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Chay Rao

Director, Strategic Communications & Public Relations
American University School of Public Affairs

Chay Rao is the Director of Strategic Communications & PR at the School of Public Affairs at American University. In this role, he leads a team of communications and marketing professionals to develop and implement creative programs, integrating content across digital and print platforms into a holistic strategy that highlights SPA’s achievements and research, drives inquiries and enrollment in graduate programs, all while also managing and protecting SPA’s brand. SPA’s communications and marketing campaigns have increased visibility to peer institutions and students, resulting in a rise to #10 overall in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of Graduate Public Affairs Institutions (up four places in three years) as well as increased interest and enrollment in SPA’s graduate programs year over year since 2019.


Prior to joining American University, Chay worked in communications roles across many industries, from a Fortune 50 company to a major organization in the non-profit sector, in a multinational law firm, and as a reporter and editor. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and two children.

Chay Rao’s Session(s):


Utilizing Social Media to Drive Meaningful Engagement with Students and Prevent 'Melt' in the Hybrid Era

While enrollment numbers at the School of Public Affairs at American University stayed steady in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, it soon became apparent that students would not be able to return to campus in 2020-2021. With this news, new challenges emerged for SPA’s in-house communications team. How can they tease the excitement of college life without a campus tour? Finally, how can they ensure that these students show up for a class in a virtual world?

Relatively quickly, they realized that their normal strategies of paid social ads and organic content would fall short of the deeper student connection they sought and that an overtly sales-y approach would seem insensitive to the times. So, with direction from their dean, the team rolled up their sleeves and designed an innovative social media campaign that doubled their video views across all platforms and saw the strongest engagement rate ever. This campaign helped them connect effectively with current and prospective students and compelled them to “show up” for that first day of the virtual class.

As we define the new normal for higher ed marketing after COVID-19, we must build innovative opportunities for a virtual connection. Chay and Sabiha will share their tried-and-tested strategies to tackle the communications and branding challenges for a hybrid education system post-COVID 19.

This presentation will focus on:

  1. How to make your faculty your brand’s spokesperson on social media to attract and retain students.
  2. Proven strategies, tips, and user-friendly apps/tools for designing an integrated video campaign and staging engaging virtual events using organic features.
  3. At the end of this session, attendees will be able to develop innovative organic social media campaigns to build a meaningful connection with their target audience in the hybrid world.  

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