CASE 2008: Brighton Beach Memories

Having read Mike Nolan’s series of posts on the 2008 CASE Conference, I thought I would set down some thoughts of my own, before the memories fade like abandoned flip-flops carried away by the tide.

As a marketer, I’m defaulting to the classic ‘four Ps’ structure. Normally these are Product, Price, Place and Promotion but in this case I’ve let them undergo a kind of Brightonian candy-floss mutation into Professional Insight, Pub Time, Psychogeography and Personal Grooming…

Professional Insight
I won’t attempt to summarise all 150 sessions, or even the dozen or so I attended. However a few nuggets have stayed with me from some of the talks, workshops and roundtables…

The plenary of the Marketing Track (which I had programmed alongside Emma Leech of MMU) was a firework display of ideas from trends researcher Sean Pillot de Chenecey – a rapid-fire, blink-and-you’ll-miss-five-ideas overview of emerging brands and communication trends. One thing I took away from it was the idea that older people are cool (‘Iggy Pop is 60!’) – having lived with youth culture since 1954, an exemplar mature person could be someone like Mick Jones (former Clash member, half of Carbon/Silicon and Libertines collaborator) rather than, say, Terry Scott – so no need to design materials for ‘returners to study’ to look like The People’s Friend or an Ovaltine advert.

Lorraine Westwood from Foundation Degree Forward challenged our thinking on working with employers and work-based learning, with real examples of fruitful engagement in this challenging area.

The next day, a Breakfast Roundtable on Marketing the Multi-Site Institution, led by Martin Wright from the University of the Highlands and Islands (which is about as multi-site as you can get, operating from the Shetlands to Argyll) provided a thought-provoking start to the day. Being physically distributed is just one of the inherent complexities of HE, and internal communication with staff is a key aspect of holding together a coherent brand.

Claire Brown and Matt Smith from Liverpool University delivered a fascinating session on Consumer Buying behaviour and the HE Decision Making Process, showing how academic research had informed successful recruitment initiatives. It would be interesting to see if the model described works similarly with different groups of students (thinking in particular about Paul Greenbank and Sue Hepworth’s research into working class students and the career decision-making process ).

Using Research to Develop a Market-based Portfolio, by Helen Clapham and Abigail Harrison-Moore from Leeds University again showed marketing thinking turned into real outcomes. It was particularly good to see a collaboration between an academic department and the professional marketing team producing demonstrable good practice. Academics and marketers don’t always understand each other, and there are unfortunate examples of each diabolising the other as the source of all problems, so an example of positive collaboration was very welcome.

Another day, another Breakfast Roundtable – this time lead by Alison Wildish: Web + Marketing = the Future. There was a lot of Web 2.0 discussion at the Conference, to the point of overlap, but this session added some useful points to the ongoing convresation.

Marketing Success through Diversity, Nicola Dandridge (Chief Executive of the Equality Challenge University) contributed to another ongoing conversation – the relationship between the equality agenda and the marketing communications that emanate from HE. All of us want to move beyond compliance and avoid tokenism, and Nicola’s presentation and the discussion it led to were helpful in thinking through how to achieve this. A topic that needs to be revisited.

Pub time!
Conferences aren’t just about the formal sessions. The aura of enthusiasm from nearly 1,000* colleagues being in the same place at the same time would give the most jaded professional a transfusion of jouissance. And there was networking a plenty, like a superaccelerated Brownian motion. I can already attest to the fact that the camaraderie of fellow professionals lives on beyond the event. Thinking about it, I didn’t actually get to any pubs after the mini-tour of Sussex real ale I contrived with Mike on Bank Holiday Monday, but the social programme (in the Pavilion, Dome, and (endlessly) in the hotel itself) was good and ‘very Brighton’.

Psychogeography
At least one reader of University blogs likes to be given a proper sense of place, so here goes. The conference was based at the Brighton Hilton Metropole @50.822130, -0.149340 in the zone where the central retail district hits the sea and transforms into the tourism, entertainment and business accommodation band of the coastal margin. Having been born in Brighton and lived there for 25 years, coming back as a business tourist was weird – like revisiting my own life from the outside. The Metropole is next door to the Grand, where (as the tourist guide reminded us) an IRA detonated a bomb in 1984. I used to walk to work along the seafront and remember that day, the beach transformed into a crime scene and an odd sense of carnival as routine was broken and we all had to walk to work a different way.

Personal grooming
I was due to pick up the certificate for our Gold Award from the CASE Circle of Excellence during the gala dinner on the last night. By then my normal suit was like a limp rag, and as I didn’t want to shamble across the stage to collect an international award looking as if I’d slept under the pier, I dashed out to Mod clothes shop Jump the Gun in the North Laine and got reclothed from neck to toe, including the narrowest trousers I’ve worn since 1978. (I resisted the temptation to ride across the stage on a Vespa, even though to do so would have been technically possible given the proximity of a loading bay hidden just behind the stage.) Crossing the platform amidst swelling applause was quite a thrill, so much so that, in a moment of introvert flamboyance, I made a two-handed ‘fists of rock’ gesture… which amused my team but, given its vast array of meanings, may have confused delegates from around the world. But I’ll always be welcome at Satanist groups and Texas Longhorns games…

* Statistics show that, out of this number of visitors to the town, 10 will now remain on a permanent basis: eight to work in bars and restaurants; one to open a bar of their own; and one to make a living as a street performer.