The Power of Pivoting: Adjusting Your Outreach to Alumni During a Crisis
Before COVID-19 hit, if you asked a corporate alumni manager what they are working on and you’d likely get a detailed answer about events, outreach campaigns and enhancements to the alumni portal. Maintaining lifelong relationships with former employees requires careful planning. The goal is to balance opportunities for alumni to engage with an organization without overwhelming their inboxes.
What happens when a crisis hits and derails everything?
That’s the question three corporate alumni managers considered in a recent panel discussion chaired by IntraWorlds & Conenza as part of webinar series sponsored by LexisNexis® InterAction® CRM.
- Sharon Light, senior marketing manager for alumni & industry network, Sidley Austin LLP
- Sheri Mayerowitz, global alumni relations manager, Hogan Lovells
- Cressie Taylor-Scott, manager of alumni relations, portal and events, Millbank LLP
Quickly Changing Course
Corporate alumni programs have proven to generate a fairly quick return on investment for most firms. Engaged alumni are more likely to serve as brand ambassadors, refer qualified candidates and even return as rehires. Alumni networks are especially beneficial for professional services companies, such as law firms, that employ large workforces across the globe.
The corporate alumni programs for law firms featured in the panel discussion were moving forward with coordinated schedules of events and communications planned for the remainder of 2020 when COVID-19 hit.
To meet the needs of their alumni and firms, the corporate alumni managers quickly pivoted to address immediate concerns and are now figuring out what works best in the changing landscape. Their responses are a good model for how to adjust outreach to alumni in a crisis.
Responding to a Crisis
When the reality of the pandemic hit and most people were asked to work from home if possible, it was clear that in-person events, newsletters and other communications were no longer relevant.
The corporate alumni managers quickly reviewed their plans and identified what immediate actions needed to be taken.
At Hogan Lovells, that means scaling back on outreach. “We saw that there was an influx of emails when the pandemic started from every company that had an email list and we didn’t want to get caught in the deluge,” said Mayerowitz.
Instead, the firm sent out one major communication in mid-March and continues to push out relevant content on LinkedIn, so alumni have access to information with more of an opt-in approach.
Based on the assessment, the corporate alumni managers adapted their programs to meet their networks’ changing needs.
Sidley Austin sent an update to alumni with links to public and internal COVID-19 resources focused on work-life balance and mental health issues.
“We wanted alumni to know they are part of the family,” said Light.
Going forward, the firm is maintaining outreach but has deferred in-person events for now.
Taylor-Scott from Millbank LLP had to make a big decision. The firm was just about to launch a new alumni portal with a planned kick-off reception for 400 people. She briefly considered postponing the launch but decided to cancel the event and take the platform live to help alumni connect.
“I received a lot of emails from alumni who wanted to check in and connect with each other,” said Taylor-Scott. “Launching the alumni platform now was the best decision.”
Direction of the content for emails and the platform was quickly revamped to address the situation. The first email after the launch of the platform was from the alumni committee chairperson and shared information about the COVID-19 knowledge center available on the alumni platform. A follow-up email provided access to new podcasts hosted by the firm’s partner, who is in charge of their COVID-19 task force.
After the initial quick pivot, it was time to reassess plans for the rest of the year. Since in-person events are unlikely for a while, the corporate alumni managers are looking at options to host virtual events. They are also changing the content they plan to share with their members to make sure it reflects what’s happening in the world and is useful to their target audiences.
“Our approach has always been to keep alumni informed without wearing out our welcome in their inboxes,” said Taylor-Smith.
The panel participants suggested carefully analyzing metrics to see how alumni are engaging with the program.
“Try to put yourselves in the shoes of alumni and consider how many times a year do they want to hear from a former employer, especially now,” said Mayerowitz.
In the pre-COVID environment, regional events made sense. Going forward, targeting smaller sub-groups with common interests from around the globe may be a way to offer valuable information and connections in a virtual setting.
As with all plans, the final step is implementation. After a crisis, program budgets may likely have changed. But program missions remain to engage alumni with meaningful content and ways to connect with the firm and each other.
Taylor-Scott advises that now more than ever, to run an effective alumni network requires a solid alumni platform and customer relationship management (CRM) program, strong internal communication and IT resources, plus a great marketing tech team.
The pandemic is changing the way the world works. The programs and systems put in place pre-COVID-19 to manage corporate alumni programs continue as valuable tools to keep former employees connected in meaningful ways. Corporate alumni managers can build upon these foundations as they proceed to assess, adapt, plan and implement alumni outreach in the coming months.
To listen to the panel discussion, click here.