May 262017

Not only does he have two last names, but this brilliant and inspiring speaker has two titles and is a professor in two departments! Jeff MacKie-Mason is UC Berkeley’s University Librarian and Chief Digital Scholarship Officer, as well as a Professor of the School of Information and Professor of Economics. He came to Berkeley in 2015 from the University of Michigan where he was recognized with the University’s Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award. He has been a pioneering scholar in the economics of the Internet, online behavior, and digital information and been published more than 85 times. In addition to his exceptional academic achievements MacKie-Mason is passionate about the performing arts, serves on the board of Cal Performances, and was an active board member of the University Musical Society at University of Michigan (Cal Performances’ most similar peer organization nationwide.)

In his BC2 talk – Information pollution and how to fight it – Jeff will speak to us campus communicators about why it’s now so challenging to sift through the glut of online information, factual or otherwise, and also provide informed context about what we all need to do in order to make sure our stories stand out as credible amidst all of the noise. Watch him participate in a panel discussion about fake news hosted earlier this year by UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, and read the accompanying Berkeley Library News article highlighting his participation. In the article MacKie-Mason describes one of our current day challenges, “The content platform providers now want to lower the barriers for people to bring content to them. They want to make it as easy as possible for people to publish,” said MacKie-Mason. “At the same time, you want to keep out the manipulations, the spam, the disinformation. But telling the difference is very hard. It’s very costly.”

Read the full description of his BC2 talk on the conference agenda page. We look forward to welcoming Jeff MacKie-Mason to the BC2 podium for the third session beginning shortly after 11am on Tuesday, June 13. In addition, he has generously promised to stick around for the lunchtime networking hour from 12:30-1:30pm!

Mar 112014
Brand Training

Claire, Ram and Hulda – singing from the brand prayerbook.

If you don’t exercise it, you lose it. This month, we are taking the next step in helping communicators across campus exercise their brand muscle. We are conducting our first ever full-day brand workshop. Unlike other workshops in the past, this one has been developed into a daylong course with alternate sessions of theory and hands-on application. All thanks to Kathleen Valerio (she runs CalPact), Diane Presler (our engaging trainer from Academy X), Hulda Nelson and Laurie Frasier (our kicka** brand design team) and yours truly. With exciting case studies and projects like the launch of a new School, we expect participants to leave at the end of the day with their brand muscle totally exercised.  Who needs endorphins when you have brandorphins!

The first two workshops are planned for March 18 and May 20.  Register at the UC Learning Center on (Search for “Berkeley Brand Design Guidelines”)

May 312013

You’ve heard it said hundreds of times; “a picture is worth a 1000 words.”  This is no surprise as more than 50% of our brains are devoted to visual process, taking in our surroundings real time, and responding to visual stimuli.  Most of us find watching a movie or looking at photographs to be cognitive candy compared to reading a book or a long report.  Knowing what our audiences prefer, why do we spend so much time finely crafting written copy and long prose, and so little time developing visual messages?

It is time to step away from your keyboard, let go of that mouse, and get back to basics with a pen and a piece of paper, and start sketching…



“I can’t draw,” I hear you say, and neither can I.  However, we can all draw lines, arrows, rectangles, circles, and stick figure people.  These are the only skills you need to operate a pen and work out some ideas for your next communication piece.  Start your new project with a sketch. You’ll be surprised how using both hemispheres of your brain will invigorate your thinking. Use sketching to develop visual components for your storytelling. Here are some examples:

sketch 2 - types of sketches


So here’s my prescription for you as you start a new communications project:



  1. Think visually – what images come to mind, how can you explain things more simply with a picture, what message do you want your audience members to read and retain?
  2. Start with a sketch – brainstorm, play with ideas, pick a sketch type that works well for your project
  3. Communicate pictorially – use your favorite computer tools to create professional images of your sketches to tell your story
  4. Increase cognition and retention – it is easier for our brains to read, and retain information that is provided visually.  Use images to be more memorable and as a way to convey complex ideas.

Have fun! Less is more when you sketch.

May 012013
Brand Training Workshop

Claire Holmes, Ram Kapoor, Hulda Nelson from the Office of Communications & Public Affairs leading 25 brand training workshops, each one with inspired participants!

A year ago, we began to talk about creating a communications platform for UC Berkeley that would be all encompassing, authentic, relevant, forward thinking, and inspirational.

