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Why is Marketing Still a Dirty Word in Higher Education?

Posted on Mar. 31, 2020
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By  Suzan Brinker, PhD 

Amidst growing competition across the higher ed sector, marketing has assumed an increasingly critical role in ensuring an institution’s success and survival. Jeff Salingo, a leading higher ed strategist and writer, says that in order to thrive in the next decade, colleges and universities will need a great location, a big endowment, and a strong brand. Marketers are key to promoting higher ed brands, but why do many in the higher ed space, most of all faculty, cringe when marketing becomes a central topic?

Faculty, and other higher ed stakeholders who care about academics and the three mission pillars of research, teaching, and service more than about finance and enrollment numbers, often feel uncomfortable with the corporate terminology and mindsets marketers may infuse into meetings and institutional discourse. However, without a healthy enrollment supply and admissions pipeline, the traditional mission of an institution will continue to shrink in its impact. How can higher ed marketers help bridge the gap between their departments and faculty, as well as others who remain resistant to revenue-oriented strategies?

Formulate Win-Wins between Mission and Market-Driven Strategies

Show how additional revenue from increased enrollments and other paid engagement with your institution’s audiences will help fund mission-driven activities, such as research projects, faculty hires, scholarships, or service programs. Bring data about peer institutions who have successfully implemented marketing campaigns to boost enrollments and revenue in order to better fulfill their core mission.

Find Academic Advocates

Deans, Associate Deans, Vice Provosts, and other academic administrators can become game-changing partners to higher ed marketers as they make their case for increased budgets for brand awareness campaigns, investments in an enrollment coaching function, or a website redesign for their institution. Find out who in your organizational environment believes marketing is a smart investment and is willing to advocate for your initiative in meetings and through other communications.

Show Results

Nothing will convince others of your future success as a higher ed marketer more than a strong track record of past accomplishments. If the institutional narrative is that your department squanders money and is unable to deliver enrollments, this will be a difficult challenge to overcome. Formulate a well thought-out strategy and create talking points about the most high-performing marketing solutions your department has delivered, then go on a road-show to build buy-in to your leadership. 

Marketing does not have to be a dirty word in higher education. Marketing departments can win a seat at the table for strategic decision making and build strong relationships with academic stakeholders if they understand how to connect mission and revenue, find strong advocates, and show compelling results.

Suzan Brinker, PhD specializes in Higher Education enrollment marketing. Having previously served as Director of Marketing at Penn State and Northeastern University, she now leads Viv Higher Education, a full-service marketing agency for colleges and universities.