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.