4 Organizational Challenges Impeding Content Effectiveness

Look beyond the line to drive real marketing results and elevate team culture.

3 minutes
By: Alicia Auhagen

You’ve tweaked your institution’s core messaging. Refreshed your brand identity. Refined your student personas. But you’re still not seeing the revenue-driving results you’re looking for.

What gives?

When higher ed marketing content isn’t performing as expected, it’s natural to gravitate toward examining the content itself.

Although this type of analysis is useful in certain contexts, you must recognize that sound strategies and strong creative can’t perform their best with the following four organizational challenges in the way.

1. Too Many Reviewers

Getting buy-in from stakeholders can increase their support of and investment in your team’s work. When your marcomm team is facing intense pressure from enrollment leaders and the executive cabinet to make the class, it’s common to think that getting more eyes on your creative might get you closer to hitting your enrollment targets.

But too many reviewers, particularly internally, often leads to conflicting, subjective feedback that dilutes the piece’s overall message. 

Content and creative teams get caught in the middle, spending more time negotiating feedback than advancing the effectiveness of the work. The resulting creative is at risk of becoming a collage of everyone’s favorite differentiators rather than a focused message with a clear call to action.

2. Project-based Work Culture

If you can’t remember the last time your marcomm department said no to a project request, you might have a project-based work culture. Centralized and decentralized in-house marketing teams can find themselves in this situation regardless of team size. Numerous scenarios can cause this.

  • The role of the marcomm team isn’t clearly defined and communicated with the departments served.
  • Boundaries aren’t set and enforced with campus partners.
  • Processes aren’t in place to vet project requests strategically against the marcomm team’s goals and capacity. 

With an endless tide of projects flowing in, critical strategy discussions and debriefs become rushed and tactics-oriented—if they happen at all. 

Visual and content teams are left with no time to evaluate their work or reset, let alone perform at their best. Unchecked project-based cultures strain entire higher ed marcomm teams strategically and creatively, leading to burnout.

3. Hierarchy-driven Decision-making

Strong senior leadership is essential for setting the vision of a university’s marcomm office and building high-level strategies to achieve department goals. However, the bureaucratic and political nature of higher ed can foster hierarchy-driven environments across the university system, even in less expected places like the marketing team. 

Input from marketing leadership is critical on high-impact projects, such as recruitment campaigns, to maintain alignment with the goals of the work. However, feedback should inspire discussion and consideration with creative teams. 

If senior leaders pull rank to make line-level revisions to creative without strategic rationale, best practices in higher ed marketing can get sacrificed.  When writers and designers expect extensive subjective feedback from their leadership team, they begin to produce work that reflects the preferences of those leaders instead of their prospective student audience. 

4. Siloed Channel Ownership

Siloed channel ownership puts up barriers to content distribution. This is especially detrimental in higher ed marcomm teams that aren’t held accountable for active cross-collaboration. Such silos allow territorial power centers to develop. 

When content isn’t distributed across channels, teams can’t reach audiences where they are. Nor can the teams measure the impact of their efforts or make strategic adjustments to their approaches.

The ability to prove the impact and effectiveness of marcomm efforts is more important than ever as universities compete with smaller budgets and increased scrutiny for a shrinking number of students. Working cross-functionally is in the best interest of the entire marcomm team.

Discussing the implications of process and culture on content effectiveness can be uncomfortable because it requires higher ed marcomm teams to take a microscope to the status quo. 

It also requires everyone to be honest about what is and isn’t working. Teams who follow these guidelines are better positioned to retain top talent, drive real results and adapt to a rapidly changing higher education landscape.

Alicia Auhagen

Alicia Auhagen


Alicia Auhagen is a freelance content strategist and copywriter for higher ed, nonprofits and marketing agencies. She founded her business in 2022 after 10 years as an in-house higher ed marketer, where she led messaging strategy for award-winning campaigns, developed talented teams of student workers and championed cultural change.

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