Why Marcomm Should Be in the Cabinet

Because CMOs can’t effectively tell an institution’s story if they’re not involved in strategic planning.

By: The Higher Voltage Podcast
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As higher ed marketers, we’ve all heard from colleagues on our campuses that “We need to do a better job telling our story.” But the only way you can truly tell a story that is both distinct and authentic to your institution is if those responsible for storytelling understand all aspects of the institution, and that can only happen if they are are embedded in the strategic decision-making process. The best way to do that? Put CMOs on the presidential cabinet.

In the latest Higher Voltage, we talk to someone who understands this issue better than perhaps anyone else, because she has studied it extensively, and because she has lived it, as well.

Our Guest: 

  •  Angela Polec is the vice president of marketing & communications at LaSalle University, in Philadelphia. She earned her doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania, and she wrote her thesis on the role of the CMO in higher ed leadership. 

Our Host:

Heather Dotchel is the host of Higher Voltage. She is a Philadelphia-based higher ed marketing professional who most recently led two area colleges as their chief marketing officer

Here’s a preview of the conversation:

Read the complete transcript:

Heather Dotchel:
Hello, and welcome to this episode of Higher Voltage. Our podcast explores the ins and outs of higher education marketing and touches on all aspects of the business of higher education. Today’s topic is incredibly important for institutions to really hear, I mean, truly listen as it will be a determining factor in which colleges and universities survive and thrive in the near future. We are talking about marketing and communications seat at the leadership table and why it is imperative that our CMOs are equivalently titled and positioned partners. My name is Heather Dotchel. You have most recently encountered me leading the marketing and communications teams at two Philadelphia area colleges.

Heather Dotchel:
Before we get started, it’s important to note that we are brought to you by eCity Interactive. For more than 20 years, eCity has been creating marketing strategies, websites, and digital experiences for higher ed institutions large and small. Inspired by challenge and proven by results, eCity can help you solve the greatest challenges facing your institution today.

Heather Dotchel:
Thank you, Angela for coming on Higher Voltage today. I can’t wait to jump into this conversation and not just because I’ve been on both sides of it. Angela also known as Dr. Polec is the vice president of marketing and communications at La Salle University in Philadelphia. I invited her to Higher Voltage because there may be no one more qualified to discuss this topic, not only professionally, but also academically. Good afternoon, Angela.

Dr. Angela Polec:
Good afternoon, Heather. Thanks so much for having me.

Heather Dotchel:
Oh, it’s our pleasure. So let’s just get to it because really your career path and your academic path converge into this topic. So can you give us a brief synopsis of your professional career path and where your academic, your doctoral work fit into it?

Dr. Angela Polec:
Sure. So I didn’t start in higher education. I actually started my career in professional sports, working in the front office for the Philadelphia Flyers, and I kind of fell into higher education, like many of us do. I don’t think anyone necessarily grows up thinking they’re going to be a higher ed marketer, but somehow we land here. So I was really looking to get my master’s degree and didn’t maybe want to pay for that master’s degree, so I started looking in higher ed. I started my career at Temple University working in the advancement communications shop and I oversaw online marketing and the full digital presence for institutional advancement for alumni and development. From there, while I was at Temple under a new presidency, it was the first time that Temple University created a central marketing and communications team which still to this day kind of blows my mind that that was the first time.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So they created a central unit and in that unit I had the opportunity to step into the first director of marketing role for the whole university. So Temple, if you’re not familiar with Temple is a large public urban research institution, very decentralized culture traditionally. So we were really trying to create that centralized unit and get everyone to buy in on why they needed to come to the table. From Temple, I went on to Montgomery County Community College, which is right outside of Philadelphia, and I was the executive director of marketing and communications there. And it was at Montco, as we call it, that I really fell in love with higher education. I had the benefit of working with a number of colleagues in our president and our vice presidents there who were very open to me kind of stepping outside of my lane.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So I got very involved in our student success work, in the work with our iPASS grant and ended up co-chairing our strategic planning effort as well. So I think it was really my time at Montco that made me realize how much I loved higher ed and that I was going to be here to stay. So that and some encouragement from my colleagues at Montco really drove me to pursue my doctorate. So I applied and was lucky enough to get accepted to the University of Pennsylvania’s Executive Doctorate in Higher Education Management Program. It’s a cohort based model. It’s an accelerated program, two years, research intensive, full dissertation plus coursework in two years, cohort based.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So I started that journey and I realized very early in that journey that of my 24 person cohort, I was the only marketer or communicator in the room. And we had a lot of really in-depth conversations in that room. This is a program that has really been credited for a big professional development area for higher ed leaders and future higher ed leaders. So I really started thinking about, okay, well, if I’m the only marketing and communications person in the room, is this normal? So I went back through the alumni directory for the program and realized that I was probably only the second or third communications professional to go through that program.

