Archive for May, 2010

Recently, I participated in an executive retreat where everyone immediately began raising questions and making comments about how the organization was perceived in the world. 

Comments ranged from identifying top reputation-defining programs to assessing the social trends most likely to impact the future. Participants even referenced the many communication challenges they will be facing in order to meet their goals.

But no one ever seemed to realize that what they were talking about was marketing 101. Everyone clearly accepted that dealing with these issues was their job, and yet no one ever turned to the marketing executive to ask what she would do.  

Reflecting on all this I thought: “The best way I could bring a big chill over this room would be to mention the “M” word right here and now! So I never did.

Rather, I noted to myself that sometimes you don’t even mention that word.  You let people talk about “their passion,” and then over time you help them see that what they were really talking about all along is called “strategic marketing!”

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Many university and nonprofit executives begin strategic planning by first listing the other similar institutions they admire– often referred to as “aspirant” institutions. They also list their direct competitors. Then they carefully study all the operations from top to bottom.

They study structures, staffing, salaries, HR practices, policies, marketing programs, budgets, all numerical success indicators, and more.

But this kind of benchmarking can be dangerous and misleading.  It can mislead because it can steer you directly into copying “best practices” and  blindly becoming just like the organizations on your aspirant and competitor lists.  When that happens your institution will always be number two and never have a truly distinct market position. 

Your study of other organizations should therefore be focused firmly on finding out how you can distinguish your institution from the others. You must find specific ways to behave differently. You should be searching for that very special market niche that allows you to be both different and better in some unique and compelling way.

Insead business school professors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne wrote a book called Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant.   It is a brilliant description of how your organization with enough determination can find and reinforce that special difference that will allow you not to meet the competition head-on,  but rather to find the “blue ocean” and sail right past all your competitors on your way to an uncontested  number one!

Being the best in the world is simply a matter of finding your difference, being damn good at developing and polishing it, and then mobilizing  everyone inside and out to help tell the story!

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It takes me about four or five years to produce a new book. 

First, an idea comes to me during a seminar I am teaching, or in a conversation with a colleague, or while auditing an institution’s marketing program. Then, I begin talking to colleagues and collecting notes. Eventually an outline emerges in my head. And finally, when I feel I can pull it all together in a meaningful way I commit to a marathon period of writing.

The idea for this book came when teaching in the CASE Summer Institute in Marketing and Communication.  At the end of each institute the faculty would ask the participants what was on their minds as they headed back to their jobs. Collectively, each summer they would say: “If I did not have to deal with the damn politics, I could do a great job!”

Hearing this repeatedly I soon found myself responding: “There is no way to avoid the politics. It can take half or more of your time. You better accept it, and maybe even learn to love it.”

But I quickly realized that dealing with insitutional politics is the one big part of our work that we didn’t learn anything about in school. And it is indeed difficult to find pertinent subject matter, especially material that speaks directly to academic and non-profit institutions.

Learning to Love the Politics: How to Develop Institutional Support for Advancement, will be launched by CASE Books at the Annual CASE Leaderhip Summit in NYC in July.  It describes universities as small cities, analyzes what it takes to teach their citizens what they need to know about marketing and advancement, identifiies their major internal political issues, and suggests some approaches for dealing with those issues.

Come to the CASE Summit and join me in a session on the topic and/or at the book signing.  Afterwards I will take up some of the issues in this blog,  where you can also join in the conversation and maybe even add some of your own war stories.

Some colleagues tell me that while the book’s point of departure is academic institutions, the content really applies to all types of institutions, domestic and international. Let me know what you think. As our markets become more global, this may be just the beginning of my writing about this topic.

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Last weekend I was invited to attend a meeting at Duke University. It was an especially enriching opportunity to meet some truly exciting scholars and academics who reminded me rather dramatically what my work in advancement is all about. In this time of extreme political polarization there are indeed some truly smart people around us who really do know how to make the world a better place.

Those attending met Dan Ariely, Professor of Behavioral Economics, who not only made behavioral research exciting, but made it relevant to everyday human problem-solving.  We met Michael Merson, Director of the Duke Global Health Institute, who demonstrated how creative interdisciplinary projects can mobilize virtually all academic disciplines to focus on solving major global problems. Cathy Davidson, Professor of English and Interdisplinary Studies, explained how the new media world is bringing left and right brain together to change how a whole generation is thinking about everything.  And we met many more people at Duke who are just as exciting and relevant to today’s pressing issues.

With the roles of governments changing and big budget cuts a reality the work of supporting these scholars, and the many like them everywhere, is becoming more and more essential every year. 

Indeed, this kind of interdisciplinary global education is actually public diplomacy of the first order, and the mobilization of our best talent to address our biggest problems will be critical to saving the planet.

When politicians insist on always going to the extemes of ideology which plunge us into constant conflict, the global challenge of educational and nonprofit institutions will be to bring people together to find real solutions.

I certainly came away from Duke last weekend more energized than ever about my work.

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This week I had the pleasure of spending time with David Wheeler, Managing Editor-International, at the Chronicle of Higher Education.  For months David has been traveling the world assessing how the Chronicle can become the news source for higher education world-wide and happily he agreed to make TCU the only U.S. campus he will visit this year. So this week he met with TCU leaders to share what he is learning about the globilization of our industry and discussed everything from specific country trends to changing admissions and fund raising patterns.

The Chronicle will be launching a web-based international site that will have editorial contributions from all parts of the world. You will learn every aspect about how higher education is rapidly becoming a global enterprise and the impact that will have on your institution, family and friends.  It will change curriculum, where students choose to go to school, the role of governments, and how funds are raised. The Chronicle site should appear soon.

Questions for Wheeler centered around what institutions should consider when becoming more international.  As I listened, I listed these basic approaches: 1. Estabish your own campus abroad; 2. Expand traditional study abroad programs; 3. Initiate faculty/student/staff exchanges; 4. Form partnerships between institutions, or programs, or researchers.

Obviously there are pluses and minuses for each of these. Many institutions with foreign campuses are dealing with unanticipated issues and difficulties. People exchanges can be off or on depending on professional and personal compatibility. Expanding study abroad and international student recruiting seems to be the answer for many, but forming key partnerships is the most intriguing to me.

I have long recognized the power of strong partnerhips when advancing institutions. And lessons learned in the U.S. suggest that when going international there are at least three extremely important considerations: 1. Will forming this partnerhip result in more visibility and enhanced reputation for your institution? 2. Are the partners comparable in objectives, interests and programs? 3. Will management and leadership remain stable enough to enable a long-term relationship?

Many international partnerhships come and go or even fail completely with changes in leadership or financial support. Others prove to be incompatible because of unanticipated cultural or academic differences. Problems can also arise when the partner organization proves to have no capacity to bring new visibility or prestige to yours. 

But there is no doubt that a well negotiated partnership with a top quality institution has the potential to immediately lift visibility, extend market penetration, bring higher quality to academic and other programs,  enrich and expand research projects, and enhance the overall prestige of both organizations.  This is as true in other parts of the world as it is at home, and so partnerships just might be your best overall approach when considering going global.

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