Stories First: Inside UCLA’s Revamped Marcomm Team

Mary Osako explains UCLA’s storytelling-based approach to marketing, and why they hired a Chief Content Officer and a Chief Brand Officer.

By: Higher Voltage
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Mary Osako believes in the power of stories. When she joined UCLA in 2019 as the inaugural vice chancellor for strategic communications, she came with the vision of building a marcomm team focused on storytelling. To enable that, she broke down the silo between the marketing and communications team with the simple goal of enabling positive collaboration.

“That was it,” she tells host Kevin Tyler on the latest Higher Voltage. That’s all I thought we needed to do, because the talent is there, the great ideas are there, the innovative inventiveness of ways that we can tell these stories – it was all there.”

More recently, she hired two new roles that had never before existed at UCLA (and most other schools): Chief Brand Officer, and Chief Officer of the UCLA Content Studio. It’s all about telling stories in bold new ways, and making people – not the institution – the center of that storytelling. 

On this week’s podcast, the former chief communications officer at Activision Blizzard and head of global corporate communications at Amazon and a UCLA alum herself, she explains this vision and journey, including how she got organizational buy-in, the bumps along the way, and how her team strives for authenticity in even the toughest communications.

  • An overview of the strategic communications vision at UCLA (2:01)
  • How the shifting of storytelling approaches inspired structural changes (6:06)
  • The addition of two new roles: a Chief Brand Officer and a Chief Officer of the UCLA Content Studio, within the strategic communications team (9:17)
  • The decision behind making the two new roles chief-level positions (15:17) 
  • How she sold her ideas for the structural changes and additional roles to leadership (19:37)
  • What these two roles mean for the future of institution communications at UCLA (27:34)
  • The qualifications they were looking for when finding proper candidates (29:18)
  • If and how the entertainment industry inspired these roles (32:53)
  • What role these two new positions will play in UCLA’s Return to Campus initiative (34:51)
  • How she ensures the authenticity of UCLA is present within their communications approach (36:47)

Read the full transcript here:

Kevin Tyler:
Hello, and welcome to Higher Voltage, a podcast about higher education that explores what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to change in higher ed marketing and administration. I’m your host, Kevin Tyler, Director of Communications at the UCLA School of Nursing, and today I’m talking to Mary Osako, Vice Chancellor of Strategic Communications at UCLA. Before coming to UCLA, she served as the Chief Communications Officer of Activision Blizzard, Head of Global Corporate Communications at Amazon, and Vice President of Corporate, International and Public Policy Communications at Yahoo!. Let’s get started.

Kevin Tyler:
Listen, I am super excited to be here with Mary Osako, Vice Chancellor of Strategic Communications at the one and only UCLA. Mary, thank you for being here. I appreciate you making the time for this chat. I’m excited to talk to you about the new structure of strategic communications at UCLA, but before we dig super deep into that, can you please introduce yourself?

Mary Osako:
Kevin, you are one of my most favorite people. Thank you for having me on this podcast, truly. I am Mary Osako. I am the inaugural Vice Chancellor of Strategic Communications for UCLA, and a little bit about that is I have the pleasure of working with the best marketing and communications leaders on the planet Earth. So it is my pleasure to be on here. And I am an alumna of this great university, so I’ve got, man, just personal love for this place and everything that it intends and wants to do, so thank you.

Kevin Tyler:
Thank you. I got here about a year ago and immediately was introduced to your kind of vision for strategic communications, which I think had been in the works for a while before I got here. And one of the tenants of the strategy for strategic communications is telling stories in bold new ways, and I’m curious about how you’re introducing that to the UCLA community and into the strat-com department and what that means to you.

Mary Osako:
Bold new ways in storytelling to me really starts off with stories being the organizing force of any organization. And I know we’re going to talk a little bit about how we’re structured in strategic communications and this is really the focal point of it for me, which is there are so many stories to tell about UCLA and my thought there was let’s focus in on what those main storytellers are and work out from there. And what I mean when I say that is I think of marketing and communications in a very multisensory way. I’ve always felt like … I don’t know. I’ve always felt like that was part of storytelling.

