Who Needs a Chief Marketing Officer Anyway?

“Marketing is a nice to have, not a must have.”

“It’s nothing more than spin.”

“We got along just fine without it…”

“The website is fine the way it is.”

“It taints the academic purity of what we do.” 

Sound familiar?

These are actual quotes, by the way. Over the many years that I’ve been at this game, I’ve heard all of these out-of-hand dismissals — and countless other variations on the same theme — from scores of deans and senior higher ed leaders who are intent on downplaying the role of marketing in higher education.

At Harvard, as well as many of the colleges and universities I’ve worked for, we called it the “M” word. And still do. Seriously.

There remains only a grudging acceptance of the need to maintain a strategic marketing function, to expand a once strictly service orientation into a crucial function that drives admissions, recruitment, and fundraising.

And the pandemic has only made marketing matters worse. As the longest spring and summer in recent memory now reels into an unimaginable fall, marketing budgets are getting hammered, returning marketing teams to the days of yesteryear, back to print-on-demand services and away from integrated marketing strategy. According to recent Gartner research, a full 45% of CMOs say COVID-19 has driven their institutions to significantly reduce (or eliminate) their 2020 marketing budgets.

If ever there was a time for CMOs to rise to the occasion, it is now.

And here are just a few reasons why…

  1. That Leadership Thing: We are the face of integrated marketing and communication initiatives. 
  2. Charting the Course: We steer the marketing, communications, and branding strategy. 
  3. Managing the Newsroom: We are the place where the buck stops on all things editorial — publications, websites, social media, advertising, media relations, and anything else that even remotely falls into this category.
  4. Putting Out Fires: We act as the first (and last) line of defense when crises and issues flare. 
  5. Running the In-House, On Demand Ad Agency: Enough said. 
  6. Oh So Proudly Waving the Marketing Flag: We know with certainty that good marketing lifts all boats.  
  7. (Wo)Manning the Social Media Barricades: We keep the powerful engines of social media roaring. 
  8. Flying the Plane: We pilot a diverse team of web producers, graphic designers, project managers, marketing and editorial writers, media specialists and videographers.
  9. Standing and (Always) Delivering: We champion the institutional story; honing the narrative, asserting the value proposition and articulating the benefit promise — saying it, saying it, and yes, saying it again. 

Now is not the time for the faint of heart.

But, then again, who needs a CMO, anyway?