Famous Faces Boost UM-Flint Brand

Gwen Ifill at CIF

I really am lucky.

There are lots of things I truly enjoy about my job, but I think one of the top five things has to be the annual Critical Issues Forum. The Critical Issues Forum (or CIF) is a gift from UM-Flint benefactor Frances Willson Thompson that allows us to bring leading experts to campus every spring for a series of presentations on the most pressing topics of our times. We’ve hosted such bold-faced names as journalists Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff, Bob Woodward, and John Stossel. We’ve learned from leading scholars like E.O. Wilson and Jared Diamond. Politicos across the ideological spectrum have been on campus, including Newt Gingrich, Madeleine Albright, George Mitchell, and David Gergen. And the list doesn’t just end there….we’ve also heard from the likes of economists Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz; educator Geoffrey Canada; Filmmaker Ken Burns; and healthcare experts Atul Gawande and Arthur Caplan.

Yes. We’ve been rubbing elbows with the smart and famous.

So, aside from a Flickr account full of these people on campus, what can a marketing genius do with this type of event to enhance the positioning and brand of a university?

In short–plenty.

For a regional campus like UM-Flint, the value of having leading experts on campus is priceless. Like our big sister in Ann Arbor, the presence of the people who interact with faculty, students, and community is a bit of delightful surprise. The ability to host events like CIF helps to position the campus as a gathering place for the useful exchange of analysis and debate of the critical issues facing our world. It shows that these leaders are accessible, interacting with the campus community.

Every year we try to build upon the experience, so that as we tell the story of UM-Flint, we can use the examples from CIF to help illustrate that story. We hire a professional photographer for these events to capture these moments. Then, we use these photos across a broad spectrum of print, web, and social media materials.  If we’re trying to entice students into our Journalism program, we have a strong, specific way to entice them through the use of CIF as an example. Same for students pursuing majors in economics, business, and healthcare. These experts help with the targeting of communication to specific groups of students in a very real, meaningful way.

One of our little success stories this year involved Twitter and Gwen Ifill. For the first time ever, we established a Twitter presence for CIF. We began following the speakers who were on Twitter. As it turns out, Gwen Ifill is a fairly avid tweeter. We began following and retweeting her posts. Prior to her visit to campus, she even tweeted that she was headed to UM-Flint. When she arrived, she told me that she noticed “we were all over Twitter.” During her session, we live blogged her comments on Twitter, creating an open conversation with others who were following along. Ifill was great about the entire experience. In fact, in one of her blog posts for Washington Week in Review, she wrote about her visit to Flint.

We’re already planning for CIF 2012, and looking for more ways to leverage brand with this world-class event. And if you’re lucky enough to attend UM-Flint, you never know who you’ll meet.