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Advice for the first-time college marketing officer

Five ways to make your journey a smooth one
University Business, November 2015
Marc C. Whitt is director of development communications at the University of Kentucky
Marc C. Whitt is director of development communications at the University of Kentucky

Congratulations, you’ve landed your first job as a college’s chief public relations and marketing officer. It’s a grand role loaded with ocean-size opportunities and responsibilities.

I got my first director’s position in 1988 when I joined the staff at Georgetown College in Kentucky. Up until then I had been a one-person shop.

With my appointment at Georgetown, I found myself managing a four-person staff, a budget and the institution’s external and internal relations, while seeking to build on a communication foundation established by my predecessor.

The immensity of the role didn’t hit me until the vice president handed me the keys to my office and said, “Well, Marc, it’s all yours.”

As you launch into your new journey, I encourage you to adopt five practices that are just as applicable for the CCO or CMO who has recently moved from another institution into this role.

Expect failure

No matter how talented, creative, articulate and smart you are, there will be times when your idea crashes and burns, you’ve been misquoted by the media or the event you plan attracts only members of your immediate family.

Don’t allow an occasional failure to topple your world. We’ve all been there. But experiencing times of failure actually grows and strengthens us as we develop as professionals. American businessman Sumner Redstone said: “Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.”

Learn and respect the culture of your environment

Each institution has its own character and set of values and traditions. Become a sponge. Allow yourself to be absorbed by your institution’s culture.

Learn all you can about its history, its legends, its victories and times of sacrifice. Discover its unique qualities. Listen to your president, administrative leadership, and current and retired members of the faculty and staff.

Understand your institution’s town-gown relations and connections with the region it serves. By doing so, the campus community will more quickly trust in you as a person and leader.

Plan your work, and work your plan

Leading a college’s public relations and marketing program is a big job that comes with plenty of responsibilities. You cannot afford to shoot from the hip.

If the administration hasn’t already done so, develop in collaboration with your president and vice president no more than five goals to achieve within your first and second years. A good plan will establish a road map for you to follow and will protect you from wandering in the wilderness guessing where to step next.

Effective planning provides you with direction and demonstrates mature leadership.

Build and maintain productive relationships

We are in the relationship business. Balance your social and digital media efforts with time spent face-to-face with constituents on and off campus.

For those new public relations and marketing professionals who can balance and master both, the world will be yours. Become a familiar face on your campus and in the community.

Enjoy frequent conversations with members of your faculty and staff, and with civic leaders. Be a smart, strategic networker who builds personal relationships, and who strives to establish connections with the institution you serve.

Secure a mentor

Lastly, find someone you trust, perhaps a former college professor or a peer at another institution, who is willing to mentor you. We all need someone who can provide sage counsel should we face a sensitive issue or a crisis situation on campus.

A seasoned professional who can offer you their ear, shoulder and words of wisdom will be a tremendous asset as you move into this wonderful profession so many of us cherish.

Marc C. Whitt is director of development communications at the University of Kentucky. He may be contacted @marcwhitt.

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