Foreword by the Executive Director

30 September 2021

“Tensile strength”

The Collins English Dictionary defines tensile strength as “a measure of the ability of a material to withstand a longitudinal stress, expressed as the greatest stress that the material can stand without breaking”.

It is safe to say that the tensile strength of the University of Cape Town (UCT) community, South Africa and, indeed, the world was tested beyond measure when the COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores. We were forced to rapidly change our way of being and doing; to adapt almost instantaneously to our “new normal”, and to demonstrate agility like we’ve never had to before.

Despite all the challenges that 2020 brought, and the losses suffered both individually and as a collective, I am proud to say that the Communication and Marketing Department (CMD) staff have shown such resilience. Our “business as usual” quickly became “business unusual”.

It was decided, due to the nationwide lockdown, which commenced in March 2020, that our staff would work from home, meaning that we had to set up practical ways in which this could be done. Our five business units have shown remarkable adaptability, and maintained their very high work output over the last year despite all the changes.

For the Newsroom and Video Production unit, a lot of focus went into crafting content to relay important information about COVID-19 to our staff and students – as well as the wider UCT community. They conducted interviews with researchers on the forefront of the pandemic, who provided key insights and gave tips on how to keep safe. Video production helped with distributing video conferencing tutorial videos since all our events moved online. Our web content team set up a dedicated feature page, where all the pertinent information pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic could be found, making accessing the information much easier.

In 2020 all our events moved to a virtual platform, and our Marketing and Stakeholder Relations unit saw an increase in registration figures for all the major institutional projects as there was no longer a need to accommodate guests in limited-capacity venues. The geographical locations went far beyond our borders as reach included the rest of the continent, and in some cases reached as far as the northern hemisphere, the Middle East, and Australia.

The unit also conceptualised, designed and implemented an institutionally integrated COVID-19 campaign. The campaign was designed and delivered in three phases with objectives to create awareness; communicate how UCT was to offer internal stakeholders support in financial, emotional and other tangible ways; and also communicated the protocols associated with a staggered return to campus.

Our Media and Social Media team had their work cut out for them too. Media statements released were the highest in the last five years, doubling in number when compared with 2019. Compared with 2019, the number of Vice-Chancellor (VC) Desks increased by over 50%, while the number of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) Desks issued was three times more. An unusually high number of In Remembrance notices (notices that communicate the passing of staff and students) was issued as the university also felt the very real and devastating impact of COVID-19, notably over the December festive period.

In terms of Social Media, in a single year, the team handled more queries than they did in the preceding three years combined. This because most UCT community members and other stakeholders use our online platforms for information on the latest developments. This accelerated during the pandemic.

The Online Communications team supported other units within CMD, notably Marketing and Stakeholder Relations, as well as units and departments across the university. Among the other important work done by the team was assistance with recording and/or lived-streaming events. This included dry runs, set-up and configuration, speaker/VIP training and technical support, and event production. In addition, hardware and software research and self-training on their use ensured that event online production and live-streaming were of optimal quality.

Last, but definitely not the least … the unit that “keeps it all going” – Executive Support. The team supported CMD during a demanding year for the department. All meetings went online and were supported by the unit, in terms of recordings, minutes, scheduling, and Finance and Human Resources processes. The unit also supported Marketing and Stakeholder Relations with their online events. Administrative and logistical processes were also digitised, thereby enabling the Executive Support Unit to efficiently support all other CMD units.

I am proud to say that the CMD team pulled together in a remarkable way, provided expertise and support to the university, and delivered exceptional outputs in 2020.

Indeed, our tensile strength was tested; we may have bent just a little, but we learnt that we can rise to the challenge and even thrive.

Gerda Kruger
Executive Director
Communication and Marketing Department

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