Making DEI Practical at University of St. Thomas

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is top of mind for many higher ed marketers, but figuring out the practical side of applying DEI concepts to the actual creative work marketing teams produce is often easier said than done. In this episode, we’ll hear from Kymm Martinez and Katie Jensen at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota about how they made DEI less intimidating and more actionable for their marketing team.

We discuss:

  • How the St. Thomas marketing team developed a shared vision around DEI
  • The steps they took to evaluate their existing marketing materials from a DEI perspective
  • The DEI Viewfinder tool they developed to help their team create more inclusive marketing materials
  • Practical advice for making DEI a part of your team’s day-to-day operations.

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Transcript

Jarrett Smith:

You’re listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith. Welcome to another episode of the Higher Ed Marketing Lab, I’m Jarrett Smith. Diversity, equity and inclusion is top of mind for many higher ed marketers, but figuring out the practical side of applying DEI concepts to the actual creative work marketing teams produce is often easier said than done. For instance, how exactly does a team review their work from a DEI perspective, without putting their colleagues on the defensive? Who decides when work needs to change? And how do you portray your school as an inclusive and welcoming community without overselling the level of diversity that actually exists on your campus?

In this episode, we’ll hear from two guests who’ve tackled these questions head-on and have some valuable learnings to share. Joining us is Kymm Martinez, VP of Marketing, Insights and Communications, and chief marketing and communications officer at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, and Katie Jensen, AVP of Insights and Analytics at St. Thomas. Like many university marketers, Kymm and Katie have grappled with the challenges of applying DEI concepts in their team’s creative work, and they have a unique perspective on how to make it less intimidating and more actionable.

We start by exploring how the St. Thomas marketing team developed a shared vision around DEI, and how they organized a thoughtful evaluation of their existing marketing materials. Then we hear about the DEI Viewfinder, a tool their team developed to help evaluate their creative work as it’s being produced. And finally, Kymm and Katie share their best advice for making DEI a regular part of your team’s operations. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Katie Jensen and Kymm Martinez. Kymm, Katie, welcome to the show.

Kymm Martinez:

Welcome. We’re so excited to be here.

Jarrett Smith:

Well, I’m so excited to have you here, and I think it’s going to be just a fantastic and very relevant topic that our audience is going to get a lot out of. Before we dive into that, I would love it if you could just tell us a little bit about the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and your roles there.

Kymm Martinez:

Well, I’ll start with the University of St. Thomas. We are the largest private university in the State of Minnesota. We are proudly a Catholic university. We are among the top 20 national Catholic universities in the country. We have eight schools and colleges, about 10,000 students, and lots of exciting things happening here in Minnesota. We have just launched a brand new school of nursing. We also are the very first university in modern NCAA history to go directly from D-3 to D-1, which just happened in July. So we’re super excited about that.

There’s just a lot of really exciting things happening at the university, and so it’s been fun to be a part of that. I’ve been here for about five and a half years. My background, my title, I am the chief marketing and chief communication officer here at the university. I came from industry, as I’ve learned to say in higher ed, about five years ago. I was at General Mills for 20 years prior to that. And I also hold the title of Vice President of the Marketing, Insights and Communications team here on campus.

Katie Jensen:

Yeah, so I’m Katie Jensen, I lead the insights and analytics team within the marketing, insights and communications team which Kymm leads. And so my team is really all about bringing the audiences to the forefront, and helping people understand and have empathy for the prospective students we’re trying to talk to, or our donors, or our alumni, and just really understand where they’re coming from, as well as measure and track our success in terms of our digital campaigns, our websites, all the analytics from the marketing side work with my team as well.

Jarrett Smith:

Excellent. So we are here today to talk about all things DEI and really how to make that practical for marketers. And I think this is one of those topics that is just on everybody’s mind. You may have seen it. I came across a poll, I think it was on Inside Higher Ed from the Art & Science Group, and they were talking about how prospective students view DEI, and it is top of mind. It is obviously not the only thing they’re considering, but they are looking at that as they’re evaluating schools. And I’m just curious kind of to start things off, as university marketers, where do you see yourselves fitting within your institution’s broader DEI efforts?

Kymm Martinez:

Yeah. I feel like we should also perhaps start off with a little bit of a disclaimer about, we’re not DEI experts. We have a ton of faculty here and other folks within the university that could claim a more theoretical expertise than we have. I would call us more practitioners and we know how important the DEI journey is, and so we have committed ourselves and our department to being on it, but just full disclosure, kind of on that front that this is a learning journey. And I know we’re going to talk a little bit more about that as we kind of get into the podcast.

But I think that the role of marketing and communications at our university or any university is critical to DEI because we’re the ones that are the storytellers that are really fashioning the narratives about the university and helping everybody to have the perceptions about the university that hopefully are accurate. And so making sure that we are really being inclusive with our messaging is really, really important. And so I would say that we’re essential. But of course, when we do think about marketing and communications, it’s really important that it falls on a base of something authentic and that it is embedded in the values of the university, so obviously the entire university plays a big role in making sure that we’re walking the walk on this.

And so as marketers, we are shining spotlights on things, but it’s up to the whole university to really feel it at its core because otherwise we shouldn’t be marketing it. So yeah, we’re critical I think to the university’s efforts to get the story out, but it also needs to be an authentic journey for the university.

Katie Jensen:

The other thing I would maybe add to that, Kymm, is just we work with every part of the university, and so we have the ability to see patterns across different teams or needs across different teams. And so when we think about the role we’ve played in DEI, a lot of times it’s, we’re just in the conversation on a regular basis, and so we have the ability to influence and kind of help push things forward. Even just the way that our faculty communicate with students, or the way that our staff communicates with each other also needs to be inclusive and bring this sense of belonging because we want our entire community to feel included and welcomed here. And so some of our role too is just, we’re there as colleagues and coworkers trying to push this ahead for everybody.

Jarrett Smith:

I think that’s a great perspective. So St. Thomas, like many schools, is associated with its faith tradition, and in this case you are a Catholic school. I’m curious to what extent that has played into, or possibly created any challenges with regard to DEI. I mean, I think I’m thinking specifically about individuals that identify as LGBTQIA+. Has that presented any sort of unique hurdles that you would call out for your school?

Kymm Martinez:

I guess the first thing I would say is our faith tradition is what calls us to, we have a conviction of dignity which is very much rooted in Catholic social thought, which is about respecting the dignity of all and loving everybody and really welcoming the diversity into our community. And we absolutely do that. So I would argue that everything that we do as a university on the DEI front, including welcoming our LGBTQIA members of our community here is rooted in Catholic social traditions. So it is part of who we are as a university to accept and embrace, and to really allow everybody to bring their full potential, and to know that we as a community are stronger because of all those diverse perspectives.

Now having said that, there’s a wide variety of perspectives within the Catholic faith about how welcoming institutions should be. And that’s where, we are a university we’re Catholic, but we’re also a university. And so we are just making it very clear that our convictions call us to welcome and embrace. We do celebrate and uplift all members of our community here. And the best way we can just make sure that we overcome any resistance to that, again is to just clearly communicate, “This is who we are. That’s not up for debate. It’s part of our Catholic social teaching,” and be very honest about that so that nobody is left to wonder what is our position on various topics. So we make it very clear it’s part of who we are and it’s part of our Catholicism.