We talked with hundreds of people across the campus to get their thougths and ideas.  Slightly overwhelmed but with a firm resolve, we preserved and steadily worked to find a way through the myriad of opinions and ideas to uncover a simple concept that encapsulated the essence of Berkeley.

At times it seemed elusive, impossible, overwhelming, and unattainable.  Yet the idea that we could find a way to align our communications in a creative and inspiring way kept calling us.  The challenge of taking something as complex as UC Berkeley and orienting a messaging strategy and platform to something simple was the challenge of our careers.

And then, with the help of a creative team of people who were just as persistent as we were, we thought we found it.  Still, you don’t know if something really works until it rolls out and the community responds….

We have heard from at least 140 of the participants of our brand workshops and come June 13, we hope to hear from the rest of you too. What’s working? What’s not? Where do you feel supported? Let down? No need to spare our feelings. We’ve got titanium-coated skin in all the brand colors. Feel free to add your comments to this post.

“Positioning and platform, you guys nailed it!”

“I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants. I’ve often thought I need tools, or classes, or a degree in journalism – or something. This workshop gave me a lot of the tools that I know I’ve needed. Thanks!”

“A toolkit – a strategic direction to increase synergy across the campus.”

“ is wealth of resources!”

“I may not embrace every element, but I’m excited to get started!”

“The group exercises with the Creative Brief were useful.”

“I liked the interactive and experiential aspects of the session.”

“The story of the process – from perception study to today.”

“As you move forward, possibly have more examples of integration with other departments.”

“Applicable, small session, individual attention”

“Provided practical tools and lots of background for usage in my organization based on strong ideas”

“Liked the visual communication examples of how to apply the guidelines.”

“Practical and useful. Informative. Knowledgeable speakers.”

“Great presentation – variety (video, PowerPoint, exercises)”

“Liked the Q&A, and just talking through ideas.”

“I think that it will be helpful in the future to have more examples open for critique; and to hear about the challenges overcome by departments as they transition.”

“Public Affairs & the University have given me so many resources to use immediately and they are so well thought out. The planning was incredible – so impressive! Thank you! The book and websites are so exciting!”

“I was inspired by the possibilities of refocusing our messaging.”

“Relatively low key. No hard sell or big hype.”

“Concrete tools like the gallery, colors, font family.”

“Best training presentation I have attended in my five years at Cal. Thanks!”

“Nice to have a small group – also nice to know we have a resource in Public Affairs.”

“Liked the interactive way of rolling out the guidelines (as opposed to just sending out the guidelines.)”

“Very welcoming and earnest in desire to help.”

“The platform made sense to me. I understand better how to use reach further.”

“Engagement, exercises, optimistic!”

“I’ve seen this many times but it was still worth it!”

“Applicable to all departments on campus, including those that are non-academic.”

“Compelling, clear, inspiring.”

“Interactive exercises at the end, videos, Cal Day website and other examples of the brand in action.”

“More workshops! How about once a month? Sharing designs, how-to’s for photo shoots and short videos.”

Bouquets? Brickbats? Feel free to comment and continue the conversation.  

Aug 062012

I revisited my Midwestern roots last month (ah, flyover country) while attending the HigherEds 2010 Huddle at the University of Michigan, and in the process picked up a lot of ideas and inspiration from folks who face the same daily challenges we do.

HigherEds is a loosely affiliated group of North American university communicators who keep in touch with each other throughout the year on an email listserv, and get together each summer for a Huddle, a not-really-a-conference where we spend two days giving and taking in presentations, sharing ideas, asking questions and networking. The past three summers, Huddles were held in Toronto, Rutgers (N.J.) and Michigan. (If you notice a geographic trend here, you’re not alone, which is why there’s chatter on the listserv about a West Coast Huddle in 2013.) While originally focused on internal communications strategy and practice, the group has seen that audience boundary dissolve as the web and other new technologies spread our communications farther and wider.

This year’s Huddle covered a wide variety of topics, from social media and press releases to humanities news and DIY video. Copies of the presentations for many of these topics are available on the group’s website ( But I thought I’d call out a few of the lessons learned that struck me as particularly helpful in a Berkeley context.

