What Makes a Great Board Meeting: A Trustee’s Reflection

Tammy Bailey, Co-founder and Chief Financial Officer at RHB, and also Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees for her alma mater, sat down with us to address the relationship between the board of trustees and marketers at an institution. Her perspective is particularly helpful in that, not only does she understand the marketing of an institution from an expert’s point-of-view, but she also appreciates the perceptions, concerns and apprehensions that trustees may have when it comes to the marketing of their institution.

As president, you’ll need to know what trustees are expecting to hear. Each institution is different, along with the composition and personalities of its trustees. But commonalities exist, so Tammy’s answers to some of these common questions will prepare you for the challenges you might face when communicating about marketing to the trustees at your institution. As you set agendas for your next board meetings, you may want to keep these kinds of things in mind.

As always, if you have questions, let us know. We can help.

What do trustees think of when they hear “marketing”?

Many of our trustees are business people and they have a traditional perspective of marketing. They believe that if you use advertising to alert the public to your offerings, it will net sales or results. Marketing is more than advertising, and more than telling what you have to offer. Marketing is exchange—telling your story and listening to hear if what you offer is a match for the perspective purchaser.

In higher education, this marketing for new students is a very elongated journey which necessitates patience, and it is a well-monitored, consistent follow-up and follow through to bring those students to campus. My experience is that: it’s difficult for board members to have patience for this process if you are not aware of the process—especially if your enrollment is not what you are used to or what you desire.

Many of our trustees are getting the picture of telling our story and understanding that the story must be coherent to our institution. We must differentiate ourselves and we must articulate the reasons for choosing our institution. At times, this means taking a long hard look at our offerings and adjusting.

What are the biggest interests or concerns of trustees when it comes to marketing the university?

My experience is that recruiting a class is number one. The additional areas are: marketing that brings top-notch faculty members for openings you have on campus, or donors that make programs and facilities feasible.

What could college marketers do to give trustees utmost confidence that solid marketing strategies are in place?

Trustees like reporting. Tell us what your plan is. Show us how you are going to achieve it. Show us what you are sending out, send us your elevator speech, give us some stories of areas where there are possibilities.

We love to hear successes—what worked. And, tell us what didn’t work and how you are adjusting it. We really like to hear statistics. I like to hear real statistics. So not just enrollment numbers, but data about the shape of the class. Not just fundraising goals, but data that indicates the effectiveness of specific strategies. Are there success rates of grant proposals to look at? Donor profiles that can be reviewed?

With admissions, I’d like to see data related to steps in the recruitment funnel, and information about student profiles and class. Is there data related to upticks in programs or curriculum study? Is there something that shows where opportunities lie for a new program? Or maybe, what programs are falling off? Data showing program decline might mean that those programs need to be extinguished. It’s about real statistics, and real data. Give me reality.

What do trustees expect from those on campus charged with the responsibility of marketing?

Knowledge of what it takes today to market an institution. And of course, knowledge of your particular institution. Intelligence about where to invest the dollars you have and accountability within your team to make sure that you are planning and executing and achieving what it needs to achieve.

Your department has many clients on a campus. You need to work with them to make sure they are successful, because their success is your success, and ultimately, the success of the institution.

What makes trustees nervous in hearing from college marketers?

We become nervous when there is a lack of a marketing plan; or, if a plan is too shallow in depth and scope. Conversely, too broad of a campaign with no clear target audience, or no way to assess its success, would be equally unnerving. Of course, even if a marketing plan seems promising, the execution is just as important. As an example, inconsistencies in message or market, or using an out-of-date advertising avenue that students are unlikely to respond to, would certainly cause concern. Finally, use of resources. Spending a large amount of money on one budget item that doesn’t appear to have worked would be a red flag in the eyes of trustees. Ultimately, it comes down to not only the strength of the marketing plan, but how well a plan is executed.

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Sam Waterson

Sam is President at RHB.