Filling the Void

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Why content is critical to closing the emotional gap

During the early days of the pandemic, Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business (MSB) launched a social media campaign—#MagisInMotion—in which it posted news, photos and videos about what students were doing to help each other and their communities get through the madness. In Latin, Magis means “more” or “greater,” so the essence of the campaign centered on the premise of “the more universal good.” As part of its efforts, MSB also encouraged everyone to use the #MagisInMotion hashtag to share their stories.

As a Jesuit institution whose values advocate serving others, Georgetown has always been authentic and empathic. Its students, faculty and staff comprise a community built on the notion of caring about each other as much as their own success. Each of their stories serve both business and society.

Chris M. Kormis calls that marketing gold.

As the Associate Dean, CMO and Senior Advisor to the Dean at MSB, Kormis leads, develops and implements its strategic marketing and communications efforts. After the dean, Kormis is the brand steward and primary spokesperson to all external audiences, directing strategies that promote and raise the school’s visibility among its stakeholders and the media.

After seeing what the pandemic did to the Georgetown community, Kormis found comfort in a content platform that could inspire healing. “The [#MagisInMotion] campaign brought us, showing prospective students and faculty what it is like to be part of the Georgetown community.”

With recruiting platforms like face-to-face events and walking tours off the table due to pandemic-related mandates, having ways to engage with your community must already be in place. “We have been sharing our content with our various audiences through earned and paid media for several years,” Kormis says. “Now, with limited in-person access, it is even more important to communicate digitally. Since the pandemic sent everyone home to work and study, we have increased our use of video to bring people together. We also are using video more in our marketing efforts to facilitate human contact—even if it is over a screen.”

The pivot to being able to communicate effectively is critical, especially in the higher education landscape. With campus life quiet, administrators have been meeting with prospective students virtually for information sessions and one-on-one conversations. They also have been conducting virtual webinars for current students and alumni on a variety of topics, such as teleworking, AI and the future of work, balancing work and home life responsibilities, and tactics for improving diversity and inclusion efforts, among others.

Joe Pulizzi says that under these new rules brands everywhere, including higher ed, must think and act differently. The former brainchild of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and current founder of Z Squared Media, Pulizzi has helped forge international awareness on the powerful role content plays in the marketing equation. His advice: start thinking like a media company.

“People don’t want the ‘why your college is better’ ad right now; they either want to know they made the right decision or what’s truly different about your school,” he says. “You have to zig when everyone else is zagging.”

Case and point: Everyone is conducting virtual tours, which with the exception of the logo, the backdrop and who is giving the presentation, all look the same. Pulizzi recommends creating a go-to channel that students (or parents) will want to see. “Nothing builds trust more than regular, valuable communication. Advertising alone just can’t do it right now. Helpful information delivered over and over again is the next best thing to in-person chats with a friend, especially now, when everything feels like it’s in chaos. Content is king, queen and jester.”

“Helpful information delivered over and over again is the next best thing to in-person chats with a friend, especially now, when everything feels like it’s in chaos. Content is king, queen and jester.”
— Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Z Squared Media

The University of Pittsburgh campus is quiet. That has enabled RJ Thompson to ramp up his storytelling efforts. As Pitt’s Director of Student Engagement, he has to keep his pulse on the vibes that run through campus. Thanks to the pandemic, those vibes have taken on a different feel.

One of the ways he has found to make a difference is through “Talks with Thompson,” an engaging and insightful podcast that focuses on gaining practical, grounded advice from professionals in the marketing and design fields that can be shared with the students who feel that COVID-19 “killed their careers.” As EDgage went to press, the award-winning podcast was approaching its 50th episode. (LINK to

Tell them a story…

In addition, Thompson and his team started the “Pitt Business Backstory,” a website where students can share their journeys from the classroom, to the city, and the world beyond. The site recently won a Graphic Design USA (GDUSA) web design award. “Your content strategy is exceptionally important now,” Thompson says. “But I believe what is more important is executing a content strategy that offers authentic and real snapshots, reactions, and moments of life for our students, on campus or otherwise. The pandemic has shifted idealism, for me, especially with respect to how we communicate to our students or prospective students.”

Part of that shift is to be more human-centered, creating content that not only appeals to students on a human-level, but also talks to them in that same manner. The key is to tell the truth, be authentic and capture reality in an optimistic, but not idealistic sense. Thompson recommends avoiding visual hyperbole through heavy photo manipulation, and to keep your works grounded, relatable, and natural. The goal, he says, is to have fun as much as you can.

The reality is that the pandemic is going to be sitting over the shoulder in all of your messaging right now. Everyone, everywhere has been affected in one way or another. So, instead of ignoring it, the key is to acknowledge it as best as you can and demonstrate how staff, students, and faculty are persevering over it. “Triumph through times of struggle, growth during times of struggle,” Thompson says.

“Your content strategy is exceptionally important now. But I believe what is more important is executing a content strategy that offers authentic and real snapshots, reactions, and moments of life for our students, on campus or otherwise.”
— RJ Thompson, Director of Student Engagement, University of Pittsburgh

Emily Reagan, CMO at University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, says that realism and authenticity are the staples in her marketing efforts, especially with the arrival of COVID-19 and the increase in racial tensions.

“As a business school, we have prioritized leadership development across all of our programs, especially in our MBA programs, and authenticity and empathy are critical attributes for anyone in a leadership role,” Reagan says. “As a business school leadership team, it is no different—we must practice what we preach.”

Reagan believes that a critical part of the strategy is what she calls “atomizing” your content. Too many brands think they can create content, promote it and be done. “That’s simply not true, and the opportunity to reformat, repurpose and scale content is one of our greatest tools. After spending all that time creating a great post, video or thought leadership piece, sharing it once or twice doesn’t do it justice. The content becomes increasingly valuable the more you scale and share.”

In a time where real issues have real impacts on too many people, being able to communicate your story via website, social media platforms or digital email campaigns, is a strategy worth embracing and a viable way to fill the void of human interaction.