8: Building a Modern Higher Ed Marketing Team at University at Albany (SUNY) w/ Dr. Joseph Brennan

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Joseph Brennan, VP of Communications & Marketing and Clinical Professor of Business at The University at Albany, discusses how to hire, organize and structure your higher ed marketing department to fulfill current and future institutional enrollment goals.

Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix educationcoms playbook. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university. I'm Ericleson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with Dr Joseph Brennan, Vice President for Communications and marketing and clinical professor of business at the university at Albany. Joe, thanks so much for joining us today. You're welcome. Eric Joe and I met in person at Ama highered last year, I was wearing my bright orange helix shoes and joe stopped by to give me a compliment. So lesson for all you out there. Peak cocking works. On Joe Brennan. We're going to have a great conversation today about how to best restructure your marketing departments and the strategy behind that. But before we get into that, Joe, can you give the listeners a little bit better understanding of both the university at Albany and your role there? Thanks, charic. The university at Albany is one of the four big research universities in the State University of New York system. We have a little more than seventeen thousand students in our graduate undergraduate programs and my role is really to serve as the chief marketing officer, devising strategy, nurturing the...

...brand and leading a team of about twenty five people who deliver marketing services, digital communications and earned media. I also am engaged in sort of issues management and crisis response, so it's a pretty broad ranging portfolio and when I'm not in my day job I'm researching and teaching classes in our school of business. Awesome, awesome, Joe we talked about this before. Marketing and marketing departments are just fundamentally changing and continuing to change. About five years ago I saw many colleges and universities creating smaller digital marketing teams within their departments. And now, five years later, boy, who don't you put on the Digital Marketing World? Nearly all of marketings functions can be considered digital or at least overlap there. So where should one starts in making sure their team is properly organized for the current day reality of a modern, high read Marketing Department? You know, Eric, I think you're so right, and this is the question I'm hearing it asked with increasing urgency by my peers at all kinds of institutions, large and small, public and private. The field is is no doubt rapidly changing. Digital is underlying everything we do and, more important, the demands on marketing are bigger than ever. Marketing has to become strategic and proactive and move out of the role that we used to be cast in, which was largely tactical and reactive. People showed up on our doorstep and said I need a brochure and then they said I need a website. Yeah, today, they say, I need some social media, but that tactical and reactive model doesn't fully empower us to do what we need to do as strategic marketers. So where do you begin? You actually begin with an institutional strategic marketing plan, and the plan doesn't have to be forty pages in a binder. In fact, what it really needs to do is clearly articulate your institutions top...

...business goals. So enrollment growth, how big? What kind we're from? Could be those questions. What mixture of programs? What are your distinctive differentiators that will help position you in the marketplace? You need to clearly articulate institutional business goals. They may also include alumni engagement and philanthropy. And if you're a public you probably have some goals that are related to engaging your legislators and other elected officials. Then in your plan outline the marketing activities that will drive those institutional outcomes and then, of course, you know, outline the tactics and the schedule and so on and so forth. But the plan is the beginning, because your structure follows your strategy. It has to be informed by the strategy. So what's the next step? Second step in building the structure is to look at the positions that you will need in order to deliver the marketing activities that you promise in your plan. I always advise people start with a blank piece of paper and identify the positions and the skill sets necessary to deliver your strategic plan. First. Do that first, and then organize these in some logical way and then look at what you've got to work with in terms of people that are already there and see if you can match individual people into your ideal structure. And then it's a process of if you can't, you're going to have to lobby for the ability to create new positions. You may me may need to ask some people to leave or to accept radically different roles that they're going to have to get prepared to do. Is Little adjustment in this in this last phase as you switch from ideal to reality, but...

...that is essentially the process. Let me recap, do the institutional strategic plan first, then create the ideal structure and set of positions to deliver that plan and then match the reality of what you've got to work with into that chart and make some adjustments along the way. Joe, it's such good stuff. And I think you had on something really important that I dealt with when I was at university and in today's still deal with our university partners. Is a lot of folks on campus view marketing as just a service operations that they come to them with a problem in marketing just delivers them explicitly what they asked. The problem that you mentioned is that they come with the wrong problem. They say, I need a poster or I need a website where I need social media, and that's not what they need. They need to fill, you know, the butts and seats at their events. They need to fill the butts and seats in their classrooms. And so helping the department think of themselves more strategically and then and then helping to communicate that with the rest of the university is so important. So love those steps you you had one thing I really want to dig into now, because talk to me about how to decide whether to organize around the Unicorns you currently have on your team versus organizing around the functional needs of the department's moving forward. If there you those Unicorns were to leave. Well, this is difficult because decisions like this have a real impact on people's lives right and Eric. I think in my experience most new chief marketing officers who are struggling with this issue of the structuring have inherited something, and often what they've inherited is was either a structure and a set of skills that were built for the reality of twenty years ago or a really unplanned department that just sort of grew because, I don't know, times were good...

...and somebody gave the marketing people another position. Right. So I think the best advice I can give is you have to be disciplined to say the institutional goals come first, then the marketing functions that will drive those goals, then the skill sets and the structure that best supports that, and then you look at matching people to the work, and I recommend a couple of ways to go about that matching. One is to really explore with your staff what their strengths are. We've used strengths finder, strengths finder two, oh with I've used that twice on different campuses that I've been on as a way to give people insights into their unique strengths and talents. And I also recommend using a career conversation, which is a structured interview that you can do with your employee to help them articulate their unique strengths, talents and values and help them help you understand where they get the best satisfactions. It's often the case that you've got the right person but they're in the wrong chair. In that case that's just a sort of a realignment and that's okay. But sometimes you will have a more difficult problem that you've got the right person but the chair doesn't exist right you just don't need that function anymore. I hope. I hope to colleague get at a small private college last year go through this exercise and she found that she had a couple of people that were really doing things that the college the new strategic plan she created just honestly, they just didn't make sense. These functions were inherited and they might have made suns years back, but they were no longer necessary and so she eliminated those positions and we allocated those dollars to create some new and much needed capacity that didn't exist before till.

