| by Mark Anderson

News Stories

Foster, Vintage
Vintage Foster is teaching a course on Strategic Communications during his semester as a Leader-in-Residence at the Middlebury Institute.

Vintage Foster is prepared to have his heart broken. It happens every time he teaches.

“I really do love the students,” he says. “At the end of every semester, I’m thinking we’re going to be best friends for life—and then they’re on to their next class and I’m staring at my phone, wondering, ‘Why don’t you call?’”

The current Leader-in-Residence at the Institute, Foster is the CEO of AMF Media Group. He launched the boutique marketing firm in 2007, building on his experience as a long-time newspaper reporter, editor, and publisher.

We caught up with him to share some reflections after teaching a course at the Institute on strategic communications.

On His Approach 

As someone who’s employed people for 30 years, I see talent come through the market. I see that in the Middlebury Institute classroom, and I want to provide the opportunities to see them thrive. I want to free up students to do their best thinking without fear. 

Everything students do is based on real-life business scenarios. We examine what the client is doing, whether that’s a product launch or a change in service model. We look at what happens if you have to build a public relations plan for a client or a crisis communications plan. 

In my class, 90 percent of the work is in teams. At the end of the day, few people work as individuals.

Vintage Foster in classroom
Vintage Foster teaching during spring 2023 at the Middlebury Institute. 

Why He Always Starts with a Crisis

Any time a person or client is in crisis, it evokes emotions—perhaps with a consumer base, perhaps with a company and its employees, maybe advocacy groups. What I really want them to see is how easy it is to get lost in a scenario that is both emotional and toxic.

What I invariably see is the class spin wheels around how a scenario will play out on social media. It should center first and foremost on: How can I identify harm to business? How do I limit that harm? What stakeholder groups do I need to reach? That’s a disciplined approach, and it’s made harder by the emotion, which provides challenges that lead to mistakes, which in turn grant the best scenarios for learning. 

His Top Advice for Graduate Students

Hey grad students: Less is more. My graduate and PhD students know so much, they will overwhelm you with information and data. I try to get them to pick through the most important parts to lead you to the right set of solutions.

I want to free up students to do their best thinking without fear. 
— Vintage Foster

Where People Go Wrong with Communications

We live in a world where everyone now has a voice, everyone thinks that is important. Since people play in the communication world so much more than before in their personal life, when they come to the professional side they fall back on personal strategies. That’s not a disciplined approach.

Too often it’s, “Here’s what I feel we should say” or “What do my friends think?” That’s the wrong priority. The goal is to figure out what is a win in a given situation. Then work backwards from the desired outcome. 

On Teaching at the Middlebury Institute

I love it. I think I get more out of it than the students. They’re full of insights and energy. Every time I teach, it’s the best part of the week. I love the interaction. I love the give and take. They teach me. They inspire me. They recharge me. I hope I can keep doing this.

For More Information

Leaders in Residence