Governance for Marketing?

Susan T. Evans offers advice and examples of how to build your marketing governance plan organically.

September 22, 2016

Governance is not just for website management. Deploying a successful and integrated marketing plan for a higher education institution relies on the work of internal stakeholders. Yes, we need governance for marketing.

In many businesses, a central marketing or communications office is responsible for most of the marketing work. That doesn’t happen in most higher education institutions, where the process is less clear cut:

  • Small colleges don’t have enough marketing staff to create all of the marketing content needed for success.
  • Even if there is a central marketing team, many large universities also have marketing staff embedded in schools and colleges and charged with marketing to a complex set of audience segments.

As Michael Stoner, president and co-founder of mStoner and a regular contributor to Call to Action, made clear in a recent post, “It takes a village to live the brand”, the right amount of governance can help us rally the internal stakeholders we rely on to create marketing content and execute on a comprehensive marketing plan.

How do you go about establishing the governance needed to move toward an on-brand and cohesive direction for marketing? I’m a believer in organic governance. I don’t recommend you start by setting up a task force for lengthy deliberation about governance for marketing. Instead, it should go like this:

  • You build momentum.
  • You offer some central support.
  • You demonstrate success.

Rinse and repeat that a few times and you’ve got a process that internal stakeholders start to expect. Once an expected process embeds itself in the minds of a critical mass of key internal stakeholders, write it up as the institutional marketing governance framework. Move on.

Three Examples of Organic Governance for Marketing

1. Education of executives, deans, and directors

You are the marketing expert and much of what you’ll want to do makes perfect sense. Yet those in leadership positions on your campus may resist your efforts because they don’t understand what you’re talking about. Educating executives, deans, and directors about marketing strategy and tactics can help you gain their support. Use data from your own institution to demonstrate your plan and always include concrete examples. Expect to repeat yourself. Explaining your ideas in the right way, at the right time turns campus leadership into the executive sponsors of a new governance model for marketing. You are building momentum.

2. Benefits for decentralized staff

Individuals across campus are creating marketing content every day. They draft a paragraph for a web page, they choose a photo for a digital ad, they write a tweet directed at parents. The best way to get their attention is to make their jobs easier. If your marketing program includes tools they can take advantage of, they will. Your tools should be seen as benefits — they are the photos, graphical elements, proof points, style guides, and phrases to support their daily work. Remember, you’re offering rules and guidelines in the form of help. We all pay more attention to what benefits us personally.

3. Communication about communication

Sometimes we’re so busy doing what we do that we don’t share the results of our work. Use meetings, email messages, and conversations as opportunities to report on marketing successes. When working with a dean, talk about metrics from a project you completed for another dean. In a sense you are marketing what your team is doing and building the case for marketing governance at the same time.

Getting to Governance

On every campus, I hear this phrase, “We just need to break down our silos and collaborate more.” These good intentions need to translate into action. Marketing governance means a central team is doing actual work with an internal stakeholder. Just start — build success through a series of projects and promote those projects to other internal stakeholders. Let the collaboration lead to an expected process that turns into a governance structure for marketing.

Susan T. Evans is vice president of client solutions at mStoner. She has 25+ years of communications and marketing experience in higher education, first on a campus, and now consulting with colleges and universities across the U.S.


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