Higher Education

The Importance of Involving Stakeholders in Change, The #BoldlyBaldwin Story

A Case for Engaging Your Stakeholders in Significant Change 

I am a 2000 graduate of Mary Baldwin College (now Mary Baldwin University). This week my college proudly announced several new programs and as part of this news release they also quietly announced they were changing the residential environment from single sex to co-educational. This post is not about my personal feelings around this change, instead it is a cautionary message about the importance of recognizing and involving stakeholders in change. Whether your stakeholders are alumnus, partners, donors, or staff you must value their experience of you and be sensitive to their feelings, even if it won't change the reality of your situation. Spending time to genuinely involve people in decision-making will always strengthen your organization in the long run. 

What Went Wrong

ISSUE: Limited communication with a core constituent group prior to making a significant change

If you invest in stakeholders, they will in turn invest in you, rather than investing in working against you.

DO INSTEAD: Involve stakeholders through email, in person visits, and focus groups.

Talk to them and explain your challenges. Seek their ideas and feedback and enlist their help in problem solving. Committed groups often need a personal invitation to get involved. Of course this takes time and resources but it can pay off significantly in the long run. 

ISSUE: Unprepared for a significant backlash from constituent groups

DO INSTEAD: While more open communication from the beginning may alleviate this situation, enlisting the help of communication specialists outside of your organization is essential. It is important that you have an impartial and external guide to help you think through all of the challenges and opportunities.  Be prepared with detailed frequently asked questions, opportunities to give feedback, and an active and robust social media management plan.

ISSUE: Shutting down social media comments

DO INSTEAD: While you may delete comments that are hateful or violate your code of conduct, silencing upset constituents only increases their anger.  For more information concerning managing your social media in difficult times, check out this blog post on crisis communications. 

At the end of the day, your organization is tasked with long-term sustainability. You must make business decisions that are well thought out and based in fact. Spending the time on the front end to engage your closest stakeholders in your strategies is perhaps more important than the plan you hope to execute.  Because, it seems fair to say, if your plan is controversial enough to upset a major portion of your stakeholders, you probably need their support and guidance more than ever.  


Over the last few days since the announcement alumnae have mobilized on twitter, instagram, facebook (closed group), and behind the scenes. They are passionate and angry. We will only have to watch and see what they are able to accomplish, but what if they had been working for the University all along? 

If you invest in stakeholders, they will in turn invest in you rather than invest in working against you. 

#VCUGLOBALHEALTH: Fundraising and Social Media

I was excited to be invited by Dr. Marcus Messner to be a guest speaker in his new online social media class #VCUGLOBALHEALTH.  Today's 1-2pm google hangout is accessible by anyone and a recording can be found below.



Here is the tipsheet I created to guide our chat. 

More about the Class.

If you want to learn more about this class and the Center for Media and Health at VCU, check out this link. 

Saying Goodbye : VCU PMDC

 A recap of our work together.

A recap of our work together.

After two projects, a strategic plan and a marketing review and almost a year of work, I said goodbye to a client last week.  The VCU Parkinson's and Movement Disorder Center is barely recognizable from where we started.  

Marketing Plan

Over the last 6 months I have talked to people whose lives are affected by movement disorders, worked with awesome graphic designers and trained their staff in white papers, editorial calendars, social media strategies.  Finally, we developed a content strategy map and a full twelve month plan. 

I'm not fond of big fancy reports so we have been implementing these changes the whole way along.  Their blog and facebook page reach and engagement has tripled and they have begun to implement their new understanding of their brand voice and marketing plan.  

 New Logo designed by  Campfire and Co. 

New Logo designed by Campfire and Co. 

Over the next few months look out as they delve into twitter and video and watch their movement happen!  {For a sneak preview of "Bennett Minutes" click here. }

The best clients are return clients, and I hope to see them again soon. 

Selling Science: Using Peer-Reviewed Papers for Content Marketing Success


GUEST POST by Andrea Goulet Ford, BrandVox

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with The Spark Mill on a project for the Parkinson's and Movement Disorder Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. After conducting research and presenting them with a Message Playbook™, we discovered that one of the places this organization needed more training was in translating their research papers into white papers. These are some of the most brilliant minds in science, and they have quite a following of people who like to read their research. The challenge is that the way they’re presenting it (peer reviewed articles) isn’t the best fit for the general public.

