Takeaways from the AMA Higher Education

By Rachel Lapal, AVP of PR | Social Media

This November, team members from Boston University’s central Marketing & Creative Services, along with colleagues in Public Relations, Admissions and Engineering, headed to Atlanta for the 2017 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. There, we heard from inspiring keynote speakers, connected with vendors, and learned from our colleagues and peers across disciplines. We shared our collective wins, challenges, and best practices. Our BU colleagues presented on two different tracks, and offered insights into 10 Lessons Learned from 10 Years of Running an In-House Agency in Higher Education and Video Storytelling & Distribution for Social Media.

From BU, we had folks new to the AMA conference (like me!) and colleagues who have attended previous years. It was fascinating to hear how the conference has grown, how higher ed has transformed, and how the conversations continue to evolve.

We came away with ideas to strengthen the university’s marketing efforts as well as ways to continue to refine and elevate our integrated campaigns. We also came away inspired by our peers and the power of education.

We wanted to share some of our favorite moments and key takeaways from this year’s conference:

Pam Sarian, Executive Director of Account Services, Marketing & Creative Services

I was struck by the quote: “University brands are one of the only brands you need to live with for the rest of your life. They matter.”

This puts a pretty direct perspective on the value of the university’s reputation. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a snippet like this to emphasize the importance of what we all do day in and day out as marketers.

Two other big takeaways:

  • 70% of Gen Z want to work for themselves and create everything themselves, be active problem-solvers. They want to be lifelong learners.
  • 60% of jobs of the future don’t exist today. Focus needs to be on skills, not jobs.

These proof-points and many other factoids presented underscore many of our major BU initiatives and campaigns.

Trish Reed, Managing Director, Creative Services

I really enjoyed Augsburg University and Luther Seminary’s presentation Telling a Story to Sell the Change. I came away with three important takeaways for a university undergoing transition:

  • When communicating about change, build the story before you tell it. Avoid “we plan to” and instead report on what’s actually happening.
  • Write about what you’re doing — what actions are being taken during change — not what you believe.
  • For external audiences, the messenger is just as important as the message when communicating change. Pick a trusted messenger.

Alan Wong, Executive Producer, BU Productions and BU Today Video Production

It was extremely gratifying to present Video Storytelling & Distribution for Social Media with my social media colleague (and partner in crime) Emily Truax. The questions that the audience asked showed an enthusiasm to enter the social video space, both in the realms of video production and social media. It was exciting to revisit some of the fun, engaging work we’ve done and to start a conversation with our peers to help share ideas and strategies.

I enjoyed the 9x5 Open Mic Round Robin Session, a relatively rapid-fire way to take in a variety of different branding, social media, and communications initiatives in an extremely condensed, tidy series of talks. This session served as a really easy way to see very broadly the challenges and progress of other institutions in their marketing and communications efforts. The NYU presentation left the largest impression on me; their talk on using interns to deliver a brand message with a unified approach or voice is transposable to the work we do with our group of student interns. I appreciated their naturalistic tone and approach and how they aligned their voice across their team, including staff and interns.

Mark Chamberlain, Executive Creative Director, Marketing & Creative Services

For me, the big takeaways came from Jaime Casap’s keynote. Casap is an education evangelist for Google, and he delivered the idea that today’s student will be working in jobs that don’t yet exist. It is really mind-blowing, and coincides with work I’ve been doing here at BU. In an off-hand moment, he also referenced that the mobile phone his toddler plays with will be the worst piece of technology that she ever interfaces with. That really captured the speed of technology’s transformation for me and how future generations will continue to engage with devices and tech.

Lisa Bernier Moulton, Associate Director of Account Management, Marketing & Creative Services

As marketing and communications professionals, we must keep our target audience in mind when developing solutions. AMA Higher Ed continued to reinforce who that target audience is — our students. It’s essential to be focused not only on what they want, but also how they communicate and live in today’s technology-driven world. A few takeaways about being target audience-focused include:

  • Listen to the target; understand what they want.
  • Be where they are; stay top of mind.
  • Be authentic; provide relevant content.
  • Involve students to reach students (i.e. social media student interns).

Carol Kerbaugh, Senior Assistant Director, Admissions Marketing & Communications

This was my first time attending the AMA Higher Ed Symposium, and I found it particularly interesting to hear more about how other institutions structure their marketing and communications teams. Here at BU, we have a six-person Marketing & Communications team housed within Admissions, but we work very closely with colleagues in BU’s central in-house Marketing & Communications agency to produce signature publications, high-quality videos, and web projects. Every school I heard from or talked to at the conference seemed to have a different organizational structure. Some schools, like the University of Virginia, have a central MarCom office but leave the hands-on creative work to the schools and departments, arming them with brand guidelines and brand assets to ensure cohesion across the university. Other schools house all marketing and communications efforts within a central unit.

A centralized approach has its advantages: brand cohesion and consistent messaging. On the other hand, a decentralized structure allows departments, who have deep knowledge of their objectives, to take ownership of the communications and marketing collateral that will help achieve those goals. The key takeaway? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for how schools and departments should work with a centralized marketing and communications department.

Jean Whalen, Account Management Supervisor, Marketing & Creative Services

The most interesting session for me was the Future Student session by University of Cincinnati. In it, we got a snapshot of Gen Z — a key target audience for us. We learned, among other things, that:

  • 72% of Gen Z think college should allow them to design their own program.
  • They value work experience — 79% favor integrating employer internships with academic programs.
  • They are outcome focused. They have a deep-seated need to be prepared for life after college.

All these takeaways directly impact the work we do for BU, especially around marketing and communications of new curriculum.

Finally, an ah-ha moment for me personally was when Google’s Jaime Casap said that educators should no longer ask students: “what do you want to be?” Instead, we should be asking: “what problem do you want to solve?” This mindshift encapsulates how our world is evolving both in technology as well as with the changing employment landscape. What defined success and a leader one or two decades ago, no longer serves students in the same way today. It’s no longer just about what role students are training for: teacher, engineer, “business person.” Instead, education is focusing on capabilities and how people think: creatively, critically, innovatively. This is a necessary change, because we can’t prepare students for jobs that haven’t been created yet. Instead, universities must deliver the tools that will serve future leaders and help them “convert information into intelligence.” Casap had so many quotable quotes!

As professional communicators and marketers in higher ed, I was struck that conveying this value and high level message and delivering its outcome is of utmost importance to our future students and, more importantly, to their future success.

What was your favorite moment from AMA Higher Ed? Who do you admire in the space? Who do you turn to for inspiration?



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