Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Filter by Categories
Admissions campaigns
Coaching in-house teams
Communications planning
Content development
Development campaigns

Approach the Throne


Kathy: Thank you for joining us and welcome to today’s webinar, Approach the Throne: Convince Your President of the Value of Marketing, presented by Zehno Cross Media Communications. I’m Kathy Cain, President of Zehno, and I’ll be your moderator. Our session today will be 45 minutes, and we’ll leave 15 minutes for questions, taking a break in the middle of our presentation, and then we’ll answer questions again at the end.

Listening to what we’ve heard from many of you through online surveys we’ve conducted over the past year and talking to many of you at conferences, this topic is one that rises to the top every time. We’ve brought to you two professionals, both coming from a corporate background who are sharing perspectives and lessons learned about working successfully with the president within their institutional cultures of higher ed. Our presenters today are Paige Booth, Vice President for Marketing and Enrollment Management at Saint Edwards University in Austin, Texas, and Rebecca Anderson, Vice President for Marketing Strategy and Communications at Queens University of Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina. Paige, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Paige: Thank you, Kathy. Hello everyone. My career has been one of transporting marketing skills across a number of industries. Actually started out in advertising agency work and then moved to the client side. I worked in bank marketing for a while, I worked in technology marketing at IBM, and after working for probably one of the largest companies in the world, I decided I was ready for a change, and 13 years ago I moved into higher education marketing at Saint Edwards University.

Kathy: Rebecca, can you share a little bit about your background?

Rebecca: Hi, everybody. I would be delighted to. My background is similar to Paige’s in that I came to higher ed from the corporate world, but it’s a little bit different in that I started off as a newspaper reporter, and then I really built my career in PR and corporate communications. In the 1990s I worked for the Walt Disney Company in Los Angeles, and then later my husband, and I moved to Charlotte, and I worked for LendingTree, which was really well-known for a while as an online mortgage company just before I joined Queens, and that was five years ago, so I’m no longer a neophyte to higher ed, but I’m by no means an expert yet. Most of the companies that I’ve worked for don’t have a ton in common, except that they were all really fabulous at consumer marketing, and I think that was one of the things that attracted my president to me as a candidate.

Kathy: Great. Paige, why don’t you tell us what you know about getting those keys to the kingdom?

Paige: Well Kathy, when I worked in the ad agency business, the owner of my firm used to be famous for saying, “Our job is to make our clients look good,” and his message there was it’s not so much about the creativity of your work, it’s about how effective that work is in supporting your client’s success. The same is true for those of us working in higher education and working for a president, or if you work for a vice president or a dean, for example, your job is to make their life easier, to make them more successful, and to develop a partnership that will allow that to happen.

Kathy: Some of those keys that we’ve come up with you today to forge that partnership will cover everything from understanding those presidential priorities, to aligning marketing goals with university goals and earning your seat at the table. Our goal is that you’ll walk away with some of those key lessons and strategies that will provide the value of marketing, and Paige, why don’t you share with us one of your favorite quotes.

Paige: When we started talking about putting together this presentation, a series of articles came to my mind immediately. It was mock letters written from the chief marketing officer in the university to a president, and then the next month the response was from the president to the CMO talking about what they would each like from the other. While they weren’t real letters, they were I think useful for looking into the mindset of each of these partners, and one of the net takeaways that the author had was that the president’s view of marketing is that our role is to increase the flow of resources to the institution, and that makes sense in a lot of ways. We need to be contributing to institutional and presidential priorities or we might just become an expense item, and that’s not where we want to be.

Kathy: So true. Let’s start with our first strategy. Paige, talk to us about understanding the president’s priorities.

Paige: This is something that we all have in common, and all of our presidents have in common. They do have many different things that they’re concerned with, but there are some commonalities. The obvious ones are that most presidents are interested in the enrollment at their university in raising funds to support the mission of the university, attracting prestige and enhancing the reputation. Those are obvious ones, but other things that are working in the background for them and that they are concerned with on a daily basis are their board relationships, the overall fiscal health of the organization, how to allocate capital to accomplish the goals.

Within all of that there’s lots of tradeoffs, there are a lot of sequencing decisions to be made. For example here on our own campus at Saint Edwards, we talk constantly about where enrollment is going and where, how the campus master plan and new facilities and renovations and those kinds of things need to be sequenced, so they time out just perfectly with that enrollment growth. When we’re talking about enrollment, we’re also considering the fiscal implications of that, what are the costs of enrollment and making sure that everything is done in a sound way. Those are all things, as I said, that are happening that your president is dealing with every day.

Rebecca: Paige, here at Queens we also are in a growth mode, and one of the things we talk a lot about is differentiating between catalyst for growth and accommodators for growth, and that certainly feeds into the trade-offs that you were mentioning that my president and our senior team in particular are always wrangling with.

