Engaging in Everett

After the successful and educational WSU System Communicators Conference last October in Vancouver, it didn’t take long for us to do it again. Today we wrapped up our 2023 conference in Everett. Once again, marketers and communicators from across the WSU system came together to discuss our work, learn from each other, and look ahead to the future. This time we got to do it on the WSU Everett campus!

Our latest WSU System Communicators Conference took place on the WSU Everett campus (image courtesy of WSU Photo Services).

I wanted to share some highlights and themes from our time in the Puget Sound…

Travel Partner – I traveled with my colleague and friend Cara Hoag. We were supposed to take a motor pool car but a scheduling mistake meant that we had to take my personal vehicle at the last minute. Cara, our enrollment management marketing director, took it all in stride as we had smooth travel, lively conversation, and plenty of caffeine to/from Everett.

Cara and I spent a lot of time in the car together. She made the travel time go by quick!

Special Visitor – How do you make a WSU conference stand out? You have the top university leader make an appearance! Kirk Schulz, our WSU president, made the trip to Everett to talk to our group. He thanked us for our work, expressed his goals for our marketing efforts, and even fielded questions. It was really cool to have him in-person in such an intimate setting.

It was a privilege to listen to WSU President Kirk Schulz speak to our group.

Brains Behind the Agency – The leadership team I am part of within University Marketing and Communications is working with a newly hired and highly touted marketing agency called BVK. This agency is going to help us do BIG things. We were fortunate that Vince Kalt, BVK’s senior vice president, underscored this enthusiasm by presenting to all the marketers and communicators at the conference. In a series of three different talks, Vince gave an introduction to BVK’s services/philosophies and shared some research that his agency has already completed regarding WSU. The sky is the limit for us!

Vince Kalt flew to Everett to share how BVK will greatly benefit WSU.

Updates From Phil – Our University Marketing and Communications vice president, Phil Weiler, was the glue throughout the conference. Not only did he serve as the emcee and keep the itinerary on track but he presented as well. Phil gave updates on the work our department is doing, discussed a specific communication model, and even hosted an icebreaker event on the first night.

Thanks to Phil for keeping the conference on track and for presenting!

Campus Tour – After lunch on Tuesday, we were treated to an in-depth tour of the WSU Everett campus. WSU program coordinator Brandon Buckingham took us around the main campus building as he showed us the innovative labs, impressive classrooms, creative art, and student-focused features that define the campus. After seeing so many photos and videos of WSU Everett over the past three years, it was nice to actually view it all in-person.

Brandon Buckingham was a superb tour guide. It was nice to finally visit the WSU Everett campus.

Work Project – Tuesday also allowed us to complete the filming of a video project. My social team and our video team are working on a “Best-Kept Summer Secrets” video that includes all WSU campuses. WSU Everett was the last campus we needed to film so my colleague Kara Billington (videographer) and I worked with a couple students to highlight their student center. It was enjoyable to take a break from the presentation grind and engage with a couple of enthusiastic and high-energy WSU Everett students.

Kara Billington and I were able to film with WSU Everett students for a system video project we are working on.

Communication and Mental Health – We were so fortunate that Erin Carroll, the marketing and communications director of Student Affairs, presented on a topic that many of us feel nervous and unworthy to champion within our jobs. You see, the tendency is easy to either neglect communicating about mental health entirely OR to address it in a stigmatizing, out of touch way. Erin’s expertise was much needed and appreciated as she encouraged us to normalize the topic. My favorite part of her presentation was her challenge to be more thoughtful about the images we use within stories and social media posts that relate to mental health. Erin sure was impressive!

Erin Carroll provided us with invaluable knowledge and knocked it out of the park during her presentation about communication and mental health.

The Fun Breakout 😉 – During the afternoon on Tuesday, three breakout sessions were offered. I naturally attended the one about social media. Matt Haugen, our social media manager within University Marketing and Communications, presented on content development and the hierarchy/ecosystem of social media at WSU. I was proud that Matt represented our team and I enjoyed listening to others in the session talk about their triumphs/successes with social.

Thanks to Matt Haugen for representing our University Marketing and Communications social media team!

Debrief – This morning we had the opportunity to bring it all together. We broke into small groups and chatted about what we had learned at the conference and how we can apply it moving forward. We also shared the tools we are using to make us more efficient at our jobs. The honest discussion made me feel so proud to be part of our central strategic communications team as the progress we have made under the leadership of Holly Sitzmann was highlighted.

Chantell Cosner provided a recommendation of Asana, a work management platform, to our group.

Community – At a conference like this, you can learn a lot and grow professionally. However, I prioritize the opportunities to build and solidify relationships. You can’t put a value on going out to dinner with a fun group, connecting with a new employee, or sitting down in-person with a colleague you have only interacted with via Zoom. I feel lucky to have had these experiences during my three days in Everett.

When you are visiting a beautiful city like Everett, it makes connecting with colleagues even more fulfilling. I took this photo of an Everett sunset on Tuesday night.

Big thanks to our University Marketing and Communications staff, especially Amanda Beardslee and Maria Anguiano, who organized many of the logistics for this conference. Much gratitude to Corrie Wilder, the WSU Everett marketing and communications director, for hosting us. Finally, kudos to the planning committee and presenters who made sure we had a content-rich conference. I look forward to our next all-system in-person meeting in May when we will all converge in Pullman. Don’t Blink.

Building Internal Relationships

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?

I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the conference or how much of a “conference” it would actually be. But the official name tags definitely helped add to the conference-feel.

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 conference took place on the beautiful WSU Vancouver campus (photo courtesy of WSU Photo Services).

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.

Joe Master is a prolific higher ed marketer. It was great to spend some time with him while he was in Vancouver.

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.

The guy at the lectern wearing the trucker hat and sporting the bushy beard is Aaron Draplin. He gave a presentation like no other.

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.

A shot of me speaking during the conference (photo courtesy of Sara Zaske).

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!

I mentioned how Joe Master is an industry leader. It meant a lot that he tweeted this out after my presentation concluded.

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.