October 3, 2015

Speaking Agenda

April 12-13, 2016 – Harvard

The 2016 Spring conference was an outstanding success!

The interaction and participation between speakers and attendees was amazing! Thank you to everyone who participated. We look forward to seeing you at the upcoming conference in Las Vegas.

View the Spring 2016 conference’s daily schedule.


List of Speakers – Spring 2016 – Harvard

Jack ShockDecoding Cries for Help During a 21st-century Campus Crisis


Dr. Jack Shock
Harding University

Jim Miller (Co-Speaker)



Dr. Jim Miller
Chair, Department of Communication
Harding University


There’s no such thing as a crisis on a university campus. What? Most of us are not surprised by any campus crisis. However, we have to be ready to respond to a 21st century crisis with a contemporary plan using contemporary technology.

Using their backgrounds in the White House and multi-platform national media storytelling, these two panelists will pool their experience to help beginner to veteran communicators perfect a strategic campus crisis plan and response.

Dr. Jack Shock is the former Director of Presidential Letters in the White House and a professor of communication at Harding University. Dr. Jim Miller is the chairman of the Department of Communication at Harding University.


  • Learn how to expect the unexpected on your university campus
  • Learn to reach all of the players using the latest methods and media platforms
  • Learn to be brave, assess your strengths and weaknesses and fine-tune a list of best practices

Marina CooperCrisis Communications: The Power of One

Marina Cooper
Deputy Chief of Staff
Towson University

Josianne Pennington (Co-Speaker)

Josianne Pennington
Vice President of Marketing and Communication
Towson University

One of the real lessons of crisis communications is that it doesn’t matter if it involves one person or several hundred—when a story gets “legs” in the media it can walk away with your reputation.

This is the story of the so-called “White Student Union” at Towson University and how ONE very media savvy student tried unsuccessfully to position our University as the home of a white-supremacist student organization. Using several untrue, inflammatory and flimsy claims about Towson faculty, culture and crime statistics, a single student unsuccessfully attempted to rally the student body to form a registered student group, but ultimately failed to secure the required faculty advisor or 8 student members. Undeterred the student moved forward with an unofficial, off-campus status and continuedto a make a big splash in national media artfully conducting two interviews with CNN, a segment on ABC’s Nightline, the Huffington Post, the New York Daily News, and several other newspapers and blogs. The story broke international barriers when an animated video spoof from Japan went viral.

This presentation will share the thought process, timeline, and communications and collateral material we created and deployed during this crisis. The presentation will share of how we used social media channels to combat false information, keep our community informed and engaged and involve our stakeholders in the community to speak for us.


  • Learn how to use social media channels to combat false information and stay on top of the news cycle of a crisis
  • Learn techniques to involve stakeholders in your community to speak for you in a crisis
  • Learn how to create a crisis communications strategy that employs the Crisis Communications Funnel(R), data, and instant feedback and communications to thwart, dismantle and discredit misinformation.

Andrea PhillipsAttacking University PR Challenges with Two-way Symmetrical Communication

Andrea Philips
Assistant Professor
Middle Tennessee State University

When a controversial incident involving a student at a private, faith-based university was inaccurately reported by local media, the story was picked up by the Associated Press, spawning nationwide criticism. A year later, an unrelated change in a university policy attracted the attention of a journalist who intended to write a feature story about the change for New York Times Magazine.  University officials feared that the new media attention would reignite the previous firestorm.  Relying on the principles of transparency and two-way symmetrical communication in both cases helped the director of communications minimize the negative outcomes and make the most of the media attention for a long-term benefit to the university.

As students, most PR professionals learned about the four PR communication models established in PR textbooks (fist by Grunig and Hunt in 1984), and most have heard that two-way symmetrical communication is the most beneficial, most ethical form of communication with publics. Inconsistency in how that model is presented and practiced, however, has led to criticism of the model among scholars and frequent dismissal of the model among practitioners.  Dr. Andrea L. Phillips, APR, former director of communications at the university described above, has studied the roots and evolution of the symmetrical communication model, and she offers a fresh view of it to help practitioners take advantage of model’s benefits.

Dr. Phillips’s presentation examines the two-way symmetrical model of communication, where it came from, how it has been misunderstood and misapplied, and how it should be properly understood and applied.  In presenting these views, Dr. Phillips shares specific stories from her time as a university communications director to illustrate how practicing two-way symmetrical communication in challenging situations benefited university-public relations.


