A sophisticated and mature marketing communications infrastructure is critical in every organization, including higher education institutions. While this seems obvious, that has not always been the case, and it is still not the case for some colleges and universities today.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when schools did not need to market their institution. Central departments existed that primarily focused on communications and media relations and supported the Advancement functions of fundraising and alumni relations. While there are still institutions that exist this way, a more significant number of schools have evolved to a broader scope of accountability for their central communication teams, including the strategic use of branding and marketing to drive forward the institution’s broader goals and reputation management.

However, because marketing hasn’t existed as a part of the central function of a college or university until relatively recently, many campuses have a fragmented and decentralized approach. Most schools have staff with marketing in their job description located in departments across campus, many of whom are not trained marketers yet are publishing content and producing marketing and communications that impact the school’s reputation. In many cases, the central office either doesn’t have the skillset or is not organizationally positioned to lead an institutional-wide marketing and communications approach and is instead focused on executing tactics with little strategy. While this gets better every year, presidents should expect more from their central offices and increase the accountability of those resources. 

Here are three things that presidents should know about marketing so they can hold their central offices to a higher standard:

  • Marketing and communications (Marcomm) cannot be thought of separately.

In a mature marketing and communications organization, the function of marketing and the function of communications are not thought of in isolation. Schools should practice an integrated marketing communications approach that looks holistically at all channels and anchors strategies and tactics to a well-articulated brand. If you have a clear understanding of your institutional identity and what sets you apart, it should be the foundation of your content strategy, PR strategy, marketing strategy, video strategy, social media strategy, etc. Your brand becomes the litmus test for your storytelling as you ask, “Can another school tell this same story?” If so, don’t tell it.   

  • Marcomm is a critical revenue driver.

Every university or college has these two primary revenue drivers: enrollment and fundraising. While there are others, these two functions are squarely in the realm of accountability for the Marcomm team (or should be). Marcomm should be an equal partner in enrollment and held up next to the enrollment team when understanding if you are achieving your goals.  You should be asking for the ROI on the marketing investment and expecting to see the connection between the marketing investment and how many students attend. Similarly, in fundraising, the Marcomm team should be held equally accountable for initiatives such as Giving Day or signature event attendance and ongoing engagement efforts with donors and alumni. They should also be focused on philanthropy storytelling and ongoing efforts that demonstrate momentum around giving. These are all measurable efforts that drive revenue where the Marcomm team should not be viewed as a support role but as an equal partner sharing in the success or learning and adjusting if goals aren’t met. 

  • Marcomm is a critical reputation builder.

Reputation management is fundamental for a university or college hoping to drive enrollment, fundraising, strong faculty and staff hiring, and engagement. While media relations and issues management are core functions of building and maintaining reputation, a Marcomm team should approach this vital work intentionally and strategically. They should be measuring perceptions from key audiences, including academic peers, and establishing a cadence of marketing and communications intended to shape those perceptions and grow your reach and reputation. This is a measurable function of a strong Marcomm team that should be a primary area they report on.

When done well, Marcomm is not just a campus service unit but rather a critical driver of an institution’s goals. To truly benefit from what a sophisticated marketing and communications operation can bring, they need to be positioned to create change, have the high-level skills to do the work and be held accountable to demonstrate their impact. 

Some additional resources to learn more about a mature marketing organization:

 Want to chat about this or anything else marketing, branding, communications, research related that is on your mind? Email Jamie at jamie@rwjonesagency.com