Help us help you | Call to Action: Marketing and Communications in Higher Education

Tension is essential to producing good work. In marketing, we are used to the creative tension that is created when our teams work to find solutions to meet the needs of our institution. But lately, conversations and editorials among my colleagues in higher education marketing have focused on the strained relationship (the wrong kind of tension) between the function of campus marketing units and the expectations of campus partners. To build a body of work that builds on and reflects a larger strategic goal for the entire institution, marketing and communications staff need strong partnerships with colleagues across campus.

Here are several ways to work with your marketing and communications units to help them be great, get better support, and hit the target for strategy in 2022.

Trust Marcomm’s expertise for strategic recommendations

Whether it’s writing a student or faculty member’s profile, designing a printed document to drive traffic to an event, or supporting more important mission-critical functions like registration or advancement, marketers respond best to the possibility of solving a problem. If you have something to communicate, it’s best to frame those requests around the purpose of the communication. Is there a desired or required action from the communication? What is the key takeaway for your target audience? Is the message urgent? What’s the tone? Who is the audience? Given the chance, your marketing communications department will design a communications strategy that answers all of these questions and more. But when the request is prescriptive — “send an email” or “create a video message” or, my favorite, “put it on social media” — your communications team is shackled by a communications medium or tactic. Instead, give them the information that will help them put together an effective communication plan. We all win when communications are strategic.

Every request can’t be a five-alarm fire

Marketing communications departments are pros at last-minute requests. We’ve seen during COVID-19 how quickly these units have become the hub of crisis communications, and they continue to pivot expertly. But last-minute requests lose their urgency when they become routine. Trying to manage through pressure or fear could give you the result you are looking for in the short term. But in the long run, you don’t build a relationship with your marcomm unit. Instead, you’ll earn a reputation for being a difficult customer for all the wrong reasons, and you’ll burn out the staff.

Take the time to learn the creative process on your campus. And then follow him. Provide feedback if parts of the process aren’t working well or aren’t meeting your needs.

Marketing is not free

Whether it is placing advertising, paying for marketing tools such as software, or the time and staff salaries required to launch a marketing campaign, marketing is not free and the uninitiated are often shocked by the costs. When budgets are tight, marketing can be seen as a solution, and some areas will be less expensive. For example, public relations strategies can be a less expensive way to gain brand awareness, but they require staff time and sometimes outside expertise. A rambling marketing team will find ways to get results, but realistic expectations start with realistic goals. Take the time to share your goals with your marketing department and let them guide you on the budget needed to achieve that goal. If the two don’t add up, your marketing colleagues can provide recommendations on what’s possible and what results you’re likely to achieve based on your budget.

There is little room for higher education news

There are plenty of opportunities for higher education expertise in the media, but usually in stories where journalists are looking for that expertise. Placing a specific campus story, whether it’s a major gift, grant, research activity, student or faculty profile, is increasingly difficult to do. . In fact, Liz Gross, CEO of Campus Sonar, researched exactly what opportunities exist for higher education news: “In the first three months of 2021, there were higher education news in the 20 main national media. Many were about athletics; just over 100 authors were unaware of the sport. Only 3% were positive, while 30% were neutral. So if you’re looking for positive media coverage with national exposure, you’re competing for one of 45 potential stories in a quarter.

Your marketing communications team can tell you where your story is most likely to go. You might find that the story has more reach on college social media than chasing after one of those coveted media spots.

Creatives need space to create

It sounds cliché, but being creative takes time and space. Like all campus professionals, your marketing communications team is still in the midst of or recovering from years of COVID-related upheaval and all that comes with it; it’s safe to say they might run out of the creative juices they had before the pandemic. There’s no magic bullet to this, but industry leaders like Josie Ahlquist are trying innovative ways to help marketing communications professionals heal. However, simply expressing your understanding will help your facility team feel seen.

That’s not to say teams don’t do well with deadlines – we respect them and they’re needed – but if you’re expecting that next big idea, help your marketing communications team make space. to deliver. If you’re in administration, that means prioritizing your requests and giving as much time as possible to due dates.

Marketing communications staff spend years honing their craft while constantly trying to keep up to date with the latest marketing trends. Strong partnerships with your marketing communications team will help you implement a winning, performance-driven strategy that improves the entire campus. Mutual respect and clear, open communication about goals and expectations will help your marketing department take the next necessary step of marketing maturity.


Jenny Petty is vice president of marketing and communications at the University of Montana.

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