STAFF MAGAZINE
INTERVIEWS / 29 MAY 2017

With a decade’s management experience and nearly 20 years’ extensive experience in printed media and corporate communication, Dr Phumzile Mmope joined Stellenbosch University (SU) at the start of 2016 as Senior Director: Corporate Marketing.

“When I saw the gap, I went for it with my whole being,” she says about her decision to move from Potchefstroom, where she was the Executive Director: Institutional Advancement at the North-West University (NWU).

Mmope studied journalism at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, and obtained her Master’s and PhD degrees in Communication Studies from NWU. She entered the higher-education arena with an appointment at Unisa’s Communication Division in 2000, and in 2008 she joined NWU, spending the last four years there as Executive Director.

“With my expertise and the road I’ve walked in terms of opportunity, growth and development at NWU, I truly believe I can add value to SU,” says Mmope, who now leads the (newly renamed) Corporate Communication Division at SU.

Let’s get the conversation started

Three months into 2017, it is already clear that there is a new era of global uncertainty, where developed economies and large emerging markets can no longer be considered predictable. “At a micro level, businesses and institutions can no longer assume that they are on a steady journey either. Simply put, we are in an era of business unusual, not business as usual.

“Our challenge, within the Corporate Communication Division, is to find the calm in the storm, and explore new, creative, and innovative ways to engage our stakeholders to help deliver on SU’s 2030 vision to be an inclusive, innovative and future-focused institution. An institution-wide engagement effort of this magnitude and importance, at a time like this, is a collective responsibility,” she says.

The Corporate Communication Division has kicked off 2017 with its first steps in delivering on its 2020 Integrated Communication Strategy (ICS), which will support an institution-wide drive to enhance stakeholder engagement with the SU brand. Why is this important? “Our stakeholders – from our loyal staff, students, alumni, donors, media, and others – need to be engaged to the institution’s core business objectives to help shape a favourable experience of our brand,” says Mmope.

Integration

Stakeholder engagement is an essential component of risk reduction and an opportunity to optimise our institution’s strategic priorities, which are to broaden access, sustain the momentum on excellence, and enhance societal impact.

“What is vital to remember, is that all of us have an impact on the engagement experience our stakeholders have of the university”, says Mmope.

At the heart of the 2020 ICS, is Corporate Communication’s mission statement, which reads, “We create a competitive advantage for SU by strategically positioning the SU brand favourably, implementing effective communication programmes and optimising stakeholder relationship management, thereby enabling the University to realise its aspiration of being an inclusive, innovative and future-focused institution”.

Mmope adds, “You will see that our mission statement in the ICS directly links to the SU vision. This is not by chance. The way we position the institution to our stakeholders will have a direct impact on ensuring that this vision is achieved. We are here to support, guide, and enable the University to maintain and build relationships with stakeholders.”

So why is engagement so important now?

Successful organisations and institutions make the connection between their internal and external brand – how we live our brand is linked to the way people see our brand. “What does this mean for us? It is important that we live the culture we want people to experience, and create a consistent narrative that tells the SU Story”, says Mmope. “Corporate Communication is in the process of creating a key messaging matrix, with supporting proof points, which will go a long way in telling the institutional story. We have so many amazing things to share, and our strategy is focussed on making sure we tell those stories at the right time, to the right people, in the right tone of voice”.

With SU’s centenary celebrations around the corner, Mmope foresees the Division will have an increasingly important role in creating and maintaining business value. As stakeholders’ influence evolves, such as with #FeesMustFall, the University will have to take a strategic and structured approach to stakeholder relations.

“How we build authentic trust is critical to sustaining relationships on an ongoing basis. To make sure we achieve this as an institution, the ICS has gone a long way in identifying and recommending ways to constructively maintain relationships over time throughout the institution and among our stakeholders. This helps create shared value by engaging early and often”, Mmope adds.

She also points out that the philosophy of the Corporate Communication Division suggests a future-focussed view. “In the ICS, we have noted that a new approach also compels a change in the identity of the division – to that of Corporate Communication, as well as a major transformation in our divisional focus areas, goals, priorities, operating model and governance processes, human resources capacity and the funding of the division.”

Nothing gives Mmope more satisfaction than hard, honest work and the knowledge that she has given 110% of herself. “This is what drives me,” she says.

On her Twitter profile, she describes herself as an eternal optimist, sometimes opportunistic but never pessimistic, and a sensible realist. “It doesn’t matter what life throws my way, I’ll always find something positive,” she smiles.

Practical stakeholder approach

  • Focus on where stakeholder engagement can have the biggest return on our Institutional Intent & Strategy
  • Streamline processes to help drive cost-effective stakeholder engagement activities across and throughout the university
  • Learn from past experiences
  • Understand and manage stakeholder expectations
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