A New Breed

Marketing is giving shape to a new type of advancement—one that includes admissions

This article examines the complex and often convoluted relationships between admissions and advancement. It describes how marketing is the place where all areas of advancement find common ground and how, for a long time, marketing had its place within the distinct silos in admissions and advancement. Now, however, institutions are developing more comprehensive structures that combine recruitment and advancement in the interest of adopting a true integrated marketing mindset.

Admissions and advancement have been the external-relations powerhouses on campuses for nearly three decades, but the current high-stakes era of consumer-oriented education has compelled many institution leaders to think anew about how these campus forces relate to one another and the outside world. A new species of advancement that embraces both functions is evolving—and the common link is marketing. On a growing number of campuses, these two areas are working together in formal and informal ways to recruit and retain students, foster alumni loyalty, lobby state and federal governments, communicate with the public, and cultivate donors. This new breed of institutional advancement changes everything from organizational structures to program objectives to constituencies served to the career paths of practitioners. Campus officials who embrace these changes say they do it for one simple reason—it works.

Common ground
A comprehensive administrative model that includes both admissions and fund raising is not a new idea. Several decades ago, "back before what some would call 'administrative bloat,' you would see a single head of administration performing both functions," says Patricia Jackson, associate vice president for development at Dartmouth College. But over the years, the two areas separated in large part because an intense climate—including budget cuts that magnify the importance of fund raising and tuition increases that affect student access—drove them to specialize.

Against the backdrop of a student market of prospective applicants who shop for a college experience that includes not only education, but also a lifestyle of services and comforts, campus officials are regrouping, and the field that once was considered an advancement stepchild—marketing—is where they find common ground.

Marketing acquired its second-class status because some in academe were uncomfortable with the idea of "selling"; consequently, many campuses use "communications" interchangeably with marketing. But they are not the same. Communicators want audiences to listen; marketers want prospects to act: enroll, donate, participate, support, recommend, volunteer, and so on.

For many years, marketing had its place on campus within the distinct silos of either admissions or advancement. While these individual efforts grew increasingly sophisticated, they typically remained separate and sometimes dueled for ownership of an institution's identity. That's started to change, however. "The competitive landscape that we're in makes people more willing to listen to the importance of marketing," says Lawrence Lokman, assistant vice chancellor for university communications at the University of California, Los Angeles. As a result, more comprehensive structures that combine admissions and advancement are emerging.

Blended structures
Robert Massa arrived at Dickinson College in 1999, recruited by the college's equally new president, to serve as vice president for enrollment management and college relations. The college was facing several crises at the time, including a $5 million deficit, defaulted campaign pledges, a 52 percent tuition discount, and consistently underenrolled classes. Dickinson had to reorganize to meet these challenges, Massa says, which he did by combining admissions and the traditional advancement responsibilities of marketing, alumni relations, publications, the Web, and media relations. This year, as the institution heads into a campaign, Massa also serves as interim vice president for development.

"I don't care who reports to whom. You need to have a management team in place that understands that an institution's brand and the leadership story that supports that brand are one and the same for every audience," Massa says. "To say that the functions of admissions and advancement are not both advancing the institution is shortsighted. Organizational structure aside, it's a cradle-to-grave concept," he says.

University of California, Berkeley, public policy professor David Kirp devotes a chapter to Dickinson's turnaround in his book Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education. Kirp reports that three years after the institution's new integrated marketing team was in place, the tuition discount rate dropped to 33 percent, enrollment grew as SAT scores rose, giving increased by 40 percent, and the campus came out of the red with million-dollar surpluses, even after investing capital in physical plant reserves.

A change of place
At Dickinson and other institutions that are moving toward more blended structures, the first step often occurs when officials start mulling over where communications should report—advancement, enrollment, or directly to the president.

"It can make good sense to move communications to enrollment," says Jackson, who also served as director of development at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and as vice president for professional development at CASE. "In terms of actual market share, most institutions still get more money from tuition than they get from gift support, including endowment interest." Often in these cases, Jackson says, "spirited discussions" ultimately result in communications reporting directly to the president.

