It’s been a long time since I’ve attended a conference without having any conference-related responsibilities. Usually I’m there because I’m presenting, hosting a roundtable or two or assisting with planning. But not this year. I could attend the American Marketing Association’s 2015 Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education (better known these past few days as #AMAHigherEd) without having to worry about any responsibilities other than to learn.
So that’s what I did. I attended as many sessions as I could — right up to today’s closing keynote with University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono, which begins in a few hours.Unfortunately, I had to head to the airport earlier than planned in hopes of catching my flight on time.Continue reading “#AMAHigherEd 2015: Inclusion at the forefront”
I missed that third and final day, which featured a keynote speech by former White House press secretary Scott McClellan. (Judging from the tweets on the #AMAHigherEd stream, he capped off a series of excellent keynotes in stellar fashion.)
Even though I was able to attend only two-thirds of the conference, it was enough to send me home with a head packed full of ideas, thanks to the many smart people I met and heard from during the event, and a suitcase crammed with new notebooks and swag from the vendor booths.
Here are my top five takeaways from the conference.
1. Tell your story
The importance of storytelling as an essential element of effective branding and marketing was evident all around that conference. From the keynote speeches to the booths of the marketing firms attending the event to the swag those vendors were giving away, storytelling was everywhere. As someone who loves storytelling, I have a bias for its use in marketing, so perhaps I’m filtering out other important messages about marketing from the conference. But if there was one thread that seemed to tie much of the event together, storytelling was it. From cowboy poets to university presidents, the theme of storytelling connected the conference’s several disparate themes, speakers and elements.
A thought: How can storytelling connect the disparate elements of our institutions to weave together a tapestry of solid brand identity?
2. Know your place
For the opening keynote, DJ Stout, a partner in the design consultancy Pentagram, teamed up with singer-songwriter Darden Smith to lead us through a session on the importance of place. (I won’t call it a speech or a talk, because the session combined Smith’s musical musings on guitar with Stout’s commentary, video of Texas cowboy poets reciting their work, and visuals of Texas scenery and client work.) Stout and Smith, both native Texans (Stout is sixth-generation), talked about the importance of staying true to your roots when telling your story. Their point: A sense of place is essential in branding your organization.
A thought: When thinking about branding and marketing our institutions, think about where we’ve come from and where our roots are. Think about our geography and our history.
3. But don’t just stay there
While Stout and Smith focused on the importance of roots in their keynote, University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart talked about branching out in hers. The University of Arizona’s brand positioning talks about geography, but extends the brand identity quite well with a platform captured in a single word: Boundless. Hart’s luncheon keynote also focused on the importance of building a brand that is connected to the university’s strategic plan, and described how the Boundless theme emerged from Arizona’s Never Settle strategic plan.
A thought: Do our institutions’ marketing and branding efforts align with our strategic plans? Can we easily and effectively demonstrate that alignment? Leaders and decision-makers want to see that connection.
4. NPR and higher ed have much in common
Emma Carrasco, another keynoter, is the first chief marketing officer of a well-established media organization, National Public Radio. As she described the brand-building challenges facing NPR, it occurred to me that NPR and higher education have a lot in common. Both have been slow to embrace branding, journalists can be as skeptical of marketing as faculty, and both NPR and higher education have been focused more on how their administrative bodies want the organization to be run than on figuring out what the customers or audiences want. Carrasco said NPR has “turned the microphone around” to give the audience a voice and to listen to what the audience is saying. In another turnaround for NPR, she said, “We can no longer wait for you to find us. We have to find you.” As a longtime NPR fan and supporter (KMST), I was encouraged by what I was hearing from Carrasco and about the ascendancy of brand-building at the national level. I hope that emphasis translates to local stations like the one I support.
A thought: Sometimes we in higher ed marketing think the challenges we face are unique. They aren’t. Listen to and learn from other organizations. You might find something in common. And you might find new approaches to challenges. Also, listen to your customers.
5. Marketing is coming of age
The lineup of keynote speakers was interesting. We had a university president, the CMO of NPR and a former White House press secretary-turned-university CMO talking about the importance of marketing. If a university president extols the virtues of marketing, if a well-established media organization sees the importance of marketing and if high-level White House staffer finds higher ed marketing to be a good career move, then these are signs that point to the rise of marketing as an important field in our sector. The number of universities who have chief marketing officers is also on the increase — another indication that marketing is coming of age. We heard a lot about the importance of marketers and chief communicators having “a seat at the table” of campus decision-makers.
And yet, at the conference, I continued to hear the complaint that marketing doesn’t get the respect it deserves. The ascendance of marketing is not evenly distributed in higher ed. Some schools are in the forefront, but many lag behind.
A thought: Be an advocate for the importance of marketing at your institution. Build the coalitions and relationships necessary to create a greater connection between marketing and leadership. That greater connection with not only benefit you and the institution’s marketing enterprise, but also the university as a whole.
Bonus 1: Best tweet of the conference
The award goes to @ICChris, who posted this gem early on in the conference:
You know you work for a college when materials for 17-year-olds are designed by 35-yr-olds and approved by 60-yr-olds. #amahighered
Traditional lines between marketing, PR, branding and reputation management are gone. Today’s marketers need to have an understanding of all the ways in which communication can drive institutional success. From tools to technique, this session will focus on how higher ed marketers can position themselves – and empower their community – to help their institutions thrive in this era of convergence.
Intrigued? Then join us. Our session begins at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 11.
Even if you can’t make that session, I hope to see you around during the conference.
