Pursuing the storytelling excellence Purdue deserves

New vision of Purdue Marketing and Communications attracts top-tier talent during pandemic

Purdue University has an incredible story to tell.

By making an ambitious set of hires during the COVID-19 pandemic, Purdue’s Marketing and Communications team strengthened its ability to share that story with the world.

Kati Pratt, director of brand and marketing strategy, was only a few months into her role when Marketing and Communications launched the “Next Giant Leap” brand platform in January 2020. It quickly became clear that in order to maintain momentum and support Purdue’s brand evolution, the strategy team needed to expand.

“We recognized that there were a few key areas we needed to address to improve how we convey Purdue’s impact across the University and throughout the world,” Pratt says.

The team provided a broad range of new resources to campus marketers and encouraged collaboration across areas like storytelling, media relations and market research in order to create a unified strategic message.

Embracing a digital-first strategy allowed the department to cease production of more than 15 printed college and departmental magazines, saving $500,000 before postage and freeing 2,400 hours of employee time. This resource reallocation enabled Marketing and Communications to hire 13 new employees across the division, encompassing creative services, marketing strategy, strategic communications and technology and operations.

The focus shift drove immediate improvement in Purdue’s digital performance. Purdue’s marketing reach expanded considerably in the past year alone, resulting in record demand and enrollment, 90,000 new social media followers, a 58% increase in social media engagement and a 40% increase in major broadcast news stories versus 2019 — an extremely active year where Purdue celebrated its 150th anniversary.

A key initiative was the Protect Purdue campaign, which aimed to keep the University community safe from COVID-19 by promoting health safety measures and sharing up-to-date information with 50,000 students, faculty and staff. The department launched a Protect Purdue website as the central hub of the campaign and also created a successful student ambassador program to help Boilermakers navigate pandemic life.

The American Marketing Association saluted the team’s many successes from throughout the year by naming Purdue Marketing and Communications as its 2020 Higher Education Marketing Team of the Year.

Some of the newcomers were hired in time to help drive these results, and the national recognition and impactful results during a chaotic year helped recruit the others to generate additional success.

R. Ethan Braden, senior vice president of marketing and communications, says the team adopted the “first who, then what” concept that business author Jim Collins advocated in “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t.” In his book, Collins writes “When facing chaos and uncertainty, and you cannot possibly predict what’s coming around the corner, your best ‘strategy’ is to have people who can adapt to and perform brilliantly no matter what comes next. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

Onboarding 13 new staff members in an all-virtual environment during the pandemic challenged department leadership to find new ways to maintain a strong work culture and unified vision for marketing and communications at Purdue. 

“We never stopped playing offense, even amid the pandemic,” Braden says. “We had a vision for the organization we desired, and we made changes to free up the resources necessary to make the biggest impact at Purdue now and in the future. We never stopped planning for what we needed or recruiting quality individuals, regardless of whether a role existed on paper. And we’re not done.” 

The 13 new staff members’ contributions have been immediate, material and exciting — but not surprising. Braden likens the group’s impact to that of a top-ranked recruiting class on a college basketball team: They capably contribute value from the very beginning, which can positively advance a group’s culture and its future.

Meet the 13 accomplished professionals setting the marketing world on fire

As a marketing copywriter, Paige Brown thinks of the words she writes as the basic building blocks that focus a message. “I’m trying to appeal to a vast number of people in the Purdue audience in the best way possible.” Brown’s background encompasses graphic design, writing, campaign management and communication strategy. She brings five years of higher ed marketing expertise to her new role, where she looks forward to focusing on her writing skills. “I’m thrilled to contribute to the student journey at Purdue. I love school and I love learning and I get excited when other people get to pursue their educational goals, too.”   

