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September 19

4 Considerations for Centralizing Marketing at Your School


Is centralizing marketing at your college or university the right move?

It’s an age-old question that surely keeps administrators of up-and-coming schools awake at night.

After all, centralized marketing is trending upward cross-industry. According to a 2020 survey of over 400 marketing professionals, 66 percent of marketing teams have adopted centralized marketing.

That is not to say that you should embrace centralized marketing. On the contrary, any number of schools may have valid reasons for having a decentralized marketing strategy.

For instance, the University of Alabama athletic department has an independent nine-person marketing team. But I would wager that your institution might not have one of the most powerful football dynasties in history.

Unlike the Crimson Tide, you may be sacrificing brand effectiveness for the sake of simplified governance if you’re spreading your marketing efforts across multiple siloes.

If you’re concerned that may be the case for your school, here are 4 reasons to consider centralizing marketing under one banner.

1. Centralizing Marketing Clears Vision

You may have heard the idiom “too many captains steering the ship.”

When establishing a marketing strategy, the ship is your school’s vision.

A decentralized marketing strategy can indeed allow different departments the flexibility to meet their marketing needs more efficiently.

However, the absence of a unified voice can cloud the big picture.

Ultimately, your marketing efforts’ goal should be to boost your school’s brand awareness. And yet, siloed teams risk losing sight of your leadership’s vision and taking up their own agendas.

Consider this excerpt from our conversation with Eleanor Berman, Chief Marketing Officer at Indiana University, on the Higher Ed Marketer podcast:

“With an organization as large and decentralized as IU, we do a great many things. And we have a great many stories to tell. But if we all are shouting at the top of our lungs, we’re just going to create noise.”

Eleanor and her team have articulated a strong message to keep everyone at IU on the same page. But, not every institution has the personnel – or leadership – in place to successfully navigate decentralized marketing.

If you believe your teams have lost sight of the prize, a centralized marketing approach could give them the clarity they’re missing.

2. Misplaced Promotion Won’t Diminish the Product

Every organization in the world with a marketing department is selling a product.

And your school’s product is your brand.

How powerful is branding?

When you think of your local Mom and Pop grocery store, you might wonder how much ground beef is or what items they have on sale that week.

But if you see a Trader Joe’s ad, it’s likely that positive tropes like “fun culture” or “unique selection” come to mind.

Through branding, Trader Joe’s has elevated itself from “just another grocery store” to an experience.

So, I think this bears repeating:

Whatever your marketing strategy, driving brand awareness must be top of mind.

And if you spend all your time trying to be a team player with the little things, your school’s brand will suffer.

In a decentralized marketing system, your silos may not have the resources readily available to fulfill their needs.

In that case, your marketing team risks being reduced to short-order cooks trying to complete an endless string of requests from different departments.

But by taking ownership of your institution’s mission with a centralized system, your team can evolve from tactical errand runners into a strategic force.

Ethan Braden, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Purdue University, echoed that sentiment on our podcast’s first episode:

“I urge all marketers in higher education to really step up and think about their contributions, how they can be the driver of really great brand proliferation versus the recipient of the orders of others.”

Ask yourself: For branding purposes, are your lead marketers a line of short-order cooks or the head chef?

By centralizing marketing, you can put the power of your branding message back where it belongs – in the capable hands of your marketing team.

3. A Seat at the C-Suite Table Projects Leadership

Marketing can often take a backseat to other departments, especially in smaller institutions.

For example, I’ve worked with several schools with a VP of Enrollment and Marketing or someone with a similar title.

That in itself is not a bad thing. It’s common for executives in start-ups or smaller organizations to wear multiple hats.

And a college or university with a decentralized marketing system may consciously choose to spread marketing responsibilities around at the cabinet level.

But as the popularity of centralizing marketing increases, so too does marketing representation in the executive club.

According to this 2021 study, 73 percent of marketing leads now have a spot in the President’s Cabinet at their schools. Higher learning institutions are finding that a Chief Marketing Officer who can influence and drive decision-making can significantly impact a marketing team’s credibility.

But as Teresa Flannery, author of How to Market a University, told us on our podcast, titles don’t matter as much as results:

“The most important thing is to find leaders who are willing to collaborate with each other and think about the integration across the functions, regardless of where marketing sits in that environment. If they can recognize the value of the work and be willing to work together, then the structure doesn’t matter quite as much.”

Perhaps your school’s hierarchy doesn’t warrant a CMO. But if you centralize your marketing strategy, ensure its leader’s voice is valued.

4. Efficiently Repurpose More Content

Who doesn’t like to squeeze a little extra juice out of marketing content?

But if your marketing is decentralized, all your departments have likely mothballed their old materials across multiple storage devices.

However, if all of your school’s content was under one roof, you could easily recycle or modify it to reach a wider audience!

Whether you’re tweaking last year’s blogs or translating something to a different medium (like transcribing a video), centralizing marketing can help you breathe new life into old material.

If the notion of pulling content out of a time capsule seems irrational for marketing purposes, I’d like you to scan this blog again from the top. Several quotes and blogs I’ve referenced are months old – some even predate 2022!

While centralized marketing isn’t essential for employing this tactic, it simplifies ease of access to school-wide content and expands your reach.

Centralizing Marketing with Purpose

Regardless of your school’s decision to centralize – or decentralize – marketing, what matters most is that your institution’s brand is protected.

And you can ensure its protection through purposeful collaboration with your marketing team.

If someone isn’t on the same page, then no one is.

Contact us today to learn more about how centralizing marketing can benefit your school!

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