Some campus leaders suggest that senior-level decision making is most productive when the chief communications officer is at the leadership table. "As long as communications was seen as a function that 'we have to have because we have to deal with the news media and have some brochures,'" says Barbara Petura, associate vice president for university relations at Washington State University, "then it was very easy for the communications and marketing staff to be at a somewhat lower level professionally than the fund raisers." But when an institution shifts to a more sophisticated process of conducting substantial marketing research and crafting plans that act on that research, she says, "you have indeed created a different kind of profession than the old days of a news office and a publications office."

At UCLA, "we've all acknowledged that the role of external affairs is revenue generation writ very large," says Rhea Turteltaub, assistant vice chancellor for development, "whether that means legislative advocacy and lobbying for the best budget we can get, raising private dollars through development, or [generating] tuition dollars through admissions. The side that brings in private dollars (development) and the side that accepts students on merit (admissions) are kept very far apart here," she says. "But through university communications, brand management is happening in a way that we in development have bought into completely because we know that the way in which students first experience the university will ultimately affect their affinity and affiliation long term. And so at the earliest stages of campus involvement, it's communications that drives that bus. We are active passengers, but they're in the driver's seat."

Once advancement officers start thinking like that, says Larry Lauer, vice chancellor for marketing and communication at Texas Christian University, then everything about the marketing process becomes more sophisticated. "[Marketing] isn't just promotion or materials or the logo—those are all things within it." Instead, he says, "it's a way of thinking, a way of bringing program design, pricing, and the distribution of those programs together with communications and promotion to help the institution survive in a changing world."

Leadership, partnership, ownership
Turteltaub says getting UCLA's leaders to see communications in the context of revenue generation was a watershed moment for the university. Indeed, practitioners who have experienced this institutional epiphany agree that leaders who "get it" are essential to success. A strong belief in communicating a cohesive brand across related operations isn't enough—without committed leadership, there will be real turf issues. "You're going to tap into some natural concerns," Lokman says. "Admissions folks may think, 'I'm doing my job fine. Are you here to criticize me? We understand students better than you do.' Conversely, it's natural for communications professionals to want to own the message and believe they know best how to reach an audience because that's what they do." And anything new means more work, at least initially. "Those are real issues," Lokman says. "That's why leadership support is critical."

Equally critical is respect for the expertise each area's practitioners bring to the partnership, beginning with a discussion about the clearly defined benefits, what success will look like, and who's going to do what, Lokman says. "It can be a rocky road, but then as you do the work, you develop camaraderie and a better overall perspective that informs your own work. The relationships get better and you discover new opportunities for further collaboration," he says.

Massa says everyone involved has to understand that integrated marketing means integration on two levels. Not only do brand marketing, direct marketing, and customer relationship management need to merge effectively, he says, there also must be integration of the staff responsible for each. Even so, "You can have an organizational structure in place and still not achieve buy-in," he cautions. Dickinson officials intentionally made the college relations and development departments the only two occupants of one building. This kind of arrangement creates a breeding ground for collaboration based not only on organizational structure but also on proximity. Massa says he doesn't know if the current structure—"with college relations reporting to the enrollment guy"—is going to be useful for the institution five years from now. But it doesn't matter, he says, as long as staff members have a sense of ownership of the brand and the management team understands that the brand and its supporting story are the same for every constituency. "It's just that different constituencies must be on the same page of the story," he says.

Integrated marketing for an integrated audience

ALauer doesn't think there is a single advancement office model that works for everyone. The traditional model (separate fund raising, communications, and alumni relations divisions) might make sense for some campuses.

Carving out marketing as a separate entity might be the statement a campus CEO needs to influence different thinking, he says, or leaders might depart from traditional models entirely to create a structure that will work. That can mean that advancement merges with student recruitment. "Some may leave admissions where it is but create dotted-line relationships or task forces or action committees to come up with ways to bring the recruiting function into collaboration with advancement," Lauer says. "But I see admissions gradually moving under our umbrella at least in the way we think and plan and function."

