Posted tagged ‘marketing’

My friend Gavin

February 12, 2018

“Hi Ferdinand”. This was the friendly salutation in the first email I opened this morning. But then came one of those phrases I particularly hate in emails, and in letters for that matter: “I hope this email finds you well.” At that point I could safely say that the email didn’t “find” me well, mainly because it had actually found its way to me.

“Regarding your marketing needs in your company, can we arrange to have a chat on the phone later this week.” No question mark at the end of that sentence, by the way. If I were to reply to this, the text of my reply might be “Fat chance”, or words to that effect.

Two other irritants. The email is signed “Gavin”, with no surname, and a company name, but no indication of what role Gavin plays in the organisation. The subject line is “Your query”. Now if I had the time and energy to focus on Gavin, I would indeed have a query or two, but none related to his ability to service the marketing needs of “my company”.

Of course we all know about the spam problem. In 2016 it was estimated that 59 per cent of all email traffic was spam – which, mind you, was an improvement on the 71 per cent estimated for April 2014. But actually that’s not my issue here. Gavin wasn’t selling me Viagra from dubious sources, or offering me the chance to meet some desirable Russian ladies. Gavin, in fact, works for a quite reputable company which I have come across a few times and which, I believe, offers an appropriately professional service. So what on earth has persuaded Gavin that this is a good way to get my business?

So for all the Gavins out there, don’t do this. Not because it annoys me (though it does), but because you won’t get my business this way, even if your product looks interesting. Your email is destined for the bin. Don’t address me as if I were one of your oldest friends, if we have never met. Don’t address me at all if your product or service is obviously handled by someone else in my organisation. Don’t suggest I run a “company”, at least make the effort to find out what kind of institution this is. Don’t suggest a “chat”, or even a cup of coffee. Don’t, in fact, be such a complete pillock.

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University marketing: a good idea?

July 2, 2013

Every year  universities spend a fair amount of money – the precise sum will vary from year to year and from institution to institution – on marketing. Mostly this money is spent on advertising designed to attract students. Over recent years, many universities have advertised on radio or television, and on billboards or bus shelters. Some campaigns have been quite spectacular. If you consider the case for marketing from the institution’s perspective, it makes a certain amount of sense: the university has facilities and staff and needs to ensure that these are utilised in the best way possible through successful student recruitment.

It is possible, one might suppose, that some of this advertising encourages students to apply to a university where previously they had not thought of entering higher education. But then again, it is also possible that the effect of such marketing is to persuade students to favour one university over another; in other words, it is not about encouraging students to develop their intellectual maturity and their opportunities in higher education, it is about persuading them to go to a particular university.

It seems to me that marketing in a university is a necessary activity, not least because the idea of higher education needs to be kept in the public consciousness, but also because universities need to survive and prosper. Whether marketing should be seen as a competitive activity designed to gain a greater share of the same market for one particular institution could perhaps be debated. This may become a yet more acute question if, as is apparently the case in the United States, public money made available to for-profit private colleges is used to advertise their services to fee-paying students. But then again, it is not easy to see how marketing could be carried out that does not promote the specific qualities of the university and, by implication, its superiority over other institutions.

Some people in the academic community have argued that the whole concept of marketing in universities is a mistake, in particular because it often focuses on the non-academic attributes of an institution. One former admissions officer of a US university has recently described the development of marketing as follows:

‘There was a subtle move to encouraging as many applications as possible since that increased the selectivity profile (and hence, prestige and position in rankings) of the institution. There was a growing emphasis on promoting your school and that came to mean not only highlighting your academic programs but the comfort and amenities of dorm rooms, exceptional food, health-club-quality gym facilities, and endless extra-curricular activities that insure that students have fun. Colleges began producing slicker and slicker “viewbooks” that were magazines with limited text but lots of expensive photos taken by professional photographers featuring happy (usually preppy white kids with an occasional person of color who otherwise looked like everyone else). The subtext was “four happy years” at our place.’

But then again, universities are not just part of a larger public sector agency. Each individual institution needs to ensure it operates in a sustainable way, and that it generates the resources it needs to maintain and grow quality programmes. Marketing is a necessary component of that. And if you do marketing, it is entirely right to do it professionally. Furthermore, nowadays it is widely accepted that the education experience extends beyond the classroom. Nostalgia for some alleged era in which pedagogy trumped all else is, like most nostalgia, not terribly useful. But having a debate on marketing may help to ensure that its use is appropriate, and ethical. Such a debate is always worth having.

