Archive for March, 2013

Last week I discussed the use of task forces in integrated marketing. They are a key part of bringing marketing, organizational behavior and group dynamics into what many people think of as the public relations and advertising field. Action teams are also extremely powerful tools in creating the perception that an institution is stepping out and claiming new prominence as a leader in the world.

Action teams are useful in solving specific problems or in launching new initiatives, especially those with the potential of attracting widespread attention. A university might need to recover from an unfortunate institutional crisis, or is ready to unveil the results of a bold new strategic plan.  In either case, bringing the best thinking and most creative talent in the institution together to address the situation can be very powerful.

An effective action team is made up of the best talent in the institution no matter where they are located. They might be in central administration, or in fine arts, or even in athletics marketing. They can come from anywhere. The key is talent and creative thinking. First of all, it is helpful to have a person on board who knows the current research findings and can design a simple survey if needed.  You will also need an experienced strategic thinker and planner, a writer who can write concise copy after listening to planning discussions, a designer who can produce art that symbolizes ideas they helped develop, and a project manager who can put it all together into a plan of action.

You will also need to be able to pull these highly talented people off the job into a truly integrated and ongoing process. This most often will require the authority and support of the president.  Most action teams will not take up all of its member’s time, but they will need to be able to make this project their top priority for however long it takes.

I have found that well structured and facilitated action teams can be the most powerful tool in the integrated marketing toolbox. So the more you know about how to create them, and the more experience you can get in managing them, the more success you will have in putting your institution on the map.

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Following last week’s post, one of my readers said: “Tell me more about how task forces work in integrated marketing. I think most readers least understand the group process aspect of integration, and yet you suggest that it is a critical component.”

I have described the way I view the strategic communication subject matter as bringing the substance of marketing, organizational behavior, and group dynamics into what many still call the public relations and advertising field. And in doing this, the additional skill of group facilitation becomes a key part of professional practice. Where many managers are too impatient to use group process in decision-making, I assert that significant organizational transformation and advancement becomes possible though informed, empowered, and inspired groups.

Institution-wide task forces have the potential to get a critical mass of informed people on the same page with respect to  competitive advantage.  I have found this to be the case even in very large institutions. And when “inside” people are telling the same story on the outside, their “word-of-mouth” impact can be extremely powerful.  Today such messages find their way into social media, and when they go “viral” they become what we call the “buzz.”

An effective task force is made up of representatives from the major program areas inside the institution. These should be people who have some instinct for, and/or interest in, marketing communication, not necessarily the administrative heads. The primary agenda topics should be (1) the identification of the institution’s brand identity, (2) the clarification of how each program’s distinct sub-brand identity connects with the overall brand, (3) keeping each other informed about what the others are doing, and (4) helping each other solve problems and address issues.

Getting people on the same page with respect to competitive advantage requires facilitated group process. Therefore, it is a significant aspect of “integration” in today’s integrated marketing and communication practice.

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This week I spoke to a gathering of university advancement professionals from the Big 12 Athletic Conference.  Most attending were from the fundraising or alumni relations areas of advancement, and so I was asked to offer an overview of how “integrated marketing” is different from traditional university relations.

I began by asking them if their university claimed to have an “integrated” marketing and communication operation. My question was prompted because I have been noticing lately that many universities using the term are not really providing truly integrated programs.  And in addition, some with the marketing title are only advertising directors. And still more are not actually practicing classic marketing. Rather too many are still merely sending out information about programs and services, just the same as institutions have been doing for years.

My message for the conference was that those professionals in fundraising and alumni relations without the support of a truly integrated marketing and communication operation were not being well severed.  Merely sending out information was only adding to information clutter, and the university was not likely benefiting very much from that.  In this digital age, more information clearly is not better. But the right information managed by a truly integrated operation does have the power to transform, no doubt about it.

So what does true integration require?

Transformative marketing and communication requires integration at three levels:  (1) Following the traditional marketing model of the “4 P’s,” program design and brand identity, pricing and discounting, distribution of the total experience and place, and strategic communication and promotion, must be planned and implemented simultaneously so that they all address the needs of the market.  (2) Preferred media must be used for each market segment and sent simultaneously and intensely in order to cut through the clutter. This multi-platform approach should be a combination of old and new media. And (3) carefully orchestrated group processes must be employed in order to get everyone “on the same page” with a common understanding of the institution’s competitive advantage. This will require using institution-wide task forces, carefully composed creative action teams, and other small groups, to clarify brand identity and test ideas.

This integrated approach to marketing and communication clearly can transform institutions. And for my audience this week it can bring strategic thinking, new technology, and facilitated group process to help improve donor loyalty and recognition, as well as to bring together professional programs, communities of interest, career services, events, enrichment courses, and much more,  into portals providing lifetime total university access.

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The news this week has been a bit more optimistic concerning bipartisan cooperation between the White House and the republicans in congress. Apparently the president bypassed the partisan leaders and invited a varied group of legislators to dinner to discuss ways forward.  Obama’s strategic thinking seems to be to go around the dysfunctional, polarized leaders to find some common ground. We’ll soon see how well it works.

All this got me to thinking about how dependent we are on each other in general to simply work things out. When collaboration occurs in good spirit, we move ahead.  When debaters lock in to a “my way or no way” attitude, their mean-spirited attacks destroy everything.  This seems to be a consistent lesson of history, and a Wall street vs. Main street lesson as well.

As I have argued in previous posts, when profit success grows into personal greed, the people in the middle who enabled the success to begin with become diminished. And when this otherwise comfortable middle class sinks into financial struggle, serious division begins. In short, past cooperation degenerates to hostility and eventually the entire system crashes.

Is it possible that today once again the simple answer is to just go around gridlocked leaders to form good faith groups that are willing to work things out?  This could be really big news, and the resulting visibility just might begin our desperately needed  turnaround.

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The American Council on Education (ACE) is considered the “secretariat” of all higher education associations when it comes to advocacy with U.S. legislators. Much of its annual conference each year is spent on analyzing and discussing the most critical issues facing the industry. This year is no exception. But when the thinking and talking is over, what good will come of it?

My last post reported that I see an assault on all of higher education coming as the result of our totally polarized legislatures. In this totally dysfunctional climate progress on the issues is certainly not likely. But just as disturbing is the fact that polarization can also result in still another major dysfunction. It destroys any consistency in the use of key words. And when that happens, effective communication is also lost. My example… the words “conservative” and “liberal.”

In the world of political science “conservative” generally means a preference for limited government and maximum self-reliance. “Liberal” generally means a belief in the need for effective government and taxpayer supported social initiatives. Both are helpful terms describing legitimate philosophies of governance. But in a polarized world, these words are used to stand for the most extremes of those ideologies, and thus eventually become negative accusatory labels.

What’s interesting about communication dynamics is that when a term is misused consistently it can permanently lose its shared meaning.  And to make matters worse, there often isn’t another term to take its place. In the process, then, civility in dialogue is lost and mean-spirited attacks becomes the norm.

This is the situation we will be facing in legislatures all over the country in the coming months. It has become a nasty game that is fueled by extreme ideology, big money, and imprecise language. Is there a solution? In the short run I don’t see one. For now all we can do is press on and believe that persistence and time will find a way to heal everything.

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