Internal communications undergoing reform

When allegations of a rape by members of the Duke men's lacrosse team surfaced in late March, the Office of News and Communications kicked into high gear.

In order to effectively communicate with Durham residents, communications officials went straight to the big guns.

Although John Burness, senior vice president for public and government relations, became Duke's public face in the national media, it was Geoffrey Mock, manager of internal communication, and his staff who were working overtime to make sure the University's message was heard locally.

"Internal communication was extremely important on this issue," Mock said. "We've found that residents find out a lot about Duke from their neighbors who work at Duke-it seems like an external issue, but it really isn't. Duke employees are our ambassadors."

The lacrosse incident has come just as the University's internal communications structure is undergoing a major redesign. The changes are the fruits of a report issued in June 2004 by the Duke University Committee on Internal Communications, requested by President Richard Brodhead and sponsored by Burness.

"We've always done a more consistent and mindful job with external communication, but we haven't done so much with internal," said Paul Grantham, director of human resources communications and the monthly newsletter Working@Duke.

In February of this year, the communication office eliminated the long-running Duke Dialogue leaflet by introducing This Month at Duke and the Duke Today website. Working@Duke debuted in March.

All three publications are targeted at both faculty and staff at the University. Mock said the motivation behind the effort was twofold.

"It's important to help build a University community," Mock said. "It's also important just so people can do their jobs. If people can't get the information they need, they spend all kinds of time wading through materials."

The push also consolidated news sources, shifting from the more episodic, segmented approach of the past to a broader, more centralized front.

David Jarmul, associate vice president of news and communication, said the publications are a good medium through which to improve Duke-Durham relations and inform people about events-arts happenings, for example-occurring on campus.

"One thing after another would come up-a new policy, a crime on campus, a good thing on campus-and the question kept coming up: How do we communicate that?" Jarmul said.

Still, Jarmul said he was nervous about eliminating Dialogue, a mainstay of internal communication for two decades.

"I worked with Dialogue for 20 years and I was really proud of it," Mock said. "But I think we're getting impact from This Month at Duke and Duke Today in a way we never did with Dialogue."

Jarmul said one of the problems with Dialogue was that it was distributed on racks scattered around campus. In focus group testing, faculty and staff repeatedly said the publication was useful and attractive but said they were unlikely to take the trouble to seek it out.

Working@Duke is mailed to all University employees and as an online resource Duke Today is also more accessible than previous publication.

"[The transition] went more smoothly than I might have thought," Jarmul said. "People want to be featured on that lead story on Duke Today, which I think is a good sign."

He said the efforts of internal communication have reached a stopping point, and that the restructuring is simply the first stage in a progression.

All those involved meet with Burness each month, and the publications will be assessed quarterly by a random sample survey.

"More important than any office is getting people to look outside their silos and see the campus more holistically," Jarmul said. "I'm sure we haven't completely solved the problem, but we've gone a long way."


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