-
By: Megan Miller

An Inside Job? Five Questions You Need to Ask Before Breaking Up with Your Marketing Agency

In higher education, an increasing number of colleges and universities are working with agencies and consultants to set and execute their marketing strategy. If you’re thinking about bringing major marketing initiatives in-house, tread cautiously and be sure to ask these five questions.

Education Administration /
By: Megan Miller

5 minutes

In the higher education space, an increasing number of colleges and universities are working with agencies and consultants to set and execute their marketing strategy. If you’re a marketer at one of these universities, you’ve probably heard some version of this question from your senior leadership team “Why are we spending so much money outsourcing this work when we have a perfectly capable in-house team?” Budgets are a limited resource at most institutions, so it makes sense to take a critical look at how your marketing dollars are spent. However, deciding to make the move to internally manage your marketing campaigns has major, intangible costs associated with it; while leadership may be asking, “Can we afford to stay with this agency?” they should be asking, “Can we afford not to?” If you’re thinking about bringing major marketing initiatives in-house, tread cautiously and be sure to ask these five questions:

Do I Have a Clear Understanding of My Goals?

Every successful marketing strategy begins with clarity regarding what you’re setting out to achieve. So what is it that you’re hoping to accomplish by bringing your campaigns in-house? “Saving money” is not a sufficient answer here; dig deeper. If you’re currently using an agency for lead generation, is there an expectation that you can match or exceed what they’ve delivered? Is it realistic to set a goal of producing application numbers similar to those that an outside firm achieved? Are you satisfied with a reduced number of prospective students if the cost per acquisition drops? Does increased agility in your marketing make up for a potentially smaller inquiry pool? By clearly defining the goals of your marketing strategy, you can ensure that you have the ability to measure and track those goals in a way that can be translated into action and strategy.

Do I Have the Requisite Skill Set?

Regardless of what your mother might have told you in third grade, you cannot do everything. Marketing is multifaceted, and one of the things agencies do incredibly well is plug in the various components you need to execute and understand your campaigns. So think about what skills you’ll need if you take over. Do you have the requisite HTML and CSS experience to be able to configure your responsive emails and landing pages? Students won’t care about what you have to say if it’s not presented in an appealing and mobile-friendly manner. Is your marketing analytics acumen up to snuff? You’ll need to effectively report on the performance of your work in a way that enables you to make data-driven decisions.

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel wasn’t created with crayons from the discount bin at the drugstore. Similarly, your campaigns need the right tools to succeed; your prospect pool won’t tolerate you looking like an amateur.

Beyond the technical requirements, you should consider your ability to produce your marketing messages in-house. Can you rely on internal resources to effectively manage your social presence, including the production of high-quality graphic design? Schools may assume that anyone can direct these campaign elements with photo-editing software and the university’s Facebook password, but these are the moments when inexperience becomes obvious. Do you know where to go for your media and digital display buys? Your current agency has significant buying power in this realm, and they offer a deep understanding of retargeting, geofencing, and traditional media strategy. If you intend to bring this in-house, are you prepared to potentially pay more to maintain the status quo? It’s likely that the answer to at least one of these questions is “no.” And if you can’t match what your agency offers in terms of experience and skills, you’ll have to hire additional staff or contractors to keep up. That means added costs associated with recruiting and onboarding personnel as well as the salary and benefit expenses. Calculate the total cost accrued from hiring and/or training your team (or yourself) to fill the gaps that an agency leaves behind. Is it still worth it once you’ve done the math? You cannot expect to perform at the same level as an agency if you do not have the skill set that an agency boasts.

Seattle Pacific University
Seattle Pacific University

Do I Have the Right Tools for the Job?

Marketing technology is evolving rapidly, and your target audience is exposed to incredibly sophisticated automation every day from the very best in the industry. Students expect relevant, timely, personalized messaging. If you can’t deliver, they’ll take you off their lists. But you can’t deliver personalized messaging if your tools and technology aren’t up to speed. Take a good, hard look at your CRM. Can it manage the heavy load that campaigns of this size and scope require? It needs to accommodate the kinds of conditional logic, segmentation, and multichannel marketing that these campaigns require. How about your reporting software? Are you able to aggregate and display the metrics from your work in a way that your senior leadership team can easily digest? Can you slice and dice the data in ways that give you the insights you need? How do your systems work together? Is your integration configured in a way that offers your leads a smooth and seamless experience? The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel wasn’t created with crayons from the discount bin at the drugstore. Similarly, your campaigns need the right tools to succeed; your prospect pool won’t tolerate you looking like an amateur.