Mary Osako:
You and I, although listeners can’t see this on podcasts, we’re smiling at one another, you’re nodding, I’m nodding and writing notes because everything you say is nuggets of gold for me, but that’s the visual part of storytelling and in these days, it’s what is that story we’re trying to tell and how can we extend it with audio and a Spotify playlist that goes with that? What is the tactile component of that story? And if we’re doing a story on something around what everyone is struggling with right now, which is emotional wellness, how can we translate that so that we can feel what that means, we can feel and see and touch what that story might mean to us in our everyday lives to when I see it, what does that look like in terms of the movable type of colors, the boldness, the somberness, the patina component of it.

Mary Osako:
And I think for a lot of institutions out there, but for UCLA we would maybe a few years ago really focus on the written word and that’s extraordinary because we’ve seen through, I don’t know, just the eras of time in man’s history, the written word. That is passed down. So there’s no question as to why we would focus on that. But if we expand out a little bit, is it the verbal storytelling from generation to generation where we learn one another’s stories and histories? Is it the graphics, hieroglyphics on the wall that get passed down to us? So we’re just extending it out a little bit more. And that’s what I mean when I say let’s tell stories in bold new ways, because with technology today and the different platforms, this podcast being just one example of that, there’s so many ways to reach all of our intended audiences. And my only job is really to try and grease the skids for the team to really go after it.

Kevin Tyler:
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Kevin Tyler:
This is a really great conversation to me because it positions communications in a much different space, especially in higher ed than I think it feels like it has been placed or positioned before. And when it comes to storytelling in higher ed, it feels to me that the stories always center the institution rather than the people that the story is about. So I think that this approach to storytelling at UCLA is an exciting one in that you are starting to dial up and elevate the stories of individuals, the Bruins who are doing the research and changing the world and fostering a better future. Is that how you thought about it when you started thinking about the restructure or what started this kind of thought?

Mary Osako:
Oh gosh. Yes and yes. The stories of the Bruin community to me are inspiring and unto themselves, they put little dents in the universe. So what can we do to celebrate that, to elevate it, to shine a light on it? And especially, I will say the under told stories of our people and of our community. And I think a lot of times when we focus on just a particular set of individuals and this goes for any organization or brand out there I think, what gets lost is, “All right, but what’s that mean. So why? What about it? What’s the why behind it?” And I think that’s what kicked off the thinking behind is there a way that we can organize ourselves to really focus on the why? That was really the jumping off point to rethinking how we might structure ourselves.

Mary Osako:
UCLA was structured when I first joined in a really traditional manner. And I think that’s great, the marketing team was very siloed from the communications team. And I’m not saying that’s the way it is in higher ed, it was just the case for UCLA for all sorts of reasons. And what we did as a component of that restructuring is what is the best way that we can organize so that we can do just one thing, one simple goal, collaborate. That was it. That’s all I thought we needed to do because the talent is there, the great ideas are there, the innovative inventiveness of ways that we can tell these stories, it all there. So my job as I saw it and as I see it today, isn’t, “Oh I need to go in and I need to go and do this or teach that.” It is very much to the contrary of these people are the best of the best. My biggest value add is what can I do structurally so that the collaboration of these great minds can happen easily and positively where people just let loose their energy and their great thinking. And I think the new org and the new structure does exactly that.

Kevin Tyler:
Awesome. That’s a perfect seg. Perfect. So you have these new positions, tell us what the new positions are and how you got to this new structure because I think this is absolutely exciting.

Mary Osako:
In UCLA Strategic Communications, we have created two new roles within our org. One is chief brand officer, and it will be our inaugural role of this type. And the other is the chief officer of the UCLA content studio, and another inaugural role. And I’ll tell you the nitty gritty because we didn’t get it right the first time, and this was before we rolled it out. But when we set out on this journey of what can we do to just further a collaboration, because the talent is there, we’ve got amazing people, what are we going to do to make it easier for everyone? It was very much the same organization, but we consolidated maybe a couple of subgroups. It was basically that. And that was really on the table for the first phase of thinking through what this could look like. And it was very much, “Oh, we did research. This is the way this university does it. This university, we aspire to be, they do this really well.” And we did a lot of research looking into universities out there, ones that we wanted to be like one day.

Mary Osako:
And then we crafted what that org look like based on that. And then one day we woke up and we blew it all away. And instead, literally have the post-it notes where it was just Sharpie, a yellow post-it note, what if we tried something crazy and did this. And what if you are a part of the UCLA newsroom team as an example, and they create so many stories and they take complicated stories and they push them out. And we’re not a volume business. We look to quality. So we’re not in the volume game, we’re in the quality game. And to ensure that, it reflects what UCLA is.