The end of September marked my seven-year anniversary on Twitter. Perhaps not coincidentally, the anniversary occurred on the first day of the 2014 Aggregate Conference, which I was fortunate enough to attend at the invitation of a long-time social networking pal, Ron Bronson, who curated this wonderful little conference.
Ron and I go way back, in Internet years.
Not long after I started this blog in 2005, our digital paths crossed somewhere and we started sharing ideas online about higher ed, digital culture, books and our mutual love of music. (The higher ed blogging community was pretty small back then.) We shared ideas via comments on each other’s blogs. I’d read something on Ron’s blog that would spark my interest, and occasionally I would riff on his idea, if not outright pilfer it.
Eventually more of the discussion moved to Twitter and Facebook. A few years ago, I had an idea to pull together a group of fellow music lovers from the higher ed sphere (there are many of us out there) to create a collaborative group for online music discussion. Ron was one of the first I contacted, even though we don’t always agree on what constitutes good music. But that’s part of the fun of it. I get to learn about new music from Ron, and maybe he even learns something from me in return.
Through the years and the digital ether, Ron and I became friends. But I’d never met Ron, person-to-person, until the Aggregate Conference last Sunday. I met a lot of other longtime social media friends that night and throughout the conference, too.
I’ve written before in this space about how Twitter is my go-to learning network. The people and organizations that I follow are founts of knowledge. We have some great discussions on that network and exchange ideas about all sorts of topics. I think Twitter has made me smarter, thanks to the people I’ve learned from there.
It’s also expanded my network of friends, many of whom I’ve never met in the flesh. That was the case with Ron and several others at the conference — too many to list here.
But there are still many more friends I haven’t yet met in the flesh whom I’ve gotten to know through Twitter. It’s a very cool thing. It’s also kind of weird. But sometimes, cool and weird work out.
The 2014 Aggregate Conference is coming to downtown Louisville, Kentucky, later this month. I’m looking forward to being there.
I’m looking forward to some great sessions and great conversations about the future of all things digital. I’m also looking forward to presenting on a favorite topic of mine: change management. But mostly I’m looking forward to meeting in person, for the first time, some of my favorite online friends. Aggregate is where we will congregate.
Chief on that list of virtual pals is Ron Bronson (@ronbronson). I’ve known Ron via social media circles for so long now that, even though we’ve never met, I consider him to be a fine friend. Ron is curating the conference (he explains why here) and was gracious enough to invite me to present.
Even though the conference is focused on the digital side of higher ed, and I don’t fit neatly into that niche, I take advantage of an opportunity to rub elbows with and learn from creative minds from all walks of life. One beautiful thing about the digital side of higher ed is that, in its current, evolving form, it has drawn together folks from a variety of fields: from IT and web communications to PR, marketing and more. The Aggregate Conference should provide some stimulating ideas and conversation.
Are you planning to attend Aggregate? If so, let me know. I’d love to meet you.
I’m very glad I was able to attend a portion of the Public Relations Society of America’s 2014 PRSA Midwest District Conference in Springfield, Missouri, on Thursday. I’m especially happy that I was able to hear kickoff keynote speaker Jim Lukaszewski’s terrific presentation on gaining influence. Jim is head of the Lucaszewski group and a big name in the PR and crisis communications fields. He shared a lot of knowledge and great ideas with us today. But the best takeaway of Jim’s talk, for me, was his five-step personal action plan. (And wouldn’t you know it? Those five steps fit perfectly with this blog’s Friday Five format.)
Since Jim so graciously shared his wisdom with us, I don’t think he’d mind my freely passing it along to all of you. It’s a pretty good template that I think would apply to fields outside of PR, marketing, branding and strategic communications. So even if you’re not in the PR, marketing or branding business, you might find Jim’s plan adaptable to your vocation — and/or your life outside of work.
Jim Lukaszewski’s five-step personal action plan
Broaden your interests. In the context of the PRSA conference, Jim asked us to “Broaden your interest beyond the media.” Our organizations’ leaders have broader interests. So should we.
Teach yourself to ask these five questions at the end of every day:
What do I know now that I didn’t know at the start of this day?
What is the most important thing I’ve learned or witnessed today?
What is the most interesting thing I’ve learned or witnessed today?
Who did I help today (and how)?
What new questions came up today that I need to find the answers to?
Teach others. Along those lines, Jim also suggests we find compliment those who learn from us. Beyond that, we should strive to find someone to compliment and write that person a personal, handwritten note. He strives to do this three times per month.
Study leadership. Read biographies or books about leaders who interest you, regardless of their field or discipline. But don’t limit your study to books. Study the leaders around you, including those in your organizations and in organizations you’re affiliated with (as a volunteer, for example).
Do and say things that matter. Jim suggests we learn to moderate the suggestions we make to those who seek our counsel. We should keep our advice “simple, sensible, positive and constructive,” and make sure it helps our leaders achieve their objectives as well as the objectives of our organizations.
The 2014 edition of the CASE Annual Conference on Marketing and Branding begins this afternoon and continues through Friday, May 2. We have a record turnout of 120 attendees, and it promises to be a terrific event. Thanks to the leadership of conference chair Rachel Reuben for pulling a solid program and some stellar faculty.
If you’re attending the event, please share what you’re learning and experiencing on Twitter by tagging your live or tape-delayed tweets with #caseacmb. For those who can’t join us in person, that’s the hashtag to follow. Either way, I hope you learn a lot about higher ed marketing, branding and leadership over these next few days. And I’m looking forward to meeting some new colleagues here in Baltimore.