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Help Us Help You

How faculty and staff can work with marcomm teams to set and meet mutual goals in 2022.

January 25, 2022
 
 

Tension is critical to produce good work. In marketing, we’re used to the creative tension that builds as our teams work toward solutions to meet our institution’s needs. But lately, conversations and op-eds among my higher ed marketing colleagues have been about the strained relationship (the bad kind of tension) between the function of campus marketing units and the expectations of campus partners. To craft a body of work that builds toward and reflects a larger strategic goal for the entire institution, marketing and communications staff need strong partnerships with colleagues from all over campus.

Here are several ways you can work together with your marketing and communications units to help them be great, get better support and hit the target when it comes to strategy in 2022.

Rely on Marcomm’s Expertise for Strategic Recommendations

Whether it’s writing a profile of a student or faculty member, designing a print piece to drive traffic to an event, or supporting larger strategic functions like enrollment or advancement, marketers respond better to being given the chance to solve for a problem. If you have something to communicate, it’s best to frame these requests around the goal of the communication. Is there action desired or required from the communication? What is the key takeaway for your intended audience? Is the message urgent? What’s the tone? Who is the audience? If given the chance, your marketing communications department is going to design a communications strategy that addresses all these questions and more. But when the request is prescriptive—to “send an email” or “create a video message” or, my favorite, “put it on social”—your comms team becomes shackled by one medium or one communications tactic. Instead, give them the information that will help them deliver a communication plan that will be effective. We all win when communications are strategic.

Every Request Can’t Be a Five-Alarm Fire

Marketing communication departments are pros at last-minute requests. We saw during COVID-19 how quickly these units became the hub for crisis communications, and they continue to pivot expertly. But last-minute requests lose urgency when they become habitual. Attempting to manage through pressure or fear might get you the result you’re after in the short term. But long term you’re not building a relationship with your marcomm unit. Instead, you’ll gain a reputation as being a tough client for all the wrong reasons, and you will wear staff down.

Take the time to learn the creative process on your campus. And then follow it. Provide feedback if there are parts of the process that don’t work well or meet your needs.

Marketing Isn’t Free

Whether it’s placing advertising, paying for marketing tools like software or the staff time and salaries required to lift a marketing campaign off the ground, marketing isn’t free, and those uninitiated are often shocked by the costs. When budgets are tight, marketing can be looked to as a solution, and there are some areas that will be lower cost. For instance, public relations strategies can be a lower-cost way of gaining awareness, but they require staff time and sometimes external expertise. A scrappy marketing team will find ways to deliver 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 it will take to reach that goal. If the two don’t align, your marketing colleagues can provide recommendations on what is possible and the results you are likely to experience based on your budget.

There Is Limited Room for Higher Ed News

There is a lot of opportunity for higher ed expertise in the media but typically in articles where journalists are seeking that expertise. Placing a specific campus story, whether it’s about a major gift, grant, research activity, student or faculty profile, is increasingly tough to do. In fact, Liz Gross, CEO of Campus Sonar, has studied exactly how much opportunity exists for higher ed news: “In the first three months of 2021, there were approximately 1,500 pieces of higher ed news coverage in the top 20 national media outlets. Many were about athletics; just over 100 authors were not on the sports beat. Only 3 percent were positive, while 30 percent were neutral. So, if you’re looking for positive press coverage with national visibility, you’re competing for one of 45 potential stories in a quarter.”

Your marketing communications team can guide you on where your story has the highest chance of being published. You may find that the story has more reach through the university’s social channels than chasing one of these 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 middle or recovering from years of COVID-related upheaval and all that comes along with it; it’s safe to say that they might lack the creative juice they had pre-pandemic. There’s not a quick fix to this, but industry leaders like Josie Ahlquist are trying some innovative ways to help marketing communications professionals heal. Nevertheless, just voicing your understanding will help your institution’s team feel seen.

This isn’t to say that teams don’t do well with deadlines—we thrive on them, and they are necessary—but if you’re expecting that next big idea, help your marketing communications team make the space to deliver. If you’re in administration, this means prioritizing your asks and giving as much time as possible for due dates.

Marketing communications staff spend years perfecting their craft while constantly trying to stay up-to-date on the latest marketing trends. Strong partnerships with your marketing communications team will help deliver performance-driven, winning strategy that makes all of campus better. Mutual respect and clear and open communication about goals and expectations will help your marketing department move to the next, necessary stage of marketing maturity.


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

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