Growing a Post-Pandemic MarComm Team

Angela Meluski headshot
Angela Meluski

Lessons from the Marvel Universe

During the shutdown, people took on all sorts of new hobbies. Knitting. Cooking. Puzzles. You name it, someone is now an expert. Well, in the Meluski household, we spent our time wisely. We watched every Marvel movie…in chronological order. Yep – all 23 of them. From Captain America: The First Avenger to Spiderman: Far From Home, I now know every detail about the MCU (that’s Marvel Cinematic Universe for you novices out there). I know, I know, you’re impressed. 

Ever wonder how the MCU just keeps getting bigger and bigger? More superheroes keep joining the party. Nick Fury doesn’t have a problem with resources when it comes to saving the world – despite the crazy amounts of damage they inflict on us non-superhuman folk. As a public relations and communications professional, I want to channel Nick Fury. I NEED to channel Nick Fury. I need…people power. 

If your universities and colleges were anything like mine (shameless plug for University of California, Riverside right here), you suffered some MCU-style damage this past year. As we start seeing the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, our administrators (think Nick Fury’s of the world) are figuring out how to rebuild and prioritize those resources. How do I get more superheroes added to my team? How do the communications and marketing teams make the priority list? For the love of all that is holy, Nick Fury, I NEED MORE PEOPLE!! 

I’ve thought a lot about this (I know, it’s sad) and I’m willing to share what I’ve learned to spare you the 46+ hours of riveting television I experienced. Here are my top three take-aways to get communications superheroes on the priority list:

Take 1: Be the Fury. How does Nick Fury manage all these superheroes? I mean, he’s the one guy in charge of their superhuman egos (yeah, I’m lookin’ at you Rocket). Earth-bound, we’re dealing with some out-of-this-world egos of our own. Treating our colleagues like clients makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside – then they return the favor and advocate for us when we need it. Think, service with a smile. At the Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering we have five departments and three programs (check out our all new Master’s in robotics!) and we treat each one like its own separate client. As a result, we have good relationships with all of them. That also means, they understand how much our tiny team can achieve, are grateful when we deliver, and are on our side demanding we get more resources to better help them. Help me, help you.

Take 2: Use your Endgame Time Heist. We have a chicken and egg situation here. The easiest way to prove I have more work than people is to take on more work, but now I’m drowning. If I don’t take on the work, I can’t show I have enough to add someone. Well geez, if only I had Tony Stark’s time-turning technology so I can achieve more with my second self. The truth is, we can achieve a balance and prove our point with facts. Just before the pandemic, I created a report for my dean that detailed the following: the number of communications people for similarly sized engineering colleges, a percentage breakdown of work distribution by unit (ex. 25 percent of time going toward departments), and a year-over-year comparison of how much cost savings our team had achieved by taking on more projects in-house. This little chitty-chitty-chat-chat led to us agreeing that 1) our team was smaller than most other teams (boo!); 2) we needed to shift away from busy work and re-focus on the tasks that really impact the college (yay!); and 3) we could pay for a whole new position from our cost savings (insert MIC DROP here). It’s actually too bad I didn’t have to time travel to get my dean on board. That would have been cool, amiright?

Take 3: Captain a ship like Shuri. Iron Man might have his suit but Black Panther’s sister Shuri has Kimoyo beads and literally walks Agent Ross through remotely piloting a Talon fighter. This gal knows her stuff – and you need to too. Know higher education like Shuri knows her tech and your leadership can’t deny your impact as part of the team. Each morning I spend 30-45 minutes combing through higher education headlines, taking note of which stories to send to college leadership, chairs, even professors when I find something about their research. This investment of time has paid off ten-fold. Not only do you increase your reputation by staying in the know, you arm yourself with best management practices, making your recommendations way more valuable. Maybe not vibranium-level valuable, but definitely earthy valuable, and that’s as good as gold.

I’m not going to lie. This year has been hard and a lot has changed. As we pivot back to in-person operations, I look forward to continuing to grow my team – and I know these tactics are working because we’re on the short list for a new position (keep an eye out for when we hire!). In the meantime, I’ll keep channeling my inner Fury, using my data-driven time heist, and harnessing my Shuri-level tech because I want to keep growing the team. I’ll do without the MCU-level damage though, that seems like a lot of paperwork. ☺ 

Angela Meluski
Assistant Dean of Strategic Initiatives and Marketing
University of California, Riverside (UCR)
Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering

Digital Insights: If it’s entertaining, it will probably engage

Smartphone on social media

By default, we work with this content principle: post what’s entertaining, because that’s what engages.

How do we quantify engagement? We take all the likes, comments and shares on our content and divide them by the total amount of followers. What I just described seems obvious, but even our Instagram page did not always follow this principle—the more you scroll, the more you’ll see content that doesn’t engage.

With this principle in mind, what have we found?

Instagram is the easiest platform to create organic engagement.

For us, our only social media budget is the time we afford posting content on, and we’ve found that Instagram is the easiest platform to engage followers.

Baseline, you post a nice of photo of your university, its students, its anything—if the content visually shows something about your university, it will most likely engage. In terms of engagement rate, you should see rates of five percent or above, which is very healthy. This does make an important assumption: your followers are students and current alumni.

