Awards validate CSU communications strategy

With a five-word speech in New York City this week, the Colorado State University’s Division of External Relations took home a prestigious Webby award – honoring the best in Internet content – that capped a strong run of awards that positioned the university’s communications unit as one of the top performers in the industry.

“We’ve dramatically changed the way we tell our stories about academics, research and service over the last year, and the awards we’ve received from a variety of industry groups truly demonstrates the strength of our new model,” said Tom Milligan, vice president for external relations. “We are partnering with colleges and units more than ever and focusing our collective resources into telling rich and engaging stories in a way that resonates and connects with students, faculty, staff, alumni, the general public and beyond. The communication environment is rapidly changing, and we’re doing our best to keep up and even stay in front of it where we can.”

In addition to the Webby, CSU recently won five Gold Picks and four Silver Picks from the Colorado chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. The division earned a Bronze Anvil award from the national PRSA, and two video stories were honored with Telly Awards, the premier award nationally and internationally for film and video production.

“We’ve won big awards in the past, but this is one of our best years in terms of the number of projects that were honored by our industry peers,” said Kyle Henley, assistant vice president for strategic communications. “It shows that the Division of External Relations is consistently turning out high quality work that connects both with the CSU community and the public throughout Colorado, the nation and even the world. I’m most proud of the fact that all of these award-winning projects were team efforts that leveraged the talents of so many people in our division and across campus.”

In the last year, the Division of External Relations launched a new digital media platform – SOURCE – designed to showcase video, photos, graphics and writing in a user-friendly format built for social media and mobile communications. Instead of simply pushing out press releases, the division is focused on directly engaging audiences – student, faculty, alumni, donors, the general public, the media and more – with compelling stories about Colorado State.

Social media a game-changer

By partnering with colleges and units on campus to share communications resources, the Division of External Relations has been able to expand and grow its capabilities in the fast-growing social media space, adding several new positions in the past year to use tools like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Instagram to connect and share the university’s stories with the world.

“Social media is a game-changer for the university and across the communications landscape, and we’re aggressively leveraging social media to allow CSU to become its own media delivery channel,” said Kimberly Stern, director of social media. “Some of our most popular stories over the past year weren’t distributed through press releases or magazine stories, they were Facebook posts or Tweets. These awards are a signal that our team is at the forefront of using these channels, and we’re going to continue to work with our campus partners to innovate and lead on the social media front.”

The public relations and social media efforts are just a piece of what the Division of External Relations does for the university. In addition, the office oversees marketing, branding and web communications, and provides clients across campus with a variety of communications services.

“Awards are nice, but we’re already looking ahead, and the thing I’m most excited about is that fact we’re just getting started,” Milligan said. “The branding work we’re doing with the new ‘State of’ campaign is some of the best creative work we’ve ever done as university. It’s been incredibly successful in support of our admissions team – they’ve done an amazing job putting that brand to work in recruiting great students. And we’re working with colleges and units across campus to help them also plug into that concept. Together we serve an amazing institution and it is on a great trajectory. At the Division of External Relations, we’re going to continue to work with partners across campus to position CSU to grow, thrive and succeed.”