The annual WCA Get Smart professional development conference was held on Friday, Oct. 22, at the Ben Hur Shrine Auditorium in North Austin, and more than 60 communicators attended this in-person gathering to learn from a team of experts – and each other.

The theme this year was ReCONNECT: Now & Next, and connection was definitely the thread running through the entire morning’s event. Featuring four dynamic sessions, the lineup included:

Cindy Brummer, CEO/Creative Director of Standard Beagle, who showed us all how Affinity Maps can help us Get Alignment with Tough Stakeholders. Whether you use a whiteboard and sticky notes, or a digital version for a virtual gathering, Affinity Maps are simple, involve every team member, tap into creative AND analytical aspects, make the work visible, and promote critical thinking.

The 2021 Get Smart Conference by Women Communicators of Austin. Photo by MatthewLemke.com

By using Affinity Maps, groups can build alignment because:

  1. All voices are heard;
  2. There is positive modeling; and
  3. It focuses on commitment over agreement.

She said you’ll never get 100% agreement, so it’s better to strive for commitment to the plan and move forward.

Jessica Scanlon, Top Dog & CEO of Hot Dog Marketing, continued the dog-themed presentations by giving the attendees X-Ray Vision into the Future of Marketing. According to Scanlon, the main trends are coming from:

  1. COVID and the death of the Annual Marketing Plan;
  2. Tech companies and the push for privacy;
  3. Hot competition among marketing automation and CRM tech companies; and
  4. Commoditizing of website services.

The 2021 Get Smart Conference by Women Communicators of Austin. Photo by MatthewLemke.com

She shared some scary information about how Apple and Google are changing the privacy and data analysis landscape, and suggested that a lot of the trends are going to push marketers back to “the old days” of relying on a “contextual mindset” instead of a data-driven one. By focusing on conversion data and behavior data instead of open rates, we’ll be more successful in planning our digital campaigns.

Briefly covering other trends, such as eCommerce growth and agile marketing, she said the best things marketers can start with are:

  • Developing “personas” for your organization based on psychographics;
  • Creating a customer journey for each persona;
  • Making sure your marketing automation collects robust data; and
  • Being creative.

Building Community Through Podcasting

Taking a break from the more analytical and system-focused topics, a group of experienced podcasters had a lively discussion of how the format is perfect for building connection and community. Lani Rosales, COO at The American Genius, moderated the panel, which included Jennifer Stayton of KUT 90.5, Nadia Hamdan, who produces Reveal for the Center for Investigative Reporting, and Sonya Stattmann, a business & leadership coach whose Women in the Business Arena podcast has been running for five years.

The 2021 Get Smart Conference by Women Communicators of Austin. Photo by MatthewLemke.com

The panel all agreed that podcasting lends itself to authenticity and intimacy, which is one of the main reasons it has taken off in popularity. It’s about having conversations, covering stories, bringing important information to the world, all while being entertaining. If you find your niche, you can create community. Tips offered for newbies and wannabes included:

  • Having a professional producer who really knows audio (sound quality is vital),
  • Posting on a regular schedule (whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly) so your audience knows when to find you, and
  • Considering “seasons” of topics as a way of helping you plan.

A big takeaway was that it takes time — to set up, to produce, and to grow an audience — but it can be very helpful in creating connections with communities.

Our final session featured Jackie Quintero Sekiguchi, Community Affairs Manager at Texas Mutual Insurance, who shared with us how her company Deepened Relationships Through Purpose-Driven Work. Created in 1991 by the State of Texas, her organization is the largest workers’ compensation insurance company in the state. While they had focused on their readily identifiable stakeholders, such as insurance agents, healthcare providers, injured workers, and employees, they found that their reach actually extends to everyone. By redefining “stakeholder” they created new strategies to reach the various audiences, and were able to better connect their philanthropy with their strategic alliances. The main ideas they discovered in dealing with the pandemic and other disasters in the state:

  1. Having a strategy is critical;
  2. They gained a better understanding of their superpower; and
  3. Regular communication with stakeholders is key.

The stats on her new communication vehicle for a broader stakeholder group blew away the audience with:

  • Zero Unsubscribes;
  • A 40% Open Rate; and
  • A 20% Click-through Rate, among others.

Obviously they’re doing something right.

The 2021 Get Smart Conference by Women Communicators of Austin. Photo by MatthewLemke.com

Beyond the amazing speakers and trending topics, there were connections to be made in many meaningful ways throughout the day. Those who arrived early started networking even before the conference officially got underway. During morning coffee, sponsored by Team Lawless, they also chatted with business strategist and executive coach Andrew Lawless.

Along with breaks between sessions, facilitated lunch table discussions offered another way to connect and re-connect. Patti DeNucci kicked off the lunchtime conversations with some great tips and practical networking reminders, plus a prize drawing give-away of two copies of her book, The Intentional NetworkerTM

The 2021 Get Smart Conference by Women Communicators of Austin. Photo by MatthewLemke.com

A number of attendees even stayed after the official close for additional networking and connections.

This in-person event truly lived up to its theme of ReCONNECTing, from the sessions to the networking, and was a great example of how WCA provides not only quality programming, but opportunities for connections that move our community forward.

Thanks to our sponsors, speakers, volunteers, and the amazing Get Smart committee for putting together a great day of inspiration and networking. We are already looking forward to our next WCA event and next year’s Get Smart conference!

Sponsors:

Committee:

  • Roberta Coffin
  • Ellen Decareau
  • Andrea Exter
  • Michel Hudson
  • Tanya Jogee
  • Jacqueline Sinex

Volunteers:

  • LuAnn Glowacz
  • Kara Myers
  • WCA Board