It’s late fall. With peak foliage and the national election behind us, my thoughts turn to a conference that I and several Stamats colleagues will be attending in December in Orlando. It’s the annual AMA Higher Education Symposium.

Over my 27-year career working in higher education marketing, I’ve been asked many times, if I only had one conference to attend and recommend, what would it be? Without hesitation, it is this one. In fact, this year marks my 15th consecutive year of attending.

The #AMAHigherEd conference is one of my favorites because of its purpose, the session topics (or tracks), and the chance to network and brainstorm with fellow higher ed colleagues, clients, and friends. I highly recommend those working in higher education in any capacity attend at some point.

There are many elements that make the conference one of the more relevant ones in the industry. Let’s call these elements the “ABCs” of AMA Higher Ed.


A Great Theme

The conference theme is CONNECTED. It’s a rather appropriate theme for a couple of key reasons. For colleges and universities to thrive, they must always stay connected to their target audiences and constituents, including prospective students, parents, alumni, current students, faculty, and so on. To do so, colleges and universities employ a multitude of strategies and communications, including advertising, branding, websites, digital/social media, print, email—the list sometimes seems endless.

While the elements may all be different, the content in each must be consistent and connected to one holistic, institutional-wide brand messaging strategy. In other words, they must “Always. Be. Connected.” to be relevant and engaging to prospective audiences.


The Fascinating Sessions

The conference sessions provide another key reason for attending the conference. Sessions are categorized according to specific “tracks,” including brand strategy, digital strategy, marketing intelligence, and engaging audiences, among others.

Over the years, it’s been interesting to see what sessions are the most popular, which get the buzz, which have standing room only, etc. To use my “ABC” analogy again, I’ll break down the tracks into three categories: analytics, branding, and creativity.


“A” Is for Analytics.

I don’t mean analytics only in respect to Google. I’m using analytics in the broader sense to include research, data, and other intelligence that is necessary for colleges and universities to be able to make strategic decisions regarding their marketing communications.

Having clear data and analytics is vital in determining what content to develop, how it should be implemented, and what measurements to use to determine whether that content is resonating with audiences. Over the years, sessions focusing on data and analytics have been quite popular and for good reason.


“B” Is for Branding.

This session track ties (or connects) all the aspects of a branding strategy together into one. Typically, branding sessions highlight the strategies that colleges and universities have developed, focusing on recruitment, development, and/or institutional-wide branding campaigns.

The colleges and universities presenting case studies vary from public to private and to those with large marketing budgets and those without. I like to attend a couple of these sessions when I can to hear the true strategy behind the work, what challenges these colleges were looking to address and how they did it, how the campus community and key constituents were involved in the process, and what about their strategy did and didn’t work.


“C” Is for Creativity.

We all appreciate great creativity in all its forms—editorial, design, photography, etc. Attending sessions where a college highlights its new creative work can be both informative and inspiring. I’ve also been in sessions over the years where I’ve witnessed attendees shaking their heads in response to creative work. But, as we know, creative is subjective. What appeals to one person may not to another.

Regardless of the kind of creative being presented, the key for me in these sessions is to hear the strategy that drove the creative work: What was the rationale behind the creative direction? Were there any concerns before the work was implemented? How were they addressed? These and other key questions are important to raise throughout the development and execution of a new brand-creative strategy. It will be interesting to see the kinds of new creativity showcased at the conference in December.

Consider attending #AMAHigherEd if you’ve never been. If you’re already planning to attend, be sure to stop by the Stamats booth and say hello during the conference. We can say our ABCs together!


If you’d like to hear more insights from Ray and his experience in higher education branding, contact him at

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