Mary Osako:
But what if those folks who are writers and amazing writers, didn’t have to go out and take photos to accompany their pieces? What if they didn’t have to take a photo of a faculty member and post it alongside their page? Because they’re trying to write 10 other amazing stories out there. And they’re talking to faculty and they’re the minors of gold. Why do they even have to do that? And there was another team that they could go to and all they do in and out, the way they think of stories is visual, moveable type, video, art, whatever it can be. And they’re the ones that take the story … organizing around a story and they apply their subject matter expertise to it. So what if that could happen one day? Would that help us or would that hurt us?

Mary Osako:
And that’s one example of where I think it kicked off this idea of creating a content studio. I will say that it was to me a bold idea, an experiment, and there was reservation about it saying, “This is too extreme.” There’s no other university, we just did all this research. And we set out who we want to be like, so maybe the safer bet is, “Hey, let’s look at them. They’re great. And they did it like this.” And maybe we do that half step before we get to the other component of it, but in writing my post-it notes that one day I decided, “This team is so great and having consulted as a consultative process with folks on the team feels like it’s a really good jacket for everyone and we’re going to go all in.” And that’s what we did.

Mary Osako:
So we came up with the content studio, again, organizing around stories, letting people just be what they love and what they’re good at, and holding hands. And that’s how we created it. On the brand side, the same. From that, a new component of the brand organization is experiential marketing. And what we did was we took two people from our events team and we brought them over to this whole new function at UCLA called “experiential marketing”. Folks who are listening to this, you’ve probably heard it called “buzz marketing”, “Experiential marketing, you go through it.” But it really is that tactile sensory, I smell kettle corn. I look up and I see blue and gold, which are our colors. And I look down and I see it on vinyls, on the sidewalk too. I can touch it and feel it and there’s someone that I can talk to and is connecting with me. And we started that to really think about the entire brand. In the past, we were thinking a lot about the sub-brands within UCLA. So what happened was sort of that broader brand of UCLA was a little bit of a side detail. So what we are doing is we’re putting that as the main focus. So that’s why it was really important to have a brand officer. And we’re really excited about both officers starting on August 30th.

Kevin Tyler:
Right on. The first thing I want to say to you is that some of the world’s best ideas come from a Sharpie and a post-it.

Mary Osako:
[crosstalk 00:15:11].

Kevin Tyler:
That so legendary. Great, great ideas. Great thoughts. The second part about this is that I think this is so interesting for a lot of reasons. And one of them is that A, like I mentioned before, a repositions communications and in higher education institution. But it also gives purview to a person like a chief brand and chief content to keep a close eye on the stories and how they’re connected to each other across an organization. And what that means to me is that the messages that are sent out into the world will be related. So often there are so many different kinds of messages coming out of an institution, especially one as large as a UCLA that are … Schools have their goals and agendas for their messaging, and when there’s no one at the “at the top” making sure that everything kind of reinforces our master brand pillars, our personality and reflect how we’re supposed to talk about ourselves. It can become kind of disjointed and a bit disconnected. So I’m curious how you determined or decided to position these roles as chief roles, as opposed to somewhere else like deeper or over in the organization.

Mary Osako:
I decided that these positions should be chiefs because they are of that importance. And simply put, we needed, wanted, we’re logging for just the best of the best. And to me, brand, content creation, communications, you name it, these functions are so vital within an industry in which you and I work. And I wanted to ensure that they had titles that reflected my commitment and philosophy on it, and therefore UCLA’s commitment and a philosophy on it. And I think that was really important to us. And in going through the recruitment process, I think it made a real difference to folks. The caliber of people that we spoke with, we hired Korn Ferry International, amazing team. And I think that when it comes with that substance of an officer role, that says something. And I think the type of people that we were looking for and that I was looking for are not the type of people that are looking for a playbook. You know what I mean Kevin?

Kevin Tyler:
Yes.

