Nicole Yucht: Elevating the UF brand through innovation and collaboration

If you have visited the UF homepage at all in the past year, you may have noticed a distinct shift in the kinds of articles that occupy the page’s news. As we speak, an animated shadowy image of Little Red Riding Hood and her beastly bedridden “grandmother,” teamed with the caption “Little Weird Riding Hood,” dominates the top of the page. A click or two deeper leads to an article fascinating not only for its content — a Nova Scotian librarian’s discovery of centuries-old bizarre versions of the tale — but also for its look and feel, which is graphically bold and lyrically presented with accompanying video that draws you even more deeply into the story.

Intrigued? University Communications Assistant Vice President Nicole Yucht — along with her talented team of writers, editors, photographers, social media experts, campus liaisons and graphic designers — are counting on it. Innovative approaches to telling the UF story and presenting the university’s news in dynamic, cutting-edge ways that can also pierce the highly competitive social media landscape are integral to University Communications’ newest strategic approach to branding the University of Florida.

“We are in the middle of a communications revolution, and the way our audiences consume information is changing at a record pace,” said Yucht. “As the media landscape evolves, we are working hard to stay ahead of the trends in our unrelenting pursuit to enhance the image, reputation and stature of this institution. We come into work each day thinking of ways to present UF faculty, staff and students to the world through inspiring storytelling and illuminating visuals on unexpected channels.”

Yucht says her attunement to the audience and how messages can impact customers was honed early in her career. After a year of putting her public relations skills to work fielding customer complaints at a large physician practice, she advanced into roles in marketing, public relations and crisis communications for public and private healthcare organizations including Shands HealthCare and Community Health Systems. In 2014 she transitioned from healthcare to higher education to assume to role of University Relations’ marketing director.

Since taking the helm of University Communications just over a year ago, Yucht has set out to actively partner with communicators throughout campus and to bolster her talented team with tools to elevate UF’s brand in both national and international arenas. She oversees the integration of her team’s efforts in the areas of campus outreach, marketing, UF’s web presence, social media and media relations. But she is quick to emphasize that the diversity of today’s media requires precision in targeting audiences — whether Gator alumni, the university community, the national media, peer institutions, students or parents.

Mindful of the 24-hours news cycle, one of the first decisions Yucht made in her new role was to create a new dedicated director of communications position, held by Margot Winick, who monitors trends in higher education news and actively seeks ways to position UF in the conversations already in play in the national media. Yucht says one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is the opportunity to position UF’s faculty researchers and experts in ways that pull out their “awe-inspiring stories.”

“On a daily basis I am amazed at the brilliant minds for whom I have the privilege of working,” Yucht explained. “Our faculty are finding solutions for some of the world’s biggest challenges and educating the next generation of highly-motivated go-getters who will make even more changes that will positively impact us all. The Gator Good is happening all around us.”

To help ensure their stories get told, Yucht has actively sought out communicators in colleges and departments outside of Tigert Hall to find ways to facilitate and amplify their efforts. And during the past academic year, University Communications established a group of senior communicators on campus — dubbed “F16,” representing the 16 colleges at UF — to come together on a regular basis to share information and to work together to further advance the UF brand.

University Communications also provides media training for faculty and staff who may suddenly be receiving media attention for their work, but who have had little to no experience sitting in front of a camera fielding questions from a reporter. Departments delving into social media for the first time also can receive training from University Communications’ innovative social media team. And Yucht is looking forward to introducing more resources to onboard new campus communicators and orient them to UF’s identity and messaging goals.

One of her team’s top priorities in the year to come is to develop, in partnership with the Provost’s Office, a “peer strategy” designed to improve the ways in which we talk to other universities. Such a strategy could include providing conference toolkits to equip faculty and administrators with resources that support them when they are presenting at national meetings, and collateral materials to help recruit top talent. Yucht also looks forward to continuing to promote UF faculty national academy appointments and nominations. Additionally, her team will launch an integrated online calendar in the fall to serve as a one-stop online location for announcements of UF events and activities.

“Members of my team serve as ambassadors to more than 300 communicators on campus, and our role is to support them and amplify their efforts,” Yucht said. “We are all working together to position UF as one of the very best institutions in the nation. I love walking across campus and feeling the energy, excitement and passion of our faculty, staff and students as we are all on this upward trajectory.”