Glasses and bottles clinked together in The Speaker’s Gallery at the University Museum as we celebrated the success of the very first IMC Connect! event. Planning for IMC Connect! began long before my involvement, but continued in full force starting Tuesday, Jan. 18, the first day of IMC 580.
Planning was tedious, detailed, collaborative, and seemingly impossible at times. Exploration of event planning, both theoretically and practically, occurred in gearing up for what was ultimately the first roundtable experience, featuring honorable practitioners and researchers, hosted by the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media.
Through designated teams, and per the instruction of our fearless leader, Dr. Amanda Bradshaw, the students in IMC 580 tackled all elements of the event from catering to promotional materials, and everything in between. Through writing, logistics, and design, this was the first course that not only gave me hands-on experience, but also responsibility, if my job was not done correctly.
It was the details in the planning process that paved way for a VIP experience for our honorable guests. Gift baskets, personal transportation, handwritten letters, and more, were prepared to enhance the guests’ experience and welcome them to Oxford with Southern hospitality.
Daily communication through our different databases proved to be crucial in our final days of preparation before March 31, the first day of our two-day event, rolled around. Finally, it was time to put our planning to the test.
The morning of March 31 began with classmates disbursed between Oxford and Memphis, some transporting guests from the airport, some blowing up balloons and printing materials, and some participating in our final run of show before pulling the curtains for showtime. As guests arrived in Oxford, optional Rowan Oak and campus tours were offered to pass time before check-in at 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 kick off IMC Connect! with a Q&A Job Prep Panel hosted by the University of Mississippi Public Relations Student Society of America. Here Professor Scott Fiene surveyed the panel for an hour and a half while panelists shared insights on how to make your resume stand out, how important work ethic is, and how you can learn from life experiences and leverage that in job interviews. The evening ended in an intimate dinner at The Isom Place, an Oxford landmark, contributing to the warm welcome we wanted to convey.
Friday, April 1, was a jammed-packed itinerary beginning with breakfast and an IMC Curriculum Jam workshop, led by Dr. Jason Cain, to explore and share ideas about how the IMC program can progress and implement new ideas. The day really kicked off in the ballroom at the Inn with Session 1: Crisis Communication.
Dr. Tim Coombs moderated this session with panelists being Chris Chiames, Renee Malone, Reade Tidwell, Steve Holmes, and Jenny Robertson. Panelists placed an emphasis on being accountable, acting with empathy, and having a plan for when a crisis occurs.
A particularly interesting insight came from Chris Chiames, chief communications officer for Carnival Cruise Line, as he said every day is dress rehearsal for a crisis. Meaning how you handle relationships with stakeholders, media, what tools you have to communicate, good instincts, and more, pave way for how a crisis within or involving your company will pan out.
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 information can help organizations make smart investments. Additionally, it discussed how social media can be used in a number of 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 customers’ shipping expectations during an unprecedented holiday season amidst a pandemic. FedEx pushed the message “Shop and ship early” across their social channels to encourage customers to shop in October and used the message to manage customer expectations as shipping times took longer.
Jenny also mentioned the importance of social listening. FedEx picked up on customers complaining of drivers not ringing the doorbell when making deliveries. From this information, FedEx worked internally to make a change that was initiated through social listening.
Following session two was a catered lunch by an Oxford staple, Taylor Grocery. This was a great time to connect with our guests and enjoy a great meal before heading back to the Inn 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. Each panelist in this session emphasized that it is less important when an organization says they are going to make improvements to their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and more important when an organization shows what they are actually doing to improve those efforts.
Renee Malone, president and founding partner at KQ Communications, spoke on the importance of bringing in experts who organizations can learn from, lean on, and talk to when insights are needed. She also said, “always remember the person in the room who does not look like everyone else is not always OK, and asking helps.”
The other panelists agreed that open communication is crucial, as is staying true to your organizations’ values, or efforts in diversity and advocacy can appear disingenuous. Renee also pointed out that representation is not always enough. After representation comes respect and then empowerment.
The final session of the day was Session 4: Advertising and Building Your Brand. Dr. Debbie Treise moderated this session and on her panel was Reade Tidwell, Steve Holmes, Chris Chiames, and Jenny Robertson. This session began by pointing out that a brand has moved far away from just being a logo and graphic and is now a reputation, and there is no way to have a good brand without a good representation.
Reade Tidwell, vice president of corporate communications at Chick-fil-A, said companies have personalities and that is something that is important to stay true to. Steve Holmes, vice president of corporate communications and external affairs at The Home Depot, spoke on keeping a connection with customers through COVID by showing, in commercials, more of who they are at The Home Depot, and not what they sell.
Finally, Chris Chiames shared an interesting branding story regarding Carnival Cruise Line and COVID. In effort to keep staff safe and healthy, Carnival Cruise Line created masks with the Carnival Cruise Line funnel in the corner, rather than writing Carnival in big letters or their “Fun For All” slogan across the mask. This was strategic branding because Carnival Cruise Line didn’t want an image of cruises, specifically Carnival, are the place where people get sick to stick in customers minds.
The evening ended with deep dive break out groups, where students were able to connect and speak with each guest before handing out raffle prizes and ending the night at the reception. The deep dive time window was a great opportunity for students like myself to make my way around the ballroom to each guest to touch base on a topic that stood out or was of note. It also was a great time for informal 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 at 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.
Through planning and attending IMC Connect!, I learned the importance of deliberate communication and collaboration. It took every member of every team to pull off the event and would not have been successful without all the moving pieces.
I also learned, from Dr. Candice Edrington, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, to look at setbacks as a setup for something that is to come, and how this can relate to job searching, promotions, event planning and more.
When your cake is printed horribly and its unacceptable to present at the reception, it’s only a setup for everyone to enjoy and comment on how lovely the cupcakes are that were served in the cake’s place.
This column was written by IMC graduate student Caroline Gleason.