  • Learn what truly distinguishes two-way symmetrical communication from other communication models and how to apply it
  • Learn how the model has been misunderstood, leading to ineffective application and poor outcomes
  • Hear real-world, firsthand examples in which two-way symmetrical communication played an integral part in bringing about positive long-term outcomes for university communications

Sandy DavidsonMissouri in Turmoil: A Modern-day Case Study for Effective Crisis Management

Sandy Davidson
Curator’s Teaching Professor
University of Missouri School of Journalism

Missouri has been in turmoil.  On August 9, 2014, a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson. In the aftermath, authorities displayed ineptness in crisis management, resulting in massive protests, looting and fires, militarization, manhandling of media, and despair in the face of chaos. Fifteen months later, on November 9, 2015, University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resigned.  Again, ineptness in crisis management reared its head in the Show-Me State. Concerned Student 1950, a protest group that took its name from the date of admission of the first African-American student to the University, had earlier surrounded Wolfe’s car during the homecoming parade on October 10, 2015. Wolfe’s inadequate response precipitated a protest that included students living in tents on Carnahan Quadrangle and a graduate student’s hunger strike that he vowed to break only if Wolfe resigned.  The football team joined in, vowing not to play another game until Wolfe left. Wolfe resigned. So did the Chancellor, and MU was temporarily headless.  The situation in Ferguson and Wolfe’s resignation are linked on a continuum of crisis-management failure concerning a pressing issue, racial inequity.

“AORTA” is Davidson’s proposal to help manage crises.  It is a “lifeline” in time of crisis. The acronym comes from the following:

A: Anticipation

  • Ability to anticipate is imperative.  Disruption and unrest were clearly in the air–and on social media.  Still, Wolfe was unprepared.  Pay attention. Denial and wishful thinking are close relatives of apathy.

O: Organization

  • Call in your experts.  Form a plan.  The alternative is to be caught flatfooted.  Use outreach to the expertise available to you.

R: Response

  • Off-the-cuff remarks can be deadly.  Reactions must be thoroughly prepared–not merely reflexive.

T: Triangulation

  • Position yourself so that you can appeal to all of your constituencies.  You must know where you are in relation to your needs, your campus’s needs, and the broader public’s needs. “Triumph” does not mean one-sided victory; it means togetherness.

A: Appreciation

  • A truly successful resolution of conflict leads to a greater appreciation of all parties by all parties.  “Nobody left behind” must be a major goal.  Absolution–a burying of all hatchets–leads to achievements that only cooperation can bring.


  • Learn more about continuum of crisis-management failure concerning a pressing issue, racial inequity, in the recent events in Missouri.
  • Learn about “AORTA,” Davidson’s proposal to help manage crises.





Patrick HayesEstablishing a New Narrative for a Historic (but Fractured) University

Patrick Hayes
Director of Communications
Kettering University

The greatest asset for any university is a well-articulated, rich, distinguished legacy with traditions that breed common ground across generations of students, faculty, staff, alumni and stakeholders.

But what happens if that history is splintered and alumni from different eras have wildly divergent connections to your campus community and your current students?

Two years ago, Kettering University faced the following communications and brand challenges:

  • The institution itself had changed its name five times since 1919 and wasn’t known as Kettering University until 1997; no branding or awareness campaign was undertaken at the time of the name change
  • As the former General Motors Institute, departments that are critical, basic and longstanding functions of traditional universities – like brand/communications, alumni affairs and advancement, for example – were never necessary (GM handled that); Now, as an independent university for just over 30 years, those critical elements are still in their infancy
  • Our location – Flint, Michigan – frequently receives national media attention for negative reasons such as crime, crumbling infrastructure and, most recently, a public health emergency resulting from excess lead levels in the water supply
  • The university’s brand and identity guidelines lacked modernization since the late 1990s
  • Under the leadership of a new, ambitious administration, the newly formed marketing and communications team was asked to enhance and create a prestigious, national reputation for Kettering University — and deploy it quickly

Tasked with a grand challenge, limited resources, a pending capital campaign and a centennial celebration in 2019, our communications/marketing team has created a campaign that encapsulates our reputation for a unique hands-on, experiential, co-op education that has produced some of the top leaders in industry (including GM CEO Mary Barra; Weather Channel CEO David Kenny; venture capitalist Bob Kagle; and many others) as well as being a top destination for applied industry research by faculty into a single mantra: #KetteringBuilt

We’ve successfully engaged students, alumni, faculty and staff and created significant excitement for the university’s future by simplifying our university messaging/communications strategy to a core question: If you started from scratch and were forced to boil down the lifeblood of your university to a single, recognizable element that connects with all of your stakeholders, what would it be and how would you do it?