Jarrett Smith:

I think that’s a great perspective and thank you for sharing that. I think the way your team got started on the DEI journey and the actual marketing products you’re putting out there, the marketing and communications products you’re putting out there is really interesting. And Kymm, you said at the beginning of this, you said, “We are not approaching this from a fully informed theoretical standpoint, we’re really coming at this from a very practical angle.” But I think the way you went about as a team deciding, “How are we going to put this into practice and how are we going to make progress on our journey towards better diversity, equity and inclusion or marketing materials?” was super interesting. Could you just kind of tell us about, I guess at a high level, kind of a 30,000 foot view, where did you start? How did you approach this in a sensible way?

Kymm Martinez:

Actually it started with the university’s convictions. As I mentioned, one of them is dignity, and we obviously have a university definition of what that means. But as a department, we were going through the university’s convictions and then taking a marketing, insights and communications lens to them and writing, “What does it mean to embrace dignity and diversity in marketing and communication?” So that’s trying to articulate what that meant was where we started. And this was probably about three years ago. I would argue that the first paragraph that we came up with to describe, we were talking about wanting to make sure that we were never treating any members of our community as tokens or trying to oversell what our actual experience of being here on the campus was looking like. So three years ago, we kind of started there and started on the journey.

And then just recently we went back to that description to just see, is there any updating that we would want to do? And because of the work that we’ve been on, we’re now specifically saying that we’re an anti-racist department. We want to root out systemic racism in our place. So there’s our journey even in terms of our language has really kind of evolved. But it did start with that place. We ourselves are white cisgender females, so recognizing that and diving into white privilege and what that means, and again, recognizing that we don’t want our communities of color, either in our department or in the university, to always be the one that are educating people on what DEI should look like. We said, “Well, we’re going to take that on.”

And so it’s coming from that articulation of it, we started a committee that we call Representing DEI with Integrity Committee. Actually, it initially started as the Marketing DEI with Integrity Committee, and then we thought, “You know what? That doesn’t feel right to say we’re marketing it. We want to represent it.” So even that language was a bit of an evolution, and we have members of our group bidding monthly, bringing forward issues, topics. And one of the ideas that the group came up with is, maybe we should do an audit of some of our marketing and communications, and get feedback on how we think we’re doing. We are looking at this stuff every day, we’re thinking about this stuff every day, but potentially we’re missing something. And so that’s where Katie’s team actually came in to help facilitate that audit. So I don’t know, if you want to talk a little bit about that?

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. So with this audit, part of our goal was to, as Kymm said, just get outside of our team, get some fresh eyes on things, but also knowing that, we’re not experts in DEI and wanting to tap into the experts we have on campus, or at least people who have been engaged in the journey. And so we worked with a group called SEED. It stands for Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity, which is a national program. So we happen to have a chapter of that here at St. Thomas. And so we partnered with them and we recruited a handful of people who had graduated from this program where they dive deep into DEI concepts, and we said, “Hey, look at our materials and tell us what you see. Put sticky notes all over it.”

And so we gathered a ton of feedback. We then had focus groups with them to really kind of dive deep into the topics and learn more, and we came out of it with a really interesting perspective then on all of the things we had missed, even though we’d been paying attention and an ability maybe to spot those issues a little more easily. So from there we developed what we’re calling the DEI Viewfinder tool, which kind of lays out nine questions you can ask yourself to help develop more inclusive materials.

Jarrett Smith:

Yeah. And we definitely want to set aside some time to talk about the Viewfinder, because it’s super cool and just such a practical tool. If we’re going to dive into that, I guess one question I have is just, how did you decide what to audit in the first place? I am sure your team is turning out a lot of materials. Where did you focus your effort to make it doable?

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. I mean the key was really that doable piece is, how do you… Because we spent a lot of time actually just going round and round about, “What should we put into this audit?” And so, for anybody who would want to do something like this, my advice would be just keep it simple. Pick a few things, pick things that are really important, really central pieces. So for us, we picked our undergraduate view book. We picked the program pages that we have for each of our 150 plus majors and minors, because we know those are some of the first places that our undergraduate students see and get a perspective for, “What is this community like?”

And then we also picked something from our graduate side, so we picked from our Opus College of Business. They had an awareness campaign that we also put into it. So trying to find a bit of range and also kind of pick some of those big high profile items that we could learn from. We also found that, especially the view book, a lot of what we do in other places kind of flows from what that view book creative looks like. And so that was another reason to pick a piece like that, that sort of is representative, it has a lot of tentacles in other work that we do.

Jarrett Smith:

Yeah. It’s going to set a lot of direction for the other materials that you create. I know we’re in a podcast, so it’s a little hard to kind of visualize some of these things, but maybe we can paint a picture with words. I’m curious your audit, were there any things that kind of leapt out at you as things that surprised you, that the team came back with that you just weren’t expecting, or that opened your eyes to maybe seeing some things in different ways?

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. What’s interesting about it is that most of the stuff they came back with were topics we were aware of. So things like, “Don’t reinforce stereotypes. Don’t use language that might be perceived differently by somebody from a different background, code words or idioms, for example.” So these are things we knew about out, but the trick was getting ourselves to actually spot them. And so I think our biggest aha from it is if we could have sort of a mental checklist, which makes it sound simple and it’s not, but a mental checklist of, “Here are some of the things to check for,” and then examples of how that actually comes life. I think it was the examples that really unlocked for us a much better ability to just be able to spot those things.

And then I would say too, just it reinforced for us a sense of how important it is to get other people’s eyes on it. Even if it’s within our own team, people who haven’t been working on the project, because you swap in a headline or you swap in a picture and you Frankenstein this thing together and suddenly you have a combination of things that you might never have put together in the first place. And by the time you get to that final product, you can’t even see some of the issues that you have. So that was for me, one of the biggest ahas.

Kymm Martinez:

Yeah. I guess I would say the other aha for me was just how many comments people had and how many things that they spotted. Again, we’ve been on this journey, we thought we were… I mean, we obviously knew we were going to learn something or we wouldn’t have undertaken it in the first place, but the sheer breadth of the feedback that we got back was pretty interesting. And then just to underscore another point about what Katie said, the examples are key because it’s one thing to say something like, “Don’t reinforce the stereotype.” I mean, who’s not going to nod their head to that. But it’s the examples of like, “Did you realize you were reinforcing this stereotype, or this one or this one?” That was really what brought it to life for people to be able to, “Oh, wow.”

Because it’s easy to agree with statements and things that you know you should do, but once you see it in action, it’s more important. So what’s interesting about this whole thing is we started it because we thought it was just going to be for us. We just were using it within our team as a tool, but the insights were so rich that that’s when we said, “Wow. This has implications for anything that we’re doing, anytime we’re communicating, even internal communications.” And so that’s when we realized, “Hey, we need to package this up so that others can learn from these insights.” And we started internally at the university and then now we’re going external with it as well, just to help spread the word of things that were insights for us that we hope others… If we can help somebody else from making a mistake that we made, great, we’ll all be better off.

Jarrett Smith:

I think it’s such a interesting point you both make that, you’re both approaching this thoughtfully, like nobody is going out to create a piece of creative that’s going to reinforce a stereotype or use a language that is loaded, and at the same time in the moment. And I think it’s almost like when you’re that close to the creative, maybe it’s hard to read the label when you’re inside your own bottle. You’re just too close to it, you’ve got too many other considerations that you’re thinking about, and it can kind of fall to the background. I think that’s just such an interesting point. Just so our audience has a sense of the type of things that came up, could you throw out maybe a couple of examples of things either big or small that were brought to your attention that you hadn’t seen before?