Dr. Angela Polec:
And that had kind of got me thinking, okay, so if this is where the higher ed leaders of tomorrow are kind of coming for their doctorate degree and developing in these critical conversations … I mean, so much of that program is the cohort mat on and learning from each other. If a marketer or a communicator wasn’t in those conversations, no wonder when those individuals go back to their institutions, marketing and communications maybe isn’t a big factor. So that really kind of started my journey down to my dissertation. So I’ll jump into that in a moment. I’ve been at La Salle University here in Philadelphia for about a year and a half now, and here I’m the vice president of marketing and communications. And you’ll see how these two things collide in a moment.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So my dissertation research, I really started thinking about, okay, what does the role of the CMO … and I use CMO interchangeably with chief marketing officer, chief communications officer, but I’ll use CMO as kind of shorthand through this conversation. What does the role of CMO really look like in higher education? So as I was starting to formulate what my dissertation was going to be focused on, started thinking into that.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So I realized that the CMO was really one of the only C-suite roles in higher education that didn’t have its own body of literature. So typical CMO form, I started to get a little chip on my shoulder about that and said, “Wait a minute, why isn’t there a lot of research really thinking about the CMO in higher education?” So that was where I focused my dissertation study. So I started with what we know about CMOs and kind of where we’ve come over the last 10 to 15 years. And I’ll say it’s really been over the last 10 to 15 years that the CMO role has even emerged within our institutions.

Dr. Angela Polec:
We know thanks to some of the great studies that have been put out by SimpsonScarborough that about half of CMOs are now reporting directly to the president. That’s a big change over the last 10 years. Marketing and communications previously reported up through advancement was a very common reporting model, up through enrollment management, and now it’s just within probably the last five to seven years that we’re really starting to see on a wide scale these units come out from those divisions and get elevated directly to the president.

Heather Dotchel:
Within the last 10 years, I’ve been in departments that have reported to advancement, to the CFO, to the provost, to the president, back to advancement back to the president.

Dr. Angela Polec:
It’s true. And it’s like we’re on a merry-go-round. Every institution is doing the same exact thing. I’ve had the same experience in my career. So I really started to dig in on thinking about, okay, how is the CMO role defined at institutions? Are we starting to get some common definitions, some common structural organizations I’m really trying to understand like how are CMOs or I guess our CMOs affecting change on their campus. And if they’re effecting change, how are they doing that? Are there situational factors that are contributing to that? Is it behavioral things that are unique to certain CMOs in how they’re actually affecting change and how is that role then viewed by the other leaders on campus?

