Marketing heads remain overlooked or ignored

Report says top managers and academics still pay little heed to communications staff. John Gill writes

November 27, 2008

Excluded from the "top strategic table" of management, and often ignored by academics, the plight of the university marketing director is laid bare in a new report.

Senior managers can have "naive" and unrealistic expectations that their marketing chiefs will be able to replicate the success of US fundraising campaigns, says the report by the higher education marketing specialist Knowledge Partnership, which surveyed 58 higher education marketing directors in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

"There appears to be an overreliance on the US model of graduate alumni relations ... which seems inapplicable except for the most affluent alumni," it says.

"This has created high internal funding expectations from management that are rarely able to be met, damaging the position of marketing and communications and, more generally, institution-wide relations."

The study also found that, despite the sector's adoption of many commercial business practices, academics remain reluctant to take marketing advice. Of the communications staff questioned, only half said they had a "good" or "excellent" relationship with academics.

David Roberts, one of the report's authors, said: "Universities are still compartmentalising marketing as something done by a small number of people to bring in students."

He added that marketing directors tend still to be excluded from the "top strategic table", which can lead to a focus on "spin".

The report identifies some clear divisions between and within the sectors of the three countries.

The communications chiefs in older research-intensive universities are twice as likely to be part of the executive management group as their counterparts in modern universities and colleges.

The largest marketing teams tend to be in Australia, but the report found that the UK was on equal terms when it came to international marketing efforts. "This may come as a surprise to the UK, which tends to think that Australian universities are better resourced for international recruitment," it says.

Financially, marketing departments fare better in the UK, where the average annual budget is £1.2 million, than they do in Australia (£980,000) or New Zealand (£678,000). The authors suggest that this may reflect the greater competition between institutions in the UK.

However, marketing directors are, on average, better paid in Australia.

•The Royal College of Art has become the first higher education institution to have its "brand" valued officially. According to the consultancy Interbrand, "brand RCA" is worth some £57 million.

The RCA - which this week confirmed that it had appointed Paul Thompson, director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Design Museum, its new rector - said the exercise has put "a monetary value on the very many intangible benefits" of the college's international reputation. The valuation will form part of a broader submission to the Higher Education Funding Council for England to maintain the college's funding.

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