William Cabral knew he wanted to work in video production the first time he operated a camera in fifth grade. He volunteered to help produce the elementary school news for an audiovisual club. He majored in film and video studies at Purdue while working for Hall of Music Productions, running camera for live events from football games to the Purdue Christmas Show. He then went on to hone his skills working in advertising, commercials and live touring production, working with the likes of Kenny Chesney and Jimmy Buffett. As social media producer, he’s tasked with optimizing photo and video content to make it accessible across platforms. “It’s fun to make great content, but I derive real meaning and satisfaction from helping communicate big ideas that inspire people.”

A thirst for knowledge drives David Ching, a content writer who earned an MBA from Purdue University Global in 2020. “I’m always interested in learning more. I think that’s true of most writers. Curiosity is a driving factor in creativity.” Ching covered college sports at ESPN for six years before joining the Purdue College of Liberal Arts marketing and communications team in 2018. Also a former Forbes contributor, he leverages his storytelling skills to share compelling narratives from across campus. “There are so many stories to share. I strive to be as creative as possible in capturing everything that makes Purdue such an exceptional place.” 

A marketing background that ranges from a tech startup to a Fortune 500 company taught Katie Ellis to think fast while keeping her cool. “Marketing moves a mile a minute. I make sure we remain focused on core business objectives so our work is as impactful as possible.” Ellis majored in public relations as a Purdue undergrad and earned her MBA from the Krannert School of Management. As assistant director of marketing strategy, she leads a team of strategists, working to keep the goal in mind. “Sometimes we have to take a step back and analyze, how will this project move the needle forward? I provide insight to my team to make sure we’re thinking holistically about the brand, and not just digging straight into the tactical elements.”

A positive attitude and willingness to jump in to help with any project propelled Melissa Hammond’s career at the University. She started as a clerk in the student loan office 15 years ago before migrating to Purdue Research Foundation, where she was tapped by Dan Hasler, former PRF president and former Purdue executive vice president for communications, to support Purdue’s “Take Giant Leaps” sesquicentennial efforts. “I’ve worked with some amazing colleagues and executives like Dan Hasler and Ethan Braden that have really seen the potential in me and allowed me the opportunities to get where I am today.” As brand identity manager, Hammond works with entities across campus to support their efforts to adhere to brand guidelines and ensure the integrity of the brand.

In a career in higher ed web spanning two decades, Matt Herzberger has guided hundreds of colleges and universities toward more successful audience engagement through digital marketing. “Web and digital space used to be an afterthought in the marketing mix for academic institutions. Now, it serves as the primary hub to serve multiple audiences, from prospective students to current students to alumni.” Before coming to Purdue, Herzberger was an executive consultant for web strategy and optimization for Ruffalo Noel Levitz, the leading provider of higher education enrollment, student success and fundraising solutions. Ready to make a lasting impact in one place, he joined the Purdue Marketing and Communications team as assistant director of digital strategy, where he shapes the strategic vision for the University’s web enterprise. “Not only through the central marketing team, but also through our campus relationships, we want to lift Purdue’s entire web enterprise up to serve as an example for universities across the country.”

Though her job title may be senior marketing strategist, Megan Hoskins approaches most days as group positivity captain. “I want everyone to feel confident about what they’re doing. I serve as a liaison between the marketing team and campus partners to ensure that we’re considering outside visions, implementing a strategic approach to our work and that everybody knows what steps to take to move forward collaboratively.” Before her current role, Hoskins was director of sales for Dillman Farm, where she focused not only on increasing the bottom line, but growing brand recognition and affinity. She’s a graduate of the Brian Lamb School of Communication, and her passion for Purdue shines through. “Purdue is the greatest school on the planet. I love playing a role in helping people make one of the most important decisions of their lives. My Purdue education set me on the path to where I am today.” 

Bailey Leffler has a reputation for being competitive: “If there’s a leaderboard involved, you better believe I’m going to do my best to be at the top!” A Purdue graduate who earned her MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University, Leffler joined the department in May 2020 as a senior brand manager whose work to support the University’s marketing community includes running the Purdue Communicators Council. At the launch of the Protect Purdue campaign, she was handed the gargantuan responsibility of developing the Boiler Ambassador program to engage students in the Protect Purdue initiative. The wildly effective program soon evolved, extending beyond Protect Purdue to support marketing and student engagement efforts across campus. Undaunted by challenges, Leffler excels at developing strategic and dynamic marketing strategies to elevate brand perception. “I believe in mind over matter. I know that as long as I put my mind to something, there’s no task that I can’t conquer with a little bit of hard work.”