Dr. Angela Polec:
So my dissertation, my study looked at four private institutions, residential four year institutions. Two were medium size, mid-size and two were large. And I really did in-depth case studies, multiple case study where I did in-depth interviews with the CMO at each institution, the president, or the chancellor at each institution, and then other key vice presidents or vice chancellors. So the ones that I really focused on were the provost at each institution, enrollment management, and advancement. So I spoke to a number of people at all the institutions, but those were kind of the common set across. And then I dug into any number of documents, job descriptions, goals, org charts, whole nine yards to really try to figure out what was behind the scenes at any of these institutions and really what was happening.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So I think what we learned from the study was a few things. Number one, how the role is defined. There were definitely some common themes throughout. So I think first, identifying what the portfolio and the structure looks like for any CMO. So understanding what’s reporting up to them, is it a decentralized or centralized marketing and communications function at the university? Are there other marketing communicators on campus who don’t report up through the centralized function? So those were kind of the key differentiating points. And then it became really important to understand the origin and the evolution of the CMO role at that institution. So really understanding how did the CMO role come to be. If it was a CMO role that was reporting directly to the president or sitting on cabinet, whose idea was that? How did that really start? And then thinking about what are the areas within that organization that the CMO gets involved in kind of beyond their typical portfolio?

Dr. Angela Polec:
So there’s the typical role of marketing and communications scope of work. But then what I found is that the CMOs at these institutions really started to get their hands in everything. So they got involved in things beyond marking communications, which I think for many of us is something that we can relate to in that sense. So there were formal structural things that were impacting a CMO role at any given institution and impacting their ability to influence change at their institution. But then there were informal things.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So I kind of structured the findings in three areas. So thinking about a CMOs ability to affect change. First off was something called bureaucratic power, layman’s term; formal power structure. We’re all familiar with that. The second piece was something called network power or informal power structure. And then the third piece was transformational leadership. So out of these findings, it really became clear that CMOs needed to have both formal power, and I’ll talk about some drivers for formal power, and informal power in order to influence change at their institution.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So in the formal power category. So the two biggest drivers for the formal or bureaucratic power were their seat at the leadership table. Even if a CMO didn’t report directly to the president, their seat on cabinet was a big driver of their ability to affect change. And I think that’s really intuitive to most of us who have been in these roles of understanding that just being at the table and having a seat at the table can make a world of difference. So that was kind of driver number one for formal power. Driver number two was support from the top. So it was a big differentiator if the president or the chancellor of the institution was a believer in the strategic function of marketing and communications, and a believer in the fact that marketing and communications needed to be at the table for those strategy conversations.

Dr. Angela Polec:
I had one president say to me, “I needed my CMO to be completely informed and conversant in every aspect of the university’s operations.” That was a really powerful statement to hear from a president. They wanted their CMO at the table and to really understand everything that was happening at the institution. So I think the support from the top was really okay. So number one, is the president a believer? And then number two, is the president following up that belief and that support with actual resources, whether they be human and or financial resources to actually get the job done? So that was kind of the formal power structure and the things that were contributing to that formal power for our CMOs.

Dr. Angela Polec:
The informal power, the network power, there were four top contributors. So one was something called centrality. So think of this as their ability to be involved in any number of projects or happenings at the institution. So the more roads that had to come through marketing and communications to get something done, the better. Because what that centrality did was it gave the CMO the ability to be a connector and the ability to understand kind of the full interactions and operations of kind of the dynamics at the institution. So that CMO really getting involved in a wide variety of initiatives or projects or things that had to come through marking communications shop, that was a big component of centrality.

Dr. Angela Polec:
The second piece was their abilities and their successfulness in building relationships across campus. Again, something that I think is really intuitive to any of us that have been in this role, we know that relationships are our currency in higher ed. But those relationships, it’s kind of a staged approach. When you coupled the centrality of kind of processes and workflows having to come through marketing and communications, and then you layered on a CMO that had really strong relationships with constituents across the university, that then allowed the CMO to become a connector. And I think for many of us who are CMOs, that’s not a surprising term. We’ve been referred to as connectors. Michael Stoner, I think at one point had a really good quote about the CMO being well positioned to be the chief collaboration officer. And how many of us can relate to that and really understanding what that is.

Heather Dotchel:
I always like to say that a communications position is really about establishing relationships more than anything else.

