Not all higher ed marketers are created equal. Four main types exist today, and each can be identified by reporting structure, KPIs, relationships, and the tactical approaches they employ. While many will be a blend of two or more of the types described below, one is likely dominant. I hope these descriptions propel you to consider which type of marketer you want—or need—to be.
The Public Relations Marketer is head of what was formerly called the news bureau. Prior to taking this position, he was a journalist for the largest newspaper in town. His primary goal is to secure local, regional, and national media coverage for his university, the latter being the holy grail. An important part of his role is issues management and responding to crises. He reports to either the Provost or VP of University Relations, and PRSA is his professional association. Staff salaries, which consist mostly of former journalists and media relations professionals, account for a majority of his small budget. The image and reputation of the university—and the success of his office—is driven primarily by the press coverage the institution is able to generate.
Pros: His team has strong connections to the media and perform well in a crisis. The university president, board, and faculty praise the department for extensive media coverage.
Cons: The marketing function is weak because it is focused more on tactics than strategy. The reliance on media placements to measure performance means the Public Relations Marketer’s success is dependent on an often fickle press. The University’s brand strategy isn’t data-driven nor documented.
The Fundraising Marketer spends most of her time supporting the institution’s alumni relations and fundraising efforts. Before joining the college, she was head of marketing for a regional non-profit. She reports to the VP of Advancement, and her KPIs are related to engagement and giving. Most of her budget is spent on the alumni magazine. She is an active member of the committee that plans her CASE district’s annual conference. At her college, the marketing effort is siloed, with the enrollment management office managing recruitment marketing and other academic and administrative units in charge of their own efforts. While she spends her time on alumni relations and fundraising, she may have little direct influence on annual giving campaigns or strategies.
Pros: The impact of the Fundraising Marketer’s work is measured in dollars raised, number of new donors, event attendance, and other clear metrics and plays a critical role engaging several important audiences for reputation building.
Cons: This model is becoming obsolete because it’s not efficient. There is a weak or non-existent institutional brand strategy, leading to disorganization and inconsistent messaging across campus. Producing the magazine four times a year is taxing on the staff and soaks up a third of the Fundraising Marketer’s budget, leaving too little room for admissions marketing and reputation building.
The Recruitment Marketer works at the same institution as the Fundraising Marketer. The two are peers, but they rarely meet or talk; their efforts are not integrated. He spends a great deal of time working on recruitment communications, managing the ASQ, and leading the institution’s CRM system. Accordingly, a large portion of his budget is spent on SEARCH and printed recruitment materials and his KPIs are related to inquiry generation and ultimately enrollment. He reports to the VP of Enrollment Management and his professional organization is NACAC. “Communications” is handled by a separate office housed in Advancement.
Pros: The Recruitment Marketer’s team is deeply embedded in the recruitment function and their work has a very significant impact on net tuition revenue.
Cons: His impact is limited to recruiting and admission. He has responsibility for supporting recruitment but is unable to impact the over-arching image, reputation, and brand of the institution nor benefit from the marketing successes of the Advancement office.
The Integrated Marketer’s focus is on managing the reputation of the university among a broad array of audiences, including prospective students, alumni, donors, business leaders, recruiters, higher ed peers, guidance counselors, teachers, and the media. She reports directly to the President. She attends the AMA’s annual Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education and looks outside of higher ed for inspiration and new thinking. Before joining the university, she worked at a college a few states away, but before that she was an AVP of Marketing at a Fortune 1000 company. She shares KPIs with enrollment and fundraising but her real focus is on visibility and brand strength. She is responsible for developing, implementing, and managing a university-wide brand strategy that integrates marketing and communications across the institution. Her team consists of content managers, writers, designers, strategists, events managers, PR and media specialists, digital strategists, web specialists, social media managers, videographers, and photographers.
Pros: The Integrated Marketer’s team has the authority and responsibility to market the institution and manage its brand.
Cons: This model usually requires creating a new VP-level position and operationalizing new funding to support the marketing effort, both of which can be difficult for many presidents.
The Integrated Marketer is the most evolved of all the higher ed marketing models. It is essential to support the future of higher education; in fact, many colleges and universities are currently running searches for this position. Adoption of the Integrated Marketing role is one of the most notable changes in the higher education administration of the last decade, reflecting the slow evolution of institutions embracing the principles of integrated marketing and branding that started about 20 years ago. The industry is adapting to new ways of communicating and connecting, but there is still a long way to go.
Too often, marketing departments are viewed as the office a dean calls to produce buttons and t-shirts or invitations and press releases. Too often, marketing professionals are treated as order-takers rather than strategic partners. Too often, institutions refuse to invest in marketing at a level commensurate with the expectations of the department. Too often, faculty fail to understand why the marketing office can’t add a link to their latest book on the home page or spend more time supporting recruitment for individual programs. Too often, the marketing teams themselves have a hard time breaking from the old siloed model of marketing and doing the work of integrating people and processes around a unified strategy for the entire university.