  • Lessons and best practices for establishing or re-establishing the critical tenets of an institution’s legacy and identity
  • How to best re-engage a disparate legacy community and incorporate its challenges and history into the institution
  • Institutional collaboration techniques to create concise, self-evident and grassroots campaigns for all generations and stakeholder groups

Presentation File (PPT)





Media Ambassador Training : Enlisting Faculty, Staff, and Students to Grow You Brand


CatherineCioffi-500x500 (2)_0



Catherine Cioffi
Marketing & Pubic Relations Director
Mercy College


While your PR department might be small no need to let that stop you from growing your brand. Learn how Mercy College a PR department of two people enlists the help of its faculty, staff and student to help grow its brand and spread its message. A year and a half ago the College instituted a “Media Training and Ambassador” program that trains faculty and staff on how to promote the college through word of mouth and social media. It also trains them on how to interact with the media. The College has also enlisted the help of the students by inviting them to take over the College’s Instagram account and post for them.



  • How to motivate your faculty and staff to think like “PR People”
  • How to train your staff and faculty to spread your message
  • How to get students to “work” for the PR department






From Radical Concept to Proven Innovation in Higher Education Communications


Pete Mackey
Chief Communications Officer
Amherst College

Roberta Diehl, Communications Department, Amherst College



Roberta Diehl
Director of Digital Communications
Amherst College

If you really want to break the mold in higher education communications, how do you take your idea from concept to reality? How do you connect your idea to the institutional mission and communications strategy? What are proven ways to bring your team, the faculty, the campus community along? What political minefields await, and how do you get around them? How do you take big risks with confidence?

In this session, we will explore these questions through the case study of a radically different university website. We wanted the website to focus fearlessly on admissions audiences because of what we knew about their and other constituency website-use habits. We wanted to make the site dramatically innovative because of what the medium would say about our institution’s mission and academic innovations, especially to our admission audiences. The result was not only two national awards for being the most innovative website in higher education, but also dramatic ROI: In one year after launch, compared with the previous website, admission page views rose 122%, time spent on admission pages rose 42%, and the bounce rate on admission pages fell by 25%. Meanwhile time spent on all the website itself rose 19% and bounce rates off the home page fell by 85%, among other testimonial results.


  • To matter, innovations in communications must reflect and advance the institutional culture, values and strategy. This session will provide a process of research and analysis that identifies such credible change opportunities.
  • This session will define a systemic process of communications and planning that will enable the audience to take its campus audience from where it is–its expectations of institutional communications–through the threats that change could imply, building buy-in and instituting meaningful, successful innovation with minimal campus political disruption.
  • This session will outline a series of pivotal questions that will provide the audience with reference points for determining how to extrapolate innovative ideas from the habits, feedback and practices of campus constituencies.

Dr. Anouar MajidThe Pulse of the University: Establishing Communicators as Institutional Storytellers


Dr. Anouar Majid
Vice President of Communications
University of New England

In universities, lines are firmly drawn between the academic sphere and non-academic units, including Communications. For the most part, faculty treat Communications staff as mere publicists for their work, while presidents and senior administrators use Communications for crisis management and branding. Promoting faculty work, the university and managing reputations are roles that are eagerly embraced by Communications specialists, but the business of Communications should go further than any of these traditional functions.

As a professor, former department chair of English, director of an academic center and vice-president for global affairs who has been tasked to provide leadership to Communications, Majid has found that leading such an operation involves more than these functions, and that the whole enterprise can play a vital role in shaping universities and positioning them for a better future. In the two and a half years that Majid led Communications, his team changed the whole website, redesigned the magazine, added a full-time filmmaker, photographers, social media strategist, writer, and director of marketing. Very quickly, the University of New England was named among the top in the nation in the 2014/2015 Collegiate Advertising Awards program, receiving Gold Awards for their newly designed magazine and video work.