Kymm Martinez:

I mean, I’ll start off with one that, so as a Catholic university, one of the headlines that we love to use actually either digitally or in other places is, Blessed are the Nerdy. We love that headline because it reinforces the academic excellence that we represent, but at the same time it has a little bit of humor and a nod to our faith-based tradition. So Blessed are the Nerdy, when we were originally looking at using that, we were using a stock image of a nerd. And in this case, the nerd happened to be Asian, and we were using that sort of as a juxtaposition. And that’s a classic example of, “You are reinforcing a stereotype by using an Asian in this particular image.” So that’s a great example of like… And we also were using stock photography, which again, we don’t love to use, but sometimes if you can’t get the authentic shot in your community, it’s easier.

But so we went back to student affairs and we said, “All right, this is what we’re trying to convey. We need somebody that is going to be comfortable looking kind of a little bit more bookish. Can you help us here?” And they came forward with a student, an actual student who loves to dress in bow ties, like that’s his authentic self to do that. Happened to be an African American guy with a wonderful smile and just a wonderful way about him. And he was excited to be featured. And so we flipped it. So we have him, a African American male as our model for Blessed are the Nerdy. And so anyway, that’s a great example of a stereotype that we wouldn’t have necessarily thought of. I’m sure I can think of others on my hand, but do you have any others that are top of mind for you?

Katie Jensen:

The other one I’d maybe mention is just the idea of subtleties and how if you are from a marginalized group, you might really pick up on things. So for example, we had one of our ads from the Opus campaign, there was a person who you couldn’t immediately tell, “Is it a man or a woman?” A little bit androgynous. And so if you are part of the non-binary community, it just signals a bit of, “Oh, maybe there’s a place for me here.” Or we had an image in one of our undergraduate program pages on the website where a young man is holding up a frog and he’s got a wedding ring on. So that signals maybe if you’re an older, maybe non-traditional student that this might be a place welcoming for you as well. So I thought that was really interesting too, not just the things to avoid, but the things to include that might signal something in a positive way, not in a message you didn’t intend sort of way.

Kymm Martinez:

One other example that pops to mind too is, in our, I believe it was also in our undergrad view book, our creatives were working with illustration and so we would have the picture, but there were little doodles kind of around the picture, just for more of a friendlier feel and tone, and that was going all the way through the book. There was one photo of a professor talking to a couple of students and there’s no words in these doodles, so they’re all just kind of like doodles. And above one of the black student’s heads is kind of a thought bubble that has just lines in it. Because again, we’re not using words, but one thing that was pointed out to us is, “Are you trying to say that she has no thoughts, that she couldn’t come up with anything to say to the professor?”

And I think that that’s actually really interesting thing because you put that thought bubble on top of a white male student, you’re probably not going to get the same person drawing the same conclusion. So it’s a good example of just context and being careful, even just unintended messages that you’re trying to say. Which actually ladders to another point that I think is really important to make. You were talking before about just like putting these things together. Our creative team, we have an internal creative team who are just amazing and they do really wonderful work in partnership with all of our schools and colleges. And it’s really important to, this DEI journey is everyone’s job and it’s not their fault if they come out with something like that instance for example. We’re not going to, “Why did you put a thought bubble with no words in it above the black woman?”

I mean, it’s all of our jobs to actually think about this and catch this, and you can’t personalize the fact that you missed it because we all missed it too. I mean, this went all the way through Katie, it went through me and it took this group, this external group looking at it with a different lens to find it. So that’s another, I think really important lesson on the journey is to not expect perfection of yourself and to lean on others. And again, not just to lean on your communities of color to help you with that. That’s not fair, but to lean on others and to expect that it takes a village in some respects to get this right.

Jarrett Smith:

I think that is such an important point, Kymm, the attitude with which you approach your team about… And from the very beginning you said this was rooted in sort of the authentic principles and values of the institution. You were thinking about, “How does this apply to our department? Let’s try and articulate that.” And then as you said, you’ve gone back and you’ve evolved this over time, and so you’re kind of taking people on this journey where it’s like, “Okay, we’re not going to achieve perfection, and it’s okay. We’re all doing our level best to try and continue to improve and to be more mindful about the products that we’re creating and what messages they’re sending.” I think it’s such an important point.

But that does bring me to my next question, which is, at some point you’ve got to ship work, you have deadlines to meet. And I think in this case, it’s one of those areas where you will never achieve perfect. You will always be able to point to something in the work and say, “That’s not quite ideal. There may be a better way to handle this.” So how do you talk to your team about it? How do you on your own think about kind of balancing the need to make improvement and be mindful, thoughtful about what you’re communicating, but also at the end of the day ship work that you know to some extent is never going to meet that perfect standard.

Kymm Martinez:

I mean, I think the trick is to just acknowledge that up from the get-go that this is a journey. The other thing is that it’s constantly evolving. This landscape is evolving, language evolves. So even something that might have been appropriate a year ago, maybe isn’t appropriate today because of new learning out there. So even if you studied up and got the A on the test originally of doing all the things right, again you have to stay current on this. And as a result of that, it’s impossible because there’s always going to be something. So I think it’s just about setting that expectation that you want to do the best that you can. It is obviously focusing on intent, although I think it is important to also remember impact. So it’s not enough just to say, “Well, we intended good, so sorry if the impact wasn’t there.”

I think we have to own the impact that we make in addition to our intentions. But just again, to assure everybody that this is a journey. I mean, one of the ways that we tangibly reinforce that for our group is we have personal diversity goals that we ask every employee of the marketing, insights and communications team to commit to at the beginning of the year as part of their annual objective setting. And we don’t dictate what those are. Those are very personal. So you can choose for yourself what it is, but I expect you to have like two to three of your own personal goals, that’s going to help you on that journey.

It could be reading books by diverse authors or consuming media about different population. It could be anything that you feel is going to help you on your journey, but it reinforces to the full team, “This is a journey and we expect you to get on it, but you can kind of dictate how you’re comfortable moving forward.” Because obviously we’ve got people across our team that are at very different points in the spectrum. I don’t know if you have anything you’d add to that.

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. Well, I would just say that one of the things that’s important when you’re thinking about the balance between, “Do we make this edit? How critical are we going to be of our own work?” versus, “We got to get stuff out of the door,” and we’re full up to capacity most of the time, but what’s really important is it is worth the time to take a minute and make sure that we’re sending inclusive messages, that we are not sending unintended messages. And so I think that’s been a bit of a shift for us too in opening up the conversation to DEI and being open to it all the way up the chain to Kymm, as a leader of our department. It’s expected that you’ll speak up. If you see something, you need to say something. And I think maybe prior to having some of these tools and having been on this journey, people were maybe noticing something and thinking, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t speak up. I don’t want to derail the project.”

And now I think we’re much more comfortable being able to say, “Hey, I noticed something here, can we have a conversation about it?” It doesn’t mean we need to make a change, it just means we should talk about it and make sure we’re all comfortable and make sure we feel good about a risk we might take, or, “Hey, I saw it this way, but maybe everyone else sees it a different way.” And so it’s really about that conversation, and if we can pause for a minute to have the conversation. A lot of times it’s not throwing out the whole project, it’s swapping in one different picture or changing one headline slightly. So I don’t think it’s taken as much time as we might have feared to be able to do it, and it feels good to have taken that moment and said, “Okay, do we feel good about this? All right. Let’s go.”