Mary Osako:
So I’m smiling at you because I know you know exactly what I mean, because you are one of these people in my book playbook. [inaudible 00:18:08] playbook and you don’t want to be given this three ring binder and say, “All you have to do is make sure you don’t take the car off the track. Here you go.” And I was like for someone that just loves to build and invent and is someone who naturally goes with the “yes, and” and isn’t the no factory. And that’s what we’re looking for. I was looking for fellow builders and people that were interested in planting seeds with me to see them grow and were excited to do that. And I think the officer titles helped us in so many ways with that recruitment.

Kevin Tyler:
I agree. I agree. One of the things I’ve shared with you more than one occasion is that I truly believe that these two people who are joining UCLA have the potential to not just change the way UCLA obviously communicates about itself, but they quite likely could be leaders in how higher ed evolves the communication, the way it talks about the industry of higher education. And I think that that’s one of the most exciting things because I I’m not sure if people think about brand and higher ed the way that you are in these two roles would be because the way we communicate now just needs to be updated and evolved in order to stay relevant. And I think that these two roles can really do that. I’d like to talk to you about how you maneuvered these ideas through the leadership at UCLA since they were things that no one had ever heard of, especially at UCLA, was there a lot of convincing or selling or politics? How did you do that and what did it look like?

Mary Osako:
So this is where I am extremely lucky where the buy-in was really easy. And I think that the story behind that is this, the strategic communications team has really proven itself to understand how to celebrate, elevate all the “ate’s” out there and has really earned trust throughout the organization. And when we had pitched this earlier this year, we had just so many earned trust chits that it wasn’t a hard conversation, but it wasn’t a hard sell, it was just more of a socialization because of the hard work of the team. So I would just say that we’re really lucky. We have a chancellor who’s been here as chancellor of UCLA for 13 years. And as I understand it, you would know better than I, that’s a really amazing leadership stability to have at any university. And he’s really amazing and awesome. So the buy-in was the easy part. I know, right?

Kevin Tyler:
That’s what I figured you’d say.

Mary Osako:
I don’t mean to sort of brag, I don’t mean a flex, but it was easy.

Kevin Tyler:
[inaudible 00:21:25].

Mary Osako:
It was the easy part because of the great work of the team.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah. What are some things that you can kind of point to for people who might be listening to this podcast who have these kinds of ideas that are big and bold. If they have supportive leadership, etc., what are some things that they need to think about when kind of instituting a change like this do you think?

Mary Osako:
So when I first joined, I did a reorg of our communications team, and this might be more relevant. And that took socialization because I was new, I was in a brand new role. I think the appetite for change was there, but maybe slow-roll the change a little bit. And I had this idea of how the communications component of start-com should be organized. And the first thing I did Kevin was begin instituting metrics in a way in which we could begin measuring things. To me, I come from the technology sector, so everything is so data-driven, and that was one thing I noticed where we didn’t have a lot of data. It was never expected, I don’t think of the team, but I thought that if we could do that, that’s a way in which I can tell this story of increases of proving out if this crazy idea I had was actually working or if it was failing and that’s okay too, but giving us all a sense of, are we failing forward? Are we iterating? Are we moving too fast? Are we moving too slow?

Mary Osako:
So those are the metrics with respect to the business movement, but also with the human component of just employees and making sure that it was going to be okay and there wasn’t a total culture shock. Sometimes you can just move too fast. So that was the first thing that I did. I come from high tech and brands like Amazon and Activision Blizzard and Yahoo!. And Yahoo! when the internet was just kicking off. And my first 100 days I had this coin with me of UCLA, I had this coin with me and on one side it says “the freeway”, and on the other side it says “scenic route”. And I carried that in my pocket, I would take it out in meetings when I was feeling the urge to take the freeway, which is my natural way, because that was the industry in which I cut my teeth. And I would sort of going back to the tactileness of it, rub the words “scenic route” and learn to appreciate the thoughtfulness, appreciate the fact that there were so many voices out there and to live in that.

Mary Osako:
And that was something that I had to learn. And I don’t know if I got it right, I’ll be honest. Maybe I moved too fast on a couple of things. I don’t know. But I will tell you that I had great intentionality when I first started and it’s still now, but especially being new to a role and especially understanding that, I was talking about reorging, that affects real lives. And I remember, when I was first starting out in my career and there was a reorg, “What do you think, is there going to be a place for me? What’s this going to do to me? Oh my gosh, am I doing a good job? Am I going to lose my job? Oh, now there’s this global pandemic, everyone’s losing their job. Am I going to keep mine?” And I grew up where financial security was really important to me, really important to me. So I don’t know, that never leaves somebody, that never left me. So I guess having an understanding and knowing the decisions I’m making are affecting real people and having been on the other side, that scenic route got easier and easier every day, and I think served me well. So that might be the piece of advice that I’d have.