Paige: To think about, well how do we understand what the president’s priorities are? On the next slide, some obvious ways are to look at the documents that are available within your institution. What does your strategic plan say? What are the annual plans that come out of that? What are the nuances of enrollment goals? What is fundraising in place to do and support? All of those things can give you important insights into what your president’s going to be most focused on.

Another thing that I noticed in the survey that was done before the session was that a lot of folks responding talked about the fact that they write for a president. Many of us do that. You may be helping them with op-ed speeches or talking points or whatever, and when you’re working that for a president, that’s a great way to understand how they think, what they value, what’s important to them, and get some insights that way, so take advantage of that.

Another important thing is that you want to make sure you’re following what the media is saying about higher ed and what the trends are and how they relate to your campus. For one, it’s part of all of our daily work, but for two, board members are influenced by the media as well and I noticed in a lot of our board meetings, that is what’s on trustees minds, is what they’re reading and they’re asking us to respond to those themes in the media in terms of our own work at Saint Edwards.

Kathy: That’s a great point, Paige, about the trend spotting. At Queens we do something we call a daily industry news roundup. It goes to about 50 or so senior leaders, including some faculty, who have actually opted in, which I think is really interesting and a good sign, and it’s just a compilation of two or three stories from the major dailies and some of the trades, and ends up being a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the industry. Definitely this is the type of stuff that your president is reading and thinking about, and to your point, your trustees as well.

Paige: Showing your president that you have your fingers on the pulse will make you a really invaluable resource for your president. Rebecca, why don’t you talk to us about the importance of learning the difference between strategy and tactics?

Rebecca: Great. This is definitely one of my passion points. Sometimes I like to think of strategy and tactics almost as “two ships crossing in the night.” I’m doing air quotes with that, “two ships crossing in the night.” Both are really important, but unless you’ve got them synched up, you just aren’t optimizing your time or your resources. Also I would say just in terms of individual professional development, I really believe that understanding the difference between strategy and tactics is probably the single most important step that you can take to go from a great individual contributor role to a leadership role, so what am I really talking about here?

Broadly speaking, strategic planning is really all about setting a vision and then aligning your goals, objectives, strategies and tactics to accomplish that vision, but what happens is that people get really caught up in the tactics. It’s the ‘what’ of what they’re doing, whereas strategy is really all about the ‘how’ and the ‘why.’ It’s sort of the difference between output, which are typically things that you do, tactics that you execute, and outcomes, which are the results. I’ll tell you a story.

This really crystalized for me about 10 years ago. I was new to my role at LendingTree and I had pitched my boss on some creative, new PR initiative that I thought was brilliant, and I worked really, really hard to make it successful, and at the end of the day, it just didn’t work. It didn’t deliver great results. It wasn’t a train wreck and I wasn’t getting beat up, but I also wasn’t getting a lot of recognition for doing an awesome job. One of my colleagues was really feeling empathetic for me and she said, “Oh, this just isn’t fair. You worked so hard on this,” and that’s really, for me, when the lightbulb went off.

It was this realization that I had worked hard on executing a lot of beautiful tactics, but at the end of the day, it’s about delivering results. Learn about that, live that, think about that, roll around in that. If you’re interested in reading more about strategy, there’s a great starter book that I recommend to everybody I know, including the folks on my own team, it’s a compilation of the top-10 articles on strategy from the Harvard Business Review, and you should just be able to go to Amazon and type, Harvard Business Review strategy and find it. It’s a great place to start.

Paige: It’s important for us to keep these things in mind, but sometimes the people we work with need a little reminder too, and whether it’s a client within your organization that may be getting a little too in the weeds, or occasionally even a president will do that. There’ll be something that someone has suggested to them as a tactic that they want you to consider. What I find is helpful to try to elevate that conversation to a strategic level is to ask, “Why do you think this is a good idea? What would we be trying to achieve if we were to do this?”

Kathy: That’s brilliant. Rebecca, how do you speak the language of leadership?

Rebecca: Let me start by asking everybody to just take a moment to check out the words on this slide. Can you say with confidence that you really understand all of these concepts? I will admit to you that when I first got here at Queens, I didn’t. Some of them I certainly did, but not all of them, and at that point I had the advantage of being new, so I got to ask a lot of questions, but here’s the reality I think. Presidents speak a different language and understanding that language is really critical if you want to be able to communicate effectively with them.

A lot of the language of leadership revolves around numbers, and specifically the story that the numbers are telling you. I personally just earned my MBA earlier this year, and I have found it extremely helpful in terms of the understanding spreadsheets better and just being more facile with being able to tease out what is the information really telling me, but I don’t think you have to spend $80,000 to tackle this. A simple solution that anybody can do is just to simply find a colleague in your finance department and start asking them a lot of questions when you don’t understand something.

My advice is don’t be nervous about looking like you don’t know something, just dive in and be willing to learn. I used to be, you know, I used to sort of tune out a little bit if a spreadsheet came out in our senior leadership team meetings, but now I’m more confident and I can engage in a much more meaningful way, so my bottom line here is make sure you understand this language because it will help you be more effective in supporting your president when you have some foundational knowledge.