Dr. Angela Polec:
Absolutely. Because you have to. Because you need to pull on those relationships. The third component was data and analytics. And I think that this is definitely a newer shift for CMOs in higher ed over the last five to seven years. And I honestly think this is part of what has driven the rise of the CMO to the leadership table at institutions, is their ability to bring data and analytics to the table to help make decisions. So when CMOs started advocating for brand research and actual data to understand our position in the marketplace, that was a game changer for CMOs kind of broadly across higher education.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So the data and analytics, what that did in those leadership conversations was really increased credibility. So we think about the CMOs seat at the table and who else is at the table. Oftentimes obviously the provost is typically coming up through the academic side of the house. At many institutions, much of the cabinet have doctorates. The CMO historically has been viewed as maybe the soft seat at the table. There’s a little bit of street cred happening there that there’s an issue with. And I’ll be honest, that was part of my driver for going to get my doctorate. I knew that if I wanted to sit at that leadership table, I needed to have that. Not just that credential, but that expertise and that understanding of higher education more broadly.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So the data and analytics really built the credibility. And then the last component of it was a transformational leadership style. So anyone that’s familiar with transactional versus transformational leadership style, the difference for transformational is really a leader’s ability to kind of identify a vision and tie the work that your team or any team is doing to that vision, and get everyone going toward a same goal and get them kind of rowing in the right direction, but have them understand why the work that they’re doing on the ground, if you will, is contributing to that ultimate goal and vision. So I think those were kind of the key findings of the study and just thinking about how that translates to our work as CMOs and how we approach our work and our role on our campuses.

Heather Dotchel:
Yeah. So for those of you who cannot see us, I was nodding along the whole time as Angela was speaking, because so much of it rings true. But to that street cred basis, if we don’t have the literature and the research telling us, showing what we know to be true is true, how do you share that in meaningful ways? So for then all of our MarCom colleagues who are listening to this, how do we take that knowledge, your research, and apply it? So in the time since your dissertation, as you’ve gained more broadening relationships and experience, as you’ve moved to La Salle and you’ve had positional changes there, how do you see, or how can we apply this knowledge to elevating MarCom in our positions, and how did you do it in your own roles?

Dr. Angela Polec:
Yeah, it’s a great question. So I think there’s a couple of kind of practical tips and maybe self assessments that we can all do on our current role or even on any future role. So as marketers are looking at a new role at an institution, and you’re trying to figure out, what’s the culture and is this role really going to be a well supportive role, some basic things to think about, whether it be in your current role or a future role. So first off, does the role have a seat at the table? So do you report directly to the president or chancellor, or do you sit on cabinet? And those two things don’t always have to come together. So you can sit on cabinet and not report directly to the president. And what I found is that just by sitting on cabinet, even if you don’t report directly to the president, that is enough to make the difference because you have that seat at the table.

Dr. Angela Polec:
The other piece is thinking about, has this role always been on cabinet or are you the first one to sit in this role on cabinet? And that was my situation at La Salle and part of what really interested me in this role. I stepped into this role right at the end of my doctoral program. So I just kind of wrapped up my dissertation and had everything submitted while I was interviewing. And the interesting piece about the role that I stepped into was it was an AVP role, but they were putting it on cabinet and reporting directly to the president. And it was the first time for the institution that that had been the case. Previously marketing and communications reported through advancement, at one point it was reporting through enrollment management and they actually had an external consultant come in and do an audit and decides, no, this position needs to be reporting to the president. And that was really what attracted me to it. So I think seat at the table is first and understanding the history of the role at that institution.

Dr. Angela Polec:
The second piece is support from the top. So is your president or chancellor a believer in the fact that marketing and communications needs to be a strategic partner instead of being a production line at the end of the process? Understanding, did they establish the CMO role or elevate it to the cabinet. That’s a good signifier. If your president is the one who actually decided this is going to be in addition to the cabinet, that’s a pretty good signifier that they get it and they understand the importance of the CMO being at the table.

