WHEN HE WAS the global director and partner at Ketchum Public Relations, Nicholas Scibetta oversaw the agency’s national and international communications programs, providing senior strategic and global media planning counsel and placement for Fortune 500 clients.
Today, as the Global VP for Marketing and Communications, and Chief Communications Officer at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook Medicine and the Stony Brook Hospital system in New York, his global acumen rides on. Scibetta is responsible for the university’s overarching global communications, brand strategy and visual identity, where he oversees strategic communications, media relations, marketing, publications and social media.
He also is founder and editor of In The Know, a global media newsletter that features trend analysis and behind-the-scenes interviews with producers, reporters and bloggers from national and international outlets around the world.
Relevate asked Scibetta to share how today’s colleges and universities can expand their global reach:
Q: How have you used your global marketing expertise at Stony Brook?
A: The experience of leading global business and teams has been an asset here. On the global business side, many of the situations and challenges I encountered are similar to what we are experiencing as a university, albeit at times on a smaller scale. I’ve been able to take the lessons learned in those situations and apply them to the work here.
Successfully leading global teams requires an individual to employ equal parts entrepreneurship, consensus and inspiration building, and decisive and thoughtful decision making. The core of this remains the same regardless of industry or sector, though it must be married with elements of customization. On the higher education front, this often means initially working within a matrixed, or at times a siloed structure, garnering the support from a number of distinct constituent groups throughout the university around a shared vision, and constantly challenging how the MarCom team works so that change is embraced and not held at a distance.
Q: Describe how translating this global business expertise to the university environment has helped make a difference?
A: When I came here, the first thing our team did was to break down the existing silos. This was critical to laying the foundation for a re-envisioned MarCom team. We moved the entire team to the same floor and began evaluating and updating all roles and responsibilities. The goal was to shape these to meet the current and future needs of the university and hospital.
Along with this, we critically examined the team’s work practices to see what was effective, what could be improved and what needed to change. In continuously evaluating the evolution of our team, I also saw a need to broaden the role of the MarCom team across the university. We are a lean central team, so the role of communications manager was created to have a team member physically sit in a specific area or school. The area/school carried the funding line and the individuals are a full member of the central MarCom team, with a reporting line into myself.
This model is similar to developing global teams that consist of individuals from multiple countries. Team members benefit from having the global connection to one another coupled with the local expertise. Implementing this approach has been extremely successful on a number of fronts, especially when we launched our first-ever brand platform far beyond.
Q: Where is the future of university marketing and communications heading for higher education?
A: There will be a greater strategic focus on growing the marketing function within the team. Traditionally in higher education, the PR function has been the more mature offering within a MarCom team. To be successful moving forward, there must be a concentrated focus on building the marketing function and all that this brings to the table. This will only be successful if both sides of the house are integrated and working together on all levels.
Formalized research and insights roles responsible for informing strategy and creative development will also sit within the MarCom team and play a major role in all related decision making. Social media teams will continue to take a more front and center role within the MarCom teams. The social teams will not only be integrated into brand and media related work, but also issues and crisis work in a much more relevant and strategic way.
Q: How do you think universities could better harness PR to increase their brand and reputation both nationally and internationally?
A: Move away from a media by the pound approach. Media for media’s sake is not a strategy. Public relations that strategically and creatively reinforces your brand and all that it stands for, while laddering up to your strategic objectives, should be the goal. Focus on creating engaging and relevant content, in many forms, that adds value to your stakeholders. Sounds cliché, but it’s still crucial. I also think context will play a greater role as you look to differentiate yourself across various platforms in an ever increasingly competitive landscape that is only intensified by shrinking state funding for public institutions and dwindling enrollments across the country.