VCCS Conference: How to make your marketing messages and ad campaigns stick

June 6th, 2007 Karine Joly 4 Comments

I’ve been invited to present at Virginia’s Community College Institutional Advancement and PR Peer Group Conference in Staunton, VA.

I’m scheduled to present a 2-hour session tomorrow morning, but I came a day early to attend the keynote address by Dan Heath, co-author of the best selling book Made to Stickwho also blogs and seems to share my color choices ;-)

In this age of viral marketing with social media and viral videos, this book (that I haven’t read yet – but will definitely as I bought a signed copy today) looks like a very interesting read.

In his keynote speech at lunch, Dan Heath gave a very engaging presentation about the main traits of sticky ideas and how higher ed institutions can use these traits to craft marketing messages that stick in the mind of their target audiences (constituents if you prefer).

After mentioning a few urban legends, Heath noticed that these ideas spread and stick in our minds without the help of any organizations, PR teams or advertising campaigns.

The study and analysis of these sticky stories led Dan and Chip Heath to define 6 traits of ideas that stick:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected: that’s a prerequisite to grab people’s attention in the very crowded environment we all live in. You need to break the expectations of your target audiences and surprise them so they will remember and talk about it
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional: if you can get your target audiences to care about your message, they will remember and act on it.
  • Story: you need to put aside facts and stats to reintroduce stories. People love and remember stories (they pay to listen to or watch a good story)

Later in his presentation, Heath pointed out some of the shortcomings in the titles of the following press releases from another community college system (that shall remain nameless on this blog):

Search committee meets May 17
State Board hears nursing news, approves new president
Community college student interns learn about state government

“This is not communication, but just a diary. What if the rest of the world operated like this institution?,” asked Heath before providing a few funny made-up press release titles including:

Nike’s CMO and CFO, after careful thought, switch over to Roth IRA

For the author, this institution has all the signs of CSAS, conscious story avoidance syndrome, despite the fact that they do have great stories to share as he explained by quoting a few paragraphs from one of the press releases he cited earlier.

So, how can you make your marketing messages and campaigns stick (or go viral)?

  • Figure out what your target audiences care about.
  • Find the stories to match.
  • Use the knowledge about your constituents as a filter for your stories.

According to Dan Heath, higher ed PR professionals are not in the press release business, but they should see themselves in the business of providing hope and opportunities.

At the end of his speech, Heath got a big surprise that might help Virginia’s Community Colleges stick in his mind: a birthday cake with the cover of his book “printed” on the icing to thank him to come to speak at the conference on his birthday.

I grabbed and plugged my tiny webcam when they brought the cake in (and forgot to configure the microphone), so the video doesn’t have any audio, but I guess that’s breaking expectations of my video viewers, so it might stick in your minds ;-)

Anyway, I’m posting the video mainly to demonstrate to the conference attendees how easy it is to shoot and upload videos on YouTube.

Happy Birthday, Dan!

4 Responses

  1. Steve Mullen says:

    It was a pleasure to meet you at the conference today, and to watch you at work while you were preparing the skeleton of this blog post :)

    You did a great job summarizing Mr. Heath’s presentation. In fact, I’ll be writing a blog post of my own shortly and will link over here for a rundown of what he said!

    Again .. nice meeting you!

    Steve Mullen
    EndGame Public Relations, LLC
    Media Relations and SEO PR Blog
    Startup BizCast Podcast

  2. Karine Joly says:

    Thanks for your comment, Steve!

    I’ll make sure to check out your blog and listen to your podcast when I’m back home.

  3. Jeff Kraus says:


    Thanks you so much for participating in our conference. Your session was teriffic and really helped open a lot of eyes to the vast tools Web 2.0 gives us to get the word out about the great opportunities offered throughout Virginia’s Community Colleges.

    It was a pleasure to meet you in person and I hope it wasn’t the last time.

    Thanks again,
    Jeff Kraus

  4. Karine Joly says:

    Thank you for inviting me and your nice words about my session, Jeff.

    This was really an excellent and well-organized conference. It was a pleasure working with your great team.

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