Hashtag Higher Ed Podcast Logo

The first thing you should know about me is that I’ve been dreading this blog post.

Jackie asked me to write a introductory post for the ConnectEDU blog months ago. And while the assignment never left my to-do list, it never really rose up my to-do list either.

It’s not that I don’t like writing; it’s just that I enjoy the feeling of having written much more.

And I loathe writing about myself. I find the practice awkward and intimidating. It’s like approaching a crowd at a conference networking event – I might tell myself that I need to do it, but at the end of the night, I’ll either be buried in my phone in the corner of the room or in my actual hotel room watching Jersey Shore reruns. I’m a fairly social person in small settings, but nothing makes me clam up more than hearing, “tell me about yourself.”

But here goes.

Hi everyone. My name is Stephen App, and I’m an Account Director for eCity Interactive, a content-first digital agency in the City of Brotherly love.

What does an Account Director do? That’s a great question. Basically, it’s my role to lead the higher education vertical within our agency, leading our team in our decisions about how to market ourselves to the industry, what we’re recommending to prospective clients, and then making sure that we’re delivering on the promises we make to our partner institutions.

I’ve been involved with marketing and higher education in varying capacities for about a decade now, which in full transparency felt cool to type at first but makes me feel old the more I read it out loud. I’ve spent the bulk of that time on campus, but in 2016, I transitioned agency-side, and my podcast, Hashtag Higher Ed, is one of the reasons why.

I should clarify that last sentence. The Hashtag Higher Ed podcast isn’t the literal reason I joined eCity. But the idea of trying something new, like podcasting, was. You see, when I worked on campuses, and I suspect many of you will nod your head affirmatively to this, I spent a lot of time putting out fires. We had a limited, if existential, marketing budget, and an even smaller staff. It was everything we could do to keep our heads above water and meet the needs of campus stakeholders. The idea of producing a podcast, like many new marketing tactics, felt like test driving a Tesla when we knew all we could afford was a Nissan Leaf.

But at eCity, I’ve been given a bit more creative leeway. In fact, the creative freedom that came up in my early conversations with our managing director was irresistible. In my mind, creative freedom equals risk taking. And risk taking equals growth. In that type of environment, ideas like producing a podcast felt entirely more attainable.

Here’s how the Hashtag Higher Ed podcast came to be specifically. You see, as an agency, we have a few primary objectives we need to accomplish in order to grow in this space through new clients and projects.

Chief among those objectives is staying on top of industry trends and best practices. Ironically enough, it was a podcast guest of mine, Amanda Costello, who explained the importance of this concept best. In her (paraphrased) words, there aren’t many things that can convince an institution to adopt a new strategy or tool quite like hearing that another institution has done so. When we approach clients about new ideas, being able to reference another institution that is seeing success with a same or similar marketing tactic or design concept can be an enormous asset.

Of course, that insight doesn’t do us much good if we don’t share it. Institutions want to work with thought leaders in their industry, and if we’re not regularly publishing about marketing best practices and our opinions on where this space is trending, it’s near impossible to be recognized as such.

Finally, and this is something that I believe to be true in business above all else, people don’t do business with companies, they do business with people they like, respect, and trust. The companies are just the beneficiary.

That’s why building relationships is so important, especially in higher education, where the culture and community already tips toward collaboration rather than competition.

Now normally, the way to accomplish these three objectives – learn, share, and connect – is through conferences. But as a small shop, we don’t necessarily have the budget to send our employees jet setting across the country to the dozens of worthy higher ed conferences happening every year.

Enter a podcast. You see, a podcast checked off every box we needed to fill.

Building relationships? A few hours spent emailing, planning, conversing, and recording will most certainly do that.

Staying on top of industry trends? A podcast allows us to go beyond headlines and conference presentation titles and uncover the backstory behind some of today’s most innovative marketing initiatives.

Becoming a thought leader? At the time we launched Hashtag Higher Ed, there were limited podcasts available for or by higher education marketing professionals. We saw an opportunity to build a reputation as early adopters in the space, building brand awareness and positioning ourselves as valued content curators. This last point is really important; timing is everything, and quite honestly, I think it would be much more difficult to become a thought leader through podcasting today. It’s already become that crowded.

Best of all, podcasting has allowed us to make new friends, learn from some incredibly smart people, and share best practices with a growing audience, all from the comfort of our own office, or more accurately, the professional recording studio housed by our sister company down the street. From a cost standpoint, that’s an investment that we can all rally behind.

20 plus episodes later, we’re still going strong, with a new episode about new ideas in content strategy, web design, content marketing, and the teams and individuals making it happen every other week. This podcast has become my favorite project at our agency. Better yet, we’ve improved as content producers and strategists with each new episode, learned a few valuable lessons along the way, and have built a dedicated audience that has grown substantially over time.

If you haven’t experienced the Hashtag Higher Ed podcast for yourself, give us a listen. And if you have a project that the larger higher ed marketing community deserves to know about, give me a shout. Otherwise, I’ll talk to you on the mic.

Well, I’ll be behind a mic. You’ll be in your car. Or doing dishes. Or on a run. Or wherever you listen to podcasts.