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Dear CMO

A short letter from a college president to the school's chief marketing officer.
University Business, Jul 2006

This is the second in a two-column series. The first, published in May 2006, was an anonymous letter from a chief marketing officer to a college president.

Thank you for your recent letter. I do appreciate the thought that went into your comments and appreciate, too, the candor and sincerity with which they were presented. Like you, I want to make our marketing efforts as successful as possible. With that goal in mind, I would like to respond to some of your insights and offer some observations of my own.

Your point about me being your sponsor is an important one. I intuitively agree that this is a critical role for me. My challenge, and one that you need to understand, is that while I am your sponsor, I am the sponsor of the other VPs as well. I will publicly support our marketing efforts. I will run interference for you when necessary. I will listen to your voice. But there are other voices I will listen to, as well.

I dont like surprises. One of your most important roles is to give me a heads-up about emerging issues.

I agree that you need to more completely understand my vision for marketing. From my perspective, marketing's sole purpose is to increase the flow of resources to the institution. With this in mind, all of our marketing efforts must have a direct impact on our ability to recruit students, raise dollars, attract the best and brightest faculty and staff, and gain public and media attention. I do not care about building a reputation just for the sake of having a reputation. From my perspective, the purpose of marketing is to increase the flow of vital resources to the institution. Nothing more, and never anything less.

Your comments about differentiation are helpful and timely. As you know, we are now working on our vision statement and we will soon begin to develop a new strategic plan. I agree that differentiation is important but I have a question: How can we develop points of differentiation that are valued in the marketplace, yet be true to our core values? Furthermore, how can I be sure these points of differentiation are truly enduring? Perhaps you might look around at some colleges and universities that you believe have developed points of differentiation and prepare a summary of your findings as a next step in this conversation.

Let me respond to one more point you made before I offer some of my own thoughts on marketing. While I understand the need for a realistic marketing budget and appreciate the importance of reallocation vs. new expenditures, I am also sensitive that any dollars spent on marketing-regardless of the source-mean fewer dollars spent on academic programs. To help me make the sometimes-political case for marketing, I would like you to prepare a brief that looks at the following issues:

How our top competitors organize and staff their marketing efforts

What they spend on marketing as a percentage of their overall budget

How our competitors measure the ROI of their marketing efforts

Gathering the above information will likely require some digging. Fortunately, I know that your colleagues at other institutions are often quite willing to share this information as long as we, too, are willing to share ours.

Now I'd like to offer a few points of my own.

Be a contributing member of my senior team. To do this, spend more time trying to understand the roles, perspectives, and values of each team member. I think it would be wise if you spent some serious time with the other VPs in addition to our twice-monthly group meeting. They need to see you as a resource and not just a competitor for resources. For them to more completely understand what's in your head, you need to spend some time in theirs.

Keep informed, and then inform me. I don't like surprises. One of your most important roles is to give me a heads-up about emerging issues that might affect the institution and my ability to lead it. This means that you and your people need to be deliberate listeners. Talk to your peers at other institutions. Join local civic organizations. Read relevant journals and listservs. You need, in short, to be my radar.

Take the time to establish your own credibility, especially with faculty. Learn their hopes and dreams for their areas and listen to their concerns about marketing. Over time, show how marketing might help them. Use data to support your recommendations and conclusions. Make meaningful comparisons with other institutions. Show them how their peers have benefited from marketing. And perhaps most importantly, be careful of the promises you make. You, your staff, and our marketing efforts lose credibility when careless promises are made.

Remind me how busy you are. From my perspective, marketing is all about outcomes and not about output. Communicate to me how many news releases your office sends out and how many publications your staff produces. While that information is helpful, by itself it is not enough. I need to know how effective your office has been. For example, how have those news releases and publications helped us achieve our goals? I know we are busy. Now let's answer the question: Are we effective? Of course, this will require periodically repeating key research, but without this knowledge I don't know how we can ever legitimately determine if our efforts are being successful.

Remember the importance of communicating internally. It seems, at times, that almost all of your efforts are directed toward outside audiences while our own faculty and staff wonder what is going on. We can't leave them guessing. Not only do they deserve to know, but with a better understanding of our marketing strategies and other changes, we are making sure they are more likely to become advocates of those same efforts. Please conduct a survey of internal audiences. Determine their preferred communication channels and identify the things they are most interested in knowing. With this data in hand, write an internal communications plan. Oh, and while you're at it, take a look at our crisis plan and make sure it is current and viable. Let's review both these plans at our upcoming quarterly meeting.

There is serious evidence
that for most audiences,
traditional advertising
simply does not work.

Make your case for budgetary shifts. I agree that much of our marketing effort should be fueled with reallocated dollars. This shift, however, will require great political acumen on your part as well as mine. To help, you need to lay the foundation for this move by building stronger relationships with your peers on the cabinet and by, over time, showing how marketing will help them and the entire institution. At the same time, you should show what marketing activities you plan to discontinue based on an evaluation of their historic impact. By indicating programs that can be cut, you are sending an important signal that marketing is not just about doing "more."

Rethink traditional advertising plans. I noticed in an early draft of one of your plans that you want to commit a large portion of our dollars to advertising, yet I don't see any research suggesting the audiences we are trying to influence are likely to be influenced by advertising. I know advertising is fun and sexy and there's a rush working with agencies, but I also know, based on my own reading, there is serious evidence that for most audiences, save adult students, traditional advertising simply does not work-and it especially does not work when you do not have the budget to establish a legitimate, long-term campaign. I think you need to rework this portion of the plan and place greater emphasis on media relations, public relations, and special events. I recognize this will require more work on your part, but I also know over the long run these activities are more likely to be credible and effective.

Two last thoughts. First, don't play favorites. There is a powerful temptation to spend more time and money on those faculty and administrators that are willing, even eager, participants in our marketing efforts. But the fact is you need to help advance the entire institution. This means spending time with people who don't always appreciate what you are doing. Over time you will likely gain some converts, but only if you spend the time with them beforehand.

Finally, be accountable for the resources you have received. We have raised the profile of marketing at the institution. You are part of the cabinet. Your staff has grown, as has your budget. You have asked for and earned my support as well as the support of the other VPs. Please take care to steward these resources as carefully as possible.

Let's schedule a breakfast meeting sometime next week to see how we should proceed. Thanks again for beginning this conversation.


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