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Where Marketing Fits Into Your Institution’s Org Chart

by Rick Bailey
March 27, 2017

The following post is a condensed version of a white paper available at rhb.com/insights. To go more in-depth in assessing where marketing fits into your institution’s org chart, we invite you to read the full white paper here.

Over the past few years, the importance of marketing in higher ed has gained stature. While even discussing the notion of “marketing” on a college campus would have, at one point, caused diverted gazes and deafening silence, marketing now has become part of the conversation, earning a seat at the higher ed management table. Most institutions today are employing some aspects of marketing in their organization.

However, marketing is still the new kid on the higher ed block, so to speak, and evidence suggests that pinpointing where it belongs on a college campus is not so simple. In collaboration with The Lawlor Group, we recently conducted a study of independent college presidents regarding marketing challenges and practices on their campus. The responses demonstrated that most campuses believe marketing’s role to be promotional, and underutilized when it comes to the development of new programs, pricings models, or delivery methods that serve primary audiences. As a result, there is considerable discomfort about where exactly marketing belongs and to whom it reports to on campus.

Before we can decide where marketing belongs, it’s helpful to review some of the data we’ve garnered. Based on evidence gathered through our survey, we know that:

  • Only 44% of the colleges and universities in the survey employ a vice president for marketing; 29% have a director of marketing; 8% have a chief marketing officer; 8% have an associate VP of marketing; and 11% utilize another title for their marketing position.
  • 70% have a seat on the president’s cabinet; 60% have access to the board of trustees.
  • 57% of marketing officers carry responsibility for marketing and communications.
  • 25% of marketing officers carry responsibility for marketing and communications plus enrollment management.
  • 12% of marketing officers carry responsibility for marketing and communications plus advancement responsibilities.

This information suggests that marketing is trending toward more prominence and a stronger foothold on campus. Yet, there is still ambiguity about where it belongs in the organization, and where certain responsibilities lie. To dissolve the haziness, let’s review the common ways we’ve seen marketing housed on campus:

1. Marketing as a stand-alone department.

We advise that a college-wide marketing department with its own vice president or chief marketing officer is the best option for administrative structure. A primary reason for this is that a dedicated stand-alone marketing division signals to campus the essential role marketing has in your institution’s strategy for success. This will help stifle some of the resistance that some members of your campus may have toward marketing. The fact that a stand-alone division offers marketing a direct report to the president, if not the board as well, strengthens this role. For institutions intending to have a future, the strategic embrace of marketing isn’t an “if,” it’s a “when.” A stand-alone department helps accelerate that.

Of course, a significant level of commitment is required when creating a stand-alone marketing department. While many roles can be filled by experienced public relations officers or journalists, an adequately staffed department requires a broader array of players, ranging from market researchers and analysts, digital media experts and other creative types—all of which require a significant level of investment. However, for those able to see the big picture, the relationship of marketing to generating income through enrollment and advancement is quickly evident, allowing for your investment to generate valuable return.

2. Marketing paired with enrollment.

It makes sense for marketing to be paired with enrollment—after all, for many private institutions, tuition may be the primary source of annual revenue. Moreover, enrollment management involves interactions with the largest audiences, external and internal (recruitment and retention, respectively).

Still, it’s important to consider the possible drawbacks. As an example, recruitment efforts are essentially sales-driven (I know, I know—“sales” may be tough to swallow, but it’s true). And contrary to what some believe, sales and marketing are not quite the same. Housing your sales and marketing efforts under one roof could create an inaccurate conflation of the two, causing confusion on campus, with the result being that one aspect—sales or marketing—suffers at the expense of the other. Another drawback: alignment with enrollment means other departments like advancement, new program development or market analysis will take a backseat. This can cause tension if these departments feel neglected.

3. Marketing paired with advancement.

Though enrollment serves your biggest and broadest customers and audiences, advancement serves your true customers and audiences (alumni, donors, parents and more). Because success in advancement is so contingent on building and maintaining positive relationships, a marriage with marketing can be tremendously beneficial in communicating to these groups.

However, this marriage may muddle the true purpose of marketing in the eyes of the rest of campus. Marketing as the driving force behind communication efforts may lead others to erroneously perceive the two as “MarComm,” and rely on it as a promotional hub used to get the message “out there,” thereby limiting the role marketing can serve for the entire campus. Moreover, as mentioned prior, pairing marketing with one department may cause jealousy or in-fighting, particularly if enrollment is feeling underserved.

4. Marketing in a hybrid model.

While it might be an exception to the rule, a case can be made for structuring marketing in a hybridized way within the org chart. One of RHB’s clients, Concordia University-Irvine (CA), implemented a version of this that functions very well. While their marketing is centralized with communications and serves the entire campus, CUI’s Associate VP for Marketing and Communications, Rick Hardy, reports to the Chief Enrollment Officer. Their model is working as a hybrid of our recommended strategy and the option previously mentioned in pairing marketing with enrollment.

No matter how you choose to house marketing on your campus, it’s important to know the benefits and drawbacks of each option. While marketing may not be as high on your list of priorities, there are reasons why it’s imperative that you give marketing the proper attention and due (the white paper I wrote explores this important notion further). Securing a proper home for marketing on your campus, and utilizing it to its fullest extent, is a pivotal step in generating sufficient income and success for your sustainable future.


The following post is a condensed version of a white paper available at rhb.com/insights. To go more in-depth in assessing where marketing fits into your institution’s org chart, we invite you to read the full white paper here.

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