Chuck Gose: Kristen, welcome to Chuck Chats! And you’re our first sports-themed one so it should be a slam dunk. ;)
Kristen Basu: Whomp whomp!
Chuck: So a lot of people know the NCAA. Brand recognition is off the charts.
But what’s one thing they don’t know?
Kristen: Really the higher ed quotient, and the large number of staff members with Ed.D. or Ph.D. behind their names.
One-third of our employees were student-athletes, and we have amazing staff members like our principal research scientist, who was an All-American runner at Dartmouth, and our chief medical officer who is a nationally-respected neurologist and former Notre Dame tennis student-athlete.
Like them, more than half of our staff members hold an advanced degree.
Chuck: Here’s what I just learned: You have a lot of really smart people working at the NCAA.
But let’s start digging into your role at the NCAA. You have a very long title so let’s start working through it. You are the Associate Director of Organizational Communication and Outreach. Whew.
"Data is so important to internal comms these days that you have to be good at both [math and writing]."
Kristen: Believe it or not, that’s far from the longest title at the office! We have two areas in our communications department—strategic communications and external affairs.
The external affairs group is comprised of digital communications (web/video/social) and public and media relations. The strategic communications side encompasses membership communications (we have 1,100 member schools), strategic initiatives like our NCAA Convention and NCAA Woman of the Year, as well as overall brand management, and our After the Game program for former student-athletes.
Strategic communications also includes our outreach efforts as well as internal communications and engagement. We’re lucky to have some very talented folks on staff here!
Chuck: You really held on to that internal comms part to the very end just for me, didn’t you…..
Kristen: Saving the best for last!
Chuck: YES! So how many people work for the NCAA?
Kristen: Roughly 520 here at the national office in Indianapolis and we also have a small office in DC.
Chuck: And being someone who travels a lot, I often see a lot of NCAA employees at the airport. How many are routinely on the go?
Kristen: As you’ve seen, quite a few! That’s why we have to catch them on the go. We are a rare shop that sends out a daily e-newsletter with new content each day to keep them informed and engaged.
"Every comms plan that I write has a measurement component."
Chuck: Who pulls this daily newsletter together?
Kristen: Why, that would be me!
It really helps to have a journalism background, especially during the dog days of summer. But it’s a good mix of features and news, so our open rates are good.
Chuck: How do you decide what makes the cut and what doesn’t?
Kristen: It’s really using editorial judgement on what employees need to know, do, or understand, or a human interest piece that spotlights our amazing employees and our unique culture.
Chuck: You said you get good open rates. Mind sharing what they are?
Kristen: Sure! Let me do some math in my head - dangerous for a comms person! More than 400 staff members open it each day.
Chuck: Want to hear something really annoying that I like sharing with people?
Kristen: Sure! Were you a math major?
Chuck: There’s no such thing as being bad at math. It’s scientifically proven!
And no, I wasn’t a math major, but I should have been with how much I like it.
Kristen: I’m working on a Ph.D. myself, so I’ve had to really work at the quantitative piece but I’ve improved a lot. Data is so important to internal comms these days that you have to be good at both.
Chuck: Agreed times 1000 percent. So other than looking at email open rates, how does the NCAA measure IC success?
Kristen: Every comms plan I write has a measurement component.
We’ve also done an internal comms survey every 18-24 months along with focus groups that helps us keep the pulse of the organization. I also manage our LinkedIn presence, so anytime we can use the same piece of content on our internal and external platforms is counted as a win. We do the usual measurement, but like most places can be better about sharing and establishing the value of internal comms.
"Anytime we can use the same piece of content on our internal and external platforms is counted as a win."
Chuck: I know for some communicators, plans are a struggle. Do you have any helpful tips to make the process a bit better?
Kristen: Honestly, it’s about meeting with our internal partners, whether that’s HR, or executives, or inclusion, and getting a feel for what they are trying to accomplish. Then figuring out the best tools to use to get those results and make sure the message is clear or the right emotion can be elicited by the content.
A lot of it can be plug and play once you’ve established a good plan, but you have to remain flexible. I like the internal consulting part of the gig.
Chuck: Other than the daily e-newsletter, what are some of the IC tools the organization uses?
Kristen: We have an intranet that is built on SharePoint 2013 that we are in the process of migrating to SharePoint Online.
We have eight digital signage units through the two buildings.
We have an email for breaking information that is called a “Fast Break.” Ha, ha.
And we also do quarterly all-staff meetings.
Incorporating more video to what we currently do is a major goal for 2018-19.
"Figure out the best tools to use to get results and make sure the message is clear."
Chuck: Fast Break. . . well done.
In addition to creating more video inside the organization, what are some of the other goals you’d like to accomplish this year?
Kristen: I always play around with our internal content strategy, so over the past eight months or so we’ve been trying to find a way to help educate staff on what exactly we do.
It sounds silly for an organization our size, but we have a very diverse mission.
From some of our regulatory groups like academic, membership affairs, and enforcement to the NCAA Eligibility Center, there’s a lot of nuances that can be difficult to understand, even for staff. So by bringing in the human element, you can do that without people even noticing.
We have some amazing stories here, and people are very passionate about what they do. For example, one woman who works in our NCAA Eligibility Center has two kids who were NCAA Division I student-athletes, so it means a lot to her to help others achieve that status.
I think we also need to spotlight our senior leaders more, which we’ve been doing with some amazing first-person or feature stories. We’ve had a fair amount of change, so that’s always a good opportunity for growth. Sorry to ramble!
Chuck: Rambling is good because now I think is a great time to talk about your former life as a journalist with the Indianapolis Star. What made you want to leave that world for the world of the NCAA?
Kristen: I actually wasn’t a journalism major. I was straight comms.
When I came to the NCAA in 2010, I was working on the web side. Then I left for 15 months to work for the government in public affairs and got a taste of internal comms due to working on sequestration communications.
I was hooked.
When an opportunity to return to the NCAA in an internal comms role became available, I jumped at the chance to come back. I’ve been in this role for five years now and really enjoy it.
Chuck: It’s a bit of a trend, seeing former journalists excelling especially in internal comms. I think I know why. But why do you think this is?
Kristen: One thing I love about internal comms is the storytelling aspect, but also journalists excel because in internal comms you do need to write in inverted pyramid style to get your point across.
It really is the Who, What, When, Where and Why the Heck Should I Care?
And the skills are really transferable.
Chuck: There’s telling stories and then knowing how to tell a story so that people will want to read it / hear it / watch it. That’s the skill I think journalists are bringing to internal comms. You and your former colleagues are definitely raising the bar when it comes to internal storytelling.
I had a boss once who, when offering a critique said, “You write too much like a journalist.” Not knowing how to respond, I just said, “Thanks.” I took it as a compliment.
Kristen: As you should! I think good writing is good writing.
Chuck: Is employee advocacy a focus of the NCAA?
We’re not just telling stories. We are building advocates.
It’s all part of a strong employment brand. But first you have to build it. We are really in a good place right now, but there’s always more to do.
"We’re not just telling stories. We are building advocates."
Chuck: You said you manage the organization’s LinkedIn presence. How do you encourage employees to share externally with their own networks?
Kristen: It’s always a delicate balance with employee privacy.
Some people just don’t like to share internally or externally because it’s not their nature or it feels too much like bragging. But these days you really have to build and maintain a personal brand. I think most people understand that. So obviously permission is gained before posting anything in the first place, then I usually shoot a note to the point person that the post is up and ready to be liked/shared if they choose.
No doubt it means more when an employee is sharing it vs. the company account. We have a few folks who are prolific sharers on pretty much anything that is posted, which is good!
Chuck: I’ve completely made these numbers up but they work for telling a story, which data should always do.
But anyways, I feel that 20% of our employees will blindly share everything, 20% will share nothing but then there’s the 60% in the middle who are consciously thinking about what they want or don’t want to share. And it’s cracking that 60% that will achieve.
Have you uncovered any surprising influencers?
Kristen: Our CIO Judd Williams is very big on LinkedIn. (He’s another interesting story. He used to work for the FBI!)
Computerworld just named the NCAA to its 100 Best Places to Work in IT list for the second consecutive year, jumping from No. 21 to No. 7 in small organizations. I think when leadership is engaged, other employees will follow.
Chuck: There is no doubt there. Especially when you see leaders at the highest level in your organization actively participating.
Let’s wrap this up the way we do every Chuck Chat. Share your thoughts or ideas about internal communications via only emojis.
Kristen: 👩🎤 👨🎤👂
I think it’s about giving employees a voice and also listening to them!
Chuck: Best emojis yet. Thanks for being a guest on Chuck Chats.
Kristen: Thank you so much for having me!