Marketing is an essential business function for every corporation and every non-profit organization, colleges and universities included. Higher education needs to continue to elevate the role of the lead marketer and shift the institutional culture around marketing from tactical to strategic, short-term to long-term, and from siloed to integrated.
We’re facing a cliff of sorts. By the year 2025, the number of college-age students is expected to plummet like lemmings into a cold, barren sea. Many schools are already preparing by conducting research, finding ideal market positions, and launching new brands and creative—all smart, strategic initiatives. Almost always, these efforts lead to increased awareness, interest, and applications.
Schools are also adopting macro applications of the brand through large media buys, mass email campaigns, and boosted social to increase reach and eyeballs. However, in a landscape where the eyeballs may be diminishing by upwards of 500,000 prospective students nationwide (a million if we’re counting actual eyeballs), many will look at the lists they’ve bought or their online reach and try to increase those numbers for one purpose: because the math works out. More at the top yields more at the bottom. Right?
Maybe. It’s a risky effort that can be hard to justify. Try telling your VP of Enrollment that you’re going to spend time and resources identifying and then persuading a thousand people who have never heard of your institution to visit campus. The first response might be, “Great!” But the next question is the one that matters: “How many visits do you think you can get?” You probably couldn’t get a green light once you do the math and realize the ends likely won’t justify the means. At the end of the day, you’ll learn a little about all these people—but is it enough to make an impression?
Instead, focus your time and resources on getting to know your most promising prospects the most. Tell your VP that you are going to spend an entire day finding out everything you can about the family already planning to visit campus for the first time in a few weeks so you can line up meetings with the most ideal people to act as a welcoming committee. In this way, you’re creating something better than bigger top-funnel numbers: the most unforgettable first impression.
The first response might be, “Wait, what? You’re going to spend your entire day on one family?” But take a second to think about the importance of this family’s decision. Regardless of their socio-economic status, it’s enormous. Very few decisions they’ll make come with this much financial pressure. More importantly, very few decisions are attached to this much pride, passion, joy, and hope. And that, right there, is why, when you decide to spend a full day getting to know this family, it will be worth it.
SimpsonScarborough is pleased to announce the selection of the 2019 CASE SimpsonScarborough Scholars. Launched in honor of our late founding partner Christopher Simpson, the program supports the professional development of four promising higher education marketing communication practitioners every year. Each scholar receives CASE premier-level member benefits, access to customized research through CASE’s Library, attendance at the Summer Institute for Communications and Marketing, and more. This year’s CASE SimpsonScarborough Scholars are:
Media Relations Officer
Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ
Roles and Responsibilities: As a member of NAU’s Communications office, Carly works with field professionals to develop high-quality and original written content for the University’s weekly newsletter. Carly also leads the distribution and development of executive communication campus-wide.
Nominated by: Heidi Toth, Assistant Director of Communications, who described Carly as a creative storyteller, excellent collaborator, and someone who is always looking to improve communications at NAU. “Carly collaborates with other departments around campus to best amplify NAU’s voice,” noted Toth. Toth attended the Summer Institute for Communications & Marketing in 2016 and is looking forward to Carly gaining the same valuable experience that she did.
Internal Communications Specialist
Lethbridge College, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Roles and Responsibilities: Dawn is a significant contributor to the College’s internal communications by writing for its magazine, newsletter, and website. Dawn also contributes to communications planning, messaging, and analysis.
Nominated by: Paul Kingsmith, Senior Communications Specialist, who described Dawn as a vital part of the College’s small communications team. Although she has only been on board since January 2018, it is “hard to remember life without her,” Kingsmith says. Dawn’s “great initiative, creativity, and abilities” along with her “infectious positive attitude” have made her a great fit at Lethbridge. Kingsmith also attended the CASE Summer Institute in Communications & Marketing in the past, and he is excited for Dawn to have the same excellent experience.
Tom Mayhall Rastrelli
Director of Digital Communications
Willamette University, Salem, OR
Roles and Responsibilities: As Willamette’s Director of Digital Communications, Tom oversees institutional communications via digital channels including the university’s website, social media, internal bulletins, emails, event calendars, and newsletters.
Nominated by: Kristen Grainger, Acting Chief Communications Officer, who has found Tom to be a “highly-dedicated colleague who brings a great deal of creativity and positive energy to his role.” Grainger went on to note some of Tom’s accomplishments, which include improving audience and market engagement, internal coordination, and internal communication.
Assistant Director of Marketing Strategy
University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, MO
Roles and Responsibilities: Zangi is a critical driver in the planning and execution of each academic unit’s marketing strategy. She also increases the University’s public visibility by developing and facilitating relationships with key campus constituents.