I love that. Help me understand what that looks like when your backfilling positions to so a person leaves. They were your email marketer, when you are looking to a refill that, let's say that function still needs to exist at your institution. You still deeply believe in email marketing. How do you hire for that position where that person can become broader than that, where that email marketer can progress into an engagement marker, they can progress into into running marketing automation for your team? How do you staff for the current day needs while making sure that they have broader talents than that and then they can grow with the industry and with your department? You know, Eric, and I know you know this from your time on campus, we tend to hire people who will come and stay higher. It is a relatively low turnover environment, right. So we have to think with an eye to ten or even twenty years out where somebody might go. Moreover, our field is changing so that everything is integrating, right. So I can't afford anymore to have someone who's an expert in just one channel. I want them to be able to be comfortable thinking multi channel. Right photography, for example, I don't think we're ever going to hire again someone one who is only a still photographer. Yeah, and need you can do photo, video, motion graphics. You know I need that, that whole package. I think the good news is that there are folks, especially the new generation coming out of college today, that are much more oriented to multi channel, you know. But you look for the capacity to learn, look for people who have shown over their career the ability to adapt and grow and then invest in their growth. The first thing I did when I got to you all many was asked my president for a budget to support professional development, and he gave that to me with no hesitation,...

...and and our staff here tell me all the time how much that means to them, because the field change is so rapidly. So, in a word, look for the capacity to learn and grow and look for actual experience in with people that have acquired new skill sets and evolved their roles. Awesome advice. See. You mentioned the field growing so rapidly. Are there any specific positions or specific functional responsibilities you think high red marking departments are currently underestimating or understating for Oh, absolutely, the first thing that comes to mind is research and data analysis. If we are going to really be first rate marketers, we have to be data informed, and data today is prolific. Right we leave in the era of big data, so we need people that know how to systematically gather up this data and, more importantly, get the story, get the strategy, get the insights out of it. Looking at numbers on a page is one thing, but really understanding the implications for action is quite another. So you know, if if I had one new position today, I would put it into research and data analysis. Awesome, it's awesome, great advice. All right, Joe. So let's say that we've identified the business goals of the departments, we've identified the marking strategies and necessary to complete those goals, and then we've identified those positions necessary to complete these strategies. How do you best go about communicating these new functional changes and, some cases, responsibility changes, with your current staff? Well, this can be difficult because these are real changes that affect people's lives. So I think as a good leader you always want to be transparent and you don't want things to be a surprise, big major changes to be a surprise for people. So I recommend involving your entire staff from the beginning in the development of the institutional strategic...

...plan. Now, that doesn't mean putting everybody around a table and saying, you know, help me do the marketing plan. I think it means talking to them about what a plan is, it's importance your role in fashioning the plan, soliciting their input along the way and letting them know early on that the plan is going to inform our priorities, including how we're organized and what skill sets we need to deliver the plant. So it's no surprise then with the once the plan has been developed and you've built the support of the president, provost another key senior officials, then bring it back to your staff and share it with them and reveal the structure and the positions that are necessary to deliver the plan. I think this is the only way that you that you can do this and not make it seem like it's arbitrary or that you're just favoring some and picking on others. I think. And if you have to deliver bad news or to people, do it privately and do it compassionately, but be firm. You know, high reads a funny place because our faculty culture has tenure. So you know faculty never leave right and I think that creeps over a little bit sometimes onto the staff side, that people kind of consume that you know, things will always be the way they are obviously not the case in the private sector, but in higher at it's a little different. So you got to be sensitive to that culture and, you know, stay firm, but but remain compassionate. For many of your staff it's actually a great opportunity, you know, and if you've had those career conversations and done the strengths finder and say hey, I from what I know about you, you're good at this or you're interested in this, and this is why I'm asking you to step into this chair in our orchestra. You know, it can be a very positive thing because all of us humans have an inner...

...need to learn and grow throughout our entire lifetime. And you know you're you're actually creating an opportunity for people to to try some new things, developed some new skills and gain some new satisfactions. Joe, it's such good stuff. Any final suggestions for I read leaders who are looking to reorganize their marking department at Their College University. Well, Eric, I'll tell you, this can be really hard work and it's a lonely job sometimes to be the chief marketing officer. You don't really have any other peers who who you can have frank conversations with because they don't really know your world right. You know, you may be really friendly with the PROOSTER, the VP of student affairs, they don't know exactly ins and outs. So I would recommend find somebody on the outside. It could be a trusted peer that you found through Ama, like we connected. It could be an agency partner or an independent consultant, but have someone who only talks to you and you only talk to them and you can lay this out and let them guide you through this process and give you the moral support and sometimes that it takes to make hard change in your organization. Such great stuff, Joe. Thank you so much for joining us today. Well, what's the best place for listeners to connect with you if they have any follow up questions? Eric, thank you for having me on and I would invite all of your listeners to connect with me on linked in, just to search my name, Joseph Brennan and Albany New York, and and then let me know in your invitation that you were a listener so that I can recognize you and I will happily connect. Awesome, Joe. Thanks against so much for joining us today. Thanks, Chark, this was great and good luck everybody out there and making those positive changes. You've been listening to...

...enrollment growth university, from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show and Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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