Kymm Martinez:

And that’s where that committee that I was talking about also plays a role, because if you as individual see something that you’re maybe a little bit uncomfortable with, or maybe your spidey sense has gone off, but you can’t really put your finger on why, there is a place for you to bring that image or whatever it is that sort of caused your spine to tingle and to say, “Is anyone else seeing this? Am I overthinking or is there something here?” So there’s a forum actually to bring that forward to get others points of view. And and again, then we as a group can decide, “All right. Is this something we want to approach somebody else on campus with or something like that?” Again, always with humility. We’re not the DEI police, we don’t have all the answers with it.

But I think the other message to really underscore with some of the things we’ve done, like in terms of starting off with just, “What does the diversity conviction mean for our group, the dignity conviction?” Setting up our committee, our personal diversity goals, these are all things we didn’t need university approval to do. It’s not like we waited for HR to say, “All right, now we’re formally going to add these personal diversity goals into our annual plan.” I mean, we just did it, and it’s not in our online form, but everybody has kind of their offline objectives that they have as well. So hopefully your viewers are taking from this that, this is stuff you can do and implement that you don’t necessarily need to wait for somebody to give you approval to do in order to start on the journey.

Jarrett Smith:

And we definitely, I would like to dig into implementation a little bit, but before we get there, I would love to talk about the DEI Viewfinder. Could you tell us what it is and how it works?

Katie Jensen:

Sure. Yeah. It’s a really simple tool, which is kind of the beauty of it, but what the Viewfinder does is it gives you nine questions you can ask yourself or ask with a buddy or ask somebody else to take a look through, and it really calls out some of those key topics in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, and across all types of diversity. And so really what it does is it gives us these questions we can tick through in our heads. It also gives us common language to use with each other. So instead of saying, “Wow, that picture and that headline together is super racist,” we can say, “I think that’s reinforcing a stereotype,” or, “I think that that is, there’s some unconscious bias coming in there and let’s talk about it.”

So it’s really a tool that you can use, and for any piece of creative, we tick through and we say, “All right, does it hit on any of these?” And if it does, we have a conversation. And so that’s one of the key things with it. The point of it is to be super critical, super detailed about the work that you’re doing. Sometimes we even catch ourselves going, “Oh gosh, are we being overly sensitive, overly critical?” And that’s the point. The point is to really take that critical look and then have the conversation and say, “What do we think? Do other people take the same thing away? Do we need to pull in other people to give us additional feedback?” And then-

Kymm Martinez:

Can I just script for that particular point too? And we don’t always, even when we’ve thought of something with like maybe, we don’t always make the change. And I think Katie said that before, but I mean, we sometimes agree that we’re going to lean into risk either because of there’s another benefit that would be going away if we swapped out the image or what have you. So it’s not a done deal that just because somebody brings something up, we’re automatically to be like, “Ooh, we have to stay 10 feet away from that.” It’s the discussion and then you make a decision on the basis of the risk and the risk reward, the benefit to that. So I just wanted to make that point as well.

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. And one of the things that we love about it is that it’s given us that common language we can use with other teams as well, so when we see something another team has put together. Because I’m sure like many of your listeners, if they’re marketers in higher ed, they are not the only people creating content on behalf of their institution. And so it gives us the ability to say, “Hey, we’ve been on this journey too. We made all these mistakes and here’s all these examples of mistakes that we’ve made.” And it comes with a bit of humility as well to be able to have that tool and be able to show people that, “We’re on a journey and we invite you to join us. And we notice something in your work we’d like to share.”

But the meat of the tool really is there’s these nine questions, for each question we give an overview of what it’s all about, and then we give those handful of examples that really bring it to life. And again, that’s one of the pieces we think is so critical is if you can give those examples that really helps people kind of put it in their brains and really understand and potentially make it easier for them to spot it in their own work.

Jarrett Smith:

So at this point, how many different groups I guess, across your university are actively using the Viewfinder in their day-to-day work?

Katie Jensen:

I don’t know how many are actually using it. I hope they are. We’ve trained several units on it. So we’ve trained anything from, we did a training with the entire faculty and staff of our school of education, for example. We’ve also done it with all of our social media content creators which live across all kinds of departments within the university. We’ve done leadership academy trainings, which is our internal HR kind of professional development group. We’ve done trainings there where we get everybody from the admin, for the provost who puts together all of his emails and presentations and things like that, to faculty members, to even students in some cases. So-

Kymm Martinez:

Actually that’s another one you’ve done it for. We have a student-run media agency on campus, which I’m sure a lot of people do, we call it TommieMedia, and there’s been a presentation to all the reporters, all the folks that are involved with TommieMedia, because sometimes we see things that they’re posting and doing, and we’re like, “Whoa, they might be able to benefit from these questions as well.”

Jarrett Smith:

I’m curious, as you’ve rolled it out to these different groups and kind of socialized this more, have you received any pushback or how has it been received overall, and then have you received any sort of specific pushback?

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. So I would say it’s been really well-received, particularly just as a very actionable tool that people can use. I think the tough part with DEI is once you’re kind of on the journey for a little while and you’re spending time and you’re learning and your eyes are so open to all the things that aren’t great about how marginalized groups are treated and you want to take some action, and it’s hard to know how to do that. And a lot of times I think people leave DEI trainings going, “Okay, I get it. I know there’s issues here, but what can I do?” And so that’s been one of the biggest pieces of feedback is just how actionable and accessible it is. You don’t have to know every stereotype that exists in the world to know that, “I’ve seen that trope before and I just want to research it a little bit and learn more about it.”

So it’s really, it’s accessible to anyone no matter where they are on the journey. I would say in practice some of the more difficult conversations I would say, I don’t know if it’s been pushback is just, with people who are creating content. Our creative team, people who write stories for us, and they’re having the benefit of this being an additional thing that we’re coming back to them and giving them feedback on their work, which I give creative teams a ton of credit. I couldn’t do what they do and have people tell me my baby’s ugly all day. But that’s been the toughest thing. And so what has again been helpful with this tool is that common language and the ability to say, “I think this is sending a message you didn’t intend, and here’s kind of the category that falls in, and let’s talk about that.” I think this has made those conversations easier than they were before we had something like this.

Jarrett Smith:

And again, it just underscores the importance for me about leading with the attitude of progress not perfection, awareness, mindfulness around these issues, but there is no end state where we check it off and it’s just done. And so that sets you up to be able to have a more positive interaction on those things.

Kymm Martinez:

Actually, that does remind me of another, I guess I wouldn’t call it a pushback, but another question that we get. We’re as a university on a journey and our faculty, student, staff community, we would like it to be more diverse than it is. So that leads to a question around from a marketing, communication standpoint is where do you draw the line in terms of you want to represent an aspiration of the university such that you can draw from a population that will help increase diversity, but at the same time, you don’t want to overpromise and create an image of something that actually doesn’t exist when it’s here. So that’s another conversation that we do get into when we roll this out.

And sometimes I think people are looking for, they want like the answer, they want the black or white answer. So every picture should have 25% people of color and 75% white people, because that’s what the diversity of the student body in the first year class looks like. And it’s not that simple. And again, all these things are nuanced and it’s a little bit more gray. So the line that we walk is, we do want to nod to the university that we want to become, so we think it is all right to lean a little bit into aspirational, but we never want to cross the line to where we’re selling again, a look, a tone, a feel that just doesn’t exist here at the university. So we have dialogues around that.

