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Spend any time on LinkedIn and you’re sure to encounter a mini-rant from a marketer admonishing nonmarketers to stay in their lane and bemoaning the perceived lack of respect for marketing’s expertise. The post usually contains some version of the ill-conceived comparison that “we don’t tell faculty how to teach their classes” or “we don’t give advice to the CFO on balancing the books.”

Perhaps you’ve had occasions when you can relate.

When someone from across campus offers unsolicited tips or feedback about the institution’s marketing, do you quietly roll your eyes?

The next time—and there will be a next time—a faculty or staff colleague chimes in with opinions about marketing, I encourage you to receive the feedback as the gift that it can be. The following four approaches can help put you in the right mindset. Consider them a soothing antidote to periodic critical-feedback–induced frustrations.

  1. Accept that everyone has an opinion on marketing. It’s part of the gig. Watching and critiquing Super Bowl commercials is a national pastime (bravo, Dunkin’, by the way). Yet we somehow think that our colleagues won’t have thoughts on their own employer’s brand expression when it’s in the market? Understand that voicing an opinion about a marketing execution is not a condemnation of the marketing team’s expertise. The sooner you accept this reality, the sooner you’re freed from the mental drain of a defensive posture.
  1. Assume positive intent. When a colleague is willing to share their opinion, it signals they care. Acknowledge that mutual care for your college or university—even when the feedback is overly critical—rather than taking offense. Engaging them as caring colleagues instead of armchair marketers sets the stage for a more positive, productive discussion. Listen and channel that shared purpose grounded in the institution’s mission into a learning experience for both of you. Faculty and staff often span multiple audience groups as community members, alumni, donors and/or parents of prospective students, to name a few. Seek to understand the lens through which they critique. Are there any points of disconnect between the institution’s brand expression and their own individual experience? Provide this type of framing for feedback that is more relevant.
  1. Engage to enlighten. Every instance of opinion-sharing is an engagement opportunity. Take full advantage. Your colleagues are not professional marketers, which both you and they recognize, so bring them into the fold. Walk them through an overview of your disciplined process, share the top few insights you’ve learned about your audiences from market research, show them how you’re assessing performance of the ad they don’t like. Marketing and branding are widely misunderstood across higher education, so these grassroots engagement opportunities are vital. Bringing along colleagues, especially those who were once strong critics or vocal detractors, builds trust and support and—in my experience—is highly rewarding (even if the success rate isn’t always 100 percent).
  1. Make the complex simple. Our work is not to prove our marketing mastery; it’s to produce results. As you enlighten colleagues whose expertise resides in other domains, focus on the essential. Avoid the tendency to overdo it on the branding constructs. Brand purpose, brand strategy, brand platform, brand positioning, brand narrative, brand personality—it’s brand overload. Your marcomm team is well versed in communicating complex, difference-making faculty research to general audiences; apply this same skill in communicating your own work to faculty and staff. They shouldn’t need to be trained in marketing to comprehend your overarching strategy and key outcomes.

Even beyond the examples discussed here, your receptivity to feedback models behavior for your team and your leadership colleagues. High-performing administrations have a healthy feedback culture. As marketers, you and your teammates receive plenty of feedback based on the nature of your work. How might you harness those opportunities to contribute to a healthier feedback culture at your institution?

Rob Zinkan is vice president for marketing leadership at RHB, a higher education consultancy founded in 1991. He joined RHB in 2019 after more than 20 years in higher education administration with senior positions in marketing and advancement. He also teaches graduate courses as an adjunct in strategic communications and higher education leadership.

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