Media Waits for No One

Digital platforms and channels offer marketers jaw-dropping opportunity for efficiently targeting and managing your media campaigns. But are your approval protocols and business operations compromising your media strategy’s success?

February 13, 2018

“Time is money.” 

We’ve all said it. 

And we all believe it to some degree or another, at least in concept. 

But it took leaving my college administrator job and joining an agency team to bring that old throw-away line into razor-sharp focus. 

Generally speaking, colleges and universities are forgiving organisms. This is especially true when it comes to making speedy decisions. While there are some exceptions, it is commonly understood (with frequent chagrin) that many corners of every campus community operate at the “speed of higher ed.” 

Many enlightened, invested voices deserve to be heard. Faculty self-governance, a revered hallmark of American higher education, embraces a dizzying array of time-consuming principles and protocols. And sometimes, the cyclical nature of the academic calendar works against efficiency by offering the hope of a fresh start every year. 

If every campus functioned in a vacuum, this wouldn’t be much of a concern. But when the speed of higher ed runs headlong into the speed of business—especially the speed of the higher ed marketing business—costly problems emerge quickly. 

One of the most common examples of this collision phenomenon occurs when a college client embarks on its first large-scale agency managed media campaign. Over the years, I’ve seen this time and time again. Please don’t assume I’m writing here only about your campus. 

By their very nature, media plans are time-sensitive. They’re created and managed as calendars. They require precision planning, negotiating and asset production. All too often, when a college’s speed-of-higher-ed approvals and purchasing protocols stall the signing of a media contract or purchase order, the media opportunity evaporates. 

Poof! Gone. Media doesn’t wait for clients, in higher ed or anywhere else. 

Of course, there’s always next month, or next quarter, or next year. But here’s the rub: a missed deadline sends your media planner back to the planning process. And it may severely disrupt the mission-critical continuity of your carefully crafted media plan. 

A missed media deadline not only incurs additional costs for planning time, but also damages relationships between the planner the media provider which may, in turn, impact your planner’s future negotiating success on behalf of your college. And most important, the college unwittingly compromises the full positive, productive impact of its media plan by not allowing it to fire on all cylinders. 

In my experience, higher ed administrators seldom fully appreciate the opportunity cost of securing approvals and signing contracts at the sometimes snail’s-pace speed of higher ed. Not surprisingly, campus marketers are caught in the middle of the tug-of-war between their purchasing operation’s we’re-working-on-it business processes and the agency’s time-marches-on media plan. 

My best advice: at least six months prior to your next media campaign launch, (1) do whatever it takes to help your campus business office commit to processing media-related paperwork at the speed of business, and (2) do whatever it takes to help your agency media planner understand you need as much lead time as you can get for acquiring approvals and signatures. Then engage your agency and your business office to work with you to build a detailed, comprehensive media campaign production schedule. If everyone owns it, they’ll be more likely to follow it. 

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

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Eric Sickler


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