An example is we were doing a campaign here on campus. It was an internal campaign in conjunction with our advancement group, thanking people for the philanthropy, the many gifts that have come onto campus. And so we had taken photos of students with their thumbs up just sort of thanking donors. And there were six students originally that were photographed, and of the six, four were students of color. And so that was something where like, “Okay. That would be like two thirds of the folks in the picture.” So that was an example of something we took back to our committee to discuss. We said, “How do we feel about that?” Because again, we’re not trying to come up with a rule in terms of like, “Every campaign has to have this percentage, but in this particular case, knowing how first of all, everybody was going to have a chance to see all the images because they were going to be what we like to call campus famous, so they were going to be everywhere on campus.

It just didn’t feel like the right mix. It felt like we were over, perhaps going into that token area that we do not want to be in. So our solve for that was to shoot four more students to bring it up to 10 in total and to keep the original four students of color as part of that 10, just to help that mix feel a little bit more true to life. So that’s just an example of how we try and walk that line, and that is one of the questions that we sometimes get when rolling out the tool is aspirational versus reality.

Jarrett Smith:

Yeah. I think that’s such a great point because it’s not a math problem at the end of the day that has a perfect answer.

Kymm Martinez:

No, people would love it to be because then it’s easier. You count the number of people and then you… But it’s not that, that’s why the conversation is important.

Katie Jensen:

And I would say that applies across all of the concepts in the Viewfinder. People want it to be a simple, “This is your set of rules and if you follow these rules, you’re going to be okay.” And that’s just not the case. I mean the diversity and inclusion concepts are complex and nuanced, and so sometimes too from our creative team, another example here, we had a picture that we said we really shouldn’t be using, that had a kid doing a thumbs up. And he happened to be in front of the Colosseum in Rome, and in parts of Italy, a thumbs up is offensive.

And so we gave that feedback and we said, “Look, we can’t use it in this case because he’s really kind of bringing his own culture into this place where he’s supposed to be immersing in Italian culture.” And so our creative team was like, “Got it. We won’t use thumbs up anymore.” And it was like, “No, no, you can use thumbs up, it’s just in the context of that situation.” So that’s a big piece of this is just embracing there’s a lot of gray area and that’s why the conversations are so important to just make sure that we’re thinking through it, and is it okay in this case, because the answer might be different depending on the context.

Jarrett Smith:

So thinking about operationalizing this, people are listen to this and saying like, “Wow, this is very cool. I think we could do something similar on our campus.” What advice do you have for folks that are thinking about rolling out something similar at their own institution?

Katie Jensen:

My advice would be starting with buy-in at the leadership level. One of the things we are really lucky to have is this woman sitting next to me here, Kymm, is a champion of DEI at St. Thomas and even in her personal life. And so, we are lucky to have a executive sponsor who expects us to do this work, who puts it in our personal objectives every year, who asks us to engage and welcomes us to engage no matter where we are on that journey. And I think that piece is really important because now it is an expectation of our creative team when we brief them, or our writers when we brief them, that they know that one of the things when they bring it back to us is, “Yes, does it hit on the key messages we want to hit? Does it speak to the audience? Is it inclusive?”

They know that that is going to be a bar that they’re held to. And so when the feedback comes, it’s not a surprise, that’s part of the deal. I would also say though, in fairness to them, they’re so close to those pieces that we can’t always expect them to come with a perfectly inclusive piece. And so, one thing we’ve done is we’ve said, “We’re not going to make the applying the DEI Viewfinder a step in the process, it’s something that anybody who comes in contact with a piece on its journey to being developed can step in with, “Hey, I’m noticing this thing from a DEI lens.” And so that’s been really good too. It’s this shared accountability, it’s not one person’s job. It’s not a thing we do at one point in time, it’s something we’re all aware of and all free and open to say, “All right, let’s take a second and take a look at this.”

Jarrett Smith:

That’s really interesting. My assumption was that, “Oh, this must just be a formal step in the process.” And that’s interesting that you found that actually it seems to work better for your team that it’s not again, maybe a box that you’re ticking.

Katie Jensen:

Right. Exactly. I think that’s part of what we’re trying to do is it shouldn’t be the like, “Oh, it’s this cursory thing.” It should be part of anybody who’s reviewing the materials should be looking at it that way. It also means though that we have some freedom for people who are maybe more immersed in DEI concepts. When they come to it, they’re for sure looking at it. For those who are maybe less comfortable, they know that there will be other people along the way who can apply it. And then it also means that sometimes if people are less comfortable, they might tap those of us who are more used to using it. So just it provides a little more freedom and feels less like a hoop you have to jump through and more just like, “This is anybody who’s reviewing it is going to want to be looking at this stuff.”

Jarrett Smith:

It becomes more of a community effort at that point.

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. And much more conversation too. I mean, I just actually, I got a text from a coworker on the way to the bus stop to drop my daughter off this morning to say, “Hey, what do you think of this picture? Well, now let me show you it in context.” Or just kind of constantly having these little conversations, and these are conversations where we would’ve in the past felt like, “Ooh, I got to sit down and have a really careful one-on-one conversation with somebody and really…” And it’s just opened up our comfort levels with it.

Jarrett Smith:

That is really interesting. Okay. So let me flip this around and you may have kind of already hit on all these things, but how could somebody go wrong trying to roll this out on their campus? I think you’ve kind of already touched on a few what not to do type things.

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. I mean, I think you for sure don’t want to be the only one. I don’t think you want to be the lone wolf. A lot of the magic with it is the conversations you can have, and the dialogue that it opens up. That’s actually been one of the really positive of things for us is showing others in the university that we have opened ourselves up to this feedback and we’re open to it and we’re having these conversations. We’re getting more feedback from people when they see something. It used to be that we would hear it, three or four people down the road when, “Oh, somebody saw this,” and then finally it gets to somebody who’s comfortable talking to us. And we’re hearing from a bigger variety of people now too, both on the positive and negative. So I think it’s definitely, it’s got to be ingrained in your team culture and you have to be sort of committed to, “We’re on a journey together and we’re going to hold hands and do this as a group.”

Kymm Martinez:

Yeah. I would just echo too, and again, the importance of approaching this with humility and making sure again that people know that you’re not considering yourself the expert, and now you’re going out to try and tell everybody how to do that. Especially in an academic setting where sometimes marketing, people can look at that and say, “Wait a minute, you’re just spinning.” We want to just make very clear what our roles are in there. But I said this at the beginning of the podcast but I can’t underscore it enough, the other really, really, really important way you can go wrong is if the institution that you’re talking about does not have a true commitment to this, and yet you’re out there trying to represent that you do.

That would be very difficult, kind of like in a show stopper from the very, very beginning. So it’s important to as a university, as an institution, as an organization to have a true commitment to walking the walk on DEI, because people will smell it immediately if you are just trying to spin something that isn’t there, or put lipstick on a pig, as we sometimes like to say. That’s not going to work. It doesn’t work in this space. It needs to be authentic.

Katie Jensen:

Can I just add one more I think really critical thing? And you touched on this earlier, but the other way you can go wrong is relying on the people on your team from marginalized communities to do this work. We talk a lot and this is part of the humility we try to have about this. We realize we’re two white women up here talking about this stuff, white cisgendered, able-bodied, straight. And so, that’s important because we hear a lot from our colleagues from marginalized groups that they are tired. They have, we call it representation fatigue, which I thought was a really eye-opening term because they are being asked to draw on experiences of oppression and hurt, and to do it for free on top of their day jobs.

