Archive for November, 2010

It’s always easier to write a long essay than it is to produce an accurate, concise one.  It also always seems more professional to produce a  complicated strategic plan than a simple action outline.   

In fact, many consultants feel they must provide pages and pages of analysis and recommentations.  This, it seems, is the best way to demonstrate their depth of knowledge and to justify their fee. The fact is that many of these plans are too complicated to implement, and fail to provide a simple road map ahead.

For me, the mark of a true professional is an ability to absorb and comprehend complicated details, and then present a perceptive and concise review of the situation, identify the most effective message points, and describe a few basic action initiatives that will most effectively move the organization forward.

Most organizations have collected more programs than are really needed. In fact, many activities may be needlessly draining resouces, talent and energy.  Deciding what not to do, however, often proves to be more difficult than adding new things to do. In time, by adding more and more programs, many organizations have actually drifted away from their most productive mission and vision.

The key is to simply answer these questions: Is this program or activity directly related to our core business? Are others doing it better? Is it an essential revenue source?  Answering these questions should make the decisions you need to make about your “product” line very clear.

Your brand is your “differentiated identity.” We have argued in other posts that clarifying it is the ultimate key to success. The programs and message points that collectively establish this identity are the ones you want to preserve.  Now, stay focused on them.

Over time, all organizations collect unecessary publications and engage in needless communication activities.  You will probably want to keep a “branding piece” that establishes your market position. In addition, you may also want to have a piece for each major “sub-brand” program and activity.  If you determine you need a tangible “hold in your hands” symbol,  you may still want a few printed pieces. But most other communication can take electronic form these days, especially current news and information about your institution. 

Segment and prioritize your markets and use only the media that each  segment prefers. Usually this will be a combination of both new and traditional multi-media platforms, and they should be focused to converge simultaneously on each segment. Remember more is not better in an already information-cluttered world. Concise, focused, repeated interactive messages is what you will need for success.

All these points have been individually discussed, or will be, in other posts. The point of this one is simple! Although it isn’t easy, simplicity is essential. And then staying focused is absolutely required.

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A well crafted special event is an ideal marketing and communication tool. Theses days, however, I am aware of how many events are no more than very expensive missed opportunities.

I continue to be invited to galas and parties where the theme is in no way tied to the institution’s brand, and the remarks are unrelated to its mission, vision or values.  The purpose seems to be more being cute and different than advancing the organization in an exciting setting that supports the organization’s plans for the days ahead. I find myself walking around these events saying to myself, “What are these people thinking?”

Invitation lists should always focus on opinion leaders in key target markets. The invitation process should be seen as a direct and interactive communication opportunity. An impressive invitation will always establish a receptive message climate.  Therefore, the theme of the event should always be shaped to reinforce the institution’s brand identity. A “save the date” notice sent earlier, and/or a follow-up invitation reminder, will also provide additional direct communication opportunities.  When designed effectively invitations will achieve marketing objectives even with many who do not attend.

A special event can deliver an ideal captive audience. Brand message points should always be worked into the decor and theme. You can literally surround your audience with branding reinforcement, and this can be creatively achieved without seeming oppressive. Welcoming and concluding remarks should feature a few brief brand reinforcement points and a call for some kind of action…even if its only a request to help tell the institution’s story.

An evaluation of the event will not only gather important feedback, but it is also another opportunity to repeat your vision and add a few more message points. In addition, a “thank  you for coming” note, or a “we are sorry you could not join us” communication, is an opportunity to continue ongoing supportive relationships.

My conclusion: Purely social events or cocktail parties are a waste of time and resources. On the other hand, a social or other gathering of your most important opinion leaders, where every opportunity is taken to creatively reinforce institutional vision and brand, is potentially one of the most effective marketing and communication tools you have in your toolbox.

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People who make their  lives in institutional marketing and communication often complain about being frustrated because they get too little significant recognition for their achievements.

Over the years I have come to accept that much of this just comes with our chosen organizational territory. We are mostly in the business of making institutions and programs more successful, and that also involves making heroes of those that lead them. 

Chief executives of institutions and program heads will invaribly get the credit for their leadership and programmtic successes, even in those cases where we may have actually engineered that success from top to bottom.  It is embedded in the system that the credit for the acheivement will not go to marketing and communication professionals. Vision, strategy, brand identity, message points, supporting materials, and sometimes even key action initiatives, are often developed under the influence of marketing executives.  But the dynamics of organizational leadership will preclude the M&C professional from sharing in the glory.

It seems to me that there are two options open to us. The first is to identify dynamic leaders with high potential that you are motivated to help. Then, develop a collaborative relationship that can evolve into a coaching one. This kind of working situation often results in the kind of satisfaction a teacher gets from watching star students achieve.  Recognition then comes when that person attributes a ” my mentor” status to you, and sometimes in a very public way.

The second path toward professional recognition is to get involved in one of our major professional associations.  Speak at conferences, write articles and books, submit your work for award consideration– all of these lead to significant moments of rewarding recognition.  Because this recognition comes from your peers, it is likely to be the most satisfying of all.

One final point. The power of marketing and communication tools to transform programs and institutions is truly enormous.   Knowing how to harness that power, and make great things happen with it, is a very rewarding feeling.  Trading public recognition for personal satisfaction can be more than worth whatever sacrifice we end up making.

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My university is having a fantastic year in football.  We are undefeated and number 3 in the nation! For professionals in marketing and communication, this always means questions from almost eveyone about just what it all means for advancing an academic institution? 

Does it help student recruiting?  How about fund raising? And what about building  academic reputation?

With respect to student recruiting, a sustained winning streak can certainly help stimulate more applications. For some universities, unneeded applications may just add overhead processing costs. For many others, however, a well developed marketing and communication program can use this new found positive visibility to effectively target appropriate market segments with an impressive academic story.

A winning season certainly stiumlates fund raising for athletics. But what about support for academic programs? Here too experience teaches that a professional advancement staff can use a very positive overall alumni atmosphere to steer donors toward academic programs. How well this works, however, will depend on the make-up of the donor base and the priorities of the immediate fund raising campaign.

The matter of how well winning athletics can help build academic reputation is more uncertain.  Athletics imagery alone does not advance academics, but it can convey a tone of campus vitality and welcoming community. And when the marketing and communication staff is prepared to target appropriate media and specific image influencing audiences with well crafted, interactive, relationship-building, academic messages, visibility and name recognition will certainly be an advantage.

In addition to being undefeated, our last several winning seasons have been challenging the BCS control of the national championship game. This produced significant visibility for us in Washington, DC, where I have been spending a lot of time these days. I have been able to witness first-hand how this ongoing visibility helped open the door to educational and political opinion leaders, and how effective it has been when we walked right through telling the rest of the academic story.

The bottom line lesson here, then, is that a winning athletics program provides visibility and opens doors, but only highly professional marketing, communication, admissions, and development work can sustain enrollment and fund raisng over time, and build lasting academic reputation.

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