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How to Evaluate Your Marketing Staff

Assessing employee performance leads to quicker attainment of marketing goals.
University Business, Jan 2005

Evaluation is all the buzz these days as colleges and universities seek to more effectively allocate the precious resources of time, talent, and treasure.

In this month's column, we are going to take a look at how to evaluate a marketing staff. As you read along, please realize that my comments are not designed to stand in place of counsel from the professionals in your Human Resource office.

Before we wade in, let's open with a broad question: Why should we bother evaluating our marketing staff? For the larger institution and the individual, timely and thoughtful evaluations:

Are a key element of stewardship and accountability. On most campuses, dollars are tight, and showing how you have wisely invested all your marketing resources--including people--will help pave the way for more resources in the future.

Are increasingly expected in higher education. We expect outcome data on students, we expect data on the effectiveness of our recruiting efforts, and we expect a certain level of performance from our advancement team. Marketing is no different.

Valued employees need to know
they are, well, valued.

Build professionalism and trust among your marketing team members and between the team and other administrators and faculty.

Help staff remain focused on their contribution to larger institutional goals.

Make people better. They will emerge from an evaluation with a clearer sense of where they are, where they need to go, and the resources available to help them.

Build individual and team confidence.

Susan Shea, Director of Communications and Marketing at Santa Clara University (Calif.) believes that evaluations should be both forward-looking and review past performance. Says Shea, "Carefully planned evaluations organized around agreed-upon measures of success provide marketing professionals with the tools they need for prioritizing their work. As a campus becomes more adept at marketing, the review allows the evaluator to recalibrate the goals, and assess the ability of the marketing staff to grow into new levels of accomplishment."

Of course, evaluating your marketing staff is not always easy. Aside from general awkwardness that occurs during any evaluation, Mike Norris, director of Communications at Centre College (Ky.), reminds us, "Evaluation can sometimes be difficult because the evaluator is in the middle of the creative sessions, sleeves rolled up, working intensely with the other marketers, trying to break out of the box and come up with something really good. The shared time in the trenches creates a bond that can later get in the way of objective evaluations. You sometimes have to change from blue jeans back into a business suit and judge the results and the work performance from a fair but rigorously analytical point of view."

Robert Smith, president of Slippery Rock University (Pa.), has another take. He says that it can be difficult to clarify a single individual's contribution to the larger results of a marketing campaign. "Our attempt to still give credit to the individual begins with a cascading method of holding each level of our operation responsible based on how much of the campaign was within their domain of operation," says Smith. "Consequently, we hold the chief marketing officer accountable for the campaign and then he or she provides the evaluation for each division on down the line. By example, the publication person's evaluation is focused on what she did as part of the team but specifically what she did in leading the print dimension of the campaign."

Developing an effective evaluation program is not that difficult. Sometimes we use evaluations to badger staff when things are not going well. Good staff will not and should not tolerate this kind of behavior. A better reason (and perhaps the only good reason) for staff evaluation is to assess and improve performance with the idea that individual improvement leads to group improvement and quicker marketing goal attainment. But there is an important subtlety going on here. To improve performance means you must be interested in increasing the abilities and competencies of your people. We'll touch on that again later. Remember: It is often more important to evaluate work product than work style. Sometimes evaluators can't get rid of the "this is how it is done" mentality when, in fact, there are many ways to accomplish something. Don't confuse style with substance.

Second, have an open mind when conducting a performance evaluation. Supervisors should go into a performance evaluation with the goal of creating an atmosphere where an honest exchange of information between the employee and the employer is possible. It's a time for dialogue.

Next, your evaluations must be regular and based upon mutually agreed-upon criteria. Regular means yearly in most cases, perhaps twice yearly for new people or staff that are having difficulties. It is also important to establish the criteria upon which the evaluation is based. Typically, an evaluation covers two broad areas:

Key results for that individual and his or her job

General professional qualities and characteristics

Key results for a media relations person, for example, might be:

Increase number of feature articles in The Oregonian from X to Y during the next 12 months

Complete a media tour of West Coast editors with the president of the college

Revise the media expert database

For an alumni officer some key results might be:

Increase the average annual fund contribution from X to Y

Update the alumni database

Increase the number of alumni who attend homecoming from X to Y

Of course, these key results must be clearly delineated and customized for the individual and her or his job. Under general professional qualities and characteristics people are often evaluated, using a five-point Likert scale, on such things as:

Has a positive, supportive attitude

Communicates well

Displays initiative

Is committed to quality

Is committed to service

Has engaged in professional development

The first part of the evaluation focuses on individual accomplishments, while the second is interested in whether or not this individual is a contributing member of the larger team and is growing professionally. Both parts of the evaluation are critical.

Now that the evaluation is over, it's still not over. You need to decide your next step. For your best employees, the evaluation should conclude with two elements--first, a formal professional development plan that captures their imagination and contributes to their growth; and second, a reward.

A quick phone survey of friends and colleagues at colleges and universities revealed that none of them had a formal professional development plan in place. This is a tremendous missed opportunity. Valued employees need to know that they are, well, valued. This involves creating a career path and a means to get there.

And then there is the issue of compensation. Smith, of Slippery Rock, says that increased compensation is the evidence of the evaluation. A great review with no reward is actually destructive and serves to undermine performance. But, while Smith speaks of compensation, there are other rewards you can offer including:

Promotion (with a salary increase)

Increased autonomy

Increased authority

The chance to attend a conference or seminar as part of professional development

Increased access to resources (a new computer for a designer)

While these other rewards are helpful, eventually, especially if the person continues to perform well, that person will want cash. If you can't provide the cash, eventually they may leave or quit contributing. Ironically, we often pay new people, it seems, more than we pay existing people who have the same abilities and already know how to work within the system.

For employees that are languishing or working below par, you must pull alongside so you can more carefully diagnose the problem so that corrective action can be taken. This might include training, assigning a mentor, modifying the scope of work, changing positions, or even lightening the work load. If you do not offer some sort of support or remedy, there is little likelihood that the next evaluation will be any better.

For poorly performing employees, the result of the evaluation should be termination, or at the very least, probation. We often mistakenly believe that it is kinder to retain employees that are ill-equipped or in over their heads. Usually this is a mistake. Not only does it send a dangerous signal to other employees, but it actually does the individual a disservice. In most cases they know they are ill-equipped. Rather than delay the inevitable, step up and be kind, fair, and decisive. Everyone will breathe easier.

Nearly 20 years ago I worked in the office of public affairs at Denison University (Ohio). My boss, Stewart Bradford Dyke, hated formal evaluations. He preferred conversations, sometimes constant conversations. But they seldom had any sting. He tended to focus on two questions: Is this the best you can do? And if it's not, why not? The result was better performance and lifelong lessons.

Bob Servier is a senior VP of Stamats Communicatios (

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