And so, one of the things we really like about this tool is it’s given us a way to contribute and not always have to rely on those folks on our team to speak up and do the work. It’s tiring. And so, that would be the other piece is just, that’s one of the reasons it’s important that it’s everybody, because it can’t just be those few people on the team.

Jarrett Smith:

Wow. What great advice. So what’s next? What’s next for St. Thomas and your DEI efforts? What’s next for your team? Where do you go from here?

Kymm Martinez:

So I’ll talk at the university level first and then bring about our group. Our university has all sorts of really wonderful initiatives underway. Right after George Floyd was murdered here in Minneapolis, we founded a racial justice initiative here with a fantastic scholar, Dr. Yohuru Williams at the helm of that, that is doing a lot of work in terms of historical recovery, and really trying to engage in conversations about, “How do we grow from here? How do we do better from here?” So that’s just one aspect of what the university is doing.

We also have a new college that launched back in 2016, the Dougherty Family College, which actually is focused on underrepresented students, helping them get to a four-year degree. So it’s a two-year program, but that wraps around and provides all sorts of different support for a person who might not have been able to enroll directly in a four-year. But we provide that support for them so that they can then get that support in the first two years and then transfer hopefully to St. Thomas but also other schools. The most important thing is that they get a degree.

So the university has a lot of initiatives like that, that we’re involved in. We just launched a new college of health that is very much engaged in healthcare disparities and eliminating health inequities. Our college of education, our school of education is very much focused on the gap. Minnesota has one of the worst education gaps in the country in terms of when you look at students of color grad rates versus white student grad rates. And so we’ve got a school that’s very much focused on that. So there’s a lot of work at the university level that we’re doing which we’re then privileged and proud to be able to represent and tell the stories in our group.

So for our group, we’re just going to continue on again with our journey. We’ve just done our very first ever three year DEI plan for our group. It includes things like looking at our suppliers, our freelancers, making sure that we’re working with more BIPOC-owned businesses or freelancers. There’s all sorts of things that are in our strategic plan, but we’ve written it down to just make sure that it’s on our journey. And this particular Viewfinder tool, again we’re starting to do… We’ve already been doing presentations outside of St. Thomas. As people have become aware of this tool and are interested in it, and we’re very happy to share that because it has applicability not only for other higher ed institutions, but also for anyone that’s in an organization.

So we’ve been doing presentations on that, but that obviously, the scalability of our ability to be able to get out there and do all the presentations is limited. So we’re in the process of trying to turn this into an online course that people could access that would then hopefully bring the tool to more people, because that would be our goal. We want everyone to have access to it. That’s one of the things I love about working in higher ed is the willingness to share things that you’ve uncovered and discovered that could be of use to other people, and that’s what we are trying to do here.

Jarrett Smith:

Well, that is great. So Kymm and Katie, if folks want to reach out to you and find out more, continue this conversation, what are the best places to do that?

Kymm Martinez:

Well with both, it’s easy to reach us via email, and the email nomenclature here is pretty simple. First name ., last name @. St. Thomas, S-T-T-H-O-M-A-S.edu. And I’m assuming our names are going to be, the spellings are going to be published somewhere so we don’t have to run through that here. So there’s that. LinkedIn is another great place to reach either one of us. And we’re very open to having the conversations with anyone who is wanting to start on this journey and wants to learn from what we’ve done.

Jarrett Smith:

Well, thank you both so much for sharing so openly and freely with the journey that you’ve been on, and I think so many folks are going to find this very useful in their day-to-day work. So I just want to say thank you for joining us today.

Kymm Martinez:

Thank you for having us. Really appreciate it.

Katie Jensen:

Thanks Jarrett.

Jarrett Smith:

The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta, a full service enrollment marketing agency for colleges and universities of all sizes. To see some of the work we’ve done and how we’ve helped schools just like yours, visit echodelta.co. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe, and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. And as always, if you have a comment, question, suggestion or episode idea, feel free to drop us a line at podcast@echodelta.co.

 

Fostering Collaboration Across Decentralized Marketing Teams at UT San Antonio

For better or worse, decentralized marketing teams are a reality for many schools. And while this model solves a number of important problems, it leaves many leaders wishing for greater economies of scale and alignment across teams. In this episode, we look at the University of Texas at San Antonio and how operational changes they made during COVID permanently transformed the way their marketing team works.

Joining us in the conversation is Anne Peters, AVP for Marketing and Special Projects and Brett Calvert, Senior Executive Director Of Marketing at UT San Antonio. We start by discussing UTSA’s decentralized marketing operations and how the demand for carefully coordinated communication around COVID led them to develop a series of new mechanisms to foster better alignment and resource sharing across teams.

Anne and Brett share how they generated buy-in from leaders to make these changes and the benefits and trade-offs they realized as a result. Then, they wrap up by offering their advice to marketing leaders who are interested in fostering better collaboration across decentralized teams.

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Transcript

Jarrett Smith:
You’re listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith.

Welcome to another episode of the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m Jarrett Smith. For better or worse, decentralized marketing teams are a reality for many schools. And while this model solves a number of important problems, it leaves many leaders wishing for greater economies of scale and alignment across teams. In this episode, we’ll be looking at the University of Texas at San Antonio and how operational changes they made during COVID permanently transformed the way their marketing team works.

Joining us in the conversation is Anne Peters, associate vice president for marketing and special projects at UT San Antonio. Also joining us is Brett Calvert, Senior Executive Director Of Marketing at UT San Antonio. We start by discussing UTSA’s decentralized marketing operations and how the demand for carefully coordinated communication around COVID led them to develop a series of new mechanisms to foster better alignment and resource sharing across teams.

Anne and Brett explain how they generated buy-in from leaders to make these changes and the benefits and trade-offs they realized as a result. Anna and Brett wrap up by offering their advice to marketing leaders who are interested in fostering better collaboration across highly-distributed teams. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Anne Peters and Brett Calvert. Anne, Brett, welcome to the show.

Anne Peters:
Thank you, Jarrett.

Brett Calvert:
Thank you, Jarrett.

Anne Peters:
Good to be here.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. Well, I am really excited to talk about all the interesting work y’all are doing at the University of Texas San Antonio, especially with regard to cross-divisional teams, across your marketing communications function. Before we get into all that, wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about UT San Antonio and your roles there?

Anne Peters:
Absolutely. I’ll start and then kick it over to Brett. So my name is Ann Peters. I’m the associate vice president for university marketing and special projects at UTSA. I’ve been at UTSA since 2009, so I guess I’m getting to be an old-timer there, but I’ve been in multiple roles over those years and have kind of worked through different areas. Was hired to work for our president when he started, in 2017, doing communications for him and then have kind of since moved into a marketing role and taking on the university marketing team, who are a joy to work with. And so I’ve been doing higher-ed marketing and communications, basically for my whole career, just about since I graduated from college. So this has been a lifelong passion for me.

Brett Calvert:
And I’m Brett Calvert, the senior executive director of marketing at UTSA. I’ve just finished my eighth year here. And before that, I was in media sales, as the national sales manager at the ABC affiliate here in San Antonio. And then I was the vice president of marketing at the Visionworks optical chain, which is based in San Antonio. So I transitioned into higher education. It was kind of a dual passion. I graduated from here. My daughter graduated from here. We’re donors at the university. And it felt like a good place to be and a lot better than reading sales sheets and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization. And chasing around clients for money and things like that, in sales.

Jarrett Smith:
Good deal. Good deal.

