We all know how important our annual marketing plans are. They help us
map out strategies, see the big picture, determine budgets, and set markers for
success. More importantly, they drive enrollment for your entire college which
in turn drives your budget.
So why is it that so many of us fail to get our yearly plans written
until just before the start of the Fall semester, and then scramble again to
implement them before it’s too late?
The professional answer: we’re incredibly busy. The not-so-professional answer:
shit happens. And when it does, planning for the future gives way to surviving
in the moment. After 30 years working in and with colleges, I’ve lived it, seen
it, and now, I expect it.
Don’t get me wrong, I know how incredibly good you are at this. If you
weren’t, you would have gone crazy or gone missing by now! But let me also tell
you this: Sh*t is going to happen. And while you can’t always keep it from
hitting the fan, you can be prepared.
By finishing the one thing you think can wait: Your marketing plan. Here’s why:
Time is of the
You know as well as I do, our colleges basically grind to a halt from
December to the beginning of spring semester. While this can be a nightmare when
you need approval for something, it also means you have a little extra
breathing room because people are away.
That’s why I always tell people that now is the time to get your annual
plan done. Use the “dead” time of winter break to your advantage. If you can’t
get it done by January, at least shoot for the end of February. Why?
Knowledge is Power
Getting your plan done early means you can anticipate the events that
will destroy them. I tell everyone to pull up last year’s calendar and look at
the of the “stuff” that happened that was not planned for and assume it’s going
to happen again. Wait, there’s a trustee dinner? An alumni event? A staff
team-building retreat that requires a harness?
The idea is that by building in these events, you’re prepared for them if
they happen and if they don’t, you’ve built in a little extra padding to deal
with the things that do.
Faculty Don’t Get It
(So Fix That)
Don’t get me wrong, I love faculty. My husband is a professor. I have a PhD in Communications. Academics are my people. But they’re also clueless when it comes to marketing. (Although they will tell you they know it all…)
One of the things about targeted marketing is that if we’re doing our
jobs right, professors will never see it. Why? Because we’re not recruiting
60-year-old baby boomers with MAs and PhDs. (Tell them that, they’ll laugh, and
Getting your plan done early means you have time to show stakeholders
what you’re planning and what you’re doing. Faculty aren’t the enemy, they’re
just knowledge addicts. So give them (and other high-maintenance stakeholders) the
knowledge they need so they understand the important work you’re doing.
Share your plan (it helps them understand your job!). Share your
messaging (particularly if you are bragging about your great faculty!) Solicit
input (and implement enough so they see you listened!) And show them how you’re using data to drive
decision making (they love that stuff!).
It’s Hard to Say No
This is true for desktop candy jars as it is for last minute requests
from administrators. One jelly bean isn’t going to blow up your waistline, but
who takes only one? “Small favors” are the same way.
But here’s the thing, any time you allow people to throw off your
campaign work you’re in trouble because you’re taking care of their needs over
the larger needs of the college. (Um, yeah, what you do is important!). Even
when it’s the president, it’s not right. But, as we all know, that doesn’t mean
you get to say no.
So, instead, be prepared so you can say yes. Get your marketing plan done
with all of its strategy, tactics and target marketing. Then, get your creative
messaging for the year done. That’s right! Frontload as much of your year’s
marketing collateral as possible.
Get the applied-not-enrolled campaign copy written; get the alumni day
flyers designed; get your enrollment pipeline messaging arc plotted out. Load it all into your implementation schedule
so you don’t have to do anything for it to roll. Give the media buyers all the
ads with the start and end dates (They love that!) Set up all the mailings with
the mailroom and email blasts with your email system… so they just GO!
Then, when something happens, you are still accomplishing your mission
critical work… while responding to the crisis du jour.
Speaking of important, go ahead and grab a handful of jelly beans while
you’re at it.
With your marketing plan done, you can actually get
started on the marketing. That’s why in the last section I suggested
frontloading your campaign collateral all at once. The reason this helps is
because creatives get bored easily. That’s why we love them. That, and their colorful
Creatives like to innovate and try new things, but that’s not necessarily a good thing when it comes to marketing campaigns where visual and linguistic consistency is key. Whether you’re branding yourself as a leader in career education, or leveraging your college’s unique “outdoorsy” vibe, this messaging will only stick if it is consistent over time.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laid out a year
of a college’s collateral and the only thing that holds everything together is
the logo. Little tweaks over a long period of time turn into big tweaks, even
Getting things done quickly and early is how you
avoid this. Strategizing and seeing everything all at once means you can make
sure that everything is adding up the way you want it to.
In the end, getting your marketing plan and campaign
collateral done early is about making it easier for you to go with the flow
because, as we in college marketing know, it doesn’t take much for that flow to
become a tsunami.
But next time it does, don’t worry. Just give us a
call. With over 20 years of experience working with community college marketing
departments just like yours, we’ve gotten pretty good at bailing water… and
eating jelly beans.