Dr. Angela Polec:
The other piece you might not be able to know at the beginning of the role, but you’ll see once you get into the role is, do they actively and vocally voice their support to other leaders on campus about the importance of you being in strategic conversations? So if there’s an enrollment strategy conversation happening, is the president making sure that you’re in that conversation? Thinking about conversations that … especially for institutions that haven’t had the CMO role sitting at the cabinet table for long, oftentimes it’s not even intentional that they’re not including the CMO in a meeting or a conversation, they’re just not used to it and they didn’t think to. It’s just not something that they’re in the habit of doing. So I think having a president or a chancellor who is vocally supportive of you being at the table is really important because that model is for the rest of cabinet.

Dr. Angela Polec:
And then finally is that support followed by financial and human resources? And then saying, yes, you should be at the table, but then not giving you any staff or operational budget to actually accomplish any of your goals or objectives is maybe a little difficult. So really understanding that.

Dr. Angela Polec:
Second is when you’re in a role. So if you think about formal or bureaucratic power as the things that are kind of given to the CMO, for lack of a better term, there’re structural things, situational things, things that maybe you can’t necessarily control. There’s a whole other side of this equation in the informal power network power side that we as CMOs can develop this network power. So just because your role or you as an individual on your campus, if you don’t have this network power right now, hope is not lost. You can develop this network power. And what I saw in my case studies is that network power is often a really good place to start because the CMO can actually develop it.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So I had CMOs that developed that network power first. They maybe didn’t have the formal power, they weren’t sitting on cabinet, so they developed that network power. And because of that network power that they developed through how they interacted and how they approached their role, they then were elevated to cabinet, and then they got that formal power side of the equation. So I think it’s really important for CMOs, if you’re in a director position or an executive director position, or maybe a key position that is not sitting at the table, and you’re trying to turn the big ship of getting that seat at the table, there are things that you can do to, to help that process. So first, get involved. So definitely try to get involved in as many projects and initiatives across your campus as you possibly can. Well, pick strategic ones.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So if you can get involved in strategic planning, if you can get involved in retention and student success work, that is critically important and these are things that often times if an institution doesn’t have a cabinet level CMO, they don’t always think to include marketing and communications. So get involved and in my experience, I think maybe inserting yourself into some conversations and projects isn’t always the worst tactic, because then you can show your value once you’re there.

Dr. Angela Polec:
Second, I’d say definitely engage faculty. I think that’s something that marketers and communicators don’t do frequently enough on our campuses and really reaching out directly to faculty and engaging them in your work from the beginning. Sometimes our faculty colleagues can be most skeptical of our work. When we start throwing around words and treating students as consumers, they can maybe have a certain level of skepticism around that. So help them understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and bring them into the equation.

Dr. Angela Polec:
For me, I always found it really helpful if I was setting up a brand advisory council or a task force for a website redesign to not only make sure that I had faculty on those teams, but very specific about which faculty. So if I had faculty colleagues who were maybe critical of marketing and communications in the past, I wanted them at the table. Because if you’re going to be critical, great, but come help me solve the problem. So putting those individuals at the table and not shying away from that criticism or that conflict, but really bringing them in was important.

Dr. Angela Polec:
The third thing I think is building relationships. So not just with faculty, but across the university, really understanding and working with colleagues in building those relationships and becoming a trusted partner for them. And in my case studies and certainly in my career, I’ve seen this. If we as CMOs can go to our colleagues and say like, “What are your pain points? What are your business objectives in your unit that you’re trying to achieve?” And if we can really internalize those objectives and help our colleagues meet their goals, that’s how you build those relationships. That’s how you build that trust because then your colleagues start to see, okay, they’re actually trying to help me hit my bottom line numbers even if the perception is that marketing and communications isn’t on the hook for those bottom line numbers in the same way. But really take, not ownership, but a shared sense of responsibility for those goals and objectives.