Ali McNichols doesn’t mind when people call her energetic. Her ability to multitask with enthusiasm while achieving stellar results is what she is best known for. These talents even helped her become a 2020 finalist for Indy’s “Best and Brightest,” an awards series for outstanding professionals. McNichols gained a wealth of experience while working for two of the top marketing agencies in Indianapolis — skills that she now applies in her role as brand content principal. A graduate of the Lamb School of Communication, McNichols finds great joy in sharing the University’s stories. “It’s an honor to work for my alma mater. I’m interested in finding and telling the most compelling, unique Boilermaker stories so the world can know how great we are.”

A self-described introvert, Joel Meredith possesses keen observation skills that empower him to acknowledge others’ contributions, especially when it comes to recognizing teammates who work in the background. Both a staff member and a student — he’s currently pursuing his PhD in French — Meredith is proud to part of the Purdue community. He previously led the marketing content team for Diplomat Pharmacy, a Fortune 500 company. As a copywriter, he brings an iterative approach to the creation process and values working toward excellence in a collaborative environment. “I’m not afraid to say what I think — and I’m not afraid to hear what other people think. Our work is strengthened by diversity of thought and experience.”

After seven years working in digital marketing at Indiana State University, where she earned her MBA, Ashlee Shroyer understands the importance of implementing strategy behind social media. As social media manager, she’s at the forefront of Purdue’s storytelling efforts. “A lot of times, people are getting their news from social first. It’s an incredible platform to bring everyone together to amplify these stories.” One thing she noticed right away is the immense sense of shared pride within the Purdue community, whether it’s young alumni on Instagram, parents on Facebook or graduates on LinkedIn. Her most recent focus? Launching the University’s TikTok channel. “It’s so exciting to play a part in inspiring the next generation of Boilermakers.”

Brittany Steff loves cool science. A creative communicator who’s passionate about innovative, informative and inspiring storytelling, she’s amassed an impressive career translating and interpreting scientific discoveries for a general audience. “I really enjoy weeding through the scientific jargon to find the story.” After graduating from Purdue with a degree in biology, she earned a certificate of science writing from the University of California–Santa Cruz and spent nearly a decade writing for Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. As a science writer, she speaks with researchers across the University making compelling advancements in health, planetary exploration, cancer research and drug discovery. “My goal is for readers to be as excited about the science as the researchers themselves.”

When she was a student in the Lamb School of Communication, Kate Young envisioned a career in broadcasting. Following graduation, she spent a few years as a digital news reporter/producer, then moved on to a PR/communications agency, leading clients like the Porsche Club of America racing series, before she fell in love with podcasting. “It’s one of the few communication mediums where you don’t have your eyes on a screen. Young listens to podcasts whenever she can – while running, cooking or even folding laundry. As writer, producer and host of “This is Purdue,” the University’s official podcast, Young speaks with inspiring Boilermakers about their small steps and giant leaps. “Our podcast guests share their innovations and their aspirations. In every episode, I aim to craft a script that conveys the essence of Purdue.”

This is only the beginning

These 13 join an already impressive roster of marketers and communicators who remain laser-focused on their responsibility to promote and protect the Purdue brand by strategically communicating the brand essence across platforms.

“We set a high bar,” Pratt says. “Our leadership works to empower the team to deliver excellence, but we do that with care and with respect. We’re building an intentional culture here. We want to provide high-level, high-impact work that drives results, but we’re going to have a good time doing it.

“Building this team and gaining momentum with everything we do, it’s just been surreal. It’s energizing to see the work our team is putting out. It’s rewarding that our efforts have been recognized on a national scale. I’m excited about what’s next.”