So You’re New To Higher Ed Marketing…

By Jeremiah Barba | Jul 19, 2017

New to higher ed marketing? Welcome! Now, here are a few things you should know.

As my colleagues and I travel the conference circuit and spend time with clients & friends, we’ve realized that a significant percentage of the people we meet are new to higher ed marketing. It’s a whole new world among the bell towers, quads, elbow patches, and rubrics, and we think you’ll like it here!

I’ve seen a few common themes among career paths into higher ed marketing. So welcome, former journalist, or “agency person,” academic, corporate marketer or whatever you called yourself in a past life 🙂 You’re among friends. Here are a few thoughts & tips to make your transition smooth as that soft-serve ice cream in the dining hall.   

Welcome to a true community

As I’ve met higher ed marketers across the country in the past several years, both in person and online, I’ve found an incredibly strong sense of community. Higher ed marketers share knowledge, resources, and support like no other group I’ve ever encountered. The level of camaraderie is fantastic, and I love spending time with this first-rate group of people. From what I’ve seen, there’s very little hoarding of “trade secrets.” You’re all in this together, and I love that spirit. (But once football season comes around, it’s on.)

Variety is strength

Higher ed marketers come from a broad range of backgrounds, and that means you’ll get to work with some of the brightest people around. Soak up that knowledge and learn all you can from this beautiful mix of talented people. Take time to listen to your colleagues, and you’ll reap all the benefits. 

It’s time for a new pace

I hear this often- “it’s a whole different pace in higher ed.” If you come from an agency, tech, or other background, you’ll most likely find that it’s time to take your foot off the accelerator and adjust to a slower pace. You’ll have to work through some bureaucracy and the dreaded “red tape.” But that’s okay! A fast pace has its drawbacks too, so find the good in a more deliberate speed. It’s not always good to be overly speedy, so think through your work and let that thought make it better in the end.

Job titles are more like guidelines…

Cue the Pirates of the Caribbean voice…job titles in higher ed tend to be “more like guidelines.” This will vary from school to school, but there’s a good chance that your job title won’t mean what it meant before. An Assistant Director of Marketing who does the majority of the tactical day-to-day tasks? Totally normal. A job title so long it doesn’t fit on a business card? Par for the course. Keep an open mind, remember that “perform other duties as required” means just that, and you’ll excel, even when those spinning plates feel a little precarious. And if you need a laugh, check out this University Title Generator. (BRB, changing my title to Lead Assistant President of Internal Affairs for the Office of Donor Technology).

Remember you’re not a short-order marketer

Chances are, you’ll have a lot more stakeholders to work with in higher ed than in your previous life. Those outside the marcomm office may see you as their dedicated “order taker” whose only job is to do their bidding. That said, many marcomm offices have great systems set up to help other departments, but that’s likely not your main mission. When working through these conversations, always be gracious, accommodate when necessary, but don’t be afraid to refer them to your job and department’s primary mission. Your future success will thank you.

Buy-in, ownership, and feedback are key

With any project, getting the right people on board early is essential, but even more in higher ed, where stakeholders may be more spread out or disjointed. Perhaps you have that “first big project” on your plate. You want to make a good impression right off the bat. Don’t lose sight of these key factors: ownership, buy-in, and feedback. Before you even start, make sure everyone is crystal clear on who owns the project. Did the President just mention a random project off hand, but nobody took ownership? Clear that up quickly and make sure it’s not just a Presidential whim. Next, make sure all stakeholders involved are fully on board and invested in the project. Hold pre-project meetings to get everyone on the same proverbial page, and go sit down in their offices if you need to. This may seem obvious, but it’s more important than ever in the often-siloed marble-clad halls of higher education. And finally, establish clear channels for feedback and hold your partners & stakeholders to using those channels consistently.

Welcome to the family, higher ed marketing pro! Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be off to a beautiful beginning.

Tell Us What You Think

What else would you tell someone who’s new to higher ed marketing? What do you wish you’d known when you were new to the field?

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