Living Your School’s Brand Across the Campus: An Open Letter to Chief Financial Officers

The student-recruitment gloves are off in the wake of DOJ-mandated changes to NACAC’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice.

February 20, 2020

In a prior “Call to Action” blog post directed to college and university presidents, I wrote, “Exercising leadership discipline in the management of your college’s brand is the best way to help prospective stakeholders know your institution as you want them to know it, and to encourage them to act in ways you’d like them to act: inquire, apply, enroll, persist to completion, donate to and advocate for your college.”

The notion of persisting to completion now takes on weightier significance as increasing numbers of college and university admission leaders across the nation (23 percent according to a recent EAB study) “say they will consider recruiting students who have already committed to another institution.” I haven’t talked to anyone in the profession who believes this number has peaked.

As recruitment and marketing operations innovate and bolster efforts to catch and keep the students they want most, it’s also time for all other operating divisions of every campus to feel the same urgency to make certain they’re fully delivering on the promises recruiters are making to prospective students and their families.

We’ve said it for many years, but today it’s truer than ever before: recruiting a student isn’t successful until the student completes her program and earns that credential.

An occasionally overlooked opportunity to breathe life into your school’s brand -- and deliver on its recruitment and marketing promises -- sits squarely in operational areas typically managed by your chief business officer and staff.

To introduce some brand-alignment thinking to your CFO, consider setting up a brainstorming session to discuss ideas, like:

  • Integrating an introduction to your school’s brand foundation into new employee orientation activities.
  • Front-line staff in the business/comptroller’s office, buildings and grounds, food service, bookstore, switchboard, and other public-facing and auxiliary business units should be trained and coached to deliver on your institutional brand promise and to make programming decisions for their units with your school’s brand foundation in mind.
  • Recognizing and rewarding exemplary demonstrations of brand-aligned performance at annual employee gatherings.
  • Demonstrating institutional brand alignment (in words and imagery) via artwork and other commissioned “environmentals” like signage, planters and kiosks in public spaces.
  • ​Mandating that all individuals engaged in commissioned artwork, facilities master planning, architectural/building projects and other highly visible campus initiatives are fully briefed on the foundational elements of your brand foundation; ask them to integrate your school’s brand promise, pillars, character and centering idea in their deliverables.
  • Routinizing the practice of making sure all strategic business discussions and decisions take into consideration the question “How can this opportunity powerfully align with, and provide institutional support for, our institutional brand?”
  • Making sure wall coverings, surfaces and furniture color schemes for new and renovated building projects align with (or at least complement) the official institutional color palette associated with your brand foundation.
  • And perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit of all: ensuring that all official college/university business forms (statements, reports, invoices, financial aid award letters, correspondence, etc.) adhere to official institutional graphic standards; likewise, the tone and substance of all editorial content (even standard postal and email correspondence) must reflect the nomenclature and intent of your brand foundation.

If you’d like to bounce around ideas about how you and your team might breathe life into this approach on your campus, I’d love to hear from you.

Eric Sickler has helped the nation's college and universities clarify and elevate their brands for more than three decades. You can reach him at The Thorburn Group, a Stamats company.


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