an average click-through rate (CTR) of 1.2% which exceeds our agency’s benchmark of 0.91%.  

Snapchat and over-the-top (OTT) ad sets wrapped up in November. Snapchat resulted in 17.7 million impressions for the brand and 155k swipe-ups. While metrics specific to the OTT (streaming television) are not available, we have seen a substantial increase in web traffic to our targeted landing pages from a few of our targeted markets versus the same time last year—23 percent increase in Houston, 30 percent increase from Los Angeles, and a 26 percent increase here in Denver. There is much left in the campaign as we infuse and elevate the 4D Experience and Kennedy Mountain Campus and optimize assets for the coming spring launches. 

Our social media efforts grew in leaps and bounds this year, starting with the establishment of concrete, easy-to-follow social media guidelines and culminating in our first share of the Sand Creek Massacre on DU’s brand channels this year. The social media guidelines have served as a guidepost for many efforts across campus, as new social media accounts were established, current accounts were maintained, and new employees were onboarded to support the overall engagement effort. This set of guidelines will also be used to benchmark our forthcoming texting guidelines, coming out sometime in 2022.  

The podcast, RadioEd, enjoyed another tremendous season with a whopping 6,800 new downloads in 2021 (not including November or December). If you have not listened lately, check out some of the recent episodes regarding art trafficking and the important topic of veteran suicide. Until we find a new writer to take on the next season, the podcast will be on hiatus, and I am confident RadioEd will return and continue to be an influential tool for DU in 2022 and beyond. 

The team successfully managed several issues in 2021, one of which was the major transition of the University’s insurance provider to Cigna, which took place in tandem with this year’s open enrollment window. Despite the speed with which this communications campaign moved, internal stakeholders were kept informed, allowing employees to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. The team rolled out a series of new emergency websites and crisis communication templates in 2021, making DU even more prepared to support stakeholders should the need arise. 

Regarding newsroom and media coverage, from the coverage of DU’s groundbreaking research, to the humanitarian stories at home and abroad, our writers and media relations team have had their hands full. Pairing DU experts with journalists, our media relations team helped garner localnational, and even international coverage, sharing DU’s brand with a broad audience. Our writers created many must-read pieces—from campus events, such as inauguration, to news from around the world, such as the extraction of a DU student and his family from Afghanistan. The relationships that MarComm’s writers have established with colleagues across campus have enabled them to tell immensely powerful stories. 

Meanwhile, the University of Denver Magazine produced three print and four digital issues, the latter filled with online exclusives. For the fall edition, the magazine added pages and produced an insert to offer comprehensive coverage of the chancellor’s inauguration and the debut of the new James C. Kennedy Mountain Campus. Over the course of the year, lead stories featured a professor and alumna working on police reform, DU’s cross-disciplinary efforts to serve rural Colorado, and a romp through DU’s celebrated cookbook collection. We showcased videos offering tours of the Denver Advantage buildings and photo essays on everything from concerts at Lamont to beautiful campus gardens. Our design and editorial teams collaborated to present packages that engaged all our audiences, from faculty, staff, and parents to alumni and students.  

This year has been full of adventures, and we are looking forward to continuing the journey with everyone in the new year. From our team to you, we wish you a happy holiday season.