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It's all about affinity

The News, Ohio State, and Alumni Affinity

May 31st, 2011

Greetings! Today’s blog is a contribution of Tony Grech, a very talented OSU MBA student who works with us on the BCI Project. Tony has been spending some time thinking about the way in which alumni communities and advancement professionals can be impacted by different types of “turbulence” in our environment. So, here’s his latest, I hope you find it thought-provoking:

Brand Equity is broad…very broad…

For years, Ohio State University football fans viewed Coach Jim Tressel’s sweater-vest as a marker of virtue. “The Vest,” as fans call it, had become an iconic symbol to the loyal community of Buckeye gridiron fans. Recently the NCAA has charged Tressel with “potential major violations” associated with Buckeye players receiving improper benefits from a tattoo parlor. In the face of pending NCAA formal proceedings, he has just resigned his position at Ohio State.

The Buckeye nation seems polarized on the proper way to respond to this “scandal.” Some vocal fans and sportswriters were calling for his job. Some, like former quarterback Terell Pryor, were rallying around the embattled coach and offered strong public support. Oh yeah…while this tumult was taking place, Ohio State University’s astronomers discovered a new supernova named Eta Carinae. These competing contrasting stories provide an excellent illustration of just how diverse the factors are that can influence a university’s community.

The research on brand community indicates that strong emotional reactions, either positive or negative, can be visible demonstrations of affinity. Affinity, in a broad sense, is the unifying glue of brand community. Among research-oriented community members, the discovery of the supernova will be a tremendous point of accomplishment and serve to bolster institutional identity and equity. Among Buckeye season ticket-holders, the “The Vest’s” fall from grace will be a disappointment. In both cases, we would expect that alumni who are actively integrated in their respective communities will maintain their attachment to the alma mater. For committed members, community is resilient.

As Tony’s commentary suggests, the efforts of advancement professionals are framed by the diverse events and activities that swirl around any university environment. I think there are a number of provocative issues associated with these tandem newsworthy events at Ohio State. I think it would be interesting to have a conversation around a couple of questions. I invite you, “Dear Reader,” to enter the fray:

1. As an advancement professional (to include development, alumni, and marketing), what would be your professional response, if any, to these events?

2. Clearly there are interesting “segmentation” opportunities to consider when evaluating an appropriate response to these kinds of tandem events. As our interest as advancement professionals is in alumni, how would you think about different alumni segments as they relate to these complex communication situations? Would you tailor messages to alumni segments, or address the broad community with uniform messages?

3. If you were a graduate of Ohio State how would you feel about these events?

4. How resilient is affinity among alumni members?

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts. I have some of my own but, for now, will keep them to myself.

Thanks for “popping in!”

James McAlexander, Ph.D.
Dean’s Professor of Excellence
College of Business
Oregon State University

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One Response to “The News, Ohio State, and Alumni Affinity”

  1. Beth Mckinnon says:

    I imagine that as an Ohio State graduate, I would be most likely to feel embarrassed and maybe a bit defensive of my alma mater regarding the athletic scandal. I might experience my attachment to my home university, along with the ideals and principles that shape it, similarly to the attachment I experience towards my parents. As a psychotherapist specializing in parent-child attachment, I recognize that that any social structure fostering collaboration, skill-building, and intellectual development comes to occupy a central place in the neuropsychobiological component of the human organism.

    Like a good parent, a successful educational institution provides the structure and nurturing required for an an individual to transition successfully into the workplace. This education provides the ground on which the foundation of one’s professional life rests. One’s professional life, in turn, has tremendous bearing on one’s personal and family lives. I find it unlikely that individuals would reject such fundamental a shaping force over something as common as a football scandal. It would be a bit like rejecting one’s father because the IRS found him owing back taxes. Personally, I would not want the neighbors to know about my dad’s mistake; however, if they did find out, I would want to be able to tell them something wonderful him. This provides a rationale for sending out broad, positive messages about the university’s accomplishments across alumni segments and to the general public.

    In keeping with the parenting analogy, I would want to know what was being done to prevent my father getting into trouble in the future. Did he hire a new accountant? Upgrade his laptop? Find a better way to keep track of his receipts? In order to maintain a sense of safety within the family, it helps to know that everyone is aware of the rules and that a system is in place to help people follow them. If Ohio State could let me, as an alumnus, know what is being done to prevent such scandals in the future while focusing on the university’s many positive accomplishments, I would likely remain as loyal to my academic birthplace as I am to my own family.

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