Brett Calvert:
So it’s very different.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I wonder if you could just talk to us a little bit about how marketing communications has historically been structured at UTSA. How do y’all operate? And I guess where do you fall or, historically, have you fallen kind of on that spectrum of centralized versus decentralized?

Anne Peters:
Well, so Jarrett, one of the things that might be interesting context for the listeners is that we are a relatively young institution. We’re only 50 years and change that we’ve been around. And so we have some of those young institution joys and challenges. We’ve grown so quickly, in the last few years. And we’re on this steep growth trajectory, right now, where our enrollment has been going up and up and up, one of our strategic goals as an institution. So right now we’re sitting at right around 35,000 students. And so, I think it’s fair to say that the bigger you get, the harder it is to centralize or to take a centralized approach. And at UTSA, we’ve had a very decentralized approach to marketing and communications, as long as I’ve been there. And I daresay, probably from the early years. And that decentralization has only gotten more pronounced in recent years.

And it’s a dual-edged sword, which of course we’ll get into, right? And there are pros and consistently. And I know there’s different philosophies, different camps, as to what’s better or worse. But for better or worse, that is kind of the current situation at UTSA. And rather than fight it, I think Brett and I have come to that place of peace and Zen around it, and acceptance, deep acceptance [crosstalk 00:05:27]-

Jarrett Smith:
Deep acceptance. Yep.

Anne Peters:
Deep acceptance. And just said, “You know what? This is the way it is. That structure’s probably not going to change anytime soon, probably not worth our political capital to try and change it. So let’s maximize it, instead. Let’s just see if we can leverage it and get as many people on the bus as we can, even though we’re all organizationally in separate shops. And what can we do to sing from the same songbook, even though we’re all working with different budgets and we’re all reporting to different places.”

So one of the nice things, though, one of the silver linings, about this kind of deep decentralization, is that our satellite shops in all the different areas around the university have really gotten stronger and bigger. A lot of our shops on campus have pretty large staffs at this point. And they’ve got dedicated web developers and dedicated graphic designers and dedicated writers. So that, in some ways, makes our job as the central university marketing unit easier, because folks rely on us less to do work for the entire university, which allows us to concentrate a little bit more on the institutional priorities and kind of fulfilling that role of putting some parameters in at the top, some kind of guidelines and brand platforms and things that everyone can work from.

Jarrett Smith:
Interesting. Brett, I have to ask, as somebody who did not start out in higher ed, coming into higher-ed marketing and a sort of very decentralized way of operating, was that surprising for you? Or how did you make that adjustment coming from industry into higher ed?

Brett Calvert:
Yeah, it did in a way. I think the nonprofit attitude at a public university was quite different than anything I’d ever experienced before. I mean, when you’re looking at sales goals, and if you don’t meet sales goals, people get laid off or companies change positions and things like that. The stakes were quite a bit higher in previous jobs, but here, I think, what Anne was saying, when I started, we were nestled under development and advancement. And so our priorities were sort of for them. And then we did a little bit of enrollment marketing on the side. And then we got a little bit more money to do that. After I started, we were able to sort of make a case for why enrollment marketing needed to be more competitive.

And then, I think, after we formed the University Relations Division, we started to see that some of these jobs, like enrollment marketing or what was happening in strategic academic communications, were area that could probably, as Anne was saying, stand on their own with their own staff and do a better job than us trying to do all things to all people. And I think, before I started, we actually even handled the athletics marketing. So there was a lot of things going on with an eight person shop that were just not sustainable. But the way it’s set up now, we can act as counselors or advisors or idea people or designers or web people, rather than trying to do it all for everybody. So this structure works pretty well.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting. So I did want to ask about enrollment management. How has that sort of historically worked at UTSA? And sort of that collaboration between marketing and the enrollment side of the house? How has that collaboration worked?

Brett Calvert:
Very good. I mean, we’ve got a great relationship with that division. When I started, we did no digital advertising. There was like a little bit of stuff that was done. They would do magazine ads and things like that. So once more money came in, and the realization of what a priority it was to keep that funnel going and keep it growing, I think everyone saw the advantages of us working together and then having their own shop be a standalone organization that can do a better job of focusing on that, with all of the levers they had to be able to pull in that area. Anne, what do you think?

Anne Peters:
Well, I was going to say, one of the things that I find interesting, is how often I see colleges and universities where their central marketing function and their strategic enrollment function are completely separate islands. And have, maybe a tolerance relationship with one another. Or even a little bit of a adversary relationship with one another, because a lot of times you find them coming at odds, right? Strategic enrollment has a very defined audience and they know what appeals to the prospective student audience. And it doesn’t always align neatly with the university central branding efforts. And so that often causes them to spin off in their own direction. And a lot of times, then, you don’t get that brand linkage.

And, and I used to work in strategic enrollment marketing, back in my early days in my career, so I know that world well and I understand that that point of view. So when I came into my role at each UTSA, I saw that that phenomena was true at UTSA, as well. And the truth of the matter is, though, that our strategic enrollment marketing area, their advertising budget, their marketing budget, is actually bigger than the central university marketing budget, for good a reason, right? As it should be. They have to invest much more deeply in digital strategies and, work in the funnel and doing all the important infrastructure work to make sure the CRM is working well and effective and all that good stuff. Those things take a lot of money. So one of the first things that I really wanted to do when I walked into this role is form a super strong alliance with our strategic enrollment marketing team, and really come at it together as a team, as opposed to separate entities.

And we had an opportunity to do that, through a brand development process. So we did launch a new institutional brand, basically in the midst of the pandemic. Which was not ideal and a learning experience, but actually worked out pretty well. But leading up to that time, we worked with our strategic enrollment partners to develop that, with their input, very much their heavy input. And we continue to have standing meetings with them. We do budget collaborations with them, where look at both of our budgets and say, “Okay, what are we spending money on? And how can we dovetail? And where does it make sense to join forces?” And, ‘Okay, you guys will take care of digital spend. We’re going to do outdoor.” We kind of figure out how we’re going to divide and conquer. And because of that, the institution’s brand is much more heavily represented in prospective student marketing materials than I think it’s ever been before. So seeing that linkage and seeing that consistency has been really rewarding.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. I think the collaboration between marketing and enrollment management is so, so critical. It’s a beautiful thing, when you see it working well. And it really can be painful to watch, when it’s not. So, I mean, I think that’s such a great example of kind of the collaborations you have had at UTSA. But I know the pandemic, for you, I think, really became a catalyst for a deeper level of collaboration, across the school. And so I’m just curious, if you could talk to us a little bit about some of the changes. And maybe one way to sort of work into this, is to take us back, maybe, to the early days of the pandemic and what kind of challenges was your office facing and some of the pressures you were under and how you started to adapt and think differently about the way marcom is happening at UTSA?

Anne Peters:
Well, I think our experiences is not, probably, terribly unique. I think all colleges and universities had similar experiences. But, it was fascinating to me to see how all of a sudden those of us doing marketing had to become public health communication experts overnight. And all of a sudden that became the focus, of how do we most effectively get these messages across. These important public health messages to our students, faculty and staff. And video became so much more important than it ever was before. Running virtual events became critical and something that we were admittedly not very experienced with. And we all of a sudden had to ramp up things like turning around fully developed websites overnight and pushing out hundreds of communications to our constituencies. And again, this is not unique. Everybody went through the same thing.