Kevin Tyler:
I like that. I like that. I think in the haste to respond to all of the things that higher ed has to respond to, there can be some responses or some initiatives that are launched that might not do all the things that should be done because it was developed in such a speedy way. And I think that taking the scenic route can be super beneficial sometimes, especially when it comes to higher ed communication and messaging because obviously as you know, a higher ed brand belongs to so many different kinds of people, obviously alum students, parents, community, blah, blah, blah, that taking the scenic route is super helpful sometimes. So I’m really glad that you mentioned that because I think a lot of … I know I can learn from that definitely.

Mary Osako:
You are a foodie, so I will say this where … Is foodie a bad thing? I don’t know. Are people okay being called foodies? You are a person who loves food. So I will use this, but you may have heard me sometimes say, “You can’t eat a whole cake at once. You just got to eat it slice by slice. And by the way, what goodness is there in appreciating every bite of that.” You can eat a whole cake at once and that’s all right, because there’s goodness at every bite. So yeah, I really appreciate that about this industry.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah, totally. Obviously UCLA is one of the most respected and known higher ed brands really in the world. I mean, I know you kind of did the high level, but what these two roles mean for the way UCLA will communicate about itself? What is it you hope that they do for the university moving forward?

Mary Osako:
We have twin North Stars in terms of our marketing and communications and they’re super simple, humanity plus transparency. That’s it. If we can get our voice and our actions and our programs and our etc., etc., to be human and transparent. I think that we’ll have done some good for UCLA and hopefully global society, which is our bigger UCLA mission. And I think that these two roles certainly do that. If at the end of the day, we can sound and be more transparent and show our humanity because to your earlier point, we’ve touched so many people. There are real stories of real people where UCLA has honestly changed their lives. And when I say that, I’ll say that about myself, not to be presumptuous and make it seem too big, but UCLA really changed my life. So if we can do that, I think that’ll go such a long way. And I guess it’s as simple and as hard as that.

Kevin Tyler:
I love it. So you mentioned Korn Ferry was engaged for this search. And there was a bit of a rubric that you were kind of following for the search. Who were you looking for for this kind of role? I was on the interview panels and I learned quite a bit about a lot of different people from a lot of different industries. And I just want to get the rationale behind how those people came to be interviewed for these two roles.

Mary Osako:
Woo, thank you for serving on both committees, honestly. So when I say the following, it’s going to be about you, but in the third person, which is always weird. So I’m just going to say that upfront, the search committee and the people on it, I would say are the heroes behind all of it. You all took so much time, talked to so many people and had to assess in this group setting a panel, which is, as I understand it, how at least UCLA does interviewing for all roles probably. And the type of person that I was looking for is someone who understood and were experts in their respective fields. So in the field of brand and content creation.

Mary Osako:
I also wanted someone who has shown that they’ve built something from the ground up as part of their career. I don’t want someone that sort of went through just, “Hey, I’m just going to inherit and go.” I needed someone who had the experience of growing because that’s what we’re looking for, a builder. And then just on the softer side of things and the softer skills, I was looking for someone that knew how to manage people really well in the sense that they’re inspirational and wasn’t a command and control type leader, but that could and really cared about their teams and could talk about how they demonstrated that, that was really important to me. Hard skills, as I said, someone who were just experts at it, big brands was helpful for me, Global Experience was really helpful because we are a global story and that’s not because UCLA’s mission is to have a positive impact on global society. It’s because we are all global in this moment in time. There are no lines in platforms. So having that international and global experience I think is key for anyone doing anything in my opinion.

