Many senior university staff are ignorant of the cost and cost-effectiveness of campaigns. Tony Tysome reports
Millions of pounds a year are being "misspent" or "misdirected" on marketing in universities across the country, according to a national survey of senior and middle managers in higher education.
More than a third of managers, including vice-chancellors, pro vice-chancellors, registrars and other executives, said they had no idea how much money their university spends on marketing.
About the same proportion said that their institution does not keep track of how effective its marketing activities are, and admitted that they did not know whether any cost-benefit analysis was carried out on marketing campaigns. With marketing budgets devolved to departments in almost half of institutions, many managers said they were unsure exactly how the money is spent.
The worrying picture has emerged from the findings of a survey of more than 170 university managers and executives conducted by consultants Euro RSCG Riley.
A report on the findings shows that 35 per cent of respondents did not know the size of their institution's annual marketing budget. A third said the budget was in excess of £500,000, with 13 per cent saying it topped £1 million. It has been estimated that about £300 million a year is spent on marketing across the higher education sector.
The survey suggests that institutions are pouring ever more resources into marketing as they react to growing competition for the best students, staff and outside funding.
Nearly two thirds of survey respondents said that their institution's marketing budget had grown between 11 and 20 per cent in the past three years.
But the survey also revealed that nearly a third of managers were unaware of any attempt to keep track of how effective their institution's marketing was.
Rosemary Stamp, director of Euro RSCG Riley, said the findings suggested that many institutions exercised little control over their marketing spending.
She said: "There is a lack of control or awareness over what is going on.
There must be hundreds of thousands of pounds being misdirected or misspent in each institution. Across the sector, it will amount to millions."
Most effort is directed towards recruitment of undergraduate students, the findings show. One respondent commented: "Most of our vast marketing budget is devoted to getting yet more students to apply - whom we then turn down."
Amanda Gregory, director of Heist, a higher education marketing agency, said: "Many institutions are repetitive in the marketing strategies they use, doing the same thing year after year."
The survey also shows that nearly a third of managers believe that their marketing department's relationship with academics is poor, and nearly 40 per cent said that it is indifferent. Ms Stamp said: "Marketing needs to get academics to buy in to what it is trying to do by showing them how it can help them."
Sally Hunt, joint general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "More money seems to be spent on selling the idea of an education than on properly funding it."
WHERE THE PROMOTIONAL MONEY GOES
How much a university typically spends on various aspects of marketing
Prospectus and related mailing costs: up to £240,000
Open days: £80,000 to £100,000
Promotional materials, for example, Christmas cards, pens, CD-Roms and brochures: £40,000 to £50,000
Schools liaison: £25,000 to £30,000
Universities and Colleges Admissions Service fairs: £40,000 to £50,000
Advertising during clearing: £120,000 to £150,000
Alumni office and mailing: £80,000 to £200,000
Online inquiry management system: up to £100,000 over 3 years
Head of marketing salary: up to £80,000 pa
Customer relationship management system: up to £100,000 over 3 years