This was one of the more substantial communication campaigns I worked on during my time as a media coordinator at UT. While some of the visuals from this campaign are now aging (most of the materials were produced 2008-2013), I describe it in detail here because it was a particularly challenging project and provides a good sense of how I approach communication planning.
In 2008 the university received a $10 million grant to start a first-of-its-kind critical language program. The program had two immediate goals: 1) they needed to urgently recruit students on a national basis with some interest and/or basic background in the Hindi and/or Urdu language and 2) they wanted to quickly raise the profile of this new program so that it would be seen as the center of critical language instruction in the United States.
As part of my role at UT, I was contracted by this program to run a long-term (5-year) communications campaign that would work on all fronts towards those two objectives. I began the campaign with a considerable effort at audience research and soon discovered there were significant challenges to consider. Few American, let alone Texan, students had any exposure to these languages. In addition, UT traditionally struggles to recruit out-of-state students due to the high tuition cost. Perhaps most significantly, I knew little about the dynamics of these two ‘sister’ languages (Hindi and Urdu), yet quickly found out they are increasingly politicized (India vs. Pakistan, Hindu vs. Muslim) and any media campaign would have to be highly sensitive as to how they were discussed together.
The strategy I proposed and successfully implemented in response to these challenges was simple. The central message would be a simple truth: these languages can lead to critical careers. The subsequent media campaign to convey this message would have three stages:
This was the ‘meat and potatoes’ stage of the campaign. I designed a portfolio of branding materials (logo, program website, and print matter) that all focused on the central message. I tried to come up with a look and feel that was clean, accessible, and more professional than academic. The branding materials also visually emphasized the unity and connection between these two languages while carefully avoiding any politically or religiously inflammatory colors or symbols. I then fleshed the print and web materials out with accessible copy focused on our central message of the languages’ personal and career relevance. See the program website and print booklet for fleshed out examples of the brand we settled on.
Once we had the foundational branding and informational materials in place, I began a targeted campaign of media outreach aimed at both recruiting possible students and quickly raising the program’s profile on a national basis. We had considerable success getting earned media in targeted markets such as Houston, Dallas, and Portland, OR (all cities that teach critical Asian languages at the K-12 level). I also found surprising success using a mix of new media channels, particularly podcasts and web series. We soon became the hosts of the top three Hindi podcasts on iTunes and received a booster grant to fund a number of our popular web series.
The third emphasis of the campaign was on in-person networking. We coordinated an ongoing series of conferences, talks, workshops, and concerts that we collectively used to reinforce our message of the critical roles these languages play in the contemporary world. I ensured all events were recorded, along with ancillary interviews with visiting experts. This soon produced a large media library that we converted into further podcast and web series. The overall effect was to reinforce the notion of our program as the global center for Hindi-Urdu expertise.
As the campaign developed, our website emerged as a critical hub for our various branding, broadcast, and hosting efforts. More than simply an introduction to the program mission and staff, it became a leading national resource center for a range of actors (government organizations, corporations, nonprofit) needing instruction or expertise on questions of South Asian language, culture, and politics. Although the campaign officially ended in 2015, many of these efforts are still accessible via the “Resources” section of the website (note: these resources and the website at large have started to show their age due to lack of ongoing maintenance post-2016) . The online Resource Center elevated the status of UT’s program and it remains a well-respected digital repository of critical language learning media.
This extended campaign involved the creation of multiple websites, print materials, podcast production, promotional film production, and external media interfacing. Although the program has ended, its core website is still accessible. Here is a sample of one of the print booklets I produced during the campaign. A full description of the campaign strategy is included below.
- Project Url: