Soaring to Salem

by Sally Cameron
Bristol Community College
Fall River, MA

Whew. Life certainly has gotten in my way since my visit to District 7’s “Creative Crush.” I’ve had a travel bump in the road (you’ll have to wait until I get to my report on District 2 to hear about that); a first-time-ever campus evacuation, for which I managed parts of our communications plan from 800 miles away; and hours of postmortem of that crisis once I was back, followed immediately by systems improvements to prepare for now notorious Superstorm Sandy.

I say this to explain my delay in reporting on the sun-drenched, workforce-embedded experience that was the District 7 conference. Set in Salem, Oregon, at the Eola Conference Center on the Chemeketa Community College Northwest Viticulture Center, the conference hosted some of the bright lights of the Pacific Northwest creative world. The venue was breathtaking, overlooking row upon row of grapevines, trailing off over the misty hill with a mountain in the background. It was built as a public-private partnership between Chemeketa and the growing force of Oregon winemakers who are making a name for themselves in the global wine business. Talk about workforce development – the local vintners offer internships and jobs, with pretty close to 100 percent job placement for the program. This is what community colleges do best. (In fact, in an optional winery tour, we got to meet several program alumni at the delightful and sweet-smelling St. Innocent Winery, with the tour led by the 88-year-old dad of the vintner who charmed us with his knowledge of wine and his bursting-button pride over his son. We enjoyed the perfume of the freshly harvested pinot noir grapes, too!)

The next day, we tried not to be intoxicated by the stunning view while we enjoyed back-to-back presentations by Northwest thought leaders.  D7 Director Jennifer Boehmer opened the first day with the charge not just to take notes but to write down what we’re going to do with these nuggets. Each session gave me a to-do list.

We started with Siouxsie Jennett, president of Mambo Media, who spoke on “Modern Marketing Methodology.” She reminded us that social media allows us to be scrappy when we are resource-challenged (and who isn’t?). From social media crisis to metrics to not allowing your channels to be run by interns, she kept our pedal to the metal as we blasted through the methodologies. It was a jam-packed journey rich in content, charging us to discover what works and abandon everything else.

So where do you start? Good metrics and new assets. She showed very compelling data about the value of information graphics and how those are what get shared in the social universe. We have to advocate for those assets to get the expert content developers on your team (from financial aid, from academic affairs, from your star programs) and then turn their info into magic. This is critical to “getting out of the weeds,” Siouxsie said.  It’s time to create the editorial calendar, leverage those local experts, and recognize and motivate them by surrounding them with the brilliance that is your college. (Easy to say, not so easy to do.) My head was spinning, but one of the things I wrote down “no more seat of our pants” postings.

Dr. Lisa Skari, vice president for institutional advancement at Highline Community College, presented compelling data about the profile of the community college donor. She discovered that alumni are more likely to become donors 20 years after they graduate, which is a problem for many colleges because so many of us got into electronic record-keeping late. She shared a variety of strategies for engaging alumni and gaining new donors.

Another heavy-hitter, Jim Beriault of Beriault Entertainment Marketing, shared some of his secrets for leveraging paid and earned media with our great stories. My takeaway –don’t be afraid to ask for anything. We do work in our communities and in our students’ lives that make it easy to encourage others to engage in our great work.

After lunch on the porch overlooking the vines (sigh), we went back for roundtables and a session on failing harder.  One session was with Andrew Dickson of Wieden + Kennedy experimental advertising school – the agency that birthed Nike’s “Just Do It” mantra and the “Man Your Man Could Smell Like” Old Spice campaign. He said the agency’s rule is to “come to work stupid every day” (I can do that) and to “hire wrong.” (Well, I don’t want to do that.) He thinks that good teams make people central to the process, which then enables them to create fabulous work. And don’t get snowed by that “customer is always right” stuff. He said, “It is very easy to do what [clients] want, but we should do what they need.” (I think I’ll use this when people on my campus tell me they want another trifold brochure.)

Other intoxicating sessions included how to build your brand through outreach and publicity, led by the marketing staff of Portland State University. They squirmed their way into my heart by offering a Twitter contest. I tweeted: “Prizes? I’m in.”

Our final task over a box lunch was to create a campaign for an odd product and share it. My table got tomato-flavored chicken bouillon. We came up with this great campaign to collect recipes by social media and use a running gag about how you say “bouillon.” I even drew the ad concept. (When I draw at the office, the staff rolls their eyes.) It loses something in the translation, but we guarantee, we “failed harder.”

It was time to say so long to Salem (although I made a false start, and had to prevail upon driver, dean and all-around good guy Greg Harris from Chemeketa to take me all the way back to the center when I discovered I left my iPad). So many takeaways for me — and an umbrella from our Twitter contest! I am rich, indeed.

Now off to hobble to Hilton Head.

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