Dining Dialogue: Harmon works the UAFS ‘buzz’

story by Michael Tilley
mtilley@thecitywire.com

Editor’s note: The Fort Smith area Dining Dialogue is sponsored by Whole Hog Cafe in Fort Smith and managed by The City Wire. The Dining Dialogue delivers interviews with personalities, newsmakers and business and civic leaders in the Fort Smith area. Whole Hog delivers fast and economical lunches combined with service that facilitates a good lunch and conversation within 60 minutes.

Link here to "Nominate a Newsmaker" for a Dining Dialogue interview.

Jeff Harmon arrived in Fort Smith almost three years ago after moving from Illinois to Arizona, back to Illinois, then returning to Arizona – all in the space of about 14 years.

Harmon, director of marketing and communications at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, first moved to Arizona in 1986 after graduating from the University of Illinois. It was there he first got involved with information technology work in a job with itool.com.

“It (the website) was before ‘Go Daddy’ and it should have been ‘Go Daddy,’” Harmon said of the popular web hosting service that is a high-profile sponsor of NASCAR driver Danica Patrick.

While in Arizona, Harmon completed a master’s degree in business administration. In addition to the degree, he also got the bug for academic life.

“I missed that academic environment. I had no idea how much I missed that. ... So I got this idea to work in marketing for a university,” Harmon explained.

The university was his alma mater, and in 2003 he became director of online marketing for the University of Illinois. He would remain there until the summer of 2006 when he was recruited to Arizona State University to be the director of online communications and marketing.

It was a great job with a solid institution. But as the fall of 2010 approached, Harmon learned about the opening at UAFS for a director of marketing and communications. It caught his interest.

“I wanted to be able to work the marketing for an entire institution. ... I saw that this position was available, and it was in a beautiful area,” Harmon explained.

Harmon said it became apparent during his interviews that UAFS had “very forward thinking” faculty and leadership and the university was in the process of developing a new brand.

“All of that was really appealing,” Harmon said.

Harmon is happy with his decision to end the Illinois-Arizona shuffle. He “absolutely loves” the marketing and communication strategy meetings with department heads, working on new ideas, working to organize photography and other content for university materials and the website, and being part of the UAFS growth.

“The fun part of my job is coming in every day and working with such a creative group of people. They really take the quality and perception of the brand, they really take that personally. They take it to heart. It’s important to them,” Harmon said.

There are several projects on which Harmon’s crew works. His favorite projects include launching the new UAFS brand, pushing out a new website, and creating a web page that helps students and prospective students find degree information. He is also proud of “helping transform the team” to use more analytical decision making so the department choices reflect “efficient use of state funds.”

Much of the analysis includes the use and monitoring of social media. The university subscribes to several services that “allow us to monitor in real time what is being said about us,” Harmon said.

Based on the monitoring, Harmon is hopeful the branding and marketing will translate into enrollment gains.

“We can see that the UAFS brand is in front of more people. ... There is more buzz out there about the brand,” he said.

Harmon, who is married with three children (11-year old daughter and 7-year old twin boys), wants to settle in Fort Smith for the foreseeable future.

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“This is a good place. ... I see this as a challenge and opportunity for me for years to come,” said Harmon, who recently graduated from Leadership Fort Smith.

It’s a good place with one exception: August humidity.

“I was shocked at how hot it was that first summer. I thought I had moved away from that,” a smiling Harmon said of his move from Arizona to Fort Smith.

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