Kathy: Paige, why don’t you talk to us about aligning marketing goals with university goals?

Paige: Sure Kathy, well this is really an echo of the earlier theme about strategies versus tactics. Marketers can be guilty of falling in love with creative ideas and maybe losing sight of, “But what can this idea accomplish? How can this fit into a bigger strategy?” and so we don’t want that to be the case because that just feeds a stereotype that might exist in your own institution that marketing is fluff. You want to make sure that the things that you’re doing in your marketing area are directly aligned with the goals of the university, and we try to think about that intentionally quite a lot because we have, as everyone does, finite resources, limited number of staff and a limited number of dollars. And so how do we best use those and align our efforts with key areas that are important in our strategic plan, like for example, enrollment and fundraising.

The pie chart you see here is an illustration of the number of projects we do for each of these internal clients, admission being the obvious, the largest slice of the pie here because enrollment is a big piece of what we do. We have undergraduate and graduate and adult programs so we have quite a number of initiatives for them, and so they’re represented there in a way that they should be, followed by things like advancement. One thing you notice here is a slice for international education. That slice wasn’t there before.

We didn’t do much for our international education office five years ago, but in our new strategic plan where we have tremendous growth in our global programs and global opportunities on campus, the works that we’re doing for that office has expanded and we see it reflected here, which means we are in lock step with the changing strategic goals of the university. I just show this as an example of just a tool that we use to check for that, and also to try to, we’re always talking about how can we weed out things that are not really contributing a lot of value. There may be a convenience service for folks on campus, but they’re not necessarily strategic, and then working on ways to do that.

Another way that we try to create alignment with university goals is through our mission statement for the office. Last summer when we had a planning retreat for the marketing team, the team together came up with a very simple little mission statement that helps make it clear to everyone that all the work that we do needs to help the university achieve its goals. It’s there in the language and we refer back to that.

Kathy: Great, and Paige, why don’t you talk to us about educating your president on the value of marketing?

Paige: That is the million-dollar question, isn’t it?

Kathy: Right.

Paige: It’s like any other audience that you hope to influence. Sometimes you just have to put on your PR and marketing hat and think, “Do I need to do a plan to market the marketing?” That’s a legitimate approach and thinking about what are the things that you need to communicate, what are the key messages? How can you persuade? How can you inform? Don’t be afraid to do that.

One thing I would caution against, as with any industry, marketing is chock full of its own jargon, and if you go into a meeting with your president or with other leaders from other areas in the university and you’re only using the jargon that you’re familiar with and you’re not trying to make it approachable from other levels, you may just baffle them, so do kind of be mindful of that and think about how you communicate as well.

I’m always looking for ways, large and small, to demonstrate the contribution of the marketing team. One of my favorite things to do is when I get an email from a client office on campus that says, “Wow, marketing did a tremendous job for us, and here was the result and we’re so pleased and it was a great collaboration,” that’s like gold and I actually forward those to the president saying, “Here, I thought you might want to know, there was a successful outcome here,” and it feels less like bragging and more like, “Look how well we partnered with someone on campus and there was a good outcome.” That’s one of the techniques that I use.

Rebecca: I’ll just jump in. I want to underscore and echo your comment about demonstrating contributions. I had a teammate here when I first arrived at Queens who was doing really great work, some in particular really great PR work, but she didn’t communicate about her wins because it felt too self-congratulatory, and of course, we’re here in the South and it just was unseemly to her to brag about herself. It was not ladylike, and so I definitely understood that concern and I appreciated that she isn’t a showboat, but I knew it was a big miss for our team.

The counsel I gave to her and I think the way you have to think about this kind of stuff and to present it is to show how the results that you’re delivering tie back into the overall vision and strategy for moving the university forward. That way, your win is a win for everyone, not just a pat on the back for yourself, and people love success. When you’re doing great work and making good things happen, people actually really naturally do want to know about that.

Kathy: Yeah, it’s contagious. Rebecca, why don’t you talk to us about getting some early points on those scoreboards and how you do that?

Rebecca: This is one of my, somebody early on in my career gave me this advice and it has been so useful to me so I will pass it on to everyone here. If you find that you or your team is struggling for credibility in the eyes of your president or other leaders, one way to go about changing that is to be super intentional about “putting some early points on the scoreboard.” These are short-term, visible victories, two or three things that you can accomplish over the course of a year that lend themselves to a sort of classic case study narrative, the problem or opportunity and what you did to solve it or to take advantage of it, and then the results.

Anything with a strong before and after component can work for this. It doesn’t have to be epic, a five-year monster project that has 800 moving parts. It can be simple, small things. It just has to be visible and easily understood that you took on a challenge or an opportunity, you did something about it, and now life is better for everyone.

