Marketing The Working World

Joy to the World Wide Web

The holiday card: a fixture of the higher educations communications landscape.

The Holiday E-Card

Planning is very important.December bears witness to one of the most interesting dichotomies in higher education communication: the holiday e-card.

For advancement and public relations, the holiday e-card is an exciting end of year project that reminds alumni and the community of the institution and hopefully reminds them that their alma mater is still part of their lives and family.

To the creative teams and web developers that are tasked with creating the card, it’s frequently a design-by-committee project that takes up valuable time right before the start of a new semester and  offers very little return on investment.

Both sides have valid points, but love them or hate them, the holiday card is a fixture of the higher educations communications landscape. Like anything, the truth lies between the two assessments.  Done right, and done strategically, the holiday e-card can be a good relationship building tool. The trick is in managing expectations and in planning.

Managing Expectations – Resources

  • Holidays means big meals and appetites, and often our eyes are bigger than our stomach. All too often, our administrators are sent a card by an institution or business with a much larger budget for their holiday message, and they ask us to replicate. It’s at that point that we either creatively find a way to recreate the project on a smaller scale, or pack ourselves into a box with a note saying “Don’t open until President’s Day.”
  • Use metrics to determine what resources to put behind your card. If your cards receive very little social engagement, then consider taking a different rout in your presentation this year or scale back on the costs and productions.
  • Provide resources for units that do not have them. The University of Florida’s University Relations team produces two or three holiday cards per season that are added to an online repository of cards for units to use.


Holiday card projects often come to the creative team at the last minute. But they don’t have to. The holidays are a known quantity. WE KNOW IT’S COMING EVERY YEAR (except maybe in 2012).

This gives us a great opportunity to plan in advance. Keep suggestions open for holiday cards throughout the year.  Keep a list of good ideas.  Begin thinking and conceptualizing your cards early. October presents a good month for laying some ground work – after the fall semester madness, and before vacations in November and December begin eating up staff and administrator time. By thinking ahead, we can avoid the crunch time that makes these projects so onerous.

Spreading Holiday Magic: The 2011 West Virginia Holiday Card

The West Virginia University’s 2011 Holiday Card is a beautiful blend of web and video. The video is below, but you should check out the web page itself, which interacts with the video itself with subtle lighting effects. I spoke to Dave Olson, programmer and project manager with WVU University Relations, about the project.

Tell me about the Christmas card for your institution this year.

The primary element for our holiday card this year was a video that featured a sprite that spreads the magic of the season across campus. Related to it, and the primary piece that I worked on, was a website that integrates with the video. For the website we tried to create an atmosphere (e.g. snowflakes, fog, sparkles) and functionality (e.g. buildings light up as the sprite visits places on campus in the video) that complemented the video. Also, as a mobile guy we tried to make sure it was mobile-optimized as well.

Who was involved in the development process?

The holiday card was done by a cross-unit team from our University Relations department. We had folks from our graphics, TVand web units involved. The team fluctuated a bit during the project but we had about eight to ten people working on the project. We’re lucky to have a large team with a broad set of skills.

Do you find there is a disconnect between the creative team responsible for your card and the communications personnel who develop the project?

The holiday card project was very much driven and defined by the creative team. We were given the broad themes to address in the project but otherwise the actual creative implementation was left up to the team. I think that’s what made the project interesting as well as successful. Everyone felt like they had a say in the final product. Or, at the very least, I did.

Do you find the development of a card worth the time and effort it takes to create it?

Watching the responses today and hearing what West Virginia University means to folks is always gratifying. From the perspective of team building, giving each other a better understanding of processes in other units, and playing with new technology then this holiday card paid off big time. For example, this was the first time I was involved in and had influence on the creation of a video. As a web person I was then able to take those ideas and create a tightly integrated web & video experience. It just made everything feel a whole lot more integrated.

What ways could you recommend making the process of developing a card easier?

The three keys seem to be time, a project coordinator, and more time. Time is the obvious thing but time to brainstorm & time to implement lead to the best morale and best products. We had several people step up over the course of the project and keep folks on task. For us, we started brainstorming in October, production in mid-November and we delivered in mid-December.

How do you create engagement with your holiday message?

I think it’s all about stirring up emotions. If you can do that then the engagement and sharing will take care of themselves.

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By Jeff Stevens

Deep in north-central Florida, Jeff Stevens leads a dual life. By day, he’s responsible for content strategy, usability, accessibility, SEO, and analytics and metrics for the University of Florida's academic Health Center. By night, he’s Creative Director of Union Design & Photo, a freelance design agency that has worked withover two hundred clients. In between, he dons a cape and plays superhero with his kids and cats. And when he dreams, he’s a singing park ranger somewhere out west.

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