Do I Have the Buy-In I Need?

Let’s be honest; having your leadership team ask you to manage major campaigns may be intimidating, but it’s also flattering. When senior leadership considers bringing your marketing in-house, they are signaling that they trust you with a role essential to furthering and strengthening your university. What could be more affirming

You have other responsibilities and tasks that cannot be neglected. If you keep adding to your plate without re-prioritizing your other duties, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

But before you jump in full-steam ahead, ask those above you some important questions. Will they empower you to take the route that you feel is best for your marketing strategy, or will you be constrained by their ideas of how this initiative “should” look? Will you be able to pivot when needed, or will you be bogged down by bureaucracy when a change has to be made? Can you make recommendations that will be valued and respected, or are you expected to be merely a foot soldier who implements the commands of those above you? Make sure that you have full buy-in as your university’s marketing campaign manager, and verify that you won’t be jumping into this with one hand tied behind your back.

Seattle Pacific University
Seattle Pacific University

Do I Have the Time to Actually Do This?

Haha JK LOL none of us has time. You may laugh at this question, but it’s important to ask. You have other responsibilities and tasks that cannot be neglected. If you keep adding to your plate without re-prioritizing your other duties, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Take the time to be honest about how much of your schedule this new endeavor will demand, and make a thorough assessment of how you might be able to allocate that time. Can you delegate other essential tasks (or put some of your responsibilities on hold) without the quality of that work suffering? Are you able to dedicate the energy that’s required to succeed in this project, or will you end up burning out? Even if you have clear benchmarks, a robust skill set, the latest and greatest technology, and the wholehearted support of your key stakeholders, if you don’t have the bandwidth to actually execute, you’ll end up doing a massive disservice to yourself and your institution.


Taking your marketing campaigns in-house isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. There are significant factors to examine beyond just the dollar sign at the bottom of the most recent received invoice. Before you decide to go your own way, take a good, hard look at the implications and impact that this decision will have. Do you still feel like this is the right choice? Then go boldly in the direction of your higher education marketing dreams. But remember: sometimes, spending less ends up costing you more, and if you hope to see a solid ROI, you need to actually invest.

Megan Miller

Megan Miller

Director, Enrollment Communications

Megan Miller serves as Director of Enrollment Communications at Seattle Pacific University. At SPU, she oversees recruitment communications and marketing for all undergraduate and graduate programs, and she provides key oversight for the University’s utilization of CRM technology. She also serves on the leadership team for the eduWeb Digital Summit, a higher education digital marketing conference. You can find Megan on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of

Virtuous Marketing in Higher Education

Susquehanna University President Jonathan D. Green highlights the value of thoughtful marketing in higher education and shares the qualities he looks for when hiring marketing staff.

Education Administration /
By: Jonathan Green

Higher Ed Marketing is Really Tough, Or Maybe Not

To meet enrollment goals, marketing teams should insist on a seat at the table when presidents, chancellors, provosts, and deans plan programs. Maybe they should build the table.

Education Administration /
By: Robert Mattaliano

So You Want to Get Your Dean on Twitter…

It’s 2019, and many high-ranking higher ed administrators still aren’t on social media. Once you know what’s holding them back, it’s much easier to devise a plan of attack.

Education Administration /
By: Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey

Virtuous Marketing in Higher Education

Susquehanna University President Jonathan D. Green highlights the value of thoughtful marketing in higher education and shares the qualities he looks for when hiring marketing staff.

Education Administration /
By: Jonathan Green

Higher Ed Marketing is Really Tough, Or Maybe Not

To meet enrollment goals, marketing teams should insist on a seat at the table when presidents, chancellors, provosts, and deans plan programs. Maybe they should build the table.

Education Administration /
By: Robert Mattaliano

So You Want to Get Your Dean on Twitter…

It’s 2019, and many high-ranking higher ed administrators still aren’t on social media. Once you know what’s holding them back, it’s much easier to devise a plan of attack.

Education Administration /
By: Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey