Going for Gold: An Interview with a 2012 Circle of Excellence Winner

Jen Doak (@jpdoak) is the communications specialist at CASE.

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Screen shot of buffalo.edu

The University at Buffalo’s straightforward, intuitive website won a gold Circle of Excellence award in 2012. But have you ever wondered how an institution decides to nominate a website, viewbook or magazine for an award? Or what winning an award can mean for a department?

Joe Brennan, the university’s associate vice president for university communications, and Jeffrey Smith, assistant vice president for marketing, web and creative communications, were gracious enough to answer a few questions about their award-winning website.

How has winning a gold Circle of Excellence award affected your department? Has it had a ripple effect on your institution as well?

Winning has been enormously helpful in validating the deliberative work that was done throughout the redesign process. Through the research conducted and campus-wide engagement in the redesign project, we were able to devise a best-practice-driven process that we’re using for our Digital Communications Transformation Initiative, the goal of which is to move all departmental websites to one content management system. We’re collaborating with administrative and academic teams across campus, involving them in strategic business planning, content evaluation and thoughtful remediation.

The project has created unprecedented cooperation and content sharing and has helped strengthen the UB brand online through visual and messaging consistency.

Why did you decide to nominate your new website for an award?

We felt that our website redesign used content creation strategies that aren’t routinely leveraged in higher education spheres, particularly in using mental models to drive content choices. This was the backbone of our site redesign effort and ensured alignment with our audience needs, user expectations and the university’s business goals.

We’re very choosy about which awards competitions we enter. We only enter competitions that are national in scope and recognize results—and aren’t just beauty contests. The Circle of Excellence awards obviously meet those criteria.

The submission process was painless. It really helped that we had specific data we could use to demonstrate the impact of this project.

How has the community reacted to Buffalo.edu? Have you seen increased interaction on your site in the year since its redesign?

We’ve received a tremendously positive response from the UB community. The visual appeal and sophistication of the new site has stimulated interest across campus and many units have been very eager to work with us to help to transform their online presences.

Since the site redesign, visitors spend significantly more time on our top-level pages. We’ve also noticed that more site visitors view
pages that promote campus visits. We held a party to recognize the staff who worked on this project. The president came and spoke, and colleagues from dozens of departments dropped by to celebrate this honor with us.

Are there any future website or social media developments in the works for your team?

Loads. We’re working to mobile-optimize the full body of our site content, refining Web apps as well as implementing truly responsive design. We’re also working to more strategically integrate our social media activities into the rest of our communications channels.

Are you interested in nominating your website, online magazine or social media campaign for a Circle of Excellence award? There’s still time: The deadline for submissions is March 15.

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