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Director of University communication resigns

April 23, 2009

The UW-River Falls Office of University Communications is going through its second restructuring in less than a year in the wake of Director Kevin Bertelsen’s resignation.

Bertelsen, who will leave the University in June, will be replaced by Kevin Harter, director of media relations. Bertelsen declined to comment in regards to his decision to leave UWRF.

Harter, who assumed the role of interim director of University communications immediately following Bertelsen’s announcement to resign on April 1, will fill both director roles simultaneously and oversee the merger of both the Publications and Public Affairs offices into a single University communications office.

“The merger is being done to utilize all the communication tools available to us, including the Web,” Harter said. “The merger is intended meet the strategic mission and goals of the University and, in the process, make operations more efficient and effective.”

In response to the reorganization, and Harter’s double duty, a team of four UWRF employees has been assembled in order to perform an internal review. The group, titled the University Communication Merger Work Group, will work on outlining a new mission statement and define strategic goals for the restructuring.  “The goal of the work group is to review job descriptions, compare them with the University’s communications needs and draft job descriptions, an organization chart and a mission statement for the new office of University Communications,” Harter said.

The members of the group are: journalism professor Pat Berg, marketing communications professor Tracy O’Connell and University communication employees Tony Bredahl and Deborah Toftness. Together, the four will also review the current staff positions for the entire office, interview all the employees and make recommendations on what the University needs to do to fill in any gaps.

“We have people and resources to do some of what we want to do but we still need more,” Harter said. “We need to add some skills to round out the team but we do have some very talented, creative and dedicated people here.” O’Connell was quick to point out that the purpose of this work group is not to find jobs to terminate but to “try and create a system that makes [the office] happen as effectively as possible.”

O’Connell said the group hopes to successfully blend the two departments into a single, functional office. “Formerly one group focused on projects like news releases, media contacts, sports and photography; the other on brochure and Web writing, design and publication production,” O’Connell said in an e-mail interview.

“We’re looking at one organization that maximizes the opportunities to leverage the skills, tools and knowledge of the members across all these platforms, a format that is followed on several other UW campuses.”

The team also has a secondary goal: to evaluate the effectiveness of Harter in both director positions. In an effort to squeeze the most productivity out of the tightening budget, the work group will determine if the director of media relations can be combined with the director of University communications.

Harter will serve as a guinea pig of sorts until a search and screen committee can be formed to search for a replacement for Bertelsen. Harter said that when that time comes he will certainly apply for the position, but he is not guaranteed the spot because a search and screen process is required by law. “This is a working opportunity to see how a possible restructure would work and to test the hypothesis,” Harter said.

“We need to find the best tools for UWRF to communicate both internally and externally. Maybe this merger is part of that. We can’t be good external communicators if we aren’t good internal communicators first.” Harter said he has big, exciting plans for the University in terms of reaching out to various audiences. According to Harter, UWRF has a harder challenge than other UW schools due to their close relation to the Twin Cities.

Although the proximity has allowed the University to establish close ties with media outlets in the Cities, being poised on the edge of the 11th largest media market in the country has resulted in stiffer competition regarding getting the overall UWRF message heard amidst the clutter. “We have to work harder to crack into the 11th biggest media market. We must get out in smart and innovative ways and be proactive,” Harter said.

“It is a very challenging and exciting time. The market is fragmented and the industry is going through a lot of change. The media functions are evolving and we need to implement it all.” Part of Harter’s new communications responsibilities will be to continue working with Woychick Design on the UWRF rebranding, mainly the Web site overhaul. One of the most significant aspects of the new Web site are the personal student success stories.

Harter hopes these will inspire current and prospective students. “It is all about finding the right vehicles to tell good stories,” Harter said. “And we have a lot of good stories. We must tailor everything to meet both ends of the spectrum-alums and high school students. It is all about matching the best stories to the correct audiences.” The work with the Web site has also caused a minor shift in personnel in the communications office.

Several employees who have routinely been involved in Web design have been rerouted into the IT department. “Ultimately this is a good thing because we’re putting apples with apples and oranges with oranges,” Harter said. In order to develop his philosophy and plan his course of action, Harter said he has already begun talking to deans and department heads in small groups, even one-on-one scenarios, in order to understand what this University needs.

“The purpose of these groups is to listen, learn and educate,” Harter said. “You can get a lot of info talking casually but there will always come a time when you need to stand up with a clicker in front of a PowerPoint and say ‘here is what’s new and here’s why.’ To be successful, members of these smaller groups will carry that knowledge back and disseminate it into larger groups.”

Harter said he hopes to have this second restructure done by the end of the semester. “By [that time] we should have a pretty clear vision of how we want to be structured,” Harter said. “We’re moving confidently forward, always working towards the end goal and I know we will get there.”

Harter is a relatively new employee, hired on by UWRF in November when former Director of Media Affairs Mark Kinders resigned to follow former Chancellor Don Betz to Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla. In the wake of Kinders’ leaving, the Office of Media Affairs was merged with Public Affairs under the single heading of Public Affairs.

At the same time, the newly merged Public Affairs office was conjoined with University Publications to become the Office of University Communications. Bertelsen was put in charge and was assigned the task of heading up all internal communications for UWRF.

Harter became the head of the newly formed Office of Media Relations and was charged with coordinating all external communications work going out to the community and beyond. Bertelsen will remain active through June. After which he will leave to pursue other career interests and opportunities.

Harter said he suspects that Bertelsen wants to get back into his original passion: graphic design. Even though the departure of Bertelsen has caused a dynamic shift in the way the University is organized, Harter said he is confident that UWRF employees will soon appreciate the changes being made. “With change there is always fear and resistance,” Harter said, “but what we’re doing will allow everyone to do what they’re best at and what will benefit us all.”