Mary Osako:
So those were really the key attributes both on the hard skill side and the soft skill side that I was looking for. And I will say, the soft skills component was the most important thing that I personally was interviewing for because anyone that goes through Korn Ferry and then goes through spectacular people like yourself and others who were on the search committee, you all are going to vet for the hard skills. Anyone that made it through your discerning eyes, they’re all going to be able to be amazing in the job. And I think that last mile component is is it going to be a culture fit? All the good and the bad, and just being really open and honest about that. So that’s what I was looking for.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah. One one of the most notable parts of the process to me was that there were so many people that came from outside of higher ed. And I think that A, it’s a testament to those folks who threw their hat in the ring to be coming from a place private and in the entertainment industry and are volunteering to come to a large public institution. There were some sacrifices to be made in that regard for the people who assume these roles. But also, that they were all very, not only are they not from higher ed, they’re very not higher ed people which I thought was so interesting. And we’ve read about and heard about the trends of CMOs coming from outside of higher ed and being brought in into those roles, but this is a little bit different in a lot of ways. So I didn’t know if your checklist for these candidates was entertainment. Is there something about the entertainment industry that you were trying to pull from or get over to UCLA because of a certain reason?

Mary Osako:
It’s such a great observation. The short answer is no, it just happened that way. And I guess it’s no surprise because when we think of the best stories out there, you can see them through all the things that I’ve consumed during COVID, the TV, the movies. But no, it wasn’t by design. It just happened to be like that, partially I’m thinking because we’re in LA and we live in such a company town, it might’ve had something to do with it. But no, I was really just as so impressed by the, as I said, just the human component of both of these individuals. And I guess it was just a happy accident.

Kevin Tyler:
I love that. So you have both of the individuals hired for these chief brand, chief content roles. Obviously on the horizon is a return to campus initiative or effort for UCLA. Well, these folks have a hand in that even though they’re starting August 30th, and what do you imagine their role to be in such a large and important kind of milestone coming back to campus?

Mary Osako:
These two roles will have an enormous, critical component in part of our return to campus campaign. We go back to school, first day of instruction is September 23rd, half of our student population first time at UCLA, as with the case with all the universities out there. So our whole desire around this campaign is to turn a moment into a movement. And the way that this relates back to your question is we will kick off and we will have kicked off certain initiatives later this summer into fall. But I see this as a multi-year event because I think that the greatest campaigns out there are the ones with longitude, the long-term thinking. And let’s not abandon a campaign after, it’s too short. So let us move that forward and let us learn from what we did really well and extend that. And this goes back to the “yes, and”. And let us also figure out what experiments didn’t work. So these two officers will be here, right, right during critical times. And they will be huge components of what will be a long-term campaign for us.

Kevin Tyler:
So great. So you mentioned the EDI council. I sit on the UCLA strat-com EDI Council, which I am honored to do. One of the questions we asked all the candidates for the chief brand and chief content officer was about their experience and diversity storytelling or diverse storytelling. And I think that that was an important piece, obviously because of the shift in demographics that we’re going to see in incoming classes in higher ed and how the majority will shift. And there needs to be some sort of fluency in being able to talk to different kinds of people when they’re coming into your school.

Kevin Tyler:
So the work that I do on the EDI Council is about reviewing materials to make sure that we’re not over-indexing on a specific kind of person. So we’re telling the UCLA story in a way that is real and honest and authentic, which is I know a very overused word, but it’s true. So these two roles will have a very, very major responsibility with making sure that these stories that come out into the world are equitable, that they’re inclusive and that they are diverse. So how do you imagine that going and how do you imagine them making sure that what they do and say and put out into the world is authentic and can be supported by the programming that exists on campus already?

Mary Osako:
Being agents of change for EDI is so important and the great work that you and your colleagues, our colleagues do to further that for UCLA is vital. I’ll speak to anti-Asian hate for a sec, and I’m sure that a lot of the listeners out there have had this year. How do we communicate around George Floyd, anti-Asian hate, Middle East, you name it, social justice matters? I want to do it. I don’t know how to do it. I’m not sure if I’m asking this question. I don’t know what to ask. I’m not sure if I’m speaking on it in the right way. So maybe I won’t speak on it at all. There’s just so much, and I think it’s going to be so vital … It is so vital to have an intentionality around all the things that you said and all of the work and to try and shine a light on the things that we as a society should be thinking about with intention, every time, every time.