Marketing the university

July 6, 2010

Every year Irish universities spend a certain amount of money – the precise sum will vary from year to year and from institution to institution – on marketing. Mostly this money is spent on advertising designed to attract students. Over recent years, nearly all the universities have advertised on radio or television, and on billboards or bus shelters. Some campaigns have been quite spectacular. If you consider the case for marketing from the institution’s perspective, it makes a certain amount of sense: the university has facilities and staff and needs to ensure that these are utilised in the best way possible through successful student recruitment.

It is possible, one might guess, that some of this advertising encourages students to apply to a university where previously they had not thought of entering higher education. But overwhelmingly the effect of such marketing is to persuade students to favour one university over another; in other words, it is not about encouraging students to develop themselves in higher education, it is about persuading them to go to a particular university.

It seems to me that marketing in a university is a necessary activity, not least because the idea of higher education needs to be kept in the public consciousness. But whether marketing should be seen as a competitive activity designed to gain a greater share of the same market for one particular institution could perhaps be questioned. This may become a yet more acute question if, as is apparently the case in the United States, public money made available to for-profit private colleges is used to advertise their services to fee-paying students.

As regards Ireland, it is increasingly my view that inter-university competition for undergraduate students is misguided, as it can have damaging effects on individual institutions. This is true of marketing, as it is also now probably true of student recruitment more generally. In the context of finite and fixed public funding for education, such competition for students produces unpredictable financial results and can damage all universities together. It is probably time for the universities not to market themselves in competition with each other, but to market higher education more generally and more effectively.

What’s in a name?

May 26, 2009

Here’s a curiosity: a British university has just changed its name, from (formerly) the University of Teesside to (now) Teesside University. Without any disrespect to the institution in question, which has a number of successes to celebrate, this isn’t much of a name change, and I’m not sure what it is supposed to suggest to its stakeholders. The press release merely tells us that the name change (with a new logo) has given the university the opportunity to remind the world about its recent successes.

If you accept that universities, like many other organisations, need to market themselves to the wider world, in order to recruit students, create business links, encourage research interests, and so forth, then the name can certainly play a role. Studies in the UK in the 1990s revealed, for example, that universities named after cities (like Manchester, Nottingham, Glasgow, etc) tended to have a marketing advantage over those named after a district or region (like East Anglia, Staffordshire, Central England, etc). On that basis alone, Teesside University might have taken a bigger leap in its recent change. Of course elsewhere in the world, some of the most prestigious institutions are called after neither cities nor regions, but people – such as Harvard and Yale universities. There are examples of this in the UK (e,g, Heriot-Watt University, Liverpool John Moores University), but they don’t suggest that this particular approach to naming has yet broken through on this side of the Atlantic.

The question of the name was a very important one for Dublin City University when it acquired university status in 1989. Before then the institution was called the ‘National Institute for Higher Education’. Every so often we now ask ourselves whether the name ‘Dublin City University’ correctly communicates what we are – a focused research driven university, with innovative teaching programmes and close links with industry and our neighbouring district and region. Frankly, we’re not sure, but the name DCU has become so familiar in Ireland that it would make little sense to change it.

In any case, in a recent survey of students in some countries where Irish universities are keen to recruit students, respondents stated that they knew about Dublin City University more than about any other Irish institution. Even though I am hugely proud of DCU and of our achievements, I do confess I find it hard to know how the survey came up with this result. And it may well be that the name sounds ‘familiar’ to those who, frankly, don’t know about any Irish universities at all – so they go for it in the survey. So maybe we are gaining something from our name.

Overall, all universities will need to become better at marketing, and at understanding what marketing does for them. Above all, we need to be professional about it, and to ensure that we have genuine marketing experts on our staff or advising us so that we can communicate what we do more effectively to our stakeholders. Doing so neither cheapens us nor devalues the activities we undertake; it makes them more widely accessible, which is always good.

Anyway, I wish Teesside University well, and look forward to find out over time what their name change has done for them.