Agile Marketing: Right For Your University?

Paul Redfern shares how Gettysburg College implemented agile marketing in five steps.

October 22, 2015

Last spring, Gettysburg College made the decision to use agile marketing as a framework for our planning after my colleague attended a session on this topic at the American Marketing Association Symposium on Higher Education. What she took away from that session changed the way our office planned, collaborated, and executed projects across the board.

We hoped that by adopting agile marketing, we’d be viewed as strategic partners with our key programs, rather than a job-in, job-out relationship. We needed a framework that offered flexibility while clearly articulating our priorities. We needed a solution, and agile marketing seemed to help solve some of our challenges.

Andrea Fryrear described agile marketing in a piece she wrote for MarketerGizmo.com as, "At its core, agile marketing is a tactical marketing approach in which teams identify and focus their collective efforts on high value projects, complete those projects cooperatively, measure their impact, and then continuously and incrementally improve the results over time."

[Cue rainbows and unicorns.]

Here’s how we implemented agile marketing:

1) We identified the eight key areas our institutional marketing needed to support.

These areas are based on our institutional goals and external research and included each one of our four distinctive programs: admissions, annual giving, the campaign, outcomes, and the value proposition. None are a surprise to any higher ed CMO.

2) We held a two-day retreat to determine goals, a plan, and key projects.

Staff liaisons to each program presented to our full team and led a discussion about key issues or challenges they anticipated in the coming year. Then we developed high-level goals for each area, a three-to four-month detailed plan, and identified two or three key projects.

In retrospect, I recommend a one-day meeting. It was difficult to keep the creative juices flowing for two days. When energy ran low, our leadership team was forced to make final decisions, which didn’t sit well with some of the others on our team.

3) Our Communications and Marketing Office leadership team met to integrate our new plans.

We were able to consider how workloads were converging and overlapping — were we planning to do too much in one time period? Did we have the right emphasis and priority for our staff and resources? Had we made the right connections across projects from different areas?

4) Ongoing relationships with our key programs keep plans on track.

At minimum the liaisons meet once a month with the program directors in the key areas. They spend time collaborating and providing support and pose new ideas and explore opportunities. This is more intensive than a typical client-provider check-in: it creates stronger buy-in and shared ownership of goals and key projects.

5) The whole team plays a part.

Each week, our entire team reviews past top-level projects and upcoming initiatives, which may include web, social media, design, print, content, media relations, etc. We discuss how we are moving ideas forward, what roadblocks are emerging, how can we make better connections, and what needs to be prioritized and accomplished in the next two to three months. Every eight weeks, we ask each program liaison to provide an update and facilitate discussion for their agile program during a meeting.


We’re five months into our new agile planning and are very pleased with the results. I have seen a higher level of collaboration, more focus on our key areas, and better quality projects emerging from our office. Our staff is more invested in their program partners’ goals and we are better able to take full advantage of the program-level activities in our institutional marketing. I’ve received feedback from program heads that the new agile focus has been helpful to them that they feel much more closely connected to our office and to the institutional marketing effort.

No rainbows and unicorns, yet, but with sure signs of progress, the implementation of agile marketing is working for Gettysburg.

While we haven’t figured out how to solve all of our marketing challenges at, agile marketing has helped us think through many of them. And I firmly believe it has much to offer other higher ed CMOs.

Paul Redfern leads the communications and marketing team at Gettysburg College and is a frequent presenter on marketing and brand topics at national conferences.


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