Mary Osako:
I don’t feel like we have it down. I don’t know if anyone can say that they’ve got it down. And I really think that it’s okay because of the fact that even though we don’t have it down, we sure are trying, and we’re sure learning. And I don’t think that everything we’ve said was on point under my watch. I don’t know, I got it wrong plenty of times. But I feel good in knowing that we created this mechanism internally to create more and more intentionality around conversations and storytelling than we have ever before. So I think these two chiefs are going to be so critical and so much of their work will be on this, which shouldn’t be, it’s a horizontal if I’m thinking about it, or maybe it’s a circle, maybe it’s an egg yolk. I don’t know what it is, but it’s something that should be part of our everyday fabric versus the thing that we look to. All right, what’s this look like? Does this look okay? What about this thing?

Mary Osako:
And I want to get us to a place where it is really something that is surrounding all of us. We just need the help getting there. So I don’t know, I love that component of what we’re doing structurally at UCLA, in strat-com and I’m excited to see what else we can do, because we haven’t done everything, we haven’t done all the things. And I’m really looking forward to learning, continuing to learn on this.

Kevin Tyler:
I think that’s super important. It seems as though higher ed brands are responsible for so many more things than they used to be like back in the day. And that the expectations that people have from them based on what stakeholder group you belong to are growing and the list is getting longer, right? So there is now an expectation when people are murdered in the street by police officers, at a higher ed institution. I’m an alum of University of Pittsburgh, you better believe that when all that happened, I went straight to the site to see if there was anything being said about people who look like me being killed in the street, right? There’s mental health happening and gun control and all these other things. And having two people who are completely laser focused on the brand and how it’s being represented and how it’s being referenced and talked about and messaged all day every day, I think is a really important thing for a higher ed institution like UCLA to do.

Kevin Tyler:
Now, obviously not every school can create these two roles or roles just like this because of lots of different reasons, budgets, people, whatever else. But I do think it’s an important kind of moment for UCLA for that kind of reason, because it doesn’t take much for a higher ed brand to come under attack. It doesn’t take much at all, especially nowadays with social media and all that stuff. So having people with an eagle eye on this, I think, is going to be really critical moving forward, especially as the mix of people changes over the next couple of years, next several years.

Mary Osako:
Yes. That’s such a great point. We want our university to look different than it does today looking forward, because that’s the world and it’s not just a, “Hey, we better.” It is, “We ought to, and we ought to be really great at it.” But as I said, we can’t do everything. We can’t eat the whole cake at once, but we certainly must go and be like water and flow forward on it. And that, to me, I don’t know. I just feel like we’re going in a really good direction.

Kevin Tyler:
As an aside, before we close up shop here, you have a lot of nice one-liners that I particularly love and take to heart, be like water, take your brains out for a walk. There are these ways about your leadership style that I really appreciate. And that at a place as big as UCLA with as many things we have to do, the plates as full as they are, you take the time to lead in the way that you do. So I just want to say, I appreciate that. And it’s been such a pleasure working for you this past year. I just wanted to mention that. And obviously UCLA has a lot of resources that a lot of other schools don’t have, but the thoughtfulness with which you’ve restructured the department with an eye towards what will serve the institution the best as opposed to what will serve our department or you or whatever else, I think is just really admirable. And I really appreciate your leadership and your foresight in understanding the importance of having a person taking great care of the brand and the content that we create to support the brand.

Mary Osako:
I so appreciate that Kevin. I just love UCLA. There was not a bone in my body that ever thought I would be in higher ed and I jumped, I was all in. UCLA, all it wants to be is this place that puts some positivity into our global society and just make it better. And I just cannot think of a better place to be and a greater mission to serve. And as I mentioned, UCLA really saved my life. So it is a complete honor. I love being on this podcast with you.

Kevin Tyler:
Mary, I really appreciate your time joining us today on Higher Voltage, it has been a pleasure chatting with you. It’s been a pleasure working with you. I can’t wait to see what we do next at UCLA in strategic communications. Thank you very much for joining us today.

Mary Osako:
Kevin, this was such a pleasure. Higher Voltage, I love it. I’m so honored. And just having a conversation with you, anytime, whether on podcast, in real life, cracking up on Zooms together, because [inaudible 00:45:56] any time, so thank you.

Kevin Tyler:
That’s it for this week’s episode of Higher Voltage, we’ll be back soon with a new episode. And until then, you can find us on Twitter @volthighered. And you can find me, Kevin Tyler on Twitter @Kevinctyler2. Thanks.

Higher Voltage

Higher Voltage

Higher Voltage is the podcast of Volt, a publication that covers all aspects of higher ed marketing.

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