Eduvation Blog

Focus on Marketing (and Gingerbread!)

Good morning, TGIF, and Chag urim same’ach! Happy Hanukkah to all those celebrating the holiday of lights.

It’s Friday, so today I’m looking for some lighter fare – and a focus on marketing communications, some interesting examples of recent work, and explorations of marcom staffing and organization. (This is for those of you who belong to my CMO Roundtables – you know who you are!)

But first –


COVID on Campus

CdnPSE reported 11 more cases of COVID19 yesterday… bringing our total nationally to 1,036 this fall…

Durham College reported 3 new cases yesterday at the Oshawa campus. (Total 36 this fall.)  DC

uManitoba reports 3 cases on campus last week, for a total of 58 this fall.  UM

Western U’s UH outbreak grew by 5 more staff cases yesterday, and a 14th patient death. Most clinical research has been halted, and clinical placements for >100 Western medical students have been cancelled in affected units. (Some were directed to quarantine by the PHO.)  London Free Press


Campus Marketing

You may or may not know that I was strategic director at a small marketing agency, focused on education-sector clients, for a decade before I co-founded a higher ed market research company, a decade before I started to focus on emerging trends, environmental scanning and strategic planning for higher ed. I’m still actively interested in brand strategy and marketing communications, and unapologetically I support the hard-working professionals in your campus marcom offices – who have universally been incredibly overworked this year. (Hopefully they have NOT been underappreciated, though!)

Overwhelming Need

Since the pandemic struck, college and university marketing and communications units have been overwhelmed with additional expectations and constantly shifting circumstances, often while simultaneously seeing cuts to budgets and even to positions. MarCom’s priority necessarily shifted to internal communications, keeping faculty, staff and current students apprised of changes to public health restrictions, course delivery and timetables, exam schedules and changes to policies. (I’ve been watching it from the outsidefor 9 months, and it’s been exhausting!) Then they needed to assist with moving events online – from open houses and recruitment sessions to convocations and presidential installation ceremonies.

Recruitment Urgency

And then of course there was a scramble to refocus on student recruitment for the fall, and while some institutions experienced surprising growth in enrolment, many smaller, rural, and especially applied learning institutions have experienced quite the opposite. The expectation is growing that somehow, miraculously, better marketing will fix the problem. I have written before (in “Selling the Academy without Selling Out”) that campus marketers actually control only one of the “four Ps” of marketing: Promotion. They have little input on Price (tuition, scholarships, and bursaries), Product (program offerings), or Place (campus master plans and distance education offerings). So it’s a tall order to expect to promote your way out of an enrolment slump, especially when budgets and staffing are under real pressure, and crisis communications keeps taking precedence. And when public-sector PSE budgets are already tiny compared to any other marketer you can imagine!

Voice of your Target Audience

Higher ed CMOs (chief marketing officers) have evolved from a narrow focus on producing the annual viewbook, print advertising and perhaps the alumni magazine, to shaping and advancing the institutional brand. But in most commercial enterprises, marketers also help design both products and the customer experience. (I know, I know, I just lost half of you by using those nouns.) But a truly strategic CMO can bring market intelligence and insight into prospective students and competitors, to help academic leaders identify program opportunities, to guide student affairs leaders in improving the student experience, or to help alumni affairs re-envision the alumni experience. Whether an institution is trying to attract more diverse students, raise the profile of research, or meet the needs of non-traditional learners, “CMOs and their teams – as the voice of the target audience and its eyes and ears – should be shaping those priorities and strategies for the future.”  Inside Higher Ed

“Instead of merely supporting institutional priorities, CMOs and their teams – as the voice of the target audience and its eyes and ears – should be shaping those priorities and strategies for the future.” Rob Zinkan, AVP Marketing, Indiana University


Strategic Mindset

If campus leadership regards your MarCom unit as a cost centre, with or without internal chargebacks, both budget and staffing are likely to be cut as a means to help address budget shortfalls. Properly, of course, MarCom should serve a strategic role in managing institutional reputation, driving brand visibility, and supporting enrolment and advancement – and in that light, it would be catastrophically short-sighted to cut the very engine that could help your institution enroll more students, attract more industry partnerships, and inspire more donors. MarCom teams definitely need to collaborate intensively with enrolment management, alumni and development groups to ensure they are serving institutional goals, and contributing to strategy in those areas.

MarCom Org Structures

I’ve done half a dozen assessments and analyses of marcom structure and staffing over the years, and it’s a recurrent topic for CMOs, particularly when budgets are under pressure…

Org Charts as Destiny

Whether your marcom team has 6 people or 60, chances are that it is organized in a “function-centric” way, around design, web, and perhaps events or media relations. In effect, this is structuring roles and teams around outputs or deliverables, not around outcomes or goals, and it tends to be reactionary, encouraging an order-taking “service bureau” model. A more strategic orientation would be organized around institutional priorities like reputation, enrolment, and advancement. And it’s definitely time to rethink having positions or departments for digital: “every marketing position is now a digital marketing position.” RHB

Constraint as Opportunity

Restructuring and retrenchment are painful, of course, but they can open up new opportunities for collaboration and efficiencies – often by centralizing some MarCom functions that are typically distributed widely across the campus, consolidating external buys with fewer suppliers, and coordinating CRM and Digital Asset Management systems. There’s always a balance, a tension, between centralized and decentralized MarCom – and advantages to both – but building a campus-wide culture among MarCom practitioners is essential either way. Marketers will also need to focus their energies and resources more than ever before, on the 10% of activity that generates 90% of results. (I would say 80/20, in all likelihood.)  RHB




We are sick of this too

25 healthcare organizations in Saskatchewan have pooled $38,000 for a 6-week online marketing campaign urging young adults to “hang in there” and follow PHO guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID19. “10 out of 10 healthcare professionals agree: THIS SUCKS,” is the message at  CTV  |  Saskatoon Star-Phoenix


Lecture, Actually

Award-winning Brock U biology prof Lori MacNeil has “gone viral” in a good way, with ~75K views and 2300 likes on Twitter for a 2-min parody of Love Actually in which she encourages her students to watch one more lecture, study for one more test, and maybe by next year head back to a lecture theatre. “I thought, ‘How can I lighten this up a little bit for them and have a little bit of fun?’”  CBC  |  Twitter


Season’s Eatings!

#ICYMI, part 2 of my hour-long Ten with Ken Holiday Special last year devoted 13 minutes to giving you a “taste” of the baked goods giveaways, gingerbread house competitions, campfire s’mores and even a 350-year-old meat pie, – as well as festive holiday meals in simpler, pre-pandemic times. So if you’re missing the joyful innocence of cookie-making together, shared plates of treats in the office, or even a potluck Christmas party, here’s your chance to relive that experience, and dream of a nice normal December next year!  YouTube


As always, thanks for reading!  Have a great weekend, stay safe and be well!



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