What Does Your Org Chart Say About Your Marketing Organization?

I’ve seen a lot of org charts. At RHB, we have the privilege of working with colleges and universities to help them maximize the effectiveness of their marketing function. As part of a recent Future-Ready Organizational Capability Assessment of marketing and communications at a large academic college at a public research university, we conducted a competitive peer review. Among the set of aspirational colleges, the smallest marcomm team had six people and the largest had 48. That’s quite a range. It serves as a reminder that there’s no “one model.” Marketing staff sizes, organizational structures and budgets vary widely across higher education.

Yet, higher ed marketing structures tend to have one common characteristic. Nearly all are function-centric. That is, the marketing department is organized around particular marketing functional areas such as design, content and project management. In other words, the structure is optimized for outputs.

An output-oriented marketing operation is largely reactionary. The focus is on providing support and services to the university and meeting the needs of its various colleges/schools and other units, taking requests and churning out a lot of “stuff”—marketing deliverables of all sorts. (This orientation harkens back to the origins of many of these offices as publications offices, long before higher ed had cabinet- and VP-level CMO positions.) In contrast, the work of an outcomes-oriented marketing operation is all about advancing top institutional priorities. Here, marketing is a strategic function, enhancing reputation in ways that drive recognition and support and increasing the flow of resources into the institution.

The University of Oregon is an illustration of optimizing an organization for outcomes. Tying their work to the university’s overall goals, University Communications includes, for example, a Strategic Initiatives department. This nimble “tiger team” is dedicated solely to a focused set of institutional initiatives and emerging opportunities.

As an institution works to evolve its marketing function’s focus from outputs to outcomes, too often an impediment is lack of clarity and alignment on the desired outcome. What change should marketing affect for an institution? For admissions and advancement, the outcomes are clearer and more measurable. For marketing, it can vary from institution to institution or even within an institution. (At my previous university, marketing priorities across the enterprise ranged from ticket sales and fan experience in intercollegiate athletics to faculty recruitment in the school of medicine to reputational rankings in the school of public and environmental affairs.)

If you were to ask your leadership, your campus community and even your own team about the outcomes that marketing should be affecting for your institution, would the answers be consistent? Do colleagues have a shared understanding of marketing, its impact and their role in it? Enlighten them; connect the dots for them. If your priority is elevating the institution’s reputation and you’re relying on brand tracking measures, for instance, make sure to show the relationship between those metrics and achieving key business objectives and moving audiences to action.

So, let’s return to your organizational chart. What does it say about your marketing organization and what it’s optimized for? As competition for students, resources and talent has intensified, the needs of colleges and universities have evolved. Our marketing org charts largely have not, with the exception of moving boxes around and adding function-centric positions for digital and multimedia. (Digital, by the way, should be less about specific positions and more about building an organizational capability. Every marketing position is now a digital marketing position.) While the positions have changed, marketing organizations are still primarily structured to address shorter-term needs. I encourage you to take a fresh look at your org chart through this lens and do so more regularly. 

I look forward to sharing more observations from our organizational capability assessments—and from ongoing conversations with CMOs. We’re helping leaders answer critical questions about how an outcomes-focused, modern marketing and communications team and operation should be structured, staffed and supported at their institution.

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Rob Zinkan

Rob is the Vice President for Marketing Leadership at RHB.