by Anselmo Watkins
Mitchell Kluge the newly hired manager of Web Communications Group at Wisconsin’s Beisall University is proving that sharp ideas, rather than traditional expertise, are the key to success in his new position.
“It is a great team, and they did some really good work before I got here,” Kluge said, “but if I am going to be their manager, I have to make some changes. I have to do it to validate my existence.”
Kluge came from nearby Ribens College, where he had been an assistant to the director of food services. He admitted to having no real hands-on Web experience in his 15 years in the position, but added that he had read about search engine optimization and was “excited about it.”
Prior to Kluge’s arrival, the Beisall team had earned several awards for their sites’ usability and high quality designs.
“We did research on best practices in writing, design and programming and were able to create cutting-edge sites that really made a difference,” said Jim Smallgrave, project manager for the team.
Kluge, who was hired after a 10-week search for a new manager, introduced a new operating mantra “everybody is always right” and made design and organizational changes to the sites based on the suggestions of vocal campus faculty and septuagenarian administrators.
“I told the team that I thought they needed to embrace change,” said Kluge. “They were throwing around terms like ‘best practices,’ ‘usability,’ and ‘testing’ like they were important. But really, those are just opinions of people who have made a career in working in the Web.” Kluge urged his staff to listen to new ideas. “These are smart people with Ph.D.s and titles. Just because some of these administrators don’t know how to use the copy and paste function, it doesn’t mean that their opinions aren’t valid.”
Kluge cited as an example a complaint made by many faculty members, that their titles as well as the word “university” should always be capitalized, no matter where they appeared in the website.
“Our writer said that she based the campus Web style on the AP Styleguide, but that’s for newspapers, isn’t it? And the Web isn’t a newspaper,” Kluge said. “Instead, we are going to base our styleguide on the German language and capitalize virtually every noun we have: professor, the names of the departments, colleges, offices, and anything else that seems like it ought to be capitalized. That way, everybody is happy!”
Bernard Whiten, professor of English and a vocal critic of the website, said he was pleased by the move. “I earned my Ph.D. and I think it is only right that I always be referred to as ‘Professor,’ regardless of whether it appears before or after my name. I’ve earned it.”
Other improvements to the site include putting a link to the campus e-mail page on every page of the site and replacing informative campus branding and information on the home page with a large photo and welcoming letter from University President Ted Applebaum.
“It’s a big link that says ‘e-mail’ in 20 point type on the top of every page. That way, nobody will miss it and everyone will be happy,” Kluge explained. “The letter from President Applebaum was a no-brainer. We let people know that we care about them. And he is so photogenic, we just had to put a big photo of him behind his big desk.”
Veteran members of the development team were thrilled with the changes to the sites.
“Everything he is doing is great. Couldn’t be happier. Makes perfect sense. All of it,” said programmer Todd Jones. “The economy is in the tank, and I need this job. So it is great.”
Kluge said that he planned on bringing in his racquetball partner as a “Web consultant” in the coming weeks. “My buddy, Edward will be coming in to give our site the once over and give us some idea of where to take it in the future. He really knows the Web – spends hours on MySpace and looking at dating sites. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.”