Regarding engagement on Facebook and Twitter, it’s hard to come by. Some research bears this out as well—higher ed Instagram pages average 3.19 percent engagement rates compared to the .14 percent and .087 percent on Facebook and Twitter, respectively. If you already have these three channels and not enough time to create content for each platform, make content for Instagram first and repurpose for Facebook and Twitter.

Okay, Instagram. What content engages?

Consider these easy wins for giving followers what they want:

  • Photos and videos of your university. This doesn’t need to be college-specific. If it’s pretty, well-shot and reminds your followers of the university, expect it to engage.
  • Photos and videos of students in action. Here, specifics are more helpful. Show what they do at your college or school, and not just the university as a whole.
  • Student competition wins. Grab a group photo of the winning team and it’ll most likely engage. Assuming your follower demographic includes current students, they might help spread the word since someone they know might be a part of the winning team.

What doesn’t engage?

  • A poster or flyer. You know in your heart that your followers don’t care unless there is some exceptional information on there (i.e. a poster that announces an Elon Musk lecture event). And yet, someone above or adjacent to you in the organizational hierarchy asked you to just “put it up there”. Resist agreeing to this. Show them the engagement and the tell them the principle you operate on when posting social media content. Or split the difference and post it as a 24-hour story.
  • Event announcements. Don’t make these permanent posts, because they’re irrelevant the moment the event concludes. Instead of your page being a wasteland of events that have come and gone, post them as 24-hour stories.

Above all, be entertaining. There are exceptions to the rule, but chances are you don’t fall under the exception. You aren’t competing with other higher ed accounts. You’re competing with every meme account, sports account, celebrity account, a user’s friend’s account, and so on. Give your followers a reason to follow you every week.

Christopher Park is a communication specialist for the College of Engineering at Cal Poly Pomona. He can be contacted at

Member Q&A: Diana VanWinkle

Diana VanWinkle

Name: Diana VanWinkle
Institution:  The University of Toledo College of Engineering
Position:  Manager of Marketing and Communication

What do you do for fun?

Well, I just finished my Master’s in Strategic Communication and Social Media in December, so I’m trying to remember what I used to do for fun! I’m pretty active in my church and community – my husband and I run a 4-day festival in our neighborhood – which is work but also fun. I have a one-year-old golden retriever that I adore, and I ride horses when I have time. I have three grown children – both of my daughters will graduate from college in May, and their older brother and his wife will make me a first-time grandma in May! And I have concert tickets for the Rolling Stones, Poison, Motley Crue, Def Leppard and Joan Jett if this stupid COVID would ever go away! I’ll be a rock and roll grandma.

What is your favorite thing about working in engineering communications?

I love hearing and sharing the stories of our amazing students. They inspire me and give me such hope for the future!

Something really cool currently happening in engineering at your school?

Our integrated co-op program makes UToledo stand out from other universities. We are one of just eight engineering colleges to require these paid work experiences for engineering science students. And that’s a huge plus for you ― financially and career-wise.  We have a dedicated Center for Engineering Career Development ― an invaluable resource ― which helps students prepare for and find three semester-long, paid co-ops. Students spend one semester on co-op and the next on campus, starting sophomore year. Co-ops are integrated into their curriculum ― unlike at some other schools. That means that we build them into the plan of study, so they have access to all the classes they need to graduate on time.

This program allows our students to graduate with a full year of paid work experience. It allows our students to find out what you like or don’t like about a job before committing while earning enough money to pay for their next semester’s tuition. Therefore, most of our student’s graduate with a job and little to no student debt.

What is the most challenging part of the job?

I am a department of one! I have a million balls in the air constantly (which is also what I love about my job), and I wish I had more time to spend on planning and strategizing.

Project or achievement in your current position that you are most proud of?

In 2018, I helped create and implement a partnership with AAA to provide an on-going educational forum on the topic of autonomous vehicles with broad appeal — one that would be of interest to the average curious community member as well as those with a greater understanding of AV technology. In addition, both organizations were committed to creating a long-term local transportation strategy employed beyond the Speaker Series. 

The Speaker Series provides an opportunity to engage with transportation stakeholders, elected officials at the local, state and federal level, municipal government agency leaders, professional engineers, engineering students, metropolitan planning organizations, and business and community leaders to talk about next steps to prepare for the eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles in the community. 

Through this series, Technology Takes the Wheel®, now trademarked and being implemented nationwide, The University of Toledo College of Engineering has received incredible recognition in our area as a leader on the topic of autonomous vehicles and the engineering changes they will require.

Advice for someone just starting out in higher ed communications and marketing?

I think my best advice would be the importance of building relationships and a network of people across your campus and your city. Partnering with industry, government, community, as well as really getting to know your alumni and student population, is so helpful. Join your Chamber of Commerce, or other networking groups in your area. Offer up your facilities for meetings or events. Share great stories about your students and faculty with local news sources, and really strive to help them meet their tight deadlines. Try to help your school eke out something that makes you different from others, which will be so important in this changing educational environment.