In my first year here at Queens we did three things. We redesigned the university magazine, we launched a new university cultural calendar, and we pushed for more of our faculty to serve as subject matter experts with the media. None of those things is like super-duper rocket science, but in each example we have that great before and after and it really worked like a charm. People said, “Wow, look at the difference they’re making and look at the difference her leadership is making.” Then the real secret here is then they start to buy into your other ideas and it gives you a platform for accomplishing more.

Paige: Rebecca, I remember some of the things I did in the first year too, one of which was to redesign the university logo. I don’t recognize that as a starting point. It was successful, but it was a process, but on a smaller scale, we had no internal communications operation or vehicle when I got here, and anyone could email everyone on campus at any time. If you think about that, it was the nightmare that you think it would be, spam all day long, and corrections to the spam and updates to spam, and people hated it.

I had actually handled internal communicate in my job in banking and so I raised my hand and I said, “Here, let us take this in to the marketing office. We’ll create a vehicle that will be more planned and controlled and everyone will learn to use that,” and it sounds really old school now, but it was kind of new at the time. We solved that problem and things got easier and the marketing office could also use that vehicle very effectively for communicating internally. We took under our wing in part because we recognized that if we could harness that internal communication, that would help us develop brand investors from within our own faculty and staff, so we saw it as another important channel, but also as we talked about, a little bit of an early wind.

Kathy: Fantastic. Now I’d like to encourage the listeners out there to type in questions, and I have one that has come in, and I guess I’ll direct this to Rebecca. How do you get your president to get on board with allocating the proper budget to align with the university’s strategic goals?

Rebecca: That’s an easy one, Kathy, thank you. Seriously, obviously there’s no silver-bullet solution to something like that. I do think a lot of the ideas and themes that we’re presenting today in the webinar can help with that. There’s no single conversation that you’re going to have that’s going to create that result, but I have a story that I can tell you about, something that happened here at Queens. We had a great team, I’m going to leave it generic, but there was a great team here on the campus who was doing really good work, bright, talented people, hard workers, well-respected operating in a critical, functional role, but they were dramatically under-resourced, and they didn’t necessarily have a leader who was able to be persuasive about the visions of that function.

They had said for years, “We’re under-resourced, we’re under-resourced. Why is this not going well? Why is that not going well? Because we need more resources.” They were sort of caught in that doom loop. I think that might be what a lot of people sometimes face, and what I want to say about that is I think presidents want to invest where they think they’ll get a return. They want to invest in winners, not people necessarily, but winning ideas and winning leaders, and so we ended up hiring somebody at the VP level to run this particular team and he came in and did an audit and he came back with a set of recommendations that were exactly the same as the team had been saying for years.

What was different is that he was able to paint a picture, a vision of what he would do with the extra resources that would have a positive impact on the life of the university, and it was the visioning piece and the confidence that our president and senior leadership team had in him that freed up the resources. It’s not necessarily enough to just point out that you don’t have enough, you also have to compliment that with being able to explain what you’re going to do with it that’s going to make a difference. Where is there going to be return on that investment?

Paige: Rebecca, I know of a similar situation here within my own organization, and one of the other important things that that leader did and that I tried to do is ask, he immediately looked up what were the existing resources being channeled into, and began to repurpose both dollars and staff members towards the longer-term strategy that he wanted to pursue, and so that was a signal that first of all he had a new vision, as you’re talking about, but also that he was willing to take his own money and reuse it in maybe a smarter way as a single to the, you know, he has skin in the game and he’s not just asking for more, more, more.

Rebecca: That’s a great point. That can really buy you a lot of good will.

Kathy: We have some more questions, but I’m going to postpone the rest of these until the end of our presentation, so let’s move on. Paige, why don’t you talk to us about how you recruit allies?

Paige: Sure. I think this is important, and it’s certainly crucial in higher education. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that marketing give us some skepticism within our industry, or it can be, and so it’s important that we not work in a silo, it’s important that we’re seen as being part of the larger organization and I know here for me, my president makes it very clear. He expects that cabinet members will collaborate and work effectively together. It’s part of our campus culture and it’s part of what he wants in his leadership team and so it’s very important that I can have good working relationships. They help me and they help me in the eyes of the president, I think.

Let me talk about one of them. It’s often obvious that marketing will be well aligned with advancement or with the enrollment management function, for example, but my best ally is the chief financial officer here. It’s partly based on we have some common background and just personality fit, but it’s also crucial I think to my survival. She helps me understand some of the business things that we talked about earlier in the presentation and I also know that she runs the budget council and she’s a trusted advisor of the president, so if I’m doing a new initiative or if there is something to do with investment, I know that if she doesn’t support my efforts and my investments, and if she’s skeptical, then that skepticism will be transmitted to the president. It’s survival that I make sure that it really sort of passes her check because I value her judgment.

