NIC MITCHELL has been attending EUPRIO conferences for 25 years. Here, he offers some tips on how to get the most out of the annual gathering of European higher education communicators.

EUPRIO’s conferences are really something special. Held in either late June or early September, they move across the continent of Europe – often meeting in out of the way venues that you might never visit otherwise!

My first was in Siena, Italy, in 1990 if my memory serves me right.

I had only been in higher education public relations a short while and what a fantastic experience it was to meet so many interesting people from the rest of Europe.

Since then, I’ve travelled north to the Finnish Arctic Circle; east to Vilnius in Lithuania and south to Malta to attend annual EUPRIO conferences.

I’ve only missed one since I started working in university communications, and that was because of a family bereavement.

Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be making Perugia this September as I’m recovering from a bowel cancer operation.

But I do recommend that you seriously consider going, especially if you want to learn about what’s happening to higher education and research in other European countries. And there’s always a chance of picking up a EUPRIO Award as I did in 2011.

Nic, left, with other EUPRIO Award winners at the Prague conference 2011.

Nic, left, with other EUPRIO Award winners at the Prague conference 2011.

EUPRIO conferences are a great way to make useful contacts abroad that you will probably keep for life.

Unlike the mass gatherings of other higher education conferences such as CASE, EAIE and NAFSA in the United States, EUPRIO’s conferences are smaller and friendlier affairs.

They are aimed specifically at people working in public relations, information and university communications, although some workshops tackle niche subjects, which can often be the most revealing.

I prefer going to a conference where there’s a good chance I can meet most people rather than be lost in a crowd, so I prefer events with 200 to 300 participants rather than several thousand.

I recommend that you throw off the narrow interest bands that some of the bigger conferences herd you into, for example a PR senior track, or alumni and fundraising or international student recruitment marketing.

Go for a bit of a variety in your choice of workshops and don’t worry if your choice seems to be only attracting a few other delegates.

You get a much more interesting discussion, and learn a heck of a lot more, with half a dozen other participants rather than squeezing into a session with 100 or more people.

In recent years following this advice has opened my eyes to the PR challenges of European universities carrying out life changing environmental research in Asia and Africa and gaining really useful tips about effectively targeting international students from India and the Gulf states.

Both examples mentioned here only attracted a handful to the sessions I attended – EUPRIO workshops are repeated twice and I always opt for one that appears to have the smaller audience. Everyone seems happy to participate when there are only six or seven of you, but larger workshops tend to be dominated by a handful of very confident people who always speak.

By far the most valuable benefit of EUPRIO is developing a network of people who can help when you need a colleague in another country.

I am asked every few months by EUPRIO colleagues about what’s happening with some aspect of British higher education.

And likewise, when I need to find out what is happening in Portugal, Finland, Germany, Lithuania or any other European country, I know just who to ask first.

The network is invaluable in my new role as a journalist and blogger.

I find that PR people like to help people doing similar roles in different countries; and from my experience EUPRIO is one of the best ways to bring them together.

So make the best use of the social side of EUPRIO’s conferences to make new friends and contacts and don’t just get stuck in a clique with people you already know from your own country.

There is still time to register for this year’s conference in Perugia. You can see what’s on offer here on the conference website.

I hope you manage to make it to Italy.

If you left it too late for this year, perhaps we’ll meet again when I’m fully recovered in another country in 2016 or 2017.

Main photo: Nic, left,  with international guests at EUPRIO’s Durham conference.