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Higher education marcomm teams are great at telling the university story. We build connections with constituents, drive enrollments, increase private funding support, and garner media attention through our work.

But despite being experts in telling our university story, marcomm leaders do not always focus enough on telling our department’s story to our internal campus constituents.

Highlighting the deliberate and intentional work of our teams can go a long way in building the campus perception of marcomm teams as strategic partners that can help achieve specific objectives. By actively promoting achievements and increasing visibility of successes, marcomm leaders can demonstrate their integral role in advancing the university’s strategic goals, fostering a collaborative environment where their expertise is recognized and valued by campus colleagues.

As such, here are a few strategies that marcomm leaders at higher education institutions can employ to elevate their own campus story.

  1. Update your marcomm website. Many marcomm websites need significant work. They have language about submitting forms, links to the brand guide and information about how to gain access to logos. These are all important items, but they all emphasize a transactional aspect of the work, which is not a strategic focus. What is missing is the relational component of the work.

Instead, emphasize the strategic work you are doing more prominently on your website. The website can be used to showcase what is working well and to provide a subtle way to invite others to join the effort. Possible examples include case studies of exceptional campus marketing campaigns, successful earned media coverage and strong social media messaging that aligns with the brand.

Using a website in this intentional way creates an opportunity to highlight key partnerships across campus and show how other departments trust and engage marcomm to achieve their work. Additionally, this helps underscore the work that marcomm does to support university strategic priorities and that marcomm regularly focuses its efforts on elevating the university as a whole.

  1. Embrace awards. Awards are important because they are a third-party validation of our efforts. First, they are important for team morale. As a leader, it’s fun to see the team get excited about the work they are doing and see how proud they are to be recognized by an external entity. However, this strategy is more far reaching than our own departments. It’s a great tool to position members of the department as experts in their field. Having worked at a university with a team that had a perception problem and was not viewed as expert, regularly submitting and winning awards helped to change the campus perception of the team and create an increased desire to collaborate. When the awards were announced, the team would issue a press release and post the announcement on personal social media profiles. This helped generate buzz across campus for the work and helped to quiet critics about the work the team was doing to advance the university mission.
  1. Own the brand but invite others. As marcomm leaders, we often discuss the importance of embracing the core message. While we steward this message, I don’t think we always do enough to encourage others to advocate alongside us. We want people to engage with the message, but we don’t always fully equip our campus partners to become champions of it. Actively inviting campus partners to participate in this endeavor and providing them with the necessary resources would significantly enhance the perception of our teams.

Hold a brand ambassador workshop to engage the campus in a brand deep-dive into our core values. This kind of training should go beyond just colors and key message points. It would delve into what it means to embody our message, the research that informed its development and how to integrate this message into our daily activities. This type of workshop helps other campus entities see that this work is much more than pretty design, but is researched, intentional and deliberate. Seeing the brand from that lens helps to elevate marcomm, as campus partners appreciate the thoughtfulness behind our efforts and are thus more likely to support them.

  1. Make it easy. Oftentimes our campus partners are overworked and under-resourced, just like us. That’s why elevating the work of marcomm requires that we make it easy for our partners. When we drop a 70-page brand book on their desk without any context, we’re encouraging these groups to go rogue with their own, quicker tactics.

Host “lunch and learns” to provide in-depth training on common topics. Another strategy is to launch on-demand design systems to provide branded materials. This gives departments autonomy to create their own materials, allowing them to move faster but still remain on brand. Finally, providing access to agency partnerships for advertising support can help our partners tell their story in a way that minimizes their own lift. By making the work easier for campus partners, we show that we value their time but can still meet brand objectives.

  1. Say thank you. A final strategy to elevate our work is by saying thank you to others. So many times we are so focused on the next task that we don’t pause and thank our partners. Many of our campus constituents are feeling pressure to enroll students, raise funds or highlight their research objectives. Pausing to thank them for their work helps elevate their view of our teams. Saying thank you can be as simple as a short handwritten note, attendance at an event or delivering lunch on a hectic day. I once had 20 dozen donuts in my car to say thanks to our partners as the university was gearing up for finals.

Recognizing and honoring the work of our partners is a solid strategy to help elevate our perception as a campus department.

As marcomm leaders, we are great at leveraging the work of our campus to achieve strategic objectives such as enrollments, private funding and alumni affinity. However, we still have work to do as departments to elevate our own perception and value.

Pausing to focus on this should be a strategic priority because we need strong partners across the university if we’re going to continue advancing the higher education field as a whole. Our worth as a department and a vision is stronger when we have strong campus partners. We are better together, but we can’t get and keep our seat at the table if our campus community does not fully recognize the value of marcomm teams. Much like we tell stories to support the university, we have to tell our story to amplify our view as a strategic university partner.

Carrie Phillips is chief communications and marketing officer at the University of Arkansas Little Rock.

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