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How to Unite Your Independent School's Marketing and Development Offices
Meg Fowler Tripp, Director of Editorial Strategy at Sametz Blackstone Associates

Get tips for getting out of your departments' silos for collaboration that gets results in this guest blog by Sametz Blackstone Associates

In the corporate world, it’s well known that the marketing department and the sales department often don’t see eye-to-eye. Where marketers might aim for “softer” goals like brand awareness and engagement with some of their efforts, the sales team would prefer communications focus on making the sale.  

See also: Marketing vs. IT. Marketing vs. Risk and Compliance. Marketing vs. the Finance Department. They’re all part of the push and pull that arise from unique—and sometimes competing—priorities within the same organization.

You might not think the same types of ideological and functional walls exist in the academic universe, but there’s one divide that often emerges amongst school communicators: Marketing vs. Development. 

There are plenty of reasons these silos exist, but they can result in disconnected communications: different verbal and visual languages, different tone and affect, varying levels of quality, and overlapping or disparate pitches to the same audiences… some of whom likely wonder if the right hand is talking to the left. 

And that’s why it’s time to shake hands and make up.

Why do the silos exist—and how do they persist?

Different schools structure their communications teams in different ways. Some have one or two communicators who are responsible for everything, while others evolve departments along with their needs. If your school has separate teams or individuals who work in Marketing and Development, you know you can end up on different pages because of:

  • Priorities. While school communicators might have some audiences in common, the Development team is focused on a particular set of goals: attracting, and engaging with prospects, stewarding donors (parents, alumni, industry, and beyond), and keeping the pipeline of donated income alive. Marketers have some audiences in common, of course, but their job focuses on a different set of outcomes, including attracting prospective families and students, and fostering overall brand reputation and awareness.
  • Budgets. Both Marketing and Development contribute income to the school, but Development focuses on filling the gap between what the school earns in tuition revenues and what it costs to actually educate students and keep the school running. As such, they’re often given less in the way of actual resources to do what they do—and Marketing may not be inclined to share, given their own demands. This leads to competition for resources—and perhaps even a little resentment, to boot.
  • Collateral needs: Marketing and Admissions generally work hand in hand when it comes to developing their shared communications, both print (viewbooks, travel pieces, posters, postcards, admissions packets, etc.) and digital (web, social media, email marketing campaigns, etc.) The Development team may have some overlap in terms of audiences, but their purposes demand their own pieces (including often-pricey event collateral) and access to any shared platforms to post unique content. Collaboration becomes challenging when you’re focused on making only what you need, and staying on your own message.
  • Seasons: The Marketing/Admissions cycle is a very particular one, with ramp-ups around open houses and deadlines. The Development team is focused more on fiscal year-end, year-end giving, and alumni events, which have particular timing of their own.

With all of these complexities in play, it’s hard to focus on the Venn diagram overlap of what you’re trying to accomplish on a bigger level. But that overlap is probably bigger than you think.

St. Andrew' School in Delaware is a great example of how well the messages of giving and support come across when Marketing and Development work together to build a site experience that shares the school's story and engages donors and the community. 

st andrews support page

Punahou School's unique microsite for their campaign, Ku'u Punahou, lets visitors browse stories of giving, displays infographics and statistics in a visually appealing format, and engages visitors with video and calls to action, showing the potential of marketing and development working together for a common goal. 

What do Marketing and Development have in common?

If you take a 40,000 ft. view of your school’s communications, there’s a certain set of roles that show up in everyone’s purview (and not just the communicators, for that matter!):

  • Keepers of the brand: Anyone who communicates on behalf of a school for any purpose plays a role in building and sustaining that school’s brand. That includes the folks at the reception desk, an assistant coach on the football team who meets parents on game days, and a custodian who waves at kids on their way out to recess—and it especially includes the teams who write, post, and publish about the organization on any level. You’re responsible for making the specific and thoughtful choices that will (hopefully!) make your brand more resonant and indelible, in the ways you want your brand to be known and understood.
  • Storytellers: A school’s story is organic—it starts at a particular point with a particular set of circumstances, and grows daily from there in several directions. You can tell it from many different angles, with different levels of detail, for different purposes, but there’s always something new being added to it. Every communication you put out contributes as much to your story as it does to your brand—and it’s up to you to elevate the right voices, the right moments, the right endings and beginnings, and so on.
  • Recruiters: Families end up choosing schools for their children for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes it’s about legacy, sometimes it’s about the individual fit. Sometimes it’s about prestige, sometimes it’s about a unique program they can’t find anywhere else. Sometimes it’s about who went there before, and sometimes it’s about who is going there right now. Everyone who communicates about the school crosses paths with potential recommenders and potential family members of students—even if that’s not what the communication was supposed to be about.
  • Donor cultivators: Everyone who comes into contact with your school is a potential donor, from prospective families to an alumni of many years to a grandparent of a graduate to a corporate partner who hires (and values) your alumni. Every communicator should be conscious of conveying your impact on your students, on your families, and on the world.

If you’re all in this together, it makes sense to cooperate, and to have the important conversations about how you can build on one another’s efforts. 

How do you break down the silos?

A systems approach to communications can play a huge role in breaking down your silos. This approach provides everyone with the tools they need to communicate effectively and coherently on behalf of the school—and with less stress and effort in the process.

Get started by building out a few frameworks and toolkits to get everyone on the same page.

  • Messaging framework: You need a structure that equips and empowers everyone at your school to speak comfortably and fluently to a variety of different constituencies, across a variety of different venues, for a variety of different purposes. It has to be flexible enough that people feel comfortable putting your messages into their own words, but resonant enough that your vision and values are always on the tip of their tongue. Marketing and development both need to contribute—and then put it to good use.
  • Visual system: Your visual system is made up of a set of basic design components and approaches to modulating those components. The elements of design—type, color, imagery, compositional and graphic elements—can be largely generic in and of themselves. Unique ways of manipulating and integrating the elements of design are what bring distinction, recognizability, and, critically, repeatability across platforms. Everyone should have access to your standards if they communicate for you—and should be trained how to use each of the elements in different ways for different audiences and applications.
  • Editorial calendar: It’s not just about keeping the content pipeline fresh, it’s about treating your communications as parts of a whole approach versus one-offs or lone wolves. Your editorial calendar documents the answers to a key set of questions:
    • Who are you communicating with, for any purpose at all (including Marketing and Development)? 
    • On what platforms they expect to hear from you (including web, social media, email, and any print / environmental materials)?
    • What types of content do you/could you use in each platform?
    • Who is responsible to provide that content? 
    • When and how often do you communicate in each place? 
    • Who is responsible for creating the specific content or content vehicles you produce (including concept, copy, design, and production, if needed?)
    • Who is responsible to vet and approve content or content vehicles? 
    • Who is responsible to get that content or those content vehicles to their intended audiences?

It might sound like a lot to think about and work through, but if you map out your calendar together, you can help one another with the overlaps, share content that’s relevant to all of your audiences, and ensure that none of your audiences are be inundated at the same time. As with everything, a little work up front saves a lot of work down the line.

Break down all the silos

Whether you work in Admissions, Marketing, Development, Advancement, Alumni Relations, or any of the other key communications departments in a school, you’ll find it easier to do your own job if you make it easier for everyone to do their jobs. As the (adorable) daughter of one of our directors always says, “Teamwork makes the dream work!”

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