In the Loop
Crossroads of PR, Integrated Marketing and the Midwest.
SXSW: Trends to Know From a PR Perspective by Laura Chavoen
I’m still recovering from SXSW Interactive. The sheer volume of the conference can overwhelm, and I find it a bit daunting to distill the number of ideas, perspectives, panels, and conversations into something cohesive and, more importantly, actionable.
Let’s start with the numbers. This alone should serve as a great reason for anyone who has only considered attending to actually do so next year. (And yes, I do think that you should attend next year.)
Austin360.com reports: “Tuesday evening, the festival said its official paid attendance count for 2012 was 24,569, up from 19,364 in 2011, a change of nearly 27 percent. From 2010 to 2011, the fest grew from 14,251 to 19,364.”
The panels were spread across fifteen locations throughout downtown Austin, ranging from technical sessions about web and interface design, wireless innovation, and business operations to more philosophical discussions about online marketing, social networks, and our relationship to new technologies.
When I say “panels,” I mean not only actual panel conversations but also keynote addresses, solo presentations, interviews, and core conversations. Most sessions are one hour in length, though the numerous “Future 15″ talks run only fifteen minutes. Toss in book readings, signings, workshops, the Start-Up Village, and the many evening events, and suddenly you’re in the middle of a very busy hive of activity.
The content followed fourteen tracks — Design + Development, Better Tomorrow, Convergence, Health + Education, Government + Global, Culture, Science + Play, Start Up, Emerging, New Business, Branding + Marketing, Social Networks, Journalism + Content, Featured Sessions, and Keynotes — and was further categorized as Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced. Each track offered at least two options during every time slot, and there were five time slots each day. That added up to more than 1,050 different panels over the five days of the festival.
I’ve spent time over the last few days distilling my thoughts and notes into what I hope are valuable takeaways. I was looking for ideas, tools, technologies, and tactics that I can use for my clients, not macro trends, but it’s impossible not to begin to see patterns emerge or gaps appear.
Although technologies launched at SX in the past have gained acclaim and wide adoption (Twitter, Foursquare), I didn’t encounter any of those this year. There were several new apps with lots of buzz (Highlight, EchoEcho, Sonar) that seemed to concentrate on finding people in the crowds, narrowing one’s focus as opposed to widening it. I eagerly used both Highlight and EchoEcho and was pleased with the ability to find someone from my social network attending a specific panel, although actually locating them in the capacity crowds remained a challenge.
These apps enable you to narrow your social circles instead of widening them, whether by filtering people within your broader network by location alone (EchoEcho, Sonar) or by location and interest (Highlight). They offer a fascinating perspective on the social graph as they categorize your connections by interest and location while simultaneously exposing those connections to friends of friends in a relevant and intimate manner. I’m experimenting with using these tools in a non-conference setting and am eager to see if they maintain the same value.
Trans Media and Shared Screens
Trans media (content amplifed through shared screens, like tweeting the American Idol results while watching TV for example) and the multi-screen experience was everywhere. I’m fascinated by this convergence and attended as many panels on the topics as I could. Interestingly, while I expected to be impressed by content or technology, what I actually took away from these panels was more the idea of the interest graph, although the impact and challenges of contextual content gave me much food for thought.
Shared-screen experiences are a natural application for the evolution of dynamic communities, as they seamlessly integrate people into a wide network rooted in a common interest. The interest graph creates new opportunities for brands to present products, services or content based on a user’s interests, and also offers brands new ways to engage, learn from, and access new audiences.
The significance of the rise of the interest graph was underscored in a panel on consumer intent. Pinterest, Fancy, Tumblr, and Spring Pad are all examples of tools or networks that allow people to connect not (only) with other people that they know or are otherwise linked to, but with people who like or are interested in similar products, services, artists, or activities.
Brands that chose to engage with new and future audiences within the interest graph must think about the goals, tactics and management of those relationships in different ways than they currently do with their current Facebook and Twitter followers. The connection, the interactions, and the opportunities are all different. We’ve already seen some brands use Pinterest in exciting ways, creating real-time ad-hoc communities of people who all are interested in what the brand is offering, regardless of location, demographic, or social connectivity. Understanding and using this new lens on community and interaction to leverage its power and value remains a challenge, but is certainly an exciting one!
Extracting Relevant Data
Much to my delight, I was able to attend several panels focused on data. I learned more about creating infographics, using data to inform content development, data as narrative, and the continued growth of interest in personal data, and I saw demos of several analytics tools and platforms. I’m excited to see this attention continue to grow, but there was also a critical and very important shift in this year’s data panels that I’ve been eagerly awaiting. The conversation isn’t solely about data capture, monitoring, tracking and reporting anymore. It has shifted now to data as the input — data as critical information that helps to shape strategy, drive tactics, show relevance, and prove value. I had many conversations about the skill sets necessary to extract relevant data from data sets, how to identify the right metrics, and how to approach analysis and recommendations so that data can inform ongoing execution. This is an area where I’m certain we’ll continue to see growth and change over the next few years, and I couldn’t be happier about it. As technology gets smarter and smarter moving into the second half of the year (HTML5 and CSS3 anyone?), identifying what data to track and how to use it will become more important and powerful.
2012 is already moving fast, and if SXSW was any indication I’m buckling my seat belt tightly, hydrating, and getting ready for what promises to be an exhilarating ride!
Kony 2012: The Lessons We've Learned in Media Literacy by Diana Rostkowski
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are one of the 100 million viewers who have watched the Kony 2012 video on YouTube, or at least have heard about it through your tweets or Facebook news feed. For only being live about one week now, the video went viral at a rapid rate. Mashable reports it as the “most viral video in history.”
Posted by Invisible Children Inc., the video, “aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.”
Since the video was hard to ignore when we signed on our computers that morning, many were impacted by the narrator’s story, and quickly chose to repost on their social media channels. Being so convenient to click the “Facebook” or “Retweet” button, #Kony2012 became a topic that was trending on various social media feeds.
I think that overall, the video going viral was impactful for those Americans who weren’t aware of these types of global issues. Only a completely heartless person would not be impacted by the horror of genocide. However, in some cases even those who posted became bitter or upset to hear of the controversies with the issue and the campaign. If your social media presence matters to you (which it should), consider these three things before posting on your feeds:
1. Check your Source. Invisible Children, Inc. has undergone criticisms in the past. Research the original source’s website, as well as conduct a quick google search to see how they are viewed in mainstream media.
2. Check the Facts. Though there are two sides to every matter, many critics, including ForeignPolicy.com cite miscalculations in their tallies of the real children in the soldier ranks, in addition to the Lord Resistance Army’s group memberships to be in only the hundreds, and quite close to making peace. A Ugandan social entrepreneur commented on The New York Times online that, “when activists want to help people, we shouldn’t assume we know what’s best for them.” Many sites are also referring to the campaign as “slacktivism.”
3. Think on Your Own. Question what a campaign is asking for. Many were upset to hear that the $30 kit they purchased in order to promote the campaign was under criticism. Understand your own political view — do you feel it’s the U.S.’s role to intervene in another country? Find out if your daily purchases are a result of foreign child labor — for example, in the instance of diamonds and cocoa. Check the website of your favorite chocolate maker and see if they are a partner with the Fair Labour Association. You may change your choice in brands.
Brian Solis spoke at a SXSW panel yesterday afternoon about how audience segmentation is no longer only about age or demographics. One of the key audience groups is “GENERATION C:” C for connected. The connected generation not only integrates technology seamlessly into their lives, but this group also uses and embraces that technology to form, sustain and nurture relationships with others in Gen C.
Brian’s perspective is that we’re the problem and we are also the solution. This not about generations or age. It has to do with how we AS PEOPLE make decisions, interact and connect. We look at things in different ways. We have become a disruption. The decision-making cycle of connected consumers is very different today.
Later in the panel, Billy Corgan joined Brian for a sit-down chat about how the music industry is no longer “business as usual”, then went on a (seemingly angry) screed about how music is so different today and how music consumers ‘mostly just want stuff for free.’ He spoke about how the business of today’s music industry has ‘taken the claws out of the music,’ forcing musicians who seek fame (and fortune) to acquiesce to the demands of the business and not be driven by their creativity or their own desire.
And after seeing the Jay-Z show tonight, I can say that they are both right. Music is very different today, but not necessarily in the way Billy articulated, at least from my perspective, the perspective of the consumer, the FAN. There was NO lack of creativity, originality, in this evening’s show, nor was there any lack of pointed observations in Jay’s lyrics and even his stage banter. And Brian is also right, at least from as far as shared experiences go…the audience was connected, with each other as well as with Jay.
Jay-Z connected the audience. He interacted with us, and encouraged us to interact with each other in ways that I’ve never seen at the hundreds of live shows I’ve been to. He EXPECTED that the audience would know entire verses and held the microphone out so that we could join him. He had us waving our arms, bouncing, doing the 2-step, making some noise, singing the chorus behind his raps. We eagerly and passionately connected with him, with each other, laughing, taking pictures, dancing with total strangers.
He didn’t just perform. He connected with us. He didn’t just sing, he structured his set so that we could join him. He didn’t just perform the set list that the Twitter-sphere helped construct, he wove all of those songs together into a story and we all went on a fantastic, LOUD, energetic and completely transporting adventure.
I will continue to buy Jay’s music. And I won’t miss an opportunity to see him live again, at any cost. And I was delighted to see such a concrete example of Brian’s panel and book: “The End of Business as Usual.” It was a memorable way to close out another great weekend at SXSWi.
SXSWi Session Recaps: PR Lessons, Data Tools and More by Laura Chavoen
Another full day in Austin — panels and people, as well as codification of some perspectives and new viewpoints on others.
The day began with confirmation of how critical it is for the communicator to have a seat at the table in making business decisions. I attended the “More Smart, Less Stupid” PR panel which underscored that through examples of public relations missteps and successes, including Susan G. Komen, American Airlines, Zappos, and Netflix. A key takeaway was that if you’re going to be bipartisan, decide in advance and plan out the scenarios — don’t react in-market.
I also attended two panels that approached data and the roles it can play in business in different ways. The first focused on integrating data into the narrative, exploring ways to turn statistics into thought leadership TOOLS that people can use and apply rather than just read and file. Visualizing data exposes opportunity that might otherwise be missed and brings it into the discussion in a compelling and shareable manner. The idea extends beyond simple quantitative data. Visual transformation of information can imbue it with new power and expose it to new audiences.
Another session I attended explored NEW ways that data is informing the editorial process beyond the impression and the click. The exponential increase in data availability along with new channels requires us to be smarter about what data we pay attention to and offers us the opportunity to begin to more deeply segment and categorize our audiences.
Later I attended a panel on creating “Great Events.” The speakers suggested that great events challenge and intrigue their attendees, have unexpected elements, and offer something aspirational. They also pointed out that allowing people to help shape their own experience can make an event memorable and continue the conversation long after the actual event ends.
The day came to a close with a deep dive into local marketing. The focus was both tactical and technical, offering insights into working with Google Places pages, mobile optimization, and geo-location search-term management. A key takeaway underscored the value of targeted social content, and how critical it is to ensure that your Google Places pages are correct, since many mobile apps pull business information from those pages. Keeping local sites in your reputation-management strategy is also critical given the power of online reviews.
I’ll close today’s post with some great data about the value of local marketing. I’m working on visualizing this data and will post that later this weekend!
–Google Places account for 33% of visits to local business websites.
–88% of people who search for local information on a smartphone take action within one day.
–67% of consumers would NOT purchase a product/service after reading one to three negative reviews.
Day One Recap at SXSWi: Implications for PR by Laura Chavoen
The first day of SXSWi was cold and wet outside, but vibrant and crowded inside!
I’m live-tweeting from panels at @chavoen – ping me if you’ve a question you’d like me to ask or a panel you want me to check out. My initial plan for attending sessions is below and you can find the full schedule at sxsw.com
At SXSW, my goal for every panel is to learn (at least) one new thing, and find a concrete example that will resonate with at least one client or colleague.
Today’s panel topics included brand authenticity, higher ed and social media, and social media for real-world activation. At each full-capacity panel there was much to be learned and shared.
First panel was on brand authenticity. At MSL, and most likely throughout the PR/Marketing/Communications world, the idea of brand authenticity and consistency is already in our framework, but a few critical thoughts were shared that resonated with the audience. (Full disclosure: I shared my thoughts as an audience member during this session and was delighted by the response.)
Thinking about the full customer experience is critical — being authentic ONLY in social doesn’t work. Social is a tool and can help define, refine, and extend the experience and voice, but the voice must be authentic and consistent across all touchpoints and channels.
One of the panelists made an outstanding point as well — a campaign isn’t authentic if you can just replace the brand with a different one. Specifically referencing the Old Spice campaign that went viral and garnered so much attention, he asked if that same concept would have worked for Mennen. Or Taco Bell. And if the answer was yes, successful or not, it isn’t authentic. That is the difference between a campaign and a brand experience.
Moving to the higher ed panel, I was excited to hear several ideas of relevance to our higher education clients in Chicago. The first was about audience segmentation, making the point that an institutional voice may only be one of several voices necessary for messaging to be relevant to a wide variety of audiences. Some specific strategies were discussed for involving administrators from across the organization into the marketing effort and integrating their ideas and support. There was also a great discussion around highlighting and harnessing student voices in a way that offers dimensions and perspectives critical for longevity.
Finally, the social activation panel identified several different pathways for translating social media activity into real world actions, proving that key PR activities around influencer identification and engagement are more relevant than ever in today’s multi-channel cross-media world. PR gets relationships, has been creating stories and content for centuries, and remains the discipline that can and does conduct the orchestra of digital, marketing, communication, advertising, media, employee engagement, and sales. When all of those are working in concert? The gorgeous symphony of an authentic brand, playing the music relevant to each audience.
Looking forward to my sessions today, including panels on effective transmedia strategies, data/analytics, and PR for better business. I’m still deciding between a panel on daddybloggers or one on local…. Tweet me at @chavoen and help me decide!
The Week Ahead at SXSWi by Laura Chavoen
So much of what keeps PR as a discipline relevant in the competitive landscape is Innovation. As an industry, PR strives to be innovative in every way, with new events, new ways to reach influencers and new types of content — that, at its core, is what SXSW is about.
I’m not a newbie to the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin and it feels very different but no less inspiring and exciting than it was six years ago. Today, I feel like there is a lot more business-minded content as opposed to “tech topics,” and I don’t think that is a bad thing. For a long time, the conference catered mainly to technology and creative folks and venture capitalists would drive through, trendspotting. Now, the (bigger) conference gives business people a deeper understanding of the creative executions, and it gives the techs and the creative attendees the opportunity to see the connection between their innovations and business. It is bigger, but now it is richer in content, more 3-dimensional, and tangible.
Since much of the conference content is picked through the SXSW Panel Picker, the attendees are more selective against panels that are strictly “marketing.” And I think it shows — the panel content is really fascinating. Last year, at the panel with Weiden and Kennedy discussing the Old Spice campaign, it was fascinating how they took tweets and turned them into video responses — I was amazed to hear that they got video responses online within 24 hours — it changed everyone’s perspective on speed responsiveness and video — especially for a ‘brand’. It was just another example of content that was business-focused and gave me something tangible to think about.
Because SXSW is all about innovation, you get a sneak peak at what’s coming in technology trends. For example, tablets were huge three years ago right before the iPad came out. Many panelists and speakers were using tablets, and attendees see that. As a result, these people started creating tablet applications and tools and thinking of different usages for the technology. So being able to get a sneak peak at what the other speakers and attendees are doing can give you insights on what to do to stay on the competitive edge.
There are a number of trends I’m looking forward to learning more about and gauging at the conference, from a professional and a personal perspective:
Transmedia: How do you link the customer experience across multiple screens? How do you support how people interact with content displayed on different screens? For example, Google TV is interesting but it’s doing really poorly in the market, so I’m curious to see how people are tackling that.
Privacy: The rise of Pinterest, followed by questions around privacy issues around Instagram to Google to the music industry — privacy is a part of all of those things. Privacy is a thread through all of those, we have not seen privacy driving any of those business decisions, but if all industries pulled together, they could reshape all of media.
Data as a Narrative: I’m curious to hear more stories about how consumption metrics become a narrative. How does the actual data become a narrative for the same people that are using the content in the first place?
Gaming: I’m really into game concept and game theory. The article in the New York Times highlighting Self Magazine’s new game, underscores how games are being rooted in everything we do.
Tech Trends: I’m always interested in hearing what attendees are doing with HTML, CSS 5, and even 3D printing.
Bruce Sterling: As the godfather of science fiction and the keynote speaker at the conference, I’m really looking forward to hearing his session — he has a fascinating take on distilling what is fantasy from reality.
At SXSW, you never know what is going to inspire you. Even if it is a tech innovation, inspiration is inspiration. The challenge for attendees is to take what they see and make it relevant for our world.
PRSA Chicago Luncheon Recap: PR Trends for 2012 by Jeffrey LeFevre
As we venture into 2012, PR continues to evolve as an industry driven by real-time engagement. At PRSA Chicago’s most recent luncheon, the panel of PR and digital experts spoke to this movement and related trends they anticipate this year.
The luncheon panel (pictured above, from left to right) featured Jack Monson (moderator), vice president at Engage121; Anna Rozenich, director of communications at SunCoke Energy; Bill Adee, vice president of digital at Chicago Tribune; Laura Chavoen, senior vice president and director of digital strategy at MSL Chicago; and Jim Motzer, public relations instructor at DePaul University. Here are some key takeaways from the luncheon:
Leverage Inherent Connections to Engagement and Content in PR.
Laura emphasized the significance of PR’s deep connection to content generation and audience engagement. PR practitioners are inherently strategic thinkers and storytellers, developing narratives around a brand’s audiences. PR practitioners understand the conversation and significance of real-time engagement, and this makes them much more equipped to handle brands in this new digitally-driven consumer age over advertising, digital and media agencies.
Laura encouraged the PR audience to take ownership of this engagement movement in 2012 to help position PR professionals as the leading minds and strategic thinkers closest to content and consumer behavior.
Keep Consumers Top of Mind.
In 2012, consumers expect brands to be engaged in every aspect of a consumer’s life, and to be an active part of their everyday conversations, both online and offline. The days where brands and corporations dictate the conversation, and consumers are to simply follow suit, are long gone. In the age of social and online media, the everyday consumer is now an influencer with a voice, and brands must put consumers first.
Jim spoke to Netflix as the perfect example of a contemporary brand blindly changing its pricing structure and operations without any regard for its very loyal consumer base. Brands not only have to be engaged with its consumers and audiences, but must keep them top of mind before making any business decisions, said Jim.
Make Content Interactive and Strategically Forward Thinking.
Several of the panelists called out new, innovative means of taking a brand story and making it interactive and engaging. Social media and online platforms continue to serve as creative outlets for delivering content in a relevant and intriguing way for consumers. The panelists referenced Google TV, infographics, Google+ brand pages and Pinterest among the latest vehicles for driving brand content in 2012.
However, the panel cautioned PR professionals to not be too eager to jump onto the latest social media bandwagon. For instance, if a brand’s target is a younger male demographic, Larua suggested Tumblr over a Pinterest, despite Pinterests’ recent popularization.
Don’t Forget About Authenticity.
Although authenticity is among the most overused terms in the industry, Anna admitted, she referenced authenticity as still having tremendous relevancy for brands in 2012. The panel expressed that brands should have a personality and should use tailored content to capture its unique spirit. The 80’s corporate model where companies are fixed on an unattainable pedestal is dead, and brands are now expected to be “down in the trenches” with their consumers, engaging in their audiences’ everyday problems and conversations.
Social media can be a brand’s greatest means in connecting on an intimate, personal level with individual consumers, however it can just as easily work against you, uncovering inauthenticity as quick as a flash, said Anna.
Position Data as the Input, not the Output.
As Laura Chaoven spoke to on measurement, “Data as an output is 2010. Data as an input is 2012.”. With the invention of tools like Radian6 and Sysomos, data can be easily extracted and manipulated to paint a picture of a brand’s engagement online and offline that links back to a brand’s objectives.
However, with increased accessibility of these programs and competing free software, this data is no longer as inherently valuable as it was two years ago. Brands don’t need research experts or agencies to deliver the “output” numbers anymore. They can just as easily do it themselves these days, said Laura. Thus, these data analysis experts must not look to the numbers as the “output” or end game, but as the “input” from which insights are derived. It is the expert insights that are the real asset, and what is going to differentiate PR experts from any old data miner.
Four years ago, social media conversations had an unprecedented impact on the presidential race. The GOP certainly took notice and even posted an op-ed in PR Week regarding the opportunities to engage voters online. Now that another presidential election year is upon us, candidates are using social media in new ways to try to break through to voters, share their platforms on key issues and gain an advantage. It’s been fascinating to watch— on both sides of the aisle.
Using Facebook to Reach Fans: Facebook plays a key role in every candidate’s strategy to reach voters. iContact recently published a study of the GOP candidates’ use of social media. The study found that Mitt Romney had the highest number of Facebook fans but experienced the lowest percentage of Facebook fan engagement. On the other hand, Rick Santorum had one of the lowest numbers of Facebook fans among the GOP candidates but actually had the highest engagement level with his fans.
Joining in the Debate Online: Does it feel like there has been about a thousand Republican debates held already? (Technically, there have been 24.) In addition to following the debates on TV, voters can follow the debates online through following hashtags like #CNNDebate. During Florida’s GOP debate last week, #CNNDebate was a trending topic throughout the evening, ranking as high as #1 in the US and worldwide during the broadcast.
Integrating Online and Offline Channels to Reach Voters: It might be hard to believe, but not every voter in America is an active user of Facebook and Twitter. In realizing this, candidates like Newt Gingrich are using platforms like Facebook to recruit volunteers to make phone calls and join in grassroots efforts to engage undecided voters.
Town Halls via Google+, Facebook, and YouTube: Yesterday, President Obama held a video chat session via Google+ to answer questions raised from his State of the Union (SOTU) address last week. The Google+ hangout was another town hall style event taken online, similar to the President’s Facebook and YouTube town halls in early 2011. Most of the session focused on the economy and on job creation. More than a quarter of a million people submitted questions to the president via YouTube for the event, and after the event, the YouTube page had 6,123 “likes”.
Twitter Chats: The day after the State of the Union address, Vice President Joe Biden held a Twitter chat to talk to individuals about the messages during the SOTU. Participants used the hashtag #WHChat and asked questions ranging from job creation, taxes, energy, and spending cuts. Some of the Tweets included:
“What happened to #health care reform? How will WH work to engage states in understanding need for improved primary care access? #WHChat”
“#WHChat #SOTU question: I didn’t hear much about spending cuts or the deficit: is there a plan to cut and balance the budget?”
This year, we’ll be watching how the candidates and the President will be using social media in new ways to reach voters and amplify their messages. Thanks to these online tools and channels, voters have more ways to connect with candidates and elected officials to pose their questions, better understand key economic, social and foreign policy issues, and become familiar with who they will be voting for public office. Clearly, these channels give voters more opportunities to be informed about their vote, and ultimately, give the candidates and elected officials more opportunities to listen to their constituents.
MSL Expands Global Reach in a Growing Market; Acquires Poland's Largest PR Agency by Diana Rostkowski
We recently announced that MSLGROUP has acquired Ciszewski Public Relations, Poland’s largest PR agency. This was an announcement dear to my heart: I am a first generation Polish American, born and raised in New Britain, Conn, who moved to Chicago to further expand my young career in public relations. Fortunately enough for me, both areas have a very large and warm Polish community. In fact, Chicago has the second largest Polish population in the world, second only to Warsaw.
MSL Chicago welcomes CEO Jerzy Ciszewski and COO Sebastian Hejnowski and their team to the MSL family. Ciszewski and Henjnowski are clearly experienced experts in strategic consulting, management, and corporate communications.
