Staffing the Modern Marketing Department



I hear this question, often: “How should I staff my marketing office?” With the rapidly changing needs of consumers and the numerous ways in which we interact with our target audiences, many schools are left feeling unsure of what to do.

The Age of the One-Man-Show

Not too long ago, schools typically had one position that focused on sending out information to constituents and developing publications/updating a website. Analytics data weren’t part of our program, websites were fairly static, and schedules were more common than strategies for this office. 

In fact, I often say that if today, we marketers did exactly what we did 15 years ago in a similar position, we would all be fired. It’s true. Fifteen years ago, social media didn’t exist;  websites were fairly static in nature and had maybe a dozen or so pages; a monthly print newsletter was fairly standard practice; and email newsletters were considered revolutionary, combining all our outgoing messages into one comprehensive email to the community; the savvy computer user could adequately handle most of the digital work. The average communications office was heavy on print publications and advertising, so writing and design skills were highly desirable.

Today, everything has changed …

Gone are the days of one person doing it all and doing it all well when it comes to marketing and communications; it’s not realistic anymore. In order to thrive in today’s competitive private school market, schools need talented, specialized multi-person teams to not just tell the story of the school, but to also implement high-level strategic marketing initiatives to grow the revenue generation streams of the school.

This is a new era of marketing influence in schools. No longer are these departments viewed only as servant-leadership roles at a growing number of schools. Instead, we are becoming equity partners with a seat at the table and a voice in school decisions.

Staffing Strategy

It’s common for admission offices and alumni & development offices to be double or triple the size of the marketing & communications office, yet the latter is called upon to assist both. This is in addition to marketing & communication also addressing the needs of the greater school, including athletics, academics, college counseling, and others. An imbalance in staffing and resources causes many schools’ marketing efforts to suffer, forcing departments to prioritize quantity over quality. Schools merely get by rather than excel and flourish in the marketplace. With the increasingly competitive marketplace we exist in today, this is a troubling trend.

I often recommend that when departments address staffing needs, that it not be done in a silo. Instead, bring together your Head of School, CFO, Development Director, Admission Director and Marketing Director to discuss goals and strategic plans for the school and departments. By having these group conversations, administrators can collaborate and think about the big picture strategies that need to be carried out instead of focusing only on the hours of work you anticipate. This model of thinking lets you focus on the problems you need to solve, and then think about the most effective way to implement solutions. You might be surprised by what you discover when you think about staffing a coordinated effort rather than a department.

Staffing a coordinated effort requires that leadership identifies goals and meets to discuss how to best accomplish those goals, bringing together all the departments involved. Here’s an example … you have a goal to increase Annual Fund participation and know that your current team’s structure is ideal to achieve this goal. Perhaps your alumni director is bogged down with sending emails and working on letters and mailings that use up a lot of his time but don’t bring in big bucks. He understands the value of working with the masses and the potential payoff in the future, but he wishes that he had more time to spend on developing relationships with major donors who are prime to be donors, now.

The first thought is often to augment the alumni & development with additional support. However, is that really the best way to accomplish the initial goal? Consider this … what if you might be better served not by adding a second alumni or Annual Fund person, but by instead enhancing the marketing department? Experienced digital marketers are skilled in understanding user behavior and testing strategies for engagement of user groups. Over time, a “minor donor marketing program” that employs strategic email marketing combined with social media and, yes, possibly even print marketing, might yield better results on obtaining those lower dollar donations and increasing participation overall. A comprehensive marketing strategy can provide valuable data as the marketing department nurtures the alumni audience with personalized marketing (not personal, personalized) and cultivates them, creating stronger donor leads over time.

And, by removing this type of outreach effort from your existing alumni director, you free him up to instead focus more on developing stronger relationships, especially when it comes to major donors. Most alumni professionals excel in the area of personal relationship-building, so removing tasks that don’t speak to their strengths can be a game-changing approach. Let the marketing department capitalize on their strengths while the alumni office is empowered to capitalize on their strengths.

In terms of admission, an inbound marketing campaign needs a team to operate behind the scenes (marketing) while another team cultivates relationships in order to convert prospective families into enrolled families (admission). What resources do you need to split the work between the two offices?

Schools have always worked to communicate with constituents but now, they need to market to constituents and communicate as a coordinated effort. What’s the difference between marketing and communications? The simplest way to compare the two functions is this: Communication is informational, whereas marketing is influential.

Have more questions about how your school can rethink its staffing needs? Contact me.

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