The Counselors to Higher Education Senior Summit is the premiere event for higher ed communicators. Annually held in Washington, D.C, the CHE summit is a unique opportunity for senior-level professionals to network with fellow practitioners and learn from industry thought leaders. I was honored to be part of the planning committee and take charge of social media throughout the three-day conference. (And, quite exhausted, and definitely quite sick of Twitter in the ensuing days after.)
The educational value of the plenary sessions was only matched by the diversity of the speakers and topics. Michael Smart, a private media trainer, and former BYU media relations wunderkind, led practitioners through an eye-opening seminar on the “new rules” of pitching, demonstrating how to mine story angles from less than groundbreaking academic research, attract a reporter’s attention by tapping into their ego, and leverage niche coverage into mainstream appeal.
Crosstown Digital Communication’s Georgy Cohen illustrated how to transform a news page into an institution’s branded news organization, Michael Warden walked us through how Georgia Tech leverages their brightest minds with the GT Amplifier, and the Capital Region’s own Amy Mengel (readMedia) focused on finding the right balance of paid, owned and earned media. Deborach Wiltrout even offered a peek behind the scenes at American U’s “Wonk Campaign” demonstrating how PR and marketing can work together on a distinct and bold marketing campaign.
Other topics broached included crisis communications within university athletics, developing strategic communications plans, and introducing emergency alerts systems, capped off by a media relations roundtable featuring representatives from the Washington Post, The Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed (IHE) and Diverse Issues. Media tours of NPR, Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle, and Washington Post were icing on the cake.
And if that wasn’t enough, IHE’s Doug Lederman even hosted apps and cocktails at their headquarters. I got my money’s worth in pastrami sandwiches, that’s for sure.
After three days of tweets, status updates, and video interviews, I was able to loosen my tie, put down the iPhone, hop on my flight back to sunny Albany (39 degrees at touch down), and reflect on the takeaways from my week below the Mason-Dixon.
While there were many, one will stick with me: storytelling. By this, I refer of course, to our ability to be our own brand ambassadors and no longer rely singularly on third party validation - in large part due to the evolution of new media, particularly social. It is a vehicle that can take us where we want to go.
But to travel down this new path, we need to provide the fuel. And our energy source consists of our stories, those of our students and the challenges they face along the way. It is the research and expertise espoused by our academics. And of course, it embodies the achievements and fulfillment experienced by our alumni.
By leveraging each of these unique resources, we can realize the institutional goals presented in our strategic plan and carry on the true mission of higher education – to educate and prepare future generations for the challenges that lie ahead.
That’s what I took away from the summit, and that which I will take back to Excelsior College.
There is work to be done.