Missing in action: Why higher ed. marketers should be involved in strategic planning.

It happens every three to five years: Convening, consulting and compromising. Discovering, debating, and devising. There are check-ins, updates, and implementations. And every time, majorly important stakeholders are absent for it all: your higher ed. institution’s strategic planning.

Marketing and communications are your neglected stakeholders left in the silos, often being invited too late to the party; there’s no food left and the crowd’s already headed to the next bar. After all, the strategy-defining meetings conclude and the direction has been set, they’re handed a very important message to communicate — having had very little say in crafting it. 

If it sounds like a costly mistake, it is. Luckily, it’s one you can easily avoid. When you do, you’ll find that involving more people in the beginning actually makes everything more efficient, more cost-effective, and more impactful than if you would have gone it alone. You’ll uncover a strategic plan that passes muster with your donors, energizes your student body, and secures buy-in from even your most staunch naysayers.

Knocking the silos down to involve your marketing and communications from ‘Go!’ is one of the smartest things your higher ed. institution can do. Let them show you how to go further together.

Top 4 benefits of giving marketing a seat at the higher ed. strategic planning table. 

Now, you might think that adding more people to the process would make the proceedings even more cumbersome. Not so. By involving your friends from marketing, communications, and your creative agency to be there for kickoff, you actually save time, money, and energy. Let us explain.

  1. Eliminate duplicative discovery sessions. Arguably one of the most exhaustive (and expensive) pieces of your strategic planning are the discovery sessions. These early consultations set the groundwork for the entire process. When you involve your marketing, communications, and creative agency from the outset, you don’t need  secondary discovery sessions. One is mercifully sufficient.
  2. Cut down on meetings and check-ins. Think about it: If your marketing team and creative agency partner are checking in with the consultant writing your strategic plan, they can verify that they’re all on the same page, sooner. That, and when everyone is dedicated to the process at the same time it slashes the need to find separate times to meet up and catch up. This brings us to…
  3. Reduce stakeholder fatigue. Everyone is being pulled in a different direction, and the strategic planning process is intense. With all stakeholders involved from the beginning, there’s less of a need to fill in this department here and get an answer there. Trim down the number of meetings, calls, and check-ins and your stakeholders get less burnt out.
  4. Streamline who’s needed where. Sometimes you just need help to simultaneously simplify and enhance your process. A creative partner can do just that. The right creative agency can define the best opportunities for communications and marketing to be part of. They can guide the agenda to maximize productivity, or guide discussions to bring the most salient insights to the surface. That’s a lot less for any one of your stakeholders to figure out — and it’s far more potent. 

Fewer meetings. Fewer back-and-forths. Everyone is on the same page, earlier on in the story. No re-hashing, repeating or re-evaluating necessary. That alone is worth an investment. 

Let your higher ed. institution’s marketing and communications pros sell your vision.

Marketing plays an invaluable role in ensuring your institution’s strategic plan is communicated effectively. But they can’t do that if they’re not in the room where it happens. 

Behind those closed doors is talk about the state of your institution; current challenges, opportunities, and goals. Nuanced discussions influence the outcomes of some of the most important messages you’ll want your institution to deliver. 

But if your marketing and communications professionals aren’t there to know the context behind those messages, you’re operating at a disadvantage. 

After all, it makes sense to have the experts in communication, PR, donor relations, and marketing to point out when a message needs tweaking. When something doesn’t match with your brand’s tenets or purpose statement. Or, suggesting the right language to use to avoid a messaging mistake.

These people know how to do that because that’s what your institution hired them to do. Along with your creative agency, they already elevated what your brand was all about — beliefs and values that everyone has gotten behind

Your marketing team needs to be able to promote a story on which they can deliver and your strategic plan outlines what that story is. For your marketing and communication teams, understanding what went into the strategic planning process is vital in order to effectively communicate those promises.

Your higher ed. institution’s brand and strategy are tied together. Keep it that way.

There’s an inextricable link between your institution’s strategic direction and its marketing. Or, at least, there should be. Because just as an institution’s brand needs to be built around its strategy and core tenets, your strategy needs to effectively reflect those core tenets. Otherwise, what do you stand for?

If you devise a strategic plan that veers from your established tenets, you’re not only going to have a harder time convincing the skeptics of your plan. You’re going to leave out or misrepresent the pillars of your institution’s guiding principles — and that will not go unnoticed.

Your students, faculty, staff, and donors have all gotten behind your brand. So they’re likely to notice if your strategic plan isn’t reflective of the brand they’ve rallied behind. To reveal a strategic plan that doesn’t match up with your brand would be disheartening at best, and a sign to prospective students (and their parents) that you don’t practice what you preach.

Your marketing and communications teams have the tools to keep your strategic plan within the guardrails of your brand’s established story. It’s that strategic plan, along with your brand, that your prospective donors, faculty, and students will audit to help them decide if your institution is the right one. You can’t afford for your strategic plan and your brand story to look like strangers. 

The strategic planning process is a high-stakes journey. Don’t go it alone. Let us walk the path with you.

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