How MSU Denver Keeps Employees Engaged with Transparent Communication

    The Early Bird Brings the News:

    How MSU Denver Keeps Employees Engaged with Transparent Communication


    By Liz Kamper, PRSA Colorado Communication Committee Chair, CBRE Communication Specialist



    At the 2019 PRSA Colorado Gold Pick Awards the Strategy, Marketing and Communications team at Metropolitan State University of Denver was honored as the Public Relations Team of the Year. The team includes members across areas such as strategic communications, employee engagement, brand journalism, digital strategy, government relations, events, marketing and client services.


    For three years, the team has distributed a daily employee-engagement email, The Early Bird, which shared more than 1,000 stories in 2018 and nearly 1,000 stories in 2019. The email is sent Monday to Thursday in a traditional story format, featuring five short articles. On Friday, the Early Bird features interesting people, news and events through a Photo of the Week. Special editions are also sent out on occasion to disseminate news quickly, for example, on days the campus closes due to snow, but the team hopes that staff tune in every day to digest the latest campus news.


    MSU Denver Employee Engagement and Communication Specialist Lindsey Coulter has been responsible for the Early Bird for over a year and says employee communications is important so that the campus can have transparent communication. She says the Early Bird has a committed readership, specifically senior faculty and staff who want to stay in the know. The group, in particular, has an open rate of almost 80%.


    “It’s a university where something is always going on. We have 20,000 students and 4,000 employees – including student employees – so we need a succinct way to disseminate information to everyone who comes in contact with our campus,” stated Coulter.


    The team has daily editorial meetings to discuss stories then filters them for different platforms, including the Early Bird and their digital newsroom RED. Dan Vaccaro, MSU Denver associate vice president of strategic communications, explained that the team’s storytelling approach works similar to a beat system in a newsroom, where writers “cover” specific departments to uncover stories. Additionally, Coulter fields requests to feature timely news such as campus policies and hiring updates.


    “As a university, our goal is to become a destination of choice for all employees. We want people to feel welcomed and engaged,” stated Vaccaro. “The Early Bird plays a big part in making that happen.”


    While the team may have a cadence, the Early Bird is not a stagnant publication. Vaccaro explained that metrics and data are constantly reviewed so that the team knows what is working. Before the Early Bird, the team published an iteration named The Daily that included a list of headlines and sub headers, but as the team saw readership decreasing, they resolved to evolve. In the first year and half of the Early Bird, the Friday publication included a video news recap of the week’s top stories. Over time, based on data and resources, the team again decided to take a new approach by switching from the video recap to the Photo of the Week.


    Coulter and Vaccaro hope to continue the Early Bird’s evolution by expanding their contributors and experimenting with new types of content, but know that their stories will stay grounded in MSU Denver’s missions, values and strategic plan. Their employee communication efforts are rooted in ensuring MSU Denver employees feel proud of where they work.



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