To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never attended an internal conference before. Would it be more of a glorified retreat or would it have elements of a big deal, networking-optimized industry conference? After all, I was speaking at it, so how prestigious of an event could it actually be?
Those thoughts ran through my mind as I rode the bus across the state of Washington on Wednesday afternoon. As I had mentioned in a blog post that evening, communicators and marketers across the Washington State University system were convening on the WSU Vancouver campus for a gathering a few years in the making (thanks, COVID).
The WSU MarComm Conference drew 75 professionals from our six campuses for a couple days of team building, presentations, and discussions. As noted by Phil Weiler, our vice president of University Marketing and Communications, the opportunity was as much about breaking bread with our colleagues as it was about learning from them. That was something I could get behind!
In answer to my first question, it quickly became evident that the experience was much more of a conference event than a general meeting. Phil and several other of my central marcomm colleagues brought in some external firepower to fill the agenda.
Joe Master, a well-known player in the higher ed marketing world, had us all sitting on the edge of our seats. The man did innovative work at Temple and Drexel and now works for a respected agency called Ologie. His reputation obviously preceded him but he still blew us away with his engaging presentation about considerations and mindsets for a post-pandemic higher ed world.
We were also treated to, and I can’t characterize it in any other way, “the experience” of Aaron Draplin. A larger than life designer with a very non-designer vibe, he had the whole WSU Vancouver conference room howling in laughter but also marveling at the amazing work he has done in his career. Whether he was working for high profile clients (i.e. Chris Stapleton, U.S. Post Office, etc) or donating his talents to worthy causes, the designs he showed us were unique and spectacularly on-brand with his personality.
From the feedback I gathered from my colleagues, the external presentations were complemented very well by the internal ones. Phil presented important updates that were of interest to most everyone in attendance. Communicators from our Office of Strategy, Planning, and Analysis also gave a presentation and offered a cool way to engage with them in real time.
During the afternoon, I had the honor of presenting. Phil was gracious enough to extend the speaking opportunity to me as a “dry run” for an American Marketing Association presentation I will be delivering next month with a couple of my Pac-12 colleagues in Baltimore. With that said, the presentation was very much customized for my internal audience and it was an awesome experience that was followed by an engaging dialogue with everyone in the room.
The presentations were broken up with campus tours, meals, and work breaks. There was even an opportunity to visit with Aaron and purchase his merchandise after his presentation—all which sold out!
But my favorite part of our time in Vancouver—and this hearkens right back to one of Phil’s main reasons for having the conference—were the dinners we shared back at the hotel. When we sat down to break bread at the end of the day everyone was so relaxed and casual. Every table seemed to be filled with people from different campuses, colleges, and departments. Conversations flowed easily and laughter was abundant. Many people stayed at the tables long after dessert was served. To sit down with many people we had only seen on Zoom was rewarding and worth the long trip to Vancouver in and of itself.
I extend my gratitude to Phil Weiler, Maria Anguiano, Amanda Beardslee, and the many other people who organized this conference and made it a reality. Special thanks to Brenda Alling and her team for hosting us at WSU Vancouver. Going out of state for a ritzy conference is fun, but it is important to solidify relationships internally as well. I appreciated the opportunity to network with my fellow WSU communicators and marketers and I can’t wait to do it again at WSU Everett. Don’t Blink.