Full House For WSU Marketers and Communicators

I now have three WSU System Marketers and Communicators Conferences under my belt! I completed my latest one this week after marketing and communication professionals at Washington State University converged on our flagship Pullman campus.

I have had a good time at all three WSU System Marketers and Communicators Conferences I have attended. Makes me proud that UMC continues to put these on.

As with all previous such meetings, our system University Marketing and Communications (UMC) team organized the conference and Phil Weiler, UMC vice president, served as the master of ceremonies.

This year’s conference was stress-free compared to the previous two. I didn’t carry the burden of presenting like I did at WSU Vancouver in 2022 and I didn’t experience a rental car snafu like I did prior to the 2023 conference at WSU Everett. Instead, I had a relaxing and fruitful time with no speaking engagements or vehicle issues 😎.

As I reflect on this year’s all-communicators gathering, this is what stood out to me…

I enjoyed the themes that were covered at the WSU System Marketers and Communicators Conference.

Great Turnout! – Because the 2024 conference was on the WSU Pullman campus, the turnout was strong. We had more than 130 marketing and communication professionals participate. The attendance was greater than anticipated as the venue changed from the CUB Junior Ballroom to the CUB Senior Ballroom to accommodate everyone.

Attendance at the WSU System Marketers and Communicators Conference was strong. WSU President Kirk Schulz “Zoomed in” to welcome us on Tuesday.

Brand Progress – I take a lot of pride in the brand work that our UMC system marketing and communications team is doing with our partner, BVK. Last year in Everett, BVK Vice President Vince Kalt presented on the early stages of our efforts and the research that had been conducted. What a difference less than 52 weeks makes! Vince returned for this year’s conference to report on our progress, reveal our campaign concept, share assets, and premiere our brand anthem video. It was received very well and I can’t wait until we launch! (stay tuned).

BVK senior vice president Vince Kalt concludes his presentation on the progress of the WSU system brand marketing campaign.

Digital Accessibility – The topic of new federal digital accessibility requirements was discussed at length. The conversation originated from a panel comprised of two members from our UMC web team (Danial Bleile and Lesa McPeak), WSU’s assistant director for civil rights and ADA (Kiara Drake), and an IT business analyst from our WSU Vancouver campus (Scott Fraser). I took note of the numerous tips and best practices provided for complying with accessibility regulations. When it all comes down to it, publishing accessible content is critical for people with disabilities. Furthermore, as Danial Bleile told us bluntly, it is also a legal requirement. But perhaps Phil summarized it best when he said it is just the right thing to do.

AI Explosion – The unofficial theme of this conference was the continued accelerated advancement of artificial intelligence. Lisa Anderson and Seth Bracken from the University of Utah presented on how they are using AI at their institution and some best practices for achieving the best results with it. WSU Vancouver adjunct professor Tina Mulqueen then followed with a superb presentation. She was able to talk honestly about the seemingly dystopian nature of AI while also highlighting the undeniable helping power it possesses for marketers. Mulqueen was able to exquisitely convey these contrasts in the context of the rapidly changing AI world, including the major recent breakthroughs from Google (that I mentioned last week).

WSU Vancouver adjunct professor Tina Mulqueen presents during the WSU System Marketers and Communicators Conference.

Communicating With Students – The final day of the conference was kicked off with a focus group. You might think a focus group with 130+ people would be awkward—or at least completely ineffective—but it wasn’t that bad. Staff from the WSU Social and Economic Services Research Center led the discussion as we conversed about communication mediums, deployment methods, and success stories. Much of the session rested on the usage of CRMs.

UMC Video Manager Jason Refsland provides feedback to the Social and Economic Services Research Center staff member who led the focus group.

Is SEO Going Away? – I was really intrigued with this presentation considering the recent Google AI developments. Josh Krause from our UMC web team gave an informative talk on SEO best practices. When asked about the significance of SEO moving forward in light of a shift to AI-generated top-of-page responses, Josh said it should still be top of chief importance. If AI does completely push website links off SERP, we need to still optimize for SEO so that the snippets retrieved by AI come from our web sources. And even if that isn’t attainable, sound SEO practices should still be paramount because, just like with accessibility, it is the right thing to do.

Jason Krause emphasized that even with the changes to Google search, it is still important to use SEO best practices.

Cougs Help Cougs – The conference ended with a couple of helpful exercises. First, we did a “Teams Chat Live” task where a topic or question was brought up and then collectively answered by those of us in attendance. After that session concluded, we huddled with our table to discuss what/how we could implement what we learned the past couple days post-conference. It was the perfect way to end things as it reinforced that we are all Team WSU and that all of us possess the talents and opportunities to help others succeed.

UMC Creative Director Jackson Price answers a question during the Team Chat Live session.

When it comes to content, this was the best marketers and communicators conference I have attended. Much gratitude to the members of the planning committee and the presenters for making it so worthwhile. Special thanks to Lael Gray for her tireless work as the head coordinator of the event. I definitely left Pullman excited about what I learned and appreciative of the relationships I built. Don’t Blink.

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