The need to do more for less has never been greater in further education, and a college's marketing is not an exception to this. Pressure to hit student recruitment targets from ever squeezed budgets is a challenge facing every principalship in the country. It is time to think of alternative paradigms for marketing.
There are four broad approaches:
Outsourcing and Embedding
Shared Marketing Service
Full insourcing is when nearly every aspect of marketing is performed by in-house staff, including project management, creative conception, design, artwork, media planning and booking, PR, events, digital marketing and social media marketing. The advantage of this approach is control – resources are always on hand to provide support. This approach has a number of challenges, namely the cyclicality of education marketing. During the peak of demand for marketing projects, in-house teams can get massively stretched which can affect the quality and delivery times for campaigns. During the troughs in demand, an in-house team can be under-utilised. Many marketing teams will overcome this challenge by outsourcing the larger projects, such as the summer campaign and prospectuses, to marketing or design agencies.
A couple of quick tests can be applied to the in-house model to see if you are operating efficiently:
Test 1 – Budget Efficiency. If you are spending more than 50% of your marketing budget on staff salaries (including national insurance, pensions and other payroll costs), then you probably have an inefficient marketing department
Test 2 – Digital Impact. If you are spending less that 10% of your overall marketing budget on digital media (website, digital content creation, digital advertising), then your marketing department is probably out of touch with your audiences
The outsourcing model is when a college has a smaller team of marketeers, predominantly in a project management capacity and the rest of the work is outsourced to a marketing agency or a small number of specialist agencies. This approach has the benefits of control, yet has the advantages of being able to cope with fluctuations in demand. Often colleges see this as expensive, but in most cases, this approach can be highly efficient as external agencies are paid to get projects up and running, with clearly devised goals and the desired end result always in sight.
Usually colleges work with agencies on a project by project basis, but often a retainer can deliver a lower hourly rate for agency time. Another major advantage of working with an agency is that agencies can normally attract and retain better creative and design talent than a college can in isolation. Creative people pride themselves on their book of work (portfolio) and only working on one brand can often be limiting creatively and restrictive of career progression.
Outsourcing and embedding takes outsourcing to a whole different level. This is where the internal marketing function is out-sourced in its entirety to a third party, normally to an experienced full-service marketing agency. Existing staff are transferred under TUPE to the successful tenderer, with the option to TUPE back at the end of the contract period, which is normally a minimum of three years. This has all the benefits of retaining an in-house team but also gives total flexibility. This approach is radical and prior to transfer can be stressful for existing staff, but following transfer, so long as clear performance standards are established, then an embedded approach can deliver higher productivity, lower costs and improved quality. Barnfield College outsourced its marketing function to Rave Communications in July 2010 and now has a dedicated, focused and enthusiastic in-house team.
Everyone in college management is talking about shared services and there is no reason that a shared marketing function across a number of non-competitive colleges couldn't work. However, it would be essential for any shared service to collaborate with a marketing agency that can deliver the strategy, management and the technical skills required. Rave is open to talk to any college about providing shared services.
All four models for college marketing structures can be effective. To deliver exceptional results, they require consistent strategic input, clear performance targets, an innate understanding of the target audiences and the capacity to deliver throughout the academic year.
John Wilford is founder and managing director of Rave Communications, a specialist marketing agency providing strategic advice, creativity, media planning and campaign execution to many FE colleges and sixth form colleges including Barnfield, Stratford-upon-Avon College, Cadbury College
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