Having established these foundations, Majid could now tell his staff that they were actually helping the university have a better understanding of itself. Being on the margins but keeping their fingers on the pulse of the university, Communications professionals can help faculty and academic leaders sharpen their vision of their institution. With their 360-degree view of life on campus, they can chart the mission and define the identity of the university through creative work that involves design, film, photography and press releases. As institutional storytellers, Communications specialists are actually the unacknowledged script-writers and mission-makers of their institutions. This fact needs to be better known.


  • Thin line between academics and Communications at a university
  • The Creative and Revolutionary Powers of Communications
  • Communications professionals as shapers of their institution’s future



Michelle OuelletteThe Power of Student Voices in University Crisis Communication


Michelle Ouellette
Assistant Professor, Journalism and Public Relations Department
SUNY Plattsburgh

Maggie McVey (Co-Speaker)



Maggie McVey
Cardinal Points

Winta Mebrahti (Co-Speaker)



Winta Mebrahti
Managing Editor
Cardinal Points

Last fall, SUNY Plattsburgh’s student-run newspaper made national news when the Daily Beast called the cover of its Oct. 23 issue “The most racist front page in America.” The issue ignited emotions on the campus — passions with the power to divide and negatively impact the college’s core mission.

Looking through the lens of this event and other campus crises, this workshop will explore actions that can be taken immediately following a student misstep and the power of those actions to help the students involved and the campus.

The student editors will help lead the discussion along with the college’s former director of public relations, who is currently an assistant professor specializing in crisis communications


  • Steps that can be taken immediately in a crises
  • Ways to open dialogue with the students at its center
  • Basic message templates that can be used by administration, faculty and students to prevent further pain





Kristin LovingBringing Your Brand to Life Through Social Media


Kristin Loving
Marketing Director
Veterinary Health Center at Kansas State University

The Veterinary Health Center at Kansas State University entered into a partnership with Learfield Communications to create the most successful social media photo contest of its kind.

Willie’s Pet of the Week was conceptualized by the marketing director and the hospital director to increase brand recognition to a newly re-named and re-branded hospital, and was brought to life through Learfield and ThinkSocial. The 16-week campaign asked K-State Football fans to submit photos of their pets in purple through a Facebook platform. The program was supported through radio interviews and advertising, website banner ads, TV advertising, in-game spots as well as social media posts.

ThinkSocial named this campaign, which reached more than 56,000 people, the most successful of its kind. Willie’s Pet of the Week ended with nearly 700 photo submissions and 162,000 votes. The Veterinary Health Center Facebook page increased likes by almost 100%, far surpassing goals set forth by the VHC. The success of the campaign was greatly enhanced by the supporting radio, web and TV, and inspired the Willie’s Pet of the Week Calendar which was announced at the end of the contest. Proceeds from calendar sales returned to the hospital development fund to support future research, facilities, faculty and students.

While contest winners won football suite tickets, basketball tickets, a photo shoot with the mascot, etc., the VHC was the real winner of the Willie’s Pet of the Week Campaign.


  • Create an all-encompassing campaign to support the program
  • Elaborate prizes paled in comparison to instant fame for pets/people – know your audience!
  • Be adaptable and build upon the momentum that is generated

Presentation File (PPT)









Krista Smith@Reveille: What Your Mascot’s Voice Can Mean for Your Brand


Krista Smith
Manager, Digital Marketing & Social Media
Texas A&M University

Reveille IX, the live mascot and official First Lady of Aggieland, formally joined Twitter in August 2015. In less than three months, Miss Rev (as we affectionately call her at Texas A&M) has amassed nearly 9,000 followers, has had her tweets talked about on national television, and more.

This case study presentation will explore the process behind giving a two-year-old collie a distinctive (and very sassy) voice, how content for the account is created, and the positive impact creating the account has had on the Texas A&M brand, as well as perhaps the most important benefit: protecting the image of one of the university’s most visible brand assets.


  • How to identify and/or reevaluate social media brand voice & tone through a workshop process
  • Suggestions for how to harness their own visible brand assets to work for them in the digital space
  • Recommendations for creating engaging social media content to effectively communicate university objectives and strategic messaging

Scott TroxelBeyond Millennials: Reaching Current & Prospective Students Through Social Media


Scott Troxel
Director of Interactive, Web & Social Media
University of Utah

Social Media is an ever-changing landscape and universities need to be agile and willing to adopt new social media platforms in order to reach younger audiences. Not only that, social media is now the number one marketing and message delivery mechanism you have: it’s time to take is seriously.