With the acquisition of Ciszewski, MSLGROUP is now the largest agency network in Poland, a market at the heart of dynamic Central and Eastern Europe. And, it is no surprise that Ciszewski PR has grown significantly over the last several years. Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and its economy is booming. The nation constitutes half of new Europe’s economic potential reflected by the Gross National Product. They are a country that has best dealt with the economic crises. I encourage you to view this animated film about how a country which 20 years ago underwent a radical transformation of economic system became a steadily developing member of an exclusive economic club, the European Union.
It is thrilling to hear about the expansion and MSLGROUP’s continued boundless opportunities in global initiatives and marketing. Many of our clients in Chicago are expanding their marketing activities overseas to include emerging markets in Europe, Asia and Latin America. I’m quite excited.
Higher Education Marketers Are Changing the Game by Julie Lilliston
While colleges and universities face reduced funding, increased pressure to prove their value and disruptive technologies impacting the education landscape, there is still reason to be optimistic. If the record-breaking attendance of more than 900 higher education marketers at the 22nd Annual AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education is any indication, there is a renewed focus on strategic branding not only to achieve business objectives but also to protect and enhance reputations.
I had the opportunity to speak with a number of higher ed marketers at the event and it became clear that colleges and universities are reinvigorating their brands and taking calculated risks in their marketing strategies to drive growth. MSL Chicago was a sponsor of the event and I have enclosed a few marketing trends that I observed at the conference:
Change management is driving brand strategy. Quite simply, the status quo doesn’t cut it anymore. Gone are the days of a client service model within marketing or as one speaker dubbed “an in-house Kinko’s” pumping out marketing collateral, logos and taglines like an unstoppable machine. Rather, today’s marketers are driving transformative change within their organizations and leading strategic communications through rebranding efforts. I think this shift is a tremendous opportunity for marketers to help redefine what’s important to the organization and communicate its core values through the development of a compelling, authentic brand narrative.
This is no small feat within decentralized organizations as Dr. Mark Putman, President, Central College in Iowa attested in his keynote, “Do You Drive the Agenda or Go Along for the Ride?” While process is certainly important, it can be painful for individuals who need to be “dislodged” or pried out of process. I also think it’s critical to have a champion at the top who is advocating this long-term change within the organization to be successful.
Research is a tool—not the end game. One of the pain points we’ve observed with our higher ed clients is the increasing pressure for education institutions to prove they are delivering value not only to students but also society as a whole. The digital age has empowered marketers to define their brand strategy and positioning by conducting comprehensive qualitative and quantitative research as discussed in the session “Knowing What We Are: Defining the DePaul Brand” by Deborah Maue, Associate VP for University Marketing, DePaul University. Research is a useful tool to understand perceptions of both internal and external audiences but in our experience with clients the real impact is how the key findings are incorporated into strategic planning.
Boldness pays off. Many institutions struggle with lower student enrollments, reduced budgets and resources. One of the bright spots I noticed at the conference was hearing about the schools that have taken big risks and reaped bigger rewards due to their marketing campaigns.
This was particularly evident in discussions regarding student enrollment. One of the more entertaining (and enlightening) sessions that I attended “Marketing to a New Generation: It’s All About the Relationship” led by James Raby, Director of Enrollment Marketing at American University and Jamie Hardin, Director of Customer Relations at WayBetter Marketing shared their success by embracing one-to-one marketing in student search.
Building a highly-customized communications approach with students to pull them in to participate in a dialogue rather than push out content led to an increased response rate, lowered costs and data-driven decision-making. The campaign incorporated video and personalized prospective student URLs that evoked humor, organizational personality and “edginess” and was worth the risk. As stated in the session by Raby, ‘what do you have to lose?’
At MSL Chicago, we have worked with several colleges and universities in our Reputation On Course specialty practice who have encountered similar challenges. We’ve found that building a strong university brand requires listening and understanding the needs of all key stakeholder audiences. We’ve helped our higher education clients develop differentiated brand strategies that keep their reputations on course and convert reputations into results.
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