How to Assemble Your Team of Brand Co-Conspirators

New and prospective clients often ask us for advice regarding the process and management of an institutional market research and branding effort. At this point in the initiative, they typically have received budget approval (or are close!) and have determined the project scope, both of which are major feats and worthy of celebration in and of themselves. However, their minds may quickly go from excitement and thrill to the realization that they are going to be responsible not only for championing the project, but also for ensuring key stakeholders across campus are involved and engaged from the beginning to the end and beyond.

In an industry that is comically plagued by committees, we still strongly recommend assembling a steering committee to tackle this initiative. But rather than thinking about this group as a loosely strung together set of individual representatives across your campus, we encourage you to approach committee member selection as a strategic exercise. You will not regret being very purposeful and thoughtful in forming this group, as it is a decision that will impact both the short- and long-term success of the project.

In the recent podcast episode, “Creative Confidence Series: Tackling big change in your organization,” IDEO’s Owen Rogers walks through his approach to working with companies on big existential challenges and changes. Similar to what we experience with many of our clients, Rogers says that identifying the right committee members and positioning them as a “coalition of co-conspirators” is one of the key components of enabling change and ensuring project success. And it isn’t only the effort of forming the group, but more importantly, it’s the type of people included that can have a dramatic effect. IDEO identifies three distinct types of people that must be included as members of the collaborative team. Regardless of the size of your institution or scope of your project, these useful guidelines can be referenced to ensure your committee will be effective in shepherding the initiative on your campus.

  1. Sponsors. These individuals most often come from campus leadership. However, that isn’t a blanket approach, and it really comes down to identifying who is championing the project. For a brand effort to be most successful on your campus, we recommend that it include the president and the chief marketing officer (or the relevant individual at your campus), at a minimum. Depending on the goals and scope of the project, it may also include other key members such as Board or Cabinet members. Deans and leaders from departments such as student affairs, admissions, development, and athletics are other important players to consider. It is important to think through the right balance of those who need to be official committee members vs. those who just need periodic updates throughout the initiative.
  2. Enthusiasts. To identity these individuals, approach it more from a bottom-up and less of a top-down mindset. Enthusiasts are your biggest supporters — those who are likely already on your side and understand the importance of the project. They understand the vision, are supporters of change, and are ready to jump in to help. These may include a development officer or campus communicator, but don’t overlook faculty, your campus historian or archivist, or student leaders. These individuals have unique viewpoints, and involving them will help inform the development of an authentic and enduring brand.
  3. Naysayers. We all can probably quickly picture the one or two loudest, squeakiest wheels on our campus. And the thought of proactively involving them on a committee may give you pause, but including these nonbelievers can be just as, if not more, important than the believers. Selecting your naysayers requires careful thought and consideration. Rogers defines two common types of naysayers and makes an important distinction as to which one you want to include. The first type are those individuals who simply don’t want the project to succeed or who aren’t listening. In contrast, the second type are those who don’t believe in what you are doing, yet are actively engaged in the conversation. He finds that the latter are often a representation of the exact type of change that needs to occur, and it’s these people who are the right type to get on your side and include on the committee. Do your homework up front to identity 1-2 individuals who fit this description and get them involved early on. It’s important to be open to their perspectives as they are likely to offer great insights into common campus concerns and can help you avoid them throughout the process. And as Rogers notes, you may be surprised to see that the conversion of these naysayers can often have the most dramatic effect on a project.

Once you have identified — in your head or down on paper — this team of 8-12 co-conspirators , you should begin to work through the next steps of introducing them to the project, outlining their roles and responsibilities, and sharing details such as how much time they can expect to dedicate to the initiative and key project dates.

Finally, once the project is off and running, we encourage you to begin to think about how you will continue the co-conspirator relationships and collaboration after the official end of the initiative. Are you considering a formal brand launch? Are you trying to wrangle rogue social media pages? Want to develop an integrated digital content strategy? Is your institution planning a capital campaign? Your co-conspirators can be the first people you turn to, to start these important efforts. And perhaps most importantly, these individuals can and should be your biggest supporters when it comes to living and breathing the brand on campus.

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