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The fact that marketing and communications are essential to the success of a contemporary institution of higher education is indisputable.

There, I said it.

I’m sure that plenty of people will quibble with that statement. But let’s face it: colleges and universities compete in an extremely complex media environment. Today’s audiences (including but not limited to prospective students of all ages, alumni, and donors) are distracted and fickle. Our messages and communications clamor for attention with those from commercial and nonprofit organizations and jostle against news updates from family and friends, not to mention cat gifs and YouTube videos.

A university’s ambitions may be lofty and its programs peerless, but if its communications are lost and messages ignored amid the visual and aural clutter of our ever-expanding media universe, it won’t flourish. That’s why authentic and memorable brands stand out in academe. Consider American University’s WONK campaign, for example: love it or hate it, the results have been positive for American.

So one of the purposes of this blog, as Teresa noted in her post last week, is to enable people who work in marketing and communications in higher ed to share best practices and what works -- and what to avoid.

It’s a challenging time for higher ed and we need to leverage the expertise and wisdom of our extended community. People who’ve gained experience in marketing and communications from working on a campus can learn a great deal from those who’ve worked in marcom for commercial organizations or nonprofits. And people who come to higher ed from other organizations need insights about dealing with the quirky culture of academia if they’re going to be successful.

And, while it’s important to be connected to the larger community of people who work in marketing and communication, it’s also essential to be deeply connected to a campus community. A successful brand strategy launch or a campaign needs support from people across the institution.

That’s why students, faculty, and staff are among the important constituencies included in market research; sit on cross-functional committees for developing brand strategy and creative approaches; and are among the main audiences for roll-out of new initiatives.

The research on the state of higher ed branding that we recently conducted with Tom Hayes from Xavier University bears this out. For example, 79% of institutions involved a cross-functional committee in their brand strategy research. And 52% had student representation; 78% had faculty; and 83% had staff representatives on their brand development teams.

You need to identify the opinion-leaders and -shapers on your campus and enlist them as friends or at least as frenemies. You’ll need to understand their concerns and listen to their input.  As a brand or a specific campaign is created and debated and then rolled out, their support needs to evolve from awareness to engagement and action.

The Beatles couldn’t have anticipated Facebook, but in the age of social media, there are many potential ambassadors for an institution’s messages and stories. So it’s as important to rely on their help as it is that of your professional peers. After all, the fact that marketing and communications are essential to the contemporary institution of higher education is indisputable.

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