The graduate student experience at IMC Connect!
Glasses and bottles clinked together in the University Museum’s Speaker’s Gallery as we celebrated the success of the first-ever IMC Connect! Event. Planning IMC Connect! started long before my involvement, but continued in full force from Tuesday January 18, the first day of the BMI 580.
The planning was tedious, detailed, collaborative and sometimes seemingly impossible. The exploration of event planning, both theoretical and practical, occurred in the build-up to what was ultimately the first roundtable experience, featuring honorable practitioners and scholars, organized by the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media.
Through designated teams and under the direction of our fearless leader, Dr. Amanda Bradshaw, IMC 580 students tackled all elements of the event, from catering to promotional materials, and everything in between. Through writing, logistics, and design, this was the first class that not only gave me hands-on experience, but also accountability, if my job wasn’t done right.
It was the details of the planning process that paved the way for a VIP experience for our esteemed guests. Gift baskets, personal transport, handwritten letters and more have been prepared to enhance the guest experience and welcome them to Oxford with Southern hospitality.
Daily communication through our various databases proved crucial in our final days of preparation before March 31, the first day of our two-day event. Finally, it was time to put our planning to the test.
The morning of March 31 started with classmates split between Oxford and Memphis, some ferrying guests from the airport, some blowing up balloons and printing equipment, and some taking part in our last round of shows before draw the curtains for the show. Upon guests’ arrival in Oxford, optional tours of Rowan Oak and the campus were offered to pass the time before checking in to their hotel, the Inn at Ole Miss.
That evening at 5 p.m. was the first time we would all be in the same room to officially launch IMC Connect! with a pre-work Q&A panel hosted by the University of Mississippi Public Relations Student Society of America. Here, Professor Scott Fiene probed the panel for an hour and a half as panelists shared their insights on how to make your CV stand out, the importance of work ethic and how you can earn lessons from life experiences and using them in job interviews. The evening ended with an intimate dinner at The Isom Place, an Oxford landmark, contributing to the warm welcome we wanted to convey.
Friday, April 1 was a busy itinerary starting with breakfast and an IMC Curriculum Jam workshop, led by Dr. Jason Cain, to explore and share ideas on how the IMC program can move forward and implement new ideas. . The day really started in the hostel ballroom with Session 1: Crisis Communication.
Dr. Tim Coombs moderated this session with panelists Chris Chiames, Renee Malone, Reade Tidwell, Steve Holmes and Jenny Robertson. Panelists emphasized being responsible, acting with empathy and having a plan in case of a crisis.
One particularly interesting idea came from Chris Chiames, director of communications for Carnival Cruise Line, as he said that every day was a dress rehearsal for a crisis. That is, how you handle stakeholder relations, the media, the tools you have to communicate, the right instincts, etc., set the stage for how a crisis within or involving your business will run.
After a 10-minute break, Session 2: Social Media and Big Data began with Dr. Rebecca Britt moderating panelists Chris Chiames, Jenny Robertson, Amy Rosenberg and Dr. Ike Brunner. This session provided information on how using big data insights can help organizations make smart investments. Additionally, he explained how social media can be used in many ways to leverage messaging.
Jenny Robertson, senior vice president of integrated marketing and communications at FedEx, shared a success story when FedEx used social channels to manage customer shipping expectations during an unprecedented holiday season amid a pandemic. FedEx ran the “Buy and Ship Early” message on its social media channels to encourage customers to shop in October and used the message to manage customer expectations as shipping times were taking longer.
Jenny also mentioned the importance of social listening. FedEx has heard complaints from customers about drivers not ringing the doorbell during deliveries. From this information, FedEx worked internally to bring about change initiated by social listening.
After the second session, a catered lunch was hosted by Oxford staple Taylor Grocery. It was a great time to meet our guests and enjoy a great meal before heading back to the hostel for Session 3: The Role of Advocacy and Social Justice.
Dr. Candice Edrington moderated this session with panelists Renee Malone, Steve Holmes and Dr. Marquita Smith. Every panelist in this session stressed that it is less important when an organization says it will make improvements to its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and more important when an organization shows that what it is actually doing to improve those efforts.
Renee Malone, President and Founding Partner of KQ Communications, spoke about the importance of bringing in experts from whom organizations can learn, lean, and speak when information is needed. She also said, “Always remember that the person in the room who doesn’t look like everyone else isn’t always well and asks for help.”
Other panelists agreed that open communication is crucial, as is staying true to your organization’s values, otherwise diversity and advocacy efforts can feel dishonest. Renee also pointed out that representation isn’t always enough. After representation comes respect, then empowerment.
The last session of the day was Session 4: Advertising and Building Your Brand. Dr. Debbie Treise moderated this session and her panel included Reade Tidwell, Steve Holmes, Chris Chiames and Jenny Robertson. This session began by emphasizing that a brand is far from just a logo and graphic and is now a reputation, and that there is no way to have a good brand without good representation.
Reade Tidwell, vice president of corporate communications at Chick-fil-A, said companies have personalities and it’s important to stay true to that. Steve Holmes, vice president of corporate communications and external affairs at The Home Depot, spoke about maintaining a connection with customers through COVID by showing, in advertisements, more of who they are at Home Depot, not what that they sell.
Finally, Chris Chiames shared an interesting brand story regarding Carnival Cruise Line and COVID. In an effort to keep staff safe and healthy, Carnival Cruise Line has created masks with the Carnival Cruise Line funnel in the corner, rather than writing Carnival in large letters or their “Fun For All” slogan on the mask. This was strategic branding, as Carnival Cruise Line did not want an image of cruises, particularly Carnival, to be the place where people get sick to stick in the minds of customers.
The evening ended with in-depth discussion groups, where students were able to connect and speak with each guest before handing out raffle prizes and ending the evening at the reception. The deep dive time window was a great opportunity for students like me to circle the ballroom for each guest to touch on a topic that stood out or was important. It was also a great time for casual conversations to talk about things like why the Home Depot theme song has been going viral on TikTok for over a year now.
The evening ended with a lovely reception at the University Museum where guests, faculty and graduate students were able to come together and celebrate a successful event over great food and great company.
By planning and participating in IMC Connect!, I learned the importance of deliberate communication and collaboration. It took every member of every team to pull off the event and it wouldn’t have been a success without all the moving parts.
I also learned from Dr. Candice Edrington, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, to view setbacks as a setup for something to come, and how it can relate to job hunting, promotions , event planning and more.
When your cake is horribly printed and unacceptable to present to the reception, this is just a setup for everyone to enjoy and comment on how beautiful the cupcakes are that were served at the instead of the cake.
This column was written by IMC graduate student Caroline Gleason.
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