It seems that there is a new social media platform every day, so how do you prioritize where to spend time, which to monitor and which to abandon? Should your university be actively using Snapchat? What about newer or fringe networks like YikYak? Where should you be spending your time? What does it take to not only manage your reputation, but become an influencer and capture mindshare among current and prospective students?

Social media is here to stay. It’s time to start taking it seriously and allocating significant resources to message curation and reputation monitoring. Social media at its very core is just that, social. It’s a conversation and a relationship that takes time and attention to nurture and maintain. The new consumer mindset is much more personal. Our customers (students and prospective students) demand immediate and personal interactions and social media allows us to grant them that…if we use it right.


  • Social media needs to be taken seriously; it is not something to trust to an intern anymore
  • You need to be involved where your audience currently is at, not try to shoehorn a social strategy into what you’re comfortable with. Get to know the new and relevant social networks
  • Social media is about engagement, relevancy and consistency. Be there, be active, be real.


Stuart Schwartz“I, Me, Mine”: Communicating Your University’s Value to Generation “Me”

Stuart Schwartz
Director of MA-Strategic Communication
Professor of Digital Media & Communication Arts

Liberty University

It takes a different kind of appeal to connect with the growing higher-education market segments of non-traditional student and their affiliates (parents, family, spouses, children). A just-completed survey of our online and resident graduate students, for example, has 97% of our online students (we have almost 100,000 of them) and more than three-quarters of our resident students (approximately 15,000) “expect my education to advance my current career into a higher positions” and/or “to make me marketable to employers.”

The result: creative appeals to this market need to be grounded in a practicality that has not been the norm in higher education communications. We are finding that the most successful communications, regardless of the events or purposes, need to be brought around to the practical value of our educational processes and products for those on the receiving end of our messages. In other words, we can’t stress enough content crafted to appeal to what we call the emerging “I-Me-Mine” higher education market.

This also means that the channels must inherently promote self-interest. Bottom line: Some social media channels are better than others. Some online venues are more absorbing than others. And some types of graphic representations are more effective than others. In addition, video shorts are now overtaking conventional press releases and collateral material as the persuasive medium of choice for the “I-Me-Mine” ‘non-traditional’s.’


  • Top ten most effective appeals to the newly non-traditional higher education markets
  • The five most engaging graphic representations for emerging higher education markets
  • Five video strategies/tactics that, when used in rich media emails, produce dramatically enhanced results (trite but true: even in college communications, a video is worth ten thousand words)




Brian MullenTips from the Real World: How to Create a Successful University Social Media Campaign


Brian M. Mullen
Former Director of Communications
Crimson University

It’s not every day that a university can unveil its product at the world headquarters of a company ranked seventh on Fortune 500 2014. However, since Deep Orange 5, Clemson University’s 2020 concept vehicle, was announced to be unveiled at General Motors’ (GM) world headquarters in 2015, participation by media and the public was expected to set records. Although Deep Orange 5 already had huge potential, to achieve results, the university’s communications team developed a strategic campaign encompassing traditional and new media, marketing and public awareness.

A social media campaign and contest was launched to generate buzz on campus and throughout the nation, utilizing its best ambassadors including students, alumni, faculty and staff. The team planned on-campus events leading up to the media event, the unveiling ceremony at GM World Headquarters, a two-week public display at the General Motors Technical Center and a homecoming event.

The campaign is a public relations project in every sense: its success resulted from the partnerships formed to plan and execute the effort, and from the public’s awareness of, and participation in it. This campaign focused primarily on getting the word out, and galvanizing public participation through a grassroots social media effort.

During this presentation, Mullen will provide helpful tips and guidelines through this real world campaign of how to make the best use of your multimedia outlets to craft and deliver your organization’s message most effectively. Most importantly, you will leave with the motivation and confidence to strengthen their multimedia skill set and be rewarded with maximum engagement and media exposure.


  • Revealing looks at ways to best utilize social media and user generated content
  • Multimedia activities that universities are using to refocus their public relations and marketing efforts
  • Effective strategies to use multimedia to gain media coverage and achieve organizational goals