Winning at higher ed communications

By Sharon Aschaiek | June 26, 2019

Karen McCarthy, director, communications strategy and planning at the University of Toronto, accepting a 2019 OVATION award of merit for government communications

As we strive to promote higher education institutions, we can learn a lot from outstanding communication teams in the sector. One such team that was spotlighted recently works at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada.

One such team that was recently spotlighted for its accomplishments works at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Two of the university’s communication projects won awards of merit at the 2019 OVATION Awards. The awards are run by the International Association of Business Communicators – Toronto Chapter, and they celebrate outstanding professional communications initiatives and materials by local organizations.

“These awards recognize the tremendous success of two of our campaigns and reflects the culture of excellence in communications that is alive and well among members of our central communications team,” says David Estok, the University of Toronto’s vice-president of communications. “These campaigns support our overall communications goals to promote and enhance the university’s reputation not only as a research-powerhouse but as a leader in entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Getting government’s attention

One award was for the U of T’s Support the Report campaign to encourage the federal government to increase funding for scientific research. The government communications campaign reflected the university’s endorsement of the report “Investing in Canada’s Future: Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research,” which was published in April 2019 by the government-appointed Canada’s Fundamental Science Review panel, the chair of which was U of T president emeritus David Naylor. The report’s recommendations to improve the state of research in Canada included allocating $1.3 billion (CDN) in new spending over four years.

As an institution strongly focused on innovative research, U of T supported the report’s recommendations as being necessary for the country to compete with other leading research-driven nations. Ahead of Canada’s 2018 federal budget, the university launched the Support the Report advocacy campaign from August 2017 to January 2018 that called for increased federal research funding. It complemented the national #supportthereport effort led by Universities Canada and the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities.

The campaign asked members of the public to write, tweet or call members of parliament to extol the importance of Canadian fundamental research. It included postcard-signing events, an online toolkit of advocacy tactics, U of T lab tours for elected officials, and a public talk celebrating innovation at U of T. The campaign engaged with high-profile U of T researchers, students and industry partners, who amplified and delivered messages to government on the importance of research funding. In February of 2018, the federal government announced it would spend $4 billion (CDN) in new funding on science over the following five years—the single largest investment in fundamental research in Canadian history.

U of T professor Molly Shoichet, a Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering, and her researchers at the Shoichet Lab challenging other U of T labs to #SupportTheReport
Demonstrating entrepreneurship success

U of T earned a second OVATION award of merit for its This is The Place Innovation and Entrepreneurship campaign. U of T holds the 2018 title for Canada’s most innovative university, and in the past decade, has helped launch 500 startups that raised more than $1 billion. To maintain its momentum in this area, the university launched in February 2018 a fully integrated marketing and communication campaign that highlighted the entrepreneurial talent and innovative spirit at U of T.

The campaign leveraged the university’s Entrepreneurship Week in March to reflect the university’s status as an innovation powerhouse. It used the slogan This is The Place to demonstrate the university’s ability to spark new ideas through the convergence of different disciplines. The dedicated website includes profiles of and news about U of T-originated startups, and information on entrepreneurship incubators, accelerators and courses at U of T. The campaign helped raise the profile of U of T’s entrepreneurship success among key influencers.

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