Budgets are tight and we need to look at ways to reduce costs. One way is to outsource or use shared services and I'm often asked if marketing should, or could be outsourced.

The logic often given is that it will enable costs to be controlled and provide a greater range of marketing skills.

As marketing expands, particularly as digital marketing grows, the pace of change is tremendous; so keeping up with technological change is difficult. Having specialists on call therefore makes sense.

But as education providers shouldn't we be both at the forefront of change so we can teach it and capable of ensuring our own staff are trained? There are plenty of resources available to ensure their staff keep up to date. All that is often lacking is the recognition that marketing staff need CPD, that this takes time and that staff should be given some time each week to ensure they keep up to date. I don't mean hours every week. But in my own case I timetable an hour in my diary every week to undertake marketing training.

As for outsourcing enabling cost reductions. I'm unconvinced.

Will your budget stretch to both paying for your marketing activity and providing the profit that an agency needs to make? I'm not against agencies making money, all businesses need to make profits, but the margins they charge aren't always sensible when it is the tax payers purse that is paying.

Marketing response times

I believe there are even more compelling reasons for not outsourcing. When the snow is falling in mid-winter will your agency answer the phone when you call them at 7am and ensure the local radio station announces that you are open or closed? Will they update the website and put messages out on social media? Your staff are more likely to be available long before an agency opens its doors. In fact, I've often known marketing staff to phone the SMT at 6.30 asking which prepared message needs sending to students.

Providers need established marketing strategies and robust marketing plans. But every plan needs reviewing as soon as each campaign takes off. Life is full of uncertainty, and change is the only certainty. That means you need to be able to respond and be spontaneous. When agencies are asked, before you appoint them, if they can do this they invariably say yes. But when asked to do it once contracted they often start looking at the fine detail in the contract. Spontaneity and agencies aren't easy bedfellows.

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Shared services can work, more of that another day, but I rarely see the savings and increased skills set materialising when agencies are employed.

For more on this topic watch the video made exclusively for FE News:

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Marketing consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and now works with colleges, universities and private providers throughout the UK, Europe and the US - visit: www.StefanDrew.com and http://www.providermastermind.com

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