Back to the budget council, it’s another reason why it’s important to have good collegial relationships with your peers. I’m not sure how it works at various, at other organizations, but we have a council here that’s comprised of vice presidents from all the areas and faculty representatives and a few others and we get together during each budget cycle to talk about the resources that we have and how they’ll be allocated. Well, it’s really important that we each understand each other’s business, the parts of the business that we’re responsible for and what we need to fund and that we support each other. Sometimes they help me lobby for what I need and sometimes I help them lobby for what they need so that it comes down to very real dollars and cents in some cases.

There are also some things that can change in your equation that can give you an opportunity to build a new alliance. One would be any kind of a change or a position, you know, there’s turnover in a position and you get a new colleague and it’s a great, fresh start and Rebecca talked about some of the things you can do in as a fresh start, the kinds of questions you can ask and changes you might be able to suggest. The other opportunity sometimes comes in a crisis. I can think of times when something has happened where a number of us have had to pull together, sort out something, get out a communication strategy, and it’s just an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to bond with other folks around a common issue and to show what you can do, so not to be overlooked.

Rebecca: What’s the famous saying, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste?”

Paige: Exactly.

Rebecca: I think that says it all. The concept of recruiting allies is like a classic PR sort of strategy, “Influencing the influencers,” which I think you’ve said, Paige, earlier on another slide. It’s sort of about creating a chorus effect as well, because presidents will listen to many different sources for opinions and insight, and so what you want to do is make sure that you have an army of allies out there reinforcing, not just being one, lone voice. In fact, our president, when I first arrived here, we read a book, and I wish I could remember the name of the book. It just came to me a second ago.

It was about teams and how often we tend to get ourselves siloed into the vertical team that we represent, so I’m marketing and then there’s going to be academic affairs or advancement or enrollment management or whatever it is. She said, “I want you to think of your team as the cross hatch that goes horizontally, not the functional area that you manage and lead that goes vertically.” I think that can be a great perspective for anyone whether they’re the leader of a team or whether they’re working their way up that career ladder, if you think of your team as being your peer as a cross functions, it gives you a different perspective.

Kathy: We’ve actually got a question that just came in that relates to our next strategy about how to earn your seat at the table and Jenny asks, “Any advice on building support and making the case for marketing communications to be at that executive table, so Paige, why don’t you share with us?

Paige: Sure. I noticed that a number of folks who were going to be attending the webinar today didn’t appear, or were not at the VP level, but also I’ve heard this a lot at conferences as I’ve gone throughout the years where people say, “Marketing really isn’t at the leadership table, just based on the structure of your organization.” I would say that there’s opportunity to begin to win a seat at the table through influence and through contributions that you can make, so there’s some ideas on this slide.

For example, a great role for your marketing team is to be the voice of the consumer, to have your hand on the poles of what students and parents and the community are thinking about so that you can be bringing that forward via research or other kinds of methods so that you’re always the person who can bring that insight. Another thing that I’ve done a lot of is to volunteer for projects that are in gray areas, and we talked about the internal communications project earlier as an example.

There are others that I’ve raised my hand for and filled the need. We didn’t have anyone anywhere really within the organization who was doing research around setting price and the price value equation. I had enough in my background to be comfortable taking that on, and I did that and I’ve owned it for many years now and its part of major strategic conversations that we have. Again, that’s not, you know, that may or may not be something that neatly fits into a role, so looking for voids to fill with your expertise can begin to make you indispensable and begin to make you visible.

Things like being part of cross-campus initiatives or conversations can, again, make you visible and showcase what you can do, and those are different ways that I’ve approached it, but always I found that the marketing leader and the marketing office is often in the role of change agent, and I’ve seen that across all the industries that I worked in. You’ve got to be comfortable with that and you’ve got to seize on those opportunities that it creates.

Rebecca: Paige, you mentioned cross-campus initiatives, and here at Queens we call them task forces, and there’s always a task force that’s being formed to do something and I know everybody is really busy, but even if you’re not going to lead a task force, just raising your hand and being on a task force is a great thing because again, it gets you collaborating with different colleagues across the university and you start to see how marketing strategy can be interconnected with everything else and I just sort of believe that the more you start to learn about the university as a whole and you see all of those co-dependencies, the more strategic and impactful you can be.

Kathy: Rebecca, why don’t you talk to us about working effectively with your leader?

Rebecca: The first thing you have to understand is that working with the president is not like working with your peers. It really requires a lot of forethought and intentionality, and I thought I was pretty good at it until I heard Paige talk about her approach when we were planning for this meeting. I thought, “Holy cow, she takes it to a whole other level.” It goes without saying that you need to be really buttoned up when you’re working with your president. You need to have an agenda or have an executive summary if you’re boiling down something complex, anticipate the questions that you’re going to get and be prepared to answer them, and don’t just, this is pretty classic. Everybody should know this. Don’t just bring problems to your president. Make sure you have ideas for how to solve them as well.

That’s all good block and tackle advice, but I tend to think that the most important thing is really to understand your president’s style and adjust your approach accordingly. They say the best communicators and the best operators are able to meet others where they are, and it might not necessarily be practical to do that with the 200 people you’re going to interact with in a day, but if you do it with the one person, it makes a big difference. I have two good examples for this with my president.

