Stop. Collaborate and Listen.

Courtesy: The Today Show

As marketing professionals, our role is pretty unique. One minute we could work with a campus history office on an event, the next with nursing on a press moment, followed by working with admission on enrollment funnels.

There aren’t many other offices who work with such a wide variety of university partners.

However, working with such an array of people, we are always coming into contact with folks who have ideas about the brand. When hearing their thoughts on look, message, or design, it can sometimes be a frustrating experience. However, I think building relationships and partnerships comes down to one key line from none other than… Vanilla Ice.


I’ve heard it so many times, and if I’m being honest, I’ve said it a few times also…. “I wish they’d stop. We don’t tell that department how to teach.”

Our gut reaction is to take over. To tell the person to stop doing the thing that we strongly dislike. What if instead of telling the person they have to stop, we paused instead and looked at the root cause.

Why are they doing that to begin with?

My guess is chances are the department or campus group feels they’re doing a good thing. From my experience, most like one of 3 things is happening:

  1. They are unaware about options we have to help them
  2. We don’t have capacity to help, so they’re trying to do something
  3. They’ve had a bad experience in the past, so they’re not sure our team would help

Very rarely is it they know we’d partner with, and they just don’t want our help. Though it can happen, in my experience, one of the other scenarios is much, much more likely.

So what to do?


Vanilla Ice to the rescue again. Collaborate. It’s so important for marketing leaders to build relationships with campus partners.

When I first started in a leadership role in marketing, I tried to build a “white glove approach” with everyone. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to work. There are too many people who need or want help and just not enough people on the marketing team to provide support.

Tiered Approach

One solution I came up with is tiering the support groups get. Admissions, Advancement, Athletics, and key Academic departments get a little more help. For these groups, our team has a standing meeting where we work together on key needs, messaging, and discuss collaboration. That pays huge dividends in ensuring the work for these is consistent and on brand.

By working closely with these groups, they also see the benefits of what marketing can bring to the table, and over time are much more willing to collaborate on all sorts of projects. It really does create a culture of collaboration that starts inward and moves outward.

If you team isn’t regularly meeting with these groups, I encourage you to get started now. Within a few months of consistently meeting, I really think you’ll see the value of the collaboration on your marketing efforts.

Other Supports

While not every department will get that level of support from the marketing team, it’s important that other departments do feel supported. Just because they’re not from one of the four A’s, it shouldn’t mean they get nothing from marketing.

The smaller lifts help your department to support most of campus in an easy, manageable way, which helps address the second reason people may do their own thing.

Our team has worked on a few ideas to help partners in this group including:

  • Templated designed files, so they can quickly create what they need.
  • Press release templates for common messages like grant announcements or hiring announcements
  • Lunch and Learn trainings with best practices
  • In-depth brand training meetings to teach about how to use the brand

These types of offerings help this group as though they have options that are available to meet their needs.


This I think helps address the first and the third reason of why departments sometimes do their own thing.

We don’t always listen. Often, we blast.

It’s so easy as marketers to use our fancy email software, our snazzy graphics, and our forms to tell people about what we’re doing. That gets the message to many.

But not all. We don’ always do a good job of meeting people where they are. As I’ve started at my current institution, I’m trying to meet with a couple of campus areas every month. These are areas that aren’t the top tier areas, so they may not get the regular support and don’t know about the support our office offers.

We talk about lots of things in those conversations. Sometimes they’ve had a bad experience in the past, so I spend time explaining who I am and my marketing philosophy. Sometimes it’s listening to a change they think is needed. Sometimes it’s just explaining what we’ve done to make life easier.

By bringing the face-to-face interaction into our work, these departments feel like we care and want to help their office. It helps to build the collaboration. Often times, they don’t know about some of the templates we’ve created and are excited to have access to those. Other times they have had a rough experience, and it’s more about just an introduction. Either is a good start.

Listening Can be Formalized

Another great way to listen is through an advisory group. This group can help the marketing team have a better sense of campus as a whole. Faculty, more than many others, know their program, know the students, and have ideas about what messages would resonate with their students.

Creating an advisory group as a way to formalize the insight of faculty could help the university better understand and adapt messages for students and other key audiences.

Such a group could also be deputized to help tell the university story to other audiences that marketing may not be able to access. Really listening to campus has incredible benefits for the marketing team, but we have to listen beyond just the surface level insights.

Stop. Collaborate and Listen

Try it. See how it works for your team. I bet if we all did this intentionally, for a few months, we’d do a really great job of building collaboration on our campuses.

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