Science literacy is important, but it’s also important for scientists to understand how to translate their work so it’s fit for the general public to consume it. As Alan Alda, put it “After interviewing at least 700 scientists on Scientific American Frontiers, I realized that for most of us science is a foreign language.”

I’d put myself in this category. I love reading about the latest trends and I tend to snuggle up to a good documentary about cuttlefish as opposed to a stereotypical chick flick. But I get really intimidated when I see a peer reviewed article. It takes me a lot of time to warm up to it. I can’t scan it. I have to go slowly so I can parse sentences and truly understand what’s going on. And often, I don’t have enough context to understand why a particular article is significant.

This is why science journalism is important. And as companies embrace the tenants of brand journalism, it’s easier for scientists to enter the marketing world without feeling like a used car salesperson. So, how do we know when to use which? Here are four situations to help you decide which type of paper is best for your organization.

Quality Control vs. Grounding Assertions

The main purpose of the peer review process is quality control. We want to make sure that our results can be replicated and tested. Often, this is the biggest difference between “real science” and “pseudo-science.” In order to do this, we keep our style minimal and let the results stand on their own. Too much of a personal touch leads to mistrust. But that’s not the case when we’re speaking to the general public. In marketing, we realize that our audience is busy. They may only have time to read a short sentence — maybe, if we’re lucky, we can get them to read a short paragraph. But getting them to read a whole document is exceedingly difficult.

That’s where white papers come in. They ground our assumptions and help validate our claims. As my friend Leslie O’Flahavan of E-WRITE teaches, content (especially on the web) is comprised of bites (headlines), snacks (short paragraphs) and meals (longer form content). Using this metaphor, we can think of white papers as your typical weekday dinner, and peer reviewed articles as a full twelve-course meal.

 Formal vs. Informal Announcements

Peer reviewed articles tend to have more formal language because their main purpose is to make an official announcement. Think about what someone wears when they accept the Nobel Prize. A tux or a gorgeous gown, right? That’s the image a scientist has in their head when they are writing for peer review. They want to make sure that their content lives up to that level of prestige, because often, that’s the document that will gain them access into that precious inner circle.

White papers don’t have this pressure. They’re much more relaxed. Think about what you’d wear if you were going to meet a friend for coffee on a Saturday afternoon. It’s about being comfortable and conversational. When you use language that’s too formal in your marketing content, it can feel like you’ve walked into a coffee shop wearing a tuxedo and your friend is wearing jeans and a t-shirt. This pairing isn’t likely to facilitate a long and comfortable conversation.

 Permanent Record vs. Increasing Awareness

We write papers, both peer-reviewed and marketing, so that we can attract something. But that something is very different for each type of paper. For peer-reviewed papers, the goal is to attract future funding and associate the author’s name in the permanent record (so the Nobel Prize people need to know who to call). We write in a way that demonstrates that our topic is worth investigating further.

For marketing, we’re not going for funders, we’re going for eyeballs. The goal is to spread the message about our findings and as a result increase awareness at the top of the sales funnel. In this situation, using a peer-reviewed article for marketing purposes would be like using your resume on your online dating profile, which isn’t an effective way of attracting a mate.

 Objectivity vs. Persuasion 

The biggest difference between peer-reviewed papers and white papers comes down to their purpose. The former is meant to inform, the latter to influence. With a white paper, the goal is to demonstrate to others why your proposed solution is better than everything else out there. You want to move someone into action after reading it. You want them to walk away having felt something to the point where they’re willing to change their behavior.

 White Paper Template

 For a copy of our template and white paper sheet, click the graphic.

For a copy of our template and white paper sheet, click the graphic.

After scouring the web for a good white paper template, the best one I found was at Demand Metric. The general outline is seen above, but it’s worth downloading their template because it gives a lot of good pointers on how to write your white paper.


At the end of the day, both peer-reviewed articles and marketing articles are good tools. They just solve different problems; one is like a screwdriver, the other like a hammer. Sure, they look similar, but it’s important to recognize that they both do very different jobs, and neither is very good at solving the other’s problems.