First is about brevity and email. She just does not want to read long emails, even if they’re really important. She gets bored with them, she skims, she doesn’t catch all the nuances, so I work really hard to make mine short and powerful. I will often draft something and let it sit for a little bit and then go back to it with an eye toward omitting needless words to make it shorter and punchier. My emails actually do get read and responded to more quickly than others.

The second example for us is what we call the rule of threes. My president’s definitely a big-picture, long-term thinker and she’s a visionary who’s looking years in advance, and so we started to realize that she has a little bit of a pattern about the way her brain works. She’s usually thinking three years out and beyond, and then when it comes to short-term stuff, she starts to look three months out, three weeks out, three days out, three hours out.

Let’s say I’m working on a speech for her state of the university address or whatever, there’s going to be some point in time early on when she’s thinking about it, then she’s going to put it down for quite some time and she’s going to bring it back up about three weeks before, and then it’s going to come back up about three days before, and then it’s going to come back up with a vengeance about three hours before. Once I understood that about her and started to be able to get into her mindset, I could anticipate her needs and it helped us work so much more effectively together. She just thought I was so buttoned up, and really what it was, I just got her.

Paige: I can think of a couple of examples that illustrates my president’s style and responding to that, one has to do, you know, you talked about bring in executive summary. Oftentimes I’m bringing in a consultant’s report or a piece of research and I don’t know how much time that my president’s really going to be able to spend with that and read it and digest it so I know I always want to have a very good executive summary with that document, and not even going through that, but really thinking about what do I want him to take away from this? What are the soundbites?

Because he does work often in soundbites and I can see him pick things out of meetings and proposals, you know, pieces of research or analyses, and then reuse them, pick critical points, reuse them in other conversations and in other ways and so I want to make sure that the net of what I’m presenting comes through, and then if he wants to drill down or he wants to read it and ask questions or whatever, there’s time for that and I need to be prepared and I anticipate those questions, et cetera, like we talked about, but if he doesn’t spend the time, what was the takeaway?

Another thing that I was thinking about when Rebecca was talking was about email. I would say never send anything that you can present in person, and again, this is regardless of whether you work for the president or not, and this applies with clients too. My recommendation to my scene is never allow your work to be presented by somebody else, not because it’s about hogging the glory or getting facetime, but because you understand it best and you can present it best and you can answer questions.

Initially, like in the first year I was here I did not report directly to the president and things would be filtered and they would come back and they would bounce back and forth and very quickly it became obvious that was not a good situation because he could not really engage with me directly and I could not bring them value, so don’t be tempted to let somebody else take it along in another meeting or let your client present it to their boss. If at all possible get yourself into that conversation.

Kathy: We’ve heard a lot of ideas today about what works for when your president is the target, and so Paige and Rebecca, why don’t you leave us with some highlights before we go on to the questions. Paige?

Paige: Sure. Well, I think we’re back to thinking about this as a PR and marketing planning exercise, so making sure that the work that you’re doing is relevant to your target audience, and making sure that you’re adding value wherever you can would be two important takeaways, I would think.

Rebecca: Think about your own communication skills, be persuasive with your key messages, use data and outcomes to help tell your story and keep telling your story. Keep telling your story about the value of marketing every time you get the chance.

Kathy: Now on to the questions. Patty asks, “When the board or your institution is in the process of completing the next strategic plan, what should the marketing office do with institutional messaging in the interim, stay with the course with the existing ineffective messaging, or introduce transitional messaging?” Paige, why don’t you take that one?

Paige: It’s interesting that the present messages are ineffective. We went through that process in terms of moving from one 10-year plan that ended in 2010 to a five-year plan that we’ll finish in 2015, and we actually saw where the next plan was going because it was a very long-term planning effort and a lot of people across campus were involved. We were involved so we knew what the new themes were going to be, even though we didn’t know exactly where it would settle out.

We began tweaking that message before the 2010 plan was really even finished, and then we did some intensive research to decide how we were going to pivot and reposition ourselves to align with the new strategic plan, but build on the foundation that we had already had over the last 10 years of communication, so I did approach it from a gradual perspective and a iterative perspective to try to map from one point to the ultimate end point.

Rebecca: On some point, it really depends on the delta between where you are and where you’re trying to go and the time horizon for that. I think there’s probably no single answer that would work for every scenario.

Kathy: Yeah, and I was going to add in that sometimes if the process is long enough, I’ve seen it where you can actually sort of tease out some of those messages and test them to see how they’re resonating and almost report that back into the process.

Paige: That would be perfect. Yeah, that would be optimal.

Kathy: Yeah, that can work both ways. I have another question from Kim and she says, “Can you address program staff who want to micromanage the marketing of their own program and best tips to handle them?” Rebecca, why don’t you take that one?

Rebecca: Let me think about this. We all deal with folks like that. Maybe the first step is to really understand their motivation, so sometimes I think people start micromanaging because they don’t have confidence that the team on the other side is going to get it done, and so that can be one motivation, and sometimes you just have folks who think they know better than everybody, and that’s a little bit trickier and more challenging. I think it goes back to this idea of getting folks to focus on the strategy. If you ask questions like, “What are you really hoping to accomplish with this? Why is this important? How does it tie into the strategic plan?”

Those are the types of questions that can help your clients really feel like you get it, not just the ‘what’ of it, but the ‘why’ it matters, and then we, this is really practical and tactical, but I would say in my experience where I find people getting really antsy about the work that I’m doing or the work that the team’s doing, it’s when they don’t feel like they’re being fed enough information. Sometimes we have a tendency to say, “Okay, you’ve given me the order,” or, “I know,” you know, “I have my marching orders and now I’m going to go and I’m going to take care of everything and then I’m going to present something to you at the end,” and we sort of go into a black hole for awhile, while we’re dealing with the creative process, or the strategic planning process, or the execution of a project, whatever it is.

I have seen that the more informed a client is proactively, the less they feel the need to ask, so it’s almost like if you can anticipate, sort of like I guess what I was talking about with my president and her three, three, three thing. If you have a problem client, if you can figure out their motivation and then anticipate when to feed them information that will cut off the question or will cut off the strangle hold, that can be really helpful. Paige, what do you think?

Paige: I think you made good points in terms of understanding where it’s coming from, and if your process and your timeline aren’t clear to them, then they’ll assume that they have to guide you through every step of it, which you clearly don’t want them to do.

Rebecca: Yeah, like I said for instance, we missed a deadline on a project for a client a couple of years ago. It was an event so it came and went and we didn’t deliver. It’s really hard to recover someone’s trust after something like that, so clearly they were really honest, sort of like white on rice the next time, and I got it. I totally understood where that was coming from. We had to climb out of a hole and we convinced them that we were not going to make the same error again and it got better.

Kathy: The next question, it’s actually addressed to Rebecca on something you mentioned on, “Can you please explain more about what you said earlier, note the difference between catalyst for growth and accommodators for growth.”

Rebecca: This was back on the slide I think that Paige was going through in terms of how presidents are prioritizing all of the many, sometimes conflicting and competing decisions that they have to make about how to allocate resources, how to build a plan that is going to make sense from a short- and a long-term perspective, et cetera.

Here at Queens we’re growing, and a lot of the time when we’re talking about making an investment in something. Whether that’s a new marketing campaign, for instance, or a new dorm, we will ask ourselves do we need to make this extra investment because it will lead to more growth, or do we need to make this investment because we have grown and now we need to accommodate that growth? Sometimes the answer to the question can help us fit the decision into a kind of priority matrix, so we’re constantly grappling with what comes first, the chicken or the eggs? Do you need to have the growth in order to build the facility, or do you build the facility in order to drive growth? Does that make sense?

Kathy: Perfect, yes. Melissa asks, “Can you address how you address the concerns of a new, incoming president who forms his perception of the college as fact through discussions with community leaders, not necessarily in the target demographics of students or research?” Paige, you want to take that?

Paige: Sure. I’ll start off. I would come back to that point I made earlier about can it be the voice of the

consumer? It’s not uncommon to have to remind anyone that who is the target audience and who isn’t, and the fact that you, Mr. or Ms. President are actually not the target audience. Now that’s tricky. You got to say it diplomatically, of course, but we are all way older than our target audience in most cases, so kind of reframing on that and then looking at what you have.

Do you have institutional research within your own organization that you can draw on to say, “Here’s what perspective students think about us, here’s what admitted students think about us, here’s what our currently enrolled students know about us.” I can think of three or four things right off the shelf that I can go to that are actually executed by our institutional research office that I might draw on. I can look at my own brand tracking studies. I could look for external kinds of research to make sure that you’re not discounting what those community leaders think by putting it into a broader context and bringing other important points forward.

Rebecca: I think that’s totally it. You don’t want to discount the fact that community members have valid perspectives on this. You just want your president to realize that it doesn’t begin and end there, so if you fill the rest of the void with the other audiences that are important, then that helps get you a little closer.

Paige: What will those community leaders be bringing to the institution, you know? Yes, they’re influencers, but what does that really mean, and what will they be bringing that will support the institution strategy?

Rebecca: Here, I don’t know where Kim is from, obviously, but at Queens, having a community presence, sort of a community states presence raising the visibility locally, was an important strategy and as we just finished our last capital campaign, the vast majority of our giving, and particularly just an overwhelming number of the major gifts, one million or above, actually came from non-alumni, so what that told us was the city of Charlotte had started to see Queens as a manifestation of its own ambition to be a world-class city and started to realize that Charlotte underperformed to some degree.

