Meet Instructors Dr. Abbey Levenshus and Robert Norris
Dr. Abbey Levenshus and Professor Robert Norris, two experts in communication who took dissimilar career paths, are part of the faculty for Butler’s online Master’s in Strategic Communication program. We talked with each of them separately to find out what they wish they’d known early in their careers and why they believe this advanced degree will benefit today’s professionals. We’ve combined their answers below.
Levenshus: We’re facing audiences that are more cynical than ever. People are not necessarily interested in having conversations with organizations or “engaging” with them. We need to be better at matching what an organization wants to tell its audiences and what those audiences actually want—and when, where, and how they want it—than we have been.
Strategic communicators have to understand their audiences, look critically at all the data that’s available, and figure out the best actions to take, all while being memorable and building trust and understanding. That’s a really tall order.
Norris: If we’re thinking strategically, then we’re thinking long-term. While our cousins in marketing are often addressing short-term goals, we have to think in terms of relationships and reputation. Sometimes that means turning to management and saying you don’t want to do that, and here’s why. That’s knowing your business and thinking strategically.
Levenshus: A program like ours will let someone get up to speed quickly or step up their skill level to offer that kind of strategic counsel to management. We’ve seen how our undergrads are quickly proving their worth in their jobs because we teach them to look at the data, yet be audience-centered all the time. At the master’s level, we really expand on understanding and applying these ideas.
Norris: Employers are looking for these skills. You crave what you don’t have. They think the abilities that go with strategic communication are invaluable, and they’re not seeing them. So, if you bring all your other skills plus those you learn in our master’s program to a job, you may very well be in a category by yourself. And that’s where you want to be. If you can speak with confidence and know what you’re talking about, you can be influential.
Levenshus: When I was in the field before I’d formally studied communication, I often felt like I was the only person in the room representing the communication side of the conversation. I could see the issues, but I didn’t have the concepts and vocabulary to make my case. It was like doing my job as a mime. I was effective, but I was doing things the hard way.
Grad school gave me a vocabulary and data-backed best practices that I was missing. Master’s students in our program will get to connect with communicators in their cohort and talk through these issues before or outside of being presented with them at work. The program is at the heart of what a Butler education provides: experiential learning tailored to students’ interests. We’re just adding the convenience and flexibility of online learning.
Read about Dr. Abbey Levenshus and Professor Robert Norris
Dr. Abbey Levenshus holds a master’s degree in Public Communication and a doctorate in Communication. She’s been Communication Director for a member of Congress, a political technology company, and a government consulting firm in Washington, DC.
Dr. Levenshus is Associate Professor in the Department of Strategic Communication. Between graduating from college and teaching at Butler, Levenshus has had a career that she in no way planned to have.
“I started working on Capitol Hill straight out of college. I should’ve known that the press world was in my future, but I really didn’t,” she said.
She was doing some writing as a legislative correspondent for a member of Congress, but when the press secretary left, “It never occurred to me to ask for that job,” she said. “The Chief of Staff came to me and said, ‘What about you?’ I told him I didn’t feel qualified, but he believed in me and said, ‘Let’s just try it out.’”
She’d never written a press release and had no idea what AP Style was.
“I wrote three press releases on the first day, and a reporter sent one back all marked up with a note: ‘The next one you send had better be done right.’” And it was. But Levenshus always felt that drive to better know why some efforts worked and others didn’t. That’s what drove her to graduate school.
She earned a master’s in Public Communication at American University and a doctorate in Communication from the University of Maryland. She worked in corporate communications, but she knew she wanted to teach. She was an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Tennessee before gleefully returning to Indiana, her home state, and joining Butler University’s faculty.
Today, she serves as Associate Professor in the Department of Strategic Communication, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in strategic communication, including writing, media planning, and case studies.
She also mentors and advises undergraduate students, serves as the faculty advisor for Butler’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, chairs the College of Communication Honors Committee, and serves on Butler’s Faculty Senate, Graduate Council, Honors Board, Career Services Advisory Board, and Phi Beta Kappa committee.
Dr. Levenshus’ research on government communication, risk and crisis communication, and social media management has been published in books and top communication journals, including Journal of Applied Communication Research and Journal of Public Relations Research.
Professor Robert Norris holds a bachelor’s degree in History and a master’s in European History. He’s been Communication Manager for a Fortune 500 company and Corporate Communication Director for a large energy company during mergers, nuclear issues, an attempted hostile takeover and other crises.
How would you like to be the spokesperson for an energy company when thousands of people lose their power? Professor Norris has been there—along with strikes, fears about nuclear energy, and so much more that affect people’s daily, very personal, lives.
In his 40-year career in corporate communication, he’s also had his share of managers who did not understand what he did.
“I once had an interim boss who was a good guy, but he never worked in communication. We were arguing one day about the content of a press release. He wanted to add some things to make the company look better. I was talking to him about why things like that would get taken out by the reporter when he said, ‘What? Don’t they have to use what we send them?’” Norris said.
Today, many managers are realizing that their company needs not just communication counsel, but strategic communication counsel. He saw the change over his 30 years at Duke Energy Indiana, where he began as a Public Relations Assistant and moved up to Director of Corporate Communication, overseeing advertising, media relations, video production, and speech writing, and acting as spokesperson during crises.
After retiring from Duke Energy in 2006, Norris joined Cummins Inc. as a Communication Manager. He trained employees around the world on presentational speaking and media relations.
Today, Norris is an Instructor in Communication at Butler, where he developed the University’s course on crisis communication.
In 2002, he published a paper in the Journal of Communications Management on communication and power in England.