Dr. Angela Polec:
Fourth, bring the data. So anytime that you can bring your own data or insightful data into a conversation, it’s going to help build that credibility with your colleagues. So really just whether it’d be anything from web analytics, to earned media, to how your advertising is performing, to funnel metrics. Whatever it is, bring that data and always anchor those conversations back to data.

Dr. Angela Polec:
Demonstrating impact is important. So if we’re measuring and we’re bringing data, we have to be able to celebrate those wins and kind of say, “Okay, we implemented this strategy and here’s how it worked.” And sometimes as communicators, I think we often forget to communicate our own successes, because we’re onto the next project. So I think it’s really important for us to make sure that we are connecting the dots for our colleagues, that you told me your business objective was X. We implemented this strategy and here are the outcomes from that strategy and just kind of closing the loop for them. And then that concept of transformational leadership of just helping, not only your team, but also the broader campus community really understand how the work that you’re doing in marketing and communications connects to the broader institutional goals and why it’s not just about the collateral or the brochure or the ad campaign that’s in market, but that it’s actually helping the university reach its strategic objectives. So I think those are kind of my practical tips. I know that’s a lot.

Heather Dotchel:
Love practical tips. So tell us about your experience being the first cabinet level CMO at La Salle.

Dr. Angela Polec:
Yeah. So I didn’t advocate for it quite honestly. I think it might have been an intention at the beginning, but I think it was more of a wait and see. It was definitely, I think, a trial run. It was the first time that they had the head of marketing and communications at the cabinet table. So it was like, okay, let’s see how this goes. And I think my colleagues and my president would say that they’ve realized very quickly, if they were hoping to have strategic value by having the CMO role at the cabinet table, I think that they’ve seen that come to fruition in a lot of ways. And I’m not someone who stays in my lane necessarily, so I’ve been lucky at La Salle that I walked into a cabinet who was ready to welcome me with open arms.

Dr. Angela Polec:
And I’ll tell you, for some of my CMOs in the case study, they didn’t walk into cabinets that were ready to welcome them with open arms. One of my CMOs in particular, first cabinet level vice president of communications at that institution, and they were dealing with a cabinet who maybe didn’t quite understand why there was a new seat at the cabinet table. So I think a lot of it too depends who’s around the table and what their view of the CMO role is. I’ve been so lucky at La Salle that my colleagues right out of the gate, they understood why I was there. They welcomed me into conversations that my role previously hadn’t been in. And I think I was tremendously lucky for that.

Heather Dotchel:
To circle back on your point about connectors. I mean, that really is a significant, significant part, especially if you’re not coming into a position that is sitting at the table yet. When I was at a former institution, I was there for that whole evolution, not necessarily in the CMO role, but when I came into the department, seeing how the marketing officer, the lane that that person had to stay in versus the time I left the institution and the lane that we were in at that time. And a huge part of that was building the connections across campus. Because once you extend those bridges where they’re just informational transaction, simple stuff like I want a bus tale. Let’s explain how much a bust tale costs. A bust tale costs how much? But we could take that money and put it there.

Heather Dotchel:
And just educating that we’re not just making flyers in word. There is significance here that they just don’t know just as we don’t know the nuances of their discipline. And once you build that, you do get asked a little bit more. So one of the key elevators was that position got asked to sit on academic council. If I could point to one of the few things that probably made the biggest difference in that position was that fully voting participatory role on academic council, because there were plenty of other service units there, but we were having peer-to-peer conversations that really affected the future of the institution.

Heather Dotchel:
And from there, you could ask to be on search committees and the search committee starts small. And the next thing you know you’re on search committees for the VPs, even though you’re not a VP. And even though technically your position probably normally wouldn’t sit on that, but now you are. And it snowballs. And then you get involved with student success or the DEI initiatives, because it’s good for them to have a comm person in their group. And it’s good for the comm person to be able to build their broadened knowledge.

