Securing Marketing’s Place at the Table: 3 Messages for Navigating Leadership Changes in Higher Education

The appointment of a new president or dean at an institution of higher education can create a cascade of changes. As a marketing team, your tasks during this time of change can be particularly difficult. Not only do you need to find effective strategies to communicate the new vision of the new leadership team, but you must try to do this without signaling instability to your constituent audiences. Many in your position understandably view these changes in leadership with skepticism and frustration.

Yet any challenge is also an opportunity. Higher education is no exception. A difficult classroom discussion is an opportunity for an intellectual breakthrough. A staffing shortage is a chance to attract new, vibrant talent. In marketing, the boundaries of your program create the identity that shapes your most effective messages.

It is the same with leadership changes. This period of transition represents your opportunity. The challenges of higher education in 2019 and beyond—identifying the core value of your programs and attracting and retaining students who fit—are challenges marketing understands and can approach productively.

A marketing team that makes itself an invaluable part of a successful transition period has the opportunity to forge a mutually beneficial relationship with executive decision makers. Communicating three core messages can form the foundation of just such an effort.

1. Continuity and Expertise

New leadership often means a new vision for the future and a new strategic plan. Yet, no matter the scope of the planned changes, the starting place is always found in the practicalities of the school’s current position.

As a marketing team, your department has one of the clearest pictures of the genuine opportunities and the biggest challenges facing your college or university. You know which marketing strategies work and, significantly, which ones don’t. Your institutional knowledge includes important realities about competing institutions, the kinds of students you currently attract, and which trends have staying power.

Your expertise can provide your new president or dean with the information needed to make positive changes for the future, projecting authentic continuity even as your core messages shift in new directions.

2. Relationships and Trust

Counter-intuitively, leadership is not always a top-down skill. Managing up begins when you build genuine relationships. It can be tempting to view new leadership through a problem-based lens. Yet consider the difference in relational potential between these two meetings. In the first, you absorb the details you need in order to create a new to-do list for your department. In the second, you avail yourself of that information while using the experience to connect relationally: what drives your dean? what does the new president most hope to accomplish?

As you move through the transition period, nurturing these relationships provides a foundation of trust which is then strengthened by performance. By anticipating needs, you can respond from your expertise to enable realistic decision making. As your school’s leadership comes to trust the presence of the marketing team in vision-casting conversations, you will gain the opportunity to exercise a productive leadership role for the marketing department during this period and in the future.

3. Communication and Results

You know your audiences. You know how to craft effective, directed messaging; that’s what makes you good at your job. In order to capitalize on change so that marketing has a greater voice moving forward, direct those skills toward communicating with college and university leadership teams.

It is especially important that you are able to communicate the results of your team’s efforts, the good and the bad. Be sure you are set up to capture data and then display it in accessible formats. Don’t just overwhelm this audience with numbers, though; provide interpretations of that data based on your experience and institutional knowledge.

Your team provides valuable insight into how well your institution is engaging its constituents during this transition period and beyond. When executive decisions are informed by marketing expertise, subsequent initiatives are more realistic and successful.

By making your institutional knowledge relevant early on, building relational trust, and normalizing good communication habits, you can create an essential new role for the marketing team.

Will you turn the latest leadership transition into an opportunity to realize your marketing vision? Reach out today to learn how we can help you make it happen.