HBCU Storytellers – Bringing Institutional History to Life

For North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University (NCA&T), the headlines of 2017 broke the camel’s back.

NCA&T is a historically black institution in Greensboro, North Carolina. On October 8, 2017, John Cook was murdered in an apartment complex on the west side of town. Cook had attended the NCA&T three years prior, and police shared that detail with local reporters.Joy Cook, left, associate vice chancellor for strategic communications and director of communications at Fayetteville State University, at work on campus.

Although Cook’s murder had nothing to do with NCA&T, the news linked the incident to NCA&T’s comeback, which coincidentally happened at the same time. Todd Simmons, associate vice chancellor for academic relations at NCA&T, said alumni were so angry he thought they were going to “go on fire”.

So he and his team got to work. Dr. Nicole Pride, former chief of staff of the NCA&T, write an editorial addressing the negative narratives built around NCA&T.

“For a good two weeks, this op-ed was the #1 most-read opinion piece on the Greensboro News and recording website because it has touched such a nerve with people who have borne the brunt of this injustice for so many years,” Simmons said. “Now when something happens, the media stops and thinks and wonders, ‘Does this really have anything to do with NCA&T?'”

By “clarifying the home media environment,” Simmons said, NCA&T was finally able to engage in news about success stories and academic research.

Changing an HBCU’s relationship with the media is just one aspect of the work done by Simmons and other brand leaders. This work would be facilitated with resources that many HBCUs do not have, given that many HBCUs have long been underfunded. However, in the past two years there has been a resurgence of interest in the work of HBCUs given the national focus on racial justice following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other associates. to the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on black people. communities.

HBCU Communications Services hopes to attract philanthropists like MacKenzie Scott, who gave $560 million to 23 HBCUs in 2020 and 2021, including a $45 million gift to NCA&T. Experts say telling the story of an HBCU takes intentional effort, high-level support, and a dedicated, ambitious vision.

Frank Tramble is vice president and director of communications at Howard University, an HBCU in DC that received $40 million from Scott in 2020. Tramble previously worked in the communications departments of two large, predominantly white institutions (PWI ), Georgetown University and Michigan State University, and he knew he would have a lot of construction to do when he got to Howard.

“My team at Georgetown University was two to three times larger than Howard’s entire team,” Tramble said. “Georgetown has 80-90 communicators – I entered the position [at Howard] with 14 communicators across hospital, university and athletics.

Frank Tramble, vice president and director of communications at Howard University.Frank Tramble, vice president and director of communications at Howard University.Tramble gets down to rehabilitation work Howard Magazine, adding digital editions and updating its webpage. He created Excavation, an information site focused on the successes of Howard students. Tramble wanted the sites to be an “experience” for viewers, “telling our story through our own lens, rather than letting everyone else tell our story,” he said.

Since its renovation, visits to the website have tripled. In 2021, Howard Magazine has won three Eddie and Ozzie Awards, which recognize excellence in the publishing industry. Tramble is set to hire Howard’s first videographer, which will expand storytelling methods.

“Howard is full of stories waiting to be told,” said Tramble. “These stories aren’t about wellness, it’s about understanding the perseverance and character it takes to overcome all the obstacles in the world and then find success, how Howard helps that person through that process. “

Social media is indeed a viable marketing tool. Joy Cook, associate vice chancellor for strategic communications and director of communications at Fayetteville State University (FSU), a HBCUs in Fayetteville, North Carolina, hired a social media manager and created a strategic plan for social media marketing best practices. According to Cook’s count, the total reach of all FSU social media handles is 364 million individuals per month.

“We joined TikTok, we got verified on Facebook. We increased our engagement on Twitter and live-tweeted different things happening on campus,” Cook said. “On Instagram, our social media manager takes a proactive approach and engages with reels, stories, anything our students or prospective students or alumni might see.”

Cook, Tramble and Simmons all agree that they are able to shape the narratives and perceptions of their school through the support of their institutional leaders.

“Chancellor [Darrell T. Allison] has incredible vision and is a thought leader who believes in innovation and bringing things into the 21st century,” said Cook, adding that Allison “understands that expanding our footprint through the communications strategy , marketing and social media, expands the opportunities for people to experience the gem that is FSU – and it really is.

Liann Herder can be contacted at [email protected]

Comments are closed.