Dr. Angela Polec:
Exactly. So both in the study and also just in my personal experience in my career, that shift from being, what I like to call the deli counter model. So kind of like the central, essentially FedEx or Kinko’s where anyone at the institution can come request a glossy brochure from your team and previously where the team would just turn around and make it, no questions asked. But now saying, “No, no, no, no, mm-mm (negative), tell me what your goals are and then I’m going to help you identify the right strategies to help you meet your goals.” And just that shift, it takes time in institutions, but you can get there.

Dr. Angela Polec:
I think your point about academic council, perfect opportunity. If we think about marketing in just strictest definition and we think about the four Ps of marketing; product, price, place, and promotion, so many of our colleagues on campus maybe have only thought about marketing and communications as that promotion P. But we should be involved in the product conversations, we should be involved in the pricing conversations, in the place conversations.

Dr. Angela Polec:
And very similar situation at Montgomery County Community College in the curriculum committee. So when I first got there I was getting all these things to approve from the curriculum committee. And it was, they would be from faculty saying, “Hey, my new program is going to the curriculum committee next week, can you approve the marketing plan?” And I’m like, “What marketing plan? Do you have budget for this? Can you tell me more of that? Tell me who your audience is.” And how many times have we asked that question about a program and the answer is, anyone who’s over 18, who’s interested in X.

Dr. Angela Polec:
Well, that’s not really a target audience. So let’s try to drill that down a little bit. And I was lucky at Montco to have a colleague who was provost who’s now president of that institution, who said, “Do you want an ex-officio seat on the curriculum committee, so that way you can catch these things before and you can ask some of these questions?” And that’s exactly what we did, and I’ve been lucky to continue that same model here at La Salle because I think it’s an important perspective in those conversations of thinking about it in the program development and how we’re positioned in the market and what our pricing strategy is going to be. Who are our true target audiences? It’s so, so incredible.

Dr. Angela Polec:
In my study, our CMOs also got involved and sometimes led things that were completely outside of their portfolio, so diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. And this is going five, 10 years back, a CMO who was actually leading that for our campus, a student experience initiative. Again, leading that for an entire campus, and I think that’s where that connector role that you were talking about of them building those relationships, that’s what it can spiral into. And once you have one of those instances where you have the CMO kind of filling into a role that isn’t typical for a CMO, you start to build that confidence and trust, and that’s how you really start to integrate the whole brand experience and the whole kick through the goal, if you will.

Heather Dotchel:
So let’s then move on to the future because at the beginning I teased and I absolutely believe it, that the embracing of the CMO position as a leadership one and one that sits on cabinet or executive councilor, whatever it’s called at your institution is going to be a difference maker. We’ve known that higher ed has some big issues coming forth with demographics, prospective student pools coming in and all of that. And then the pandemic hit, which accelerated all of those issues. One of the things that really makes me cringe is watching this is seeing marketing and comm positions and resources taken away. Because while it seems an easy short-term fix for some budgetary and resource shortfalls, it doesn’t serve the long term strategy of the institutions we’re at.

Heather Dotchel:
So that’s a whole nother barrel of monkeys right there and a whole nother podcast, but let’s examine how this particular bit, this elevation of marketing to a integrated, strategic vision, let’s project how that can affect the future for institutions because I do believe there are certain key points that will determine which schools make it and not within the next decade and probably sooner than that.

Dr. Angela Polec:
Yeah. I think that’s a great point. And just to hit on the piece about budgets being cut during this time. I think it’s the shift of viewing marketing from an expense to an investment. Again, I’ll loop that back to the CMOs responsibility to make sure that you are demonstrating impact because if your leadership or your board doesn’t believe that marketing is an investment and they’re instead viewing it as an expense that can be trimmed in tough times, you’re not doing a good enough job demonstrating the impact. So I think it all ties back together. I mean, I truly believe that it’s critical for institutions, especially in today’s marketplace, given the headwinds that we’re facing to be thinking about marketing and communications as a strategic function.