We don’t have an Emory or a Vanderbilt of Charlotte. Queens is in the best position to become that. We’re not that yet, but we saw philanthropy reflect a vision for what the city of Charlotte really needed out of its premier, private university, so for us there really was a great strategic hook in why local visibility and thought leadership was important, but that may not, I mean, it might be the case, but it may not be the case, so it goes back to strategy, like why is he interested in that? Maybe there are real reasons for a vision that he or she’s thinking about in the future that should take that audience into consideration.

Kathy: Next question, and this is regarding strategy versus tactics. Katherine says, “My campus is very focused on output rather than outcome. What kind of resources do you, Paige and Rebecca, use to measure outcomes of marketing strategies?”

Rebecca: Paige, do you want to go first, or do you want me?

Paige: I’m thinking about your presentation from a couple of years ago.

Rebecca: I’ll talk a little bit about that. We try to measure everything, and sometimes we’re measuring outputs as opposed to outcomes, which is less than ideal, but I have a mindset that says that which can be measured improves, and to echo what I said before, presidents love winners. They love winning ideas, they love return on investment, they like leaders who can make things happen, so the more you can show on a trend line something that goes up and to the right, the better that is, whether that’s number of likes on your Facebook page, or quality over quantity on your earned media, or response rates to an online advertising campaign that can be measured, or conversion for your website, whatever it is, showing that you’re committed to measurement and as kind of a constant learning and continuous improvement cycle, it can be one great way to go after that.

Paige: Yeah. All of those are important. The other thing is going back to those, and again, we kind of use the in-house agency service model, so I talk about other offices on campuses clients because that’s how we approach that relationship. The other way to think about what’s the outcome is what did your client hope to accomplish when they engaged with you to create a communications campaign or to create a series of marketing activities. If you can get really clear with them, and it’s hard because sometimes they just say, “You know, I just want a postcard or I just want a trifold.”

Paige: We want students to come to this and do this thing, and so but you got to get them focused on, “Okay, so what does success look like? Okay, so here’s what we think is the best plan to try to accomplish that?” and then at the end ask them, “Did it happen? Did you get the result you were looking for?” because sometimes it’s not a big macro thing like, “Are we moving the needle with online advertising?” It could be something smaller. A lot of us have to do those kind of smaller, on-campus promotional pushes and I find that’s really important to get the client offices thinking about what success looks like and how it can be measured.

Kathy: Sometimes, Paige, even for a firm like Zehno, it’s difficult to get our clients to define what success looks like, because many schools, even at the large, big-picture level will come to us with tactics instead of a strategy, so we work really hard to make sure, and it’s not always easy, to make sure that we define what success looks like, what keeps your president up at night, and how, are we going to measure that we were successful at the end of an engagement. The next question is, “Can you address a faculty member who may not understand the value of marketing and think that marketing’s key message should just be all about the excellence of the faculty?” Rebecca, why don’t you take that one?

Rebecca: I actually, when I arrived five and a half years ago, our president changed my title. The person in the role before me had been an associate vice president of university relations, which, as I understand it as a sort of traditional communications moniker for our field, and she had elevated the position and changed the title to the M word, marketing. Then there was evidently some consternation, which was just totally new and bazaar to me coming from outside of higher ed. I was very fortunate I had this sort of a tour guide on this journey and she talked to me about semantics and language and how words and concepts that were so natural for me were not only foreign to the faculty but also threatening.

She explained to me why they were threatening and the fears that faculty had about the corporatization and the commoditization of higher ed, which were perspectives that I have never pondered in my life before. What we got to was reframing it when we’re talking about marketing and brand with the faculty to telling our story. Everybody can understand about telling our story, and a lot of our faculty will have a lot of ideas for telling our story externally that are not remarkable stories to tell.

They are, I don’t want to call them cliché, but they’re expected as opposed to unexpected, and what we did was we tried, we really wanted to engage the faculty in helping us to tell our story better, but we were finding that, I don’t know, 70% of the story ideas that were coming in wouldn’t quite fit, and so we were saying, “No,” all the time, which was taking us in the opposite direction than where we wanted to go, so we got really smart about the website and we dedicated an entry-level resource to figuring out how to tell those faculty stories on the website in a way that was authentic and meaningful to the faculty, but wasn’t really wasting our time trying to craft a lot of earned media or whatever around it.

I got to say, it’s amazing what a nicely written web story can do for you with the relationship with a faculty member. I have found, in my experience, it doesn’t necessarily take that much to turn a detractor into a fan if you just figure out how to give them a little love in an environment that is appropriate and makes sense. I would say use good language and try to figure out how to throw a bone when it makes sense and can have big dividends. That’s very, I don’t know, that sounds so cynical. I didn’t mean it to sound quite so cynical.

Kathy: Thank you, Rebecca. We’ve run out of time today and thank you everyone for sending such great questions, and Paige and Rebecca, thank you for your insights and strategies. We’ll provide an audio recording of this webcast to everyone. I encourage you, anyone who’d like to subscribe to out thought leadership see the link provided here, and of course feel free to email me or any of us with any questions. Thank you.

Share This Page