Nominated by: Kim West, Chief Marketing Strategist, who noted Zangi’s commitment and curiosity about her job as something that has shined through in her short time with UMKC. West mentioned that Zangi has “demonstrated leadership skills and taken immediate responsibility for her role and her clients.” Although “the expectations of her job are big,” Zangi has lived up to the challenge. West has a “high degree of confidence in Zangi and her abilities” and is looking forward to seeing her training advance.
After months of anticipation, the countdown to the 2019 Qualtrics X4 Summit finally arrived. My colleague Leslie Baldino and I (and more than 10,000 other conference attendees) made our way to Salt Lake City to hear from an all-star speaker line-up and learn about market research trends and innovations. The theme of Qualtrics X4 was breakthroughs – something we are always trying to help our clients achieve.
It probably goes without saying that seeing Barack Obama and Oprah were huge life moments for us. They, along with other keynote speakers like Sir Richard Branson, Adam Silver, and Ashton Kutcher shared inspirational words of wisdom about their own career (and life) breakthroughs. Ashton Kutcher (somewhat surprisingly) gave one of my favorite tidbits of advice when he told us there is no substitute for manners and good old-fashioned hard work. But ultimately, what we were there for was the research … and Qualtrics did not disappoint.
We learned how big brands are using market research and Qualtrics to track key brand metrics. The insights that were shared reinforced our company’s core belief in the criticality of asking the right questions, in the right way, at the right time. Case studies of corporations such as Toys “R” US, Sears, and Wordperfect reminded us that tracking the wrong metrics—or failing to track the right ones, depending on how you look at it—can create an irreversible disaster from a fixable problem.
I have always referred to Qualtrics as an online survey platform. I couldn’t help but notice, however, that Qualtrics brands itself not as an online survey tool, but as an “Experience Management Platform” – an intentional positioning that was hammered home throughout the presentations at X4. So, the conference turned into an opportunity to not only learn about research trends but also to see some great branding in action. Check out Qualtrics’ core brand mantra:
It’s not a logo, or a clichéd tagline, or even a product-ID statement. It is a benefits-oriented statement about what the company can do for its customers. It helps us at SimpsonScarborough know that we are using the types of tools that align with the way that we approach market research and how we want to serve our own clients. For Qualtrics and the companies (like us) that use its products, the distinction between being an online survey platform versus an experience management platform is an important one.
Here’s an example: We use Qualtrics to help our clients define their brands and track key metrics that support them. Many institutions we work with ask us to create benchmark measures of brand equity that we can then measure against three years or five years later. That’s important. But more and more, we are also asking, what happens during the in-between? How can we use research in new ways to help our clients understand and evolve with a higher education landscape that is shifting from being driven by the transactional to being built by the experiential?
We returned from X4 thinking about how we could offer our clients problem-solving experience-management tools. For example, pulse surveys, which help track brand metrics with key audiences in real time, get a deeper read on the true impact of their efforts, and help identify any potential problems while they can still be easily fixed.
As we were returning from X4, news broke of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, bringing several big names in higher ed into the headlines (and not in a good way). We all know that crises happen, but what if we could offer our clients a cost-effective way to measure how both negative and positive events impact those critical brand metrics? How can we tie changes to these metrics to specific events (both the good and the bad)?
Big brands like Nike can tell you their NPS scores for various audience segments at any point in time, and they can tell you what is driving that NPS score. More and more companies are realizing the value of experience management and experience driven brands. When it comes down to it, higher ed is exactly that – an experience-driven industry – so we’ve got to pay more attention to these trends, learn from corporate case studies, and understand how higher ed can adapt to evolving customer expectations. A big question we are grappling with is how to do this in an affordable way, knowing budgets are a bit different at Nike than they are for most of our clients!
That is what we are chewing on at SimpsonScarborough – and we are all excited to continue the conversation and explore new ideas regarding experience management with our partner institutions. We will keep you posted with new developments!
And (maybe) you’re looking for us, if you’re:
- A junior or senior graphic design/visual communication major based in Columbus
- Excited about branding and typography
- Eager to apply your expanding skillset to real-world projects
- Interested in gaining a practical understanding of how research can inform the design process
- Comfortable working both independently and collaboratively
- Available for 15–20 hours per week during the school year (up to 40 in the summer)
Role and responsibilities:
- Design remotely, but meet regularly in-person with our Creative Team, including our full-time Associate Creative Director (Design), Sr. Designer, and Designer, as well as sit in on client presentations via Zoom video calls
- Concept with copywriters, and partner with in-house Researchers and Strategists to uncover creative insights
- Collaborate with professionals from the fields of branding, marketing, advertising, graphic design, and higher education
- Experience the entire process of brand building, from research and strategy to creative execution and activation
- Work on a new Mac for the duration of your internship (yay!)
- Receive a monthly stipend
Interested in this position? Please email your portfolio to email@example.com