Dr. Angela Polec:
As an industry, we’re constantly having to answer the question, is college worth it? That question is not going away anytime soon. So as higher ed marketers, we’ve heard from our colleagues on our campuses, I’m sure every person tuning into this podcast has heard, we just need to do a better job telling our story. I mean, every CMO has heard that. So I’m a firm believer in the only way that you’re going to be able to do a better job in telling your story is if you truly know what that story is. And in order to really articulate and identify a story that’s unique and authentic to your institution, your CMO has to be a part of determining what that story is. You can’t come up with the strategy and then hand it over to your CMO to say, “Okay, go market and communicate this.” That’s not how it works. Unfortunately, that is how it works on so many campuses still.

Dr. Angela Polec:
And I think about at last year’s AMA Higher Ed Symposium, Terry Flannery during her keynote had one of my favorite lines, and it was one of her five new rules for higher ed leaders. And she said marketing strategy is institutional strategy. And that’s what this is all about. At the end of the day, those two things are not separate. They’re the same.

Heather Dotchel:
Say that one more time louder for the people in the back.

Dr. Angela Polec:
I mean, yes. Right. I mean, credit to Terry Flannery, but market marketing strategy is institutional strategy, which by the way, if you haven’t already … Terry’s book How to Market a University is coming out in January from Johns Hopkins University Press. So I highly recommend it. I had the honor of working with Terry as a research associate on that book. And I’ll tell you, for all of us higher ed marketers, you’re going to read that book and say, “Yes, preach please.” And then you’re going to want to give a copy of the book to your president, to your provost, to your board chair. So keep an eye out for that, for sure.

Heather Dotchel:
All right. Excellent. So we are recording this on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. I’m sure our listeners will hear it shortly after Thanksgiving, but what I want to know right now is where you are with Christmas music and decorations and all of the trappings of the season. Are you an early holiday bird or a Grinch?

Dr. Angela Polec:
Oh, I’m a total early bird. I mean, I would have had that stuff up in July. In fact, we actually did, because this year with COVID, since we were feeling a little cooped up, we actually did a Christmas in July in our household.

Heather Dotchel:
Very nice.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So I hopped on the shelf, made an appearance with a nice little … I know. I do what I can. They’re little kids, so it’s okay. But no, we’re fully decorated inside right now. We’ve spared our neighbors of the outside things, but our inside looks like a little bit of Santa’s workshop. If you picture an elf when Will Ferrell decorates the department store before he thinks Santa is coming, that’s borderline what we’re getting to in my house. But you know what, especially in 2020, anything that can bring a little bit of joy. We can’t do many of our normal holiday activities this year, so I’m all for the joy and Christmas spirit a little early.

Heather Dotchel:
I am with you 100%. We have been all Christmas music all the time for a couple of weeks now. And while we don’t have the Christmas decor up quite yet, I have a full-size movie replica leg lamp from A Christmas Story. And that has been blazing in my window for some time.

Dr. Angela Polec:
Well played.

Heather Dotchel:
Every night I turn it on I say, “And now for the glow of electric sex.” It’s like a routine.

Dr. Angela Polec:
So good. Awesome.

Heather Dotchel:
So Angela, where can our listeners find you if they’d like to pick your brain some more?

Dr. Angela Polec:
Yeah. So on Twitter, LinkedIn. On Twitter, I’m @angelapolec, A-N-G-E-L-A P-O-L-E-C. And on LinkedIn the same. So please reach out, love connecting with fellow higher ed marketers. We are all definitely a tribe and it’s good to have some good colleagues across the country to connect with and pick brains.

Heather Dotchel:
We are so grateful that Angela joined us today and we’re looking forward to more great conversations with higher ed thought leaders in the weeks and months to come. If you’d like to explore our topic further, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @hdotchel.

The Higher Voltage Podcast

The Higher Voltage Podcast

Higher Voltage is a periodic podcast covering all aspects of higher education marketing.

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