Advancement is moving front and center in the management of institutions, he says, and marketing is moving front and center within advancement. It's not that marketing is going to overtake every function, he says. It's that marketing as a way of thinking will influence these functions and overtake the way they serve their constituencies.

At UCLA, such a model—one that focuses broadly on external relations—already exists. In the past, various advancement areas, development in particular, guarded their volunteers, but university leaders now are "trying to make the pieces of external affairs—advocacy, communications, and philanthropy—a much more seamless experience for both staff and donors," Turteltaub says.

The key word is experience. In the same way a competitive environment has raised the marketing stakes in terms of providing an experience, so too will such an environment raise the experience stakes for donors. To keep donors from giving to art museums or symphonies, institution leaders will seek new ways to get donors caught up in the life of the institution, Lauer says.

Last spring, UCLA and UC Irvine organized a legislative-press visit for three of the university's leading donors who are corporate CEOs. They went to the state capital to talk with legislators about how they rely on the university to help ensure corporate success. After that visit, Turteltaub says, the delegation leader met with a reporter from the Sacramento Bee during which the reporter suggested that if the University of California isn't all the CEO wanted it to be, he'd just recruit from other universities. The CEO said that in fact he'd pick his company up and move to where the talent is. That was a shocking revelation to the reporter, Turteltaub says, and sent "a powerful message about the importance of funding we could never deliver. We're making better messengers out of constituents who have never been asked to be advocates before," she says. "The experience of being engaged in all three external relations areas builds a better donor."

Such new thinking will be required of institution leaders as they continue to launch aggressive capital campaigns, which also means they need to find innovative ways of cultivating and engaging more donors. "Until now, many colleges and universities have feared getting donors too involved in the academic programs they support," Lauer says, "but I think this will change." He predicts that institutions will invite knowledgeable donors to lecture in classes and help recruit specific kinds of students as ways to cement donor loyalty.

Recruiting partners
The recruitment of legacy students is one area in which advancement and admissions have long collaborated. Lauer believes that as competition for students increases, more institution officials will view their alumni base as a self-perpetuating recruitment opportunity. Wheaton used such a strategy when the former women's college became coeducational, Jackson says. "At most places alumni recruitment happens in the admissions office," she says. "At Wheaton we very purposefully put the alumnae/i admissions program in the alumni office." The theory was that as the college adjusted to coeducation, legacy admissions would be critical. "We knew that the adjustment turning point for many alumnae would be when they started thinking about Wheaton for their own sons, grandsons, or nephews," she says. (For more about alumni association roles in legacy recruitment, see "Learning Curve" on page 35.)

Looking at the alumni base as a catalyst for student recruitment makes such marketing sense, Lauer says, that more institutions will do so with increased effort. And that could mean the development of a hybrid staff—like the model at Wheaton—that can address student recruitment as well as advancement goals.

New pathways
Seamlessly serving the multiple interests of the donor-messenger-advocate-alumnus as well as the students this kind of multidimensional approach can deliver to an institution will require advancement and admissions professionals to develop new skills. "It certainly indicates new career tracks," says Petura, who began her career in a university news bureau in 1970 when "advancement" wasn't even in the campus lexicon.

Marketing skills and experience, institutional knowledge, and the ability to run a complicated, deadline-oriented operation are transferable skills, thus "advancement chiefs have always looked to admissions offices for people to 'steal,' " Jackson says. Such shifting career tracks are likely to be the norm in the future. Petura, who experienced the era in which chief fund raisers became heads of advancement, says that has given way to a new "ideal" CAO skill set that includes integrated marketing communications, branding, and market research. She advises advancement newcomers to broaden their training by taking positions in both admissions and advancement. The link is marketing. Those who have a gift for marketing, she says, will be ready to become the next generation of integrated advancement leaders.

This article is from the April 2005 CURRENTS.