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Staff of the Future

Bob Brock

The curious thing about marketing in an era of exponential change is that so much of what we know to be true…turns out to be wrong.

One of the hardest tasks for many of us is to unlearn some of the truths that made us successful in the past.  The key to survival – maybe the only way to maintain a competitive edge – is to learn new truths faster than your competitors, and then share those new truths more rapidly across your organization.

The first place to begin this kind of change is in the way we organize ourselves and our work.  For the longest time, marketing and communication units have been structured into work silos built around functional skills and outputs:  Publications, Photography, Web Team, and so on:

EMG's State of the Future Chart 1

This structure has clear advantages.  It makes it easy to match workload with capacity and it’s easy to manage.  It worked well enough in the old publications-and-PR-driven world. But it no longer matches the needs of digital communications.

Today’s communications environment is fast and fiercely competitive.  Multimedia and web are drivers today.  We have to be concerned with institutional branding as well as unit-based product marketing, requiring consistently branded communications.  Add social media and ever-advancing technology to the mix, while still juggling lingering PR and publications responsibilities, and…yikes…the traditional org structure looks and feels like the dinosaur it is.

A marketing communications unit re-engineered for today’s realities looks more like this:

EMG's State of the Future Chart 2

This is a content-driven approach that has a number of advantages:

  1. Makes the unit quicker and more agile.
  2. Increases capacity in multimedia and web content.
  3. Facilitates rapid-response digital communications and social community building.
  4. Facilitates coordination of product-oriented communications with image-building marketing.
  5. Most importantly, it enables the staff to create content once and re-purpose that same content across all audience segments and dozens of print and electronic platforms.

In this environment, it’s the process – not the reporting structure – that is key to success. As management theorists would say, while it still reflects a hierarchical structure, it adapts some characteristics of a matrix organization and some from a lateral structural organization, as well.

Here’s how it works. A unified Creative Services unit, headed by a Creative Director (or similar title), encompasses all of the traditional functional areas (design, editorial, multimedia, web, etc.) and handles all of the day-to-day and departmental communications needs.  The work groups each have Group Leaders reporting to the Creative Director.  But individuals within each group also join cross-functional teams to address major projects.  Virtual project teams are formed, disbanded, and re-constituted frequently, based on specific project needs.

In addition, the Creative Services division often also fields audience-  or platform-based specialists, such as Advertising Director, Online Community Manager, or Admissions Marketing Manager, etc.  These individuals provide needed focus and supervision, but team flexibility and cross-pollenization are purposeful to bring cross-discipline specialists together and encourage brainstorming, innovation, cross-training, and efficiency.

The era of specialized “print designers” or “web writers,” or “still photographers” is over. We all have to become multi-faceted: designers who work in print as well as digital spaces; photographers who shoot and edit video; writers who jump from long-form to web content to promotional copy.  The structure of the future helps everyone think more strategically to generate communications solutions rather than just poundage.

The cross-functional nature of this process encourages staff members to create content once and re-use it in multiple ways over multiple platforms to boost cost-efficiency. A high-profile feature in the magazine, for example, becomes fodder for a quick-turnaround video, a piece in the faculty/staff news site, web page spotlight, departmental newsletters, boxed call-outs in the viewbook, and social media posts.

Meanwhile, the Brand Management Team, which consists of the Brand Manager and Team Leaders from Creative Services division, drives  the overall brand strategy.  This senior team, which is, by nature multi-disciplinary, drives the annual marketing communications plan. They identify the stories, projects, and initiatives – either from their own brainstorming or those that emerge from Creative Services projects – that rise to the level of generating high-potential branding impact.

EMG's State of the Future Chart 3

All of this means a pretty big change in process and procedures, so it’s not something you’d want to try implementing overnight. When shifting from a traditional structure, plan on the change taking anywhere from three to six months to put fully into place. And plan on it  including plenty of professional development opportunities so that staff members get a handle of what it all means to them and so they will begin to understand how it will impact behaviors and expectations.

To discuss in greater detail this structure, the process for change, and the ramifications for a staff of any size, call (303-743-8298) or email the branding strategists at EMG.

2 Replies to “Staff of the Future”

  1. What a brilliant article and such a superb way of mapping it out. I can clearly see how this works as I’ve been struggling for months to explain to clients the importance of creating visual content and having a team which focuses on just that. I also realise now clearly where I fit in, in your illustration.

    A point I’d like to add which is what most people miss is not looking to PR managers/hosts,. I’m referring to hospitality hosts. Why, because their primary function is to entertain guests and make them feel special. Their job is to listen and create a welcoming environment for guests. I know the casino industry it works this way. To me I’ve never been convinced that the management of social media be marketing’s responsibility because their job is to market and generate leads. A host/PR manager’s job is to ensure customer loyalty.

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