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Marketing: Dear Mr. President

A short letter from your chief marketing officer.
University Business, May 2006

Dear Mr. President:

I have wanted to write this letter to you for quite some time because there is much I want to share with you about how we can make our marketing efforts more effective. After you have had a chance to read these pages, I welcome an opportunity to respond to any questions or observations you might have.

First, while I am the marketing champion, you are the sponsor. In other words, you create the climate in which my team and I must work. As president, the signals you send to others, particularly the senior staff, will have a significant impact on how Marketing is perceived. If our efforts receive only lip service from you, they will only receive lip service from others.

Please take the time to ask the question "Why?" before you act. Your decisions will be better and your staff affirmed.

To help legitimize the marketing function on campus and to help it gain the momentum it needs, it is important that you, as sponsor:

Visibly and continually commit power and prestige to marketing efforts.

Convey that marketing is an institution-wide commitment/responsibility.

Clear away organizational and policy roadblocks.

Insist on shared goals and resources among executives and their staffs.

Go toe-to-toe with recalcitrant administrators who adopt a wait-and-see attitude, and administrators who are hostile to the idea of marketing.

For me to be an effective champion, you must be an effective sponsor.

Next, I need to understand your vision for marketing. As you know, marketing is subject to multiple interpretations. For some it is simply promotion. For others, it involves issues related to product, price, and place. Before I can begin to develop our marketing strategy, I need to know what you have in mind when you say "marketing." Help me answer this statement: "We need marketing to help this institution ___."

Do you want marketing to help you build a brand? Support a capital campaign? Increase retention? Improve awareness? Answer this question and we can get to work.

Third, recognize that marketing is not a person or a department, but an institution-wide commitment. Later I will bring up the idea of integration, but for now let me say this: For us to be successful, everyone on campus must have a heart for marketing.

It is important to keep in mind, too, that the American Marketing Association (AMA) defines integrated marketing as an organizational function for creating, communicating, and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization. This is a profound insight. In particular, note the idea of value. Everything we do as an institution must be valued by our external and internal target audiences.

Fourth, marketing is about differentiation. I just explored the AMA's new definition of marketing. Now let me give you a definition of strategy. Strategy involves differentiating yourself from your competitors in ways that target audiences value. In other words, it is not about doing it better. It is definitely not about doing more. It is about doing it different. And when every college in the country describes itself as friendly, caring, and supportive, and when every college has great faculty and great facilities, true differentiation becomes critically important.

Let me digress a bit. Sometimes marketing is used to promote academic programs and activities that are often not spectacular. The net result is that more people become familiar with mediocre programs. But imagine what could happen if we used marketing research to gather audience preferences about what programs to offer, and when, and how?

Fifth, you must be willing to make tough decisions. As president, it is your job to decide when the senior team is at an impasse, and a lot of marketing decisions sooner or later arrive at that point. Here are some questions that you will likely need to decide for us:

What singular thing does the institution want to be known for?

Who are the institution's top five target audiences?

What is the institution's singular point of differentiation?

Debate on these issues is healthy and important. But undue debate can delay and deny. In addition, there is never enough time, nor enough money, to do everything we want. Making these decisions will help us prioritize and will help us focus.

Sixth, we need to finalize the marketing budget. I know we talked dollars when you put me in this position, but we never came to a conclusion on the dollars that were available to fund our marketing efforts. Before I can proceed, I need to know how much money I have to spend. In most cases, my budget will come from two sources. First, new dollars (generally a smaller percentage), and second, reallocated existing dollars (the larger percentage). Because these reallocated dollars are, well, reallocated, this conversation will likely involve the CFO and the senior team. Again, I will need your political support to make this happen, because tough decisions will need to be made.

Seventh, please don't saddle me with a large, politically correct marketing committee sprinkled with people who don't like marketing, don't think we need marketing, or are interested in derailing the process. Our efforts will fail if I am forced to work with a committee that second-guesses every decision or is unable to come to a decision at all.

Strategy is not about doing it better or doing it more. It is about doing it different.

Instead of a marketing committee, I need a marketing team. Team members, by definition, understand their roles, support each other, and are willing to work toward a common goal. I realize you may already have a large marketing committee in place. If so, let's transition that body to a marketing advisory group that meets regularly with the team to offer input but does not have any decision-making or oversight role.

Eighth, let me gather the data I need to do the job. Not only will data give us valuable perspective and help us identify legitimate opportunities for differentiation, but it will help provide a solid, and defendable, foundation for decision-making. And remember, more important than a single, comprehensive study is a set of small studies repeated more often. This kind of research cycle will help us to keep a finger on the pulse of the marketplace and help us to determine whether or not we are making progress toward our goals.

We need to strive for integration at all levels. At the very least, there needs to be integration between the strategic plan and our marketing efforts. We also need shared goals and accountability among the members of the senior team, especially those team members that oversee the five A's:






And don't forget to integrate middle managers. If they do not understand the marketing goals, and have not identified their role in achieving those goals, then integration and ultimately effectiveness will be compromised.

Let's take the time to develop a written integrated marketing plan. A written plan not only helps legitimize the activity to the campus community, but also provides structure that will help assure its success. In particular, we need a plan that includes prioritized goals, audiences, actions by individuals, budgets, timelines and calendars, and evaluation mechanisms. If we are not willing to take the time to write a plan, then we are likely not that serious about marketing.

This next one is a bit sensitive, so please bear with me. Recently, I heard you say that you didn't like the color of the viewbook cover and wanted it changed. While you certainly have the power to authorize that change, I encourage you to explore the rationale for the color that was chosen. When you unilaterally make changes without listening to your staff, you undermine them and their work. Of course, it is your call, but please take the time to ask the question "Why?" before you act. Not only will your decisions be better, but your staff will be affirmed.

Finally, give me the authority to do my job. Let me say "no" when someone wants to do something that is counter to our overall strategy. Let me make decisions on tactics after the strategy has been approved. Let me prioritize activities when dollars get tight. Let me use research to evaluate our progress and refine tactics. And perhaps most importantly, let me discontinue activities that simply have no value. In other words, let me do the job you hired me for.

Well, that's it. I look forward to your responses to my requests, observations, and suggestions.

Best regards,


Note: July's Marketing column will feature the president's response to this letter.

Robert Sevier is a senior VP at Stamats Communications, and is the author of Building a Brand That Matters: Helping Colleges and Universities Capitalize on the Four Essential Elements of a Block-Buster Brand, available from www

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