July 20

Take Your Voice Back: Being a Change Agent in Higher Ed Marketing


by | Jul 20, 2023 | Featured, Podcast, Teams

Perhaps being a change agent isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think of our jobs. But I think higher ed marketers have more to offer their schools than merely completing marketing job requests. 

Often, there is also the idea that marketers are only here to work in the strict boundaries of marketing, and no more. 

Higher ed marketers often get so caught up in promotion that they take a backseat in developing the other core components of their school’s brand. 

Carrie Phillips encourages enrollment marketers to think bigger and become change agents in their schools, not just marketing order-takers. But as Carrie Phillips, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at the University of Arkansas – Little Rock, pointed out in our conversation with her on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, marketers have the power to be change agents for their schools.

And, as the enrollment cliff approaches, they’re going to need all the leverage they can muster.

By building relationships with other departments and personalizing mission-fit content, marketing teams can take their voices back and elevate their institution’s brand.

Marketing: The Missing Piece in the Conversation

There is a lot of talk out there now in higher education about the looming enrollment cliff.

Most of the time we hear about it only from an enrollment perspective. 

In our conversation with Carrie, she shared some of the ways higher ed marketers can be effective for their institution to combat the upcoming enrollment challenges.

I actually first heard of the “enrollment cliff” at an enrollment management conference. So I started asking my counterparts in marketing, “Is this something you’re talking about?”

We weren’t talking about it as a profession as much as we probably should have been. 

That’s really where my passion for this topic came into place. For my dissertation, I really wanted to talk about that. I wanted to understand what marketing officers were doing, and how they were preparing for the enrollment cliff, because I don’t think it was an area of focus. 

A lot of the data says that 11% of regional public universities could be facing closure as part of this enrollment cliff. I visited with CMO’s across the southeast, and I learned lots of things. 

I learned that we’re all struggling and trying to figure out where we go from here.

As a result of her dissertation studies, Carrie came away with a conviction that higher ed marketers are uniquely poised to help their education brands survive the enrollment cliff. 

How Marketing Can Help Combat the Enrollment Cliff

In her work, Carrie has identified several ways higher ed marketers can tackle the problem of the enrollment cliff: personalization, recruiting mission-fit students, and being institutional change agents.

I’ve identified three or four key ways [marketers] could [combat the enrollment cliff]. One big one is that idea of personalization in enrollment marketing—making sure that the student feels that every conversation is directly with them and is about the things they’re interested in. 

Also, it’s so important that we focus on this idea of “mission fit.” We aren’t in a place anymore that we can be all things to all people. We’ve got to focus on the students that culturally fit our institutions. 

And then the other piece that—and probably the piece that I love so much—is that marketers can really be a change agent. 

We work with so many people across the campus that we’re in this unique position to really take ownership and help be part of the solution. 


Whether it’s Generation Z or Alpha, or even millennials, we are so used to having concierge technology providing amazing, personal service for us. 

Think of how Amazon intuitively knows what kinds of items you might like based on your past purchases and browsing habits. 

Every time you’re checking out at an ecommerce site, they offer you suggestions for other items you might like. 

Unfortunately, higher ed is way behind on this idea of concierge service. We’re still sending out the same comm flows that were sent out fifteen to twenty years ago.

Personalization is more than just putting the name of the person and the emoji next to their name in the subject line. 

As Carrie points out, it doesn’t even take the most complicated technology out there to offer incredibly personalized service to your prospective students.

Sometimes we think personalization is challenging and difficult. We make it too hard on ourselves. 

All of the things that I’m going to talk about that we’ve [done in regards to personalization], I did without a CRM. Sometimes we have this preconceived notion that if we don’t have all of this big technology, [then we can’t personalize our comm flow]. But we can absolutely do this just by having a strong desire and putting in a little bit of elbow grease. 

One of the things that I did is we knew that students didn’t know what academic terminology was. [For example,] they didn’t know what a dean was. They didn’t know what a college within the university meant. We knew we needed to educate them about those things in a way that was meaningful and helpful. 

So we got each of our deans to come in and take a photo in a casual outfit to make them feel approachable. Then, we sent out to each prospective student a word of encouragement from their dean saying, “I’m here to help you. My door is open.” 

That was my first [experience] in the water of personalization. We tested the students afterwards, and they told us how much that card with that message from their dean meant. 

It wasn’t this big academic stuffy thing. It felt like that person was talking to them directly, that they were encouraging them and giving them that confidence they needed.

What It Means to Be a Change Agent

I’m skipping what Carrie had to say about identifying mission-fit students, but I want to land with this idea of being a change agent in your school.

Please take a listen to the podcast for all of the amazing content Carrie gave us!

If you have doubts about the potential you have as a marketer for greater influence and impact on your educational brand, please read what Carrie had to say.

Marketers work with the entire campus probably more so than anybody else does. That allows us to sometimes see when there are issues or see when there are opportunities. 

That’s how I identify this idea of a change agent as being the person that sees those moments, and then is able to bring the right people in the room (because we already have those relationships) and be able to get things done to help make it better for our students. 

A good example of that is at a prior institution we had a program that was on the viability concern list. When we started looking at all our RFI data, [we discovered that the program of concern] was the highest program in terms of RFI’s month after month. 

There was some sort of disconnect here [between the high interest in the program and the actual experience of the students]. 

We were able to get into the room with that department and get an understanding of what it was that we needed to help better market the program. It wasn’t that we weren’t getting the word out, it was because we weren’t articulating exactly how that program worked. So those folks weren’t having the kind of experience that they were looking for. 

Because we had the relationships [with the students and the various departments], we were able to get in the room and have a conversation to make something better for the end goal, which is those students.

Carrie’s experience here is a powerful illustration of how much higher ed marketers are necessary change agents for our schools.

Because of her relationship with the executive staff, she knew the program was an area of concern. She also had access to data from the students themselves. 

Then, knowing the department in question, she was able to get in and come up with a solution.

As a higher ed marketer, you are uniquely positioned to be the change agent your school needs right now.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Carrie Phillips to get even more insights into:

  • 3 key marketing tactics to avoid the enrollment cliff (5:46)
  • Addressing student needs through intentional listening (13:01)
  • How higher ed marketers can be change agents (16:57)

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The Enrollment Cliff Is Real

Explore strategies for tackling the enrollment cliff and finding mission-fit students with insights from Bart’s book, Chasing Mission Fit.