 Social Media: Michigan has a vigorous social media operation led by a full-time director recruited from the corporate world, Jordan Miller. She talked about the @UMichStudents account on Twitter, in which a different student each week tweets about his/her activities, thoughts and interests. Jordan vetted the students, all volunteers, by looking at their existing social media presences to get an idea of their style and appropriateness. One of her goals was to pick a broad cross-section of tweeters to represent UMich’s diversity: a rah-rah cheerleader one week, a geek the next, a student politician the third, etc. She says the feed has been immensely popular, and hasn’t caused any blowback despite having the students post without any kind of institutional review or editing. (She acknowledges that the idea “may well be a time bomb,” but the return so far has been great.) Jordan and others also noted that Twitter seems to attract a more thinking, less “ditto that” audience than Facebook, making it a better place to promote more intellectual or important stories.

As for monitoring comments and posts, Jordan said that on the rare occasions she has felt the need to remove something, she has always added a note explaining her actions. And she said the Facebook and Twitter communities themselves have done a fine job of policing the run-of-the-mill “UM sucks!” posts.

At Wisconsin, where there are nearly 500 social media accounts spread around campus, social media and internal communications manager John Lucas says they try to infuse the “inspired goofiness” that is UW’s personality into social media posts, differentiating those channels from the more stodgy, institutional character of the university’s traditional communications outlets. Among other things, that has meant polls and contests to collect reader photos into a Flickr stream, or using Storify to gather faculty tweets in the immediate aftermath of a major news event. Another notable effort was UWRightNow, highlighting 24 hours in the life of the campus with more than 1,000 photos, tweets, stories, blog posts and other items shared in real time from around the globe. As for less-successful ventures, John says, “It’s OK to fail — the web moves on.”

 Blogs: Two intriguing efforts were LabLog, from Michigan’s College of Engineering, and Virginia’s UVaToday News Blog. LabLog focuses not on the end product of research (those dense and daunting peer-reviewed papers) nor on the awards won by researchers, but rather on the process of research, highlighting unusual methods, novel research tools, exotic locations, or serendipitous discoveries. It offers a good chance for storytelling rather than dry recitation of facts, and thus makes for unusually interesting reading, as well as a good media-pitching tool. The UVa News Blog also focuses on the lighter side of campus news, providing a home for odd, offbeat or quirky stories, YouTube embeds, nonvarsity sports, rankings, and a way to trumpet great outside media coverage.

Video: Teams from Michigan’s communications office and engineering school conducted a clinic on how to create great video with limited resources. They even shot, edited and posted a video of Huddle participants during the morning presentations. Among their tips:

  • When filming, get in close and get comfortable with your subject
  • Be authentic, not scripted
  • Look for surprises, but sprinkle them throughout the video story
  • Gather lots of ambient sound, and use it throughout the piece
  • Look for emotions and conflict; that’s what will hook viewers
  • Conduct interviews in the field, not the office
  • Avoid inverted pyramid style in videos. Or as Jean-Luc Godard puts it, “A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end … but not necessarily in that order.”

They recommend asking video subjects to summarize their story in one sentence, and then using that condensed summary as a guide to shooting and editing down the final video.

Analytics: Demographics for your social media followers and interactions (age, gender) can help guide you to the best stories for promoting in those channels. On the web, analytics — showing who your audience is, and what they’re interested in — can help you choose what to cover, and then support that decision among higher-ups. They can also give you ideas about when best to post items (e.g. Rutgers found that student videos received the most traffic when posted on Thursdays and Fridays).

Arts reporting: Michigan has a separate portal ( to spotlight stories from the arts and humanities, and an editor whose primary focus is on finding, writing and linking to such stories. They use video whenever possible to bring the stories to life, even short, YouTube-quality video. And they meet monthly with communications folk from the relevant departments and schools to sort through potential story ideas.

Press releases: Rutgers, which launched a NewsCenter-style news site a couple of years ago, has moved away from writing traditional press releases, yet has found that their stories still get carried by traditional media (as links, rewrites, even wholesale verbatim pickups). Now they primarily write directly for the end reader, and pitch stories to the media via emails that include a summary of the story, a link to the online version at Rutgers Today, and sometimes a bulleted list of highlights or key facts to pique a reporter’s interest.

Get a life: A presentation on how to cover the news without burning yourself out included the following recommendations:

  • Telecommute or use flexible scheduling (e.g. four 10-hour days)
  • Use cloud-based systems like Google Docs instead of server-based storage that limits your physical location
  • Hire student interns and work-study staff
  • Take a laptop and head out onto campus to work for a few hours
  • Schedule publication times to match your audience traffic patterns. In particular, if you have a CMS, use it to publish stories around 7 a.m. so visitors have something fresh to read after they fire up their computers.