But it was really an opportunity, looking back on it. Because we were already trying to make headway around tearing down some of these silos. And starting to build bridges across all these marcom units across our campus. And bringing the folks who had similar skillsets and responsibilities together, to collaborate more. But when the pandemic hit, all of a sudden, it became not a luxury anymore. We had to. We needed bench depth. We had folks who were getting sick, with COVID, and all of a sudden couldn’t fulfill responsibilities, that we needed others to step in. And so it became apparent pretty quickly that we needed to form some cross-divisional teams that could provide that bench depth, provide that expertise, and kind of say, “You know what? Silos out the window.” Like, “I know you’re a videographer for our student affairs area, but we really need you to come over here and do this video about masking.” Things that wouldn’t have normally been in their realm of expertise.

And, “Hey, web developers on campus. We know you’re all responsible for your own websites, but we need y’all to come together and get our COVID website up overnight.” So we triaged. We put together these teams and they worked really well. They worked really well. They worked so well that we were like, “Ooh, we want to keep these. These are great.” And we’re developing relationships we’d never had before. We’re sharing resources we never had before. It was really kind of awesome. So I think, for Brett and I, that’s been one of our charges here, as we’ve kind of moved into our new normal, is how do we keep all these cross-collaborative efforts and teams in place, even when we are not in crisis mode and keep them going and keep reaping the benefits.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. I’m wondering if you could kind of drill down a level deeper into that, and we can kind of paint the picture of the structures that have been put in place as an organization. Because I imagine that a lot of this kind of started very expediently and was probably pretty chaotic, but then over time, it kind of solidified into more formal structures that were put in place. I know there’s a number of things that you have, in terms of cross-divisional teams. Could you kind of describe the core components of that?

Brett Calvert:
Oh sure. Yeah. Well, we obviously partner with strategic enrollment, have regular meetings with them to talk about their priorities, projects, things that we’re working together on. Student affairs and academic affairs, Paul, were key to our being able to continue to communicate. And we had a lot of different types of tasks that were being done, whether it was email, web content, academic communication, social media, all the websites that needed to be created. And then the video teams and comms leads teams were all created. And it was one of the things where, in the pre-pandemic days, at most companies in institutions, you had to set up a meeting in a room, with live people. We never had the luxury of just jumping on a video screen, like this. And even though it had been dabbled in and talked about, I think that really opened up everyone’s calendars to be able to find ways to, instead of having to have time to commute across campus or go to the downtown campus or do other things, you were now available, all the time.

And as Anne was, as well, we were very proud of the way our teams responded and the way they stepped up, worked on weekends and evenings, even though it wasn’t something they were used to doing. But at the same time, I think everyone felt there was a mission that needed to be accomplished. And everyone really jumped on board and found the energy and the time and the resources to be able to put together great work. And that pivot, it’s lasting.

We’ve got new employees that start and they are put on these teams to participate. We have videographers that join from other divisions and they want to be part of the video team and be able to cross-collaborate. We’ve got new communicators and writers that come on board that also realize that there’s a lot that they can learn from us. And at the same time, we set up structures like the marcom studio webpage, which that site brought together all of the different tasks and jobs of marketing communications and anything related that were all put in one place. So a new employee can go in there and see what editorial styles they should use or where the video team was, who was on the team, how they could get in touch with us. It was a lot of information that had never really been gelled for people to be able to find easily. And I think that was something that we had already been working on, but it got put in the fast lane, as a result. So it was a challenging period, but at the same time, we found ways to bring people together quickly, easily. And at the same time have a coordinated communication effort put out.

Jarrett Smith:
So kind of coming out of that, I mean, you’ve got, I heard you say web content, email, video team, academics team. You’ve got these various cross-campus teams that are coming together. I have two questions for you. Number one is, today, how often are those teams meeting? And then also, how large are those teams and how curated is the membership for a particular team?

Anne Peters:
Most of them, all of them really, are continuing to meet and have been formalized. There are a couple teams that we have in place that are activated only when we’re in a crisis mode. So we have, for example, that web development team, I mentioned. That’s kind of the key web folks, across campus, who can put a website together overnight if needed. And we have a social media monitoring team, that we activate when there’s an issue or a big event going on that we need kind of all hands on deck to help monitor social media overnight.

But the rest of the teams that we put into place are ongoing. And one of the things that we had to do to enable that was to really work through some buy-in efforts and a little bit of convincing to make sure that the folks that oversee or the leads on those different divisions across campus, felt comfortable and understood why we were asking their folks to continue this kind of rich, collaborative culture that we had built and continue to meet and sometimes pitch in on projects that didn’t fall in their areas and share their resources.

Anne Peters:
So that has been kind of one of our labors of love, so to speak, is to kind of make that case. And so I have taken my little dog and pony show to many a cabinet meeting and university leadership council meeting and academic council meeting to kind of say, “Hey, here’s a group that you may not have known about. And your person is in this group. And here are all the people who are in it. And this is when we meet. And this is what we do. And gosh, it’s been great and look at the results. And here are the metrics we have to prove it.” And that kind of thing is super time consuming, that managing up process. Super time consuming, you have to be super thoughtful about it. You have to find the right timing. There’s so many factors, but it’s so worth it. And once you start to build that culture and spread that philosophy, it kind of becomes infectious, so to speak. So, it’s been worth it.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. Anne, when you’re kind of trying to generate that buy-in, to somebody who’s maybe a little skeptical, or at least feeling a little protective of their people, what are some of the most, I guess, powerful things you’re able to say to them to kind of express, “This is really worth it”?

Anne Peters:
Oh gosh. So many stories. Well, I think, one of the real advantages of this higher degree of coordination and collaboration is, we’ve really been able to consolidate and streamline and get just much more effective in the way that we message things across campus, because we’re not all trying to do it separately. We’re not all trying to just, talk about our little piece. We’re knitting it together into a larger strategy and it’s much more cohesive, as a result. So, I can’t tell you the number of times where we’ve been … Because we have this email team, for example, we know that, “Oh, Hey, an email’s being worked on over here, in our academic strategic communications area.” And they’re talking about something that, “Oh, I happen to know student affairs is working on something like that, too. Or our business affairs folks have a piece of that over here. And they were planning to put that in a newsletter. Well, why do that? Let’s just combine them and make it all holistic and make it make sense.”

So people don’t have to do the math themselves. The easier we make it and more streamlined. And the clearer, the better. Especially right now, with all the messaging that’s been going out. I think we’ve sent more emails in the last 18 months than we’ve probably sent in the last five years to our campus community. So, yeah, I think, being able to tell those stories to leadership, as you go, and hold those up as examples. And then also show, “Gosh, we produced this piece of content and we used it in these 10 different places, because we had all the right players at the table. They knew about it. They knew when it was coming out, we were coordinated about the timing. And we were able to make much more of an impact as a result.” People pay attention to those things and they notice them over time. But it does take a little convincing, sometimes, that you are asking for people’s time and attention away from their core responsibilities. And sometimes it’s a big ask.

Also, I mean, we’ve acted in a rather selfless manner. I mean, there’s been some horse trading going on, where somebody needs design skills, or social media graphics, or a video project, or a website stood up quickly. We have a team that can do that for them. And by collaborating and talking to people and building those networks, rather than just sending someone an email and hoping they respond to you, than if we have a little bit more of a connection and, obviously, we’ve seen inside their homes, since we’ve been working remotely. We’ve been able to see their dogs bark and talk to each other. I mean, there’s a lot of, I wouldn’t say intimacy, but a lot more connectivity to the people rather than to the task. So when you know somebody and you’re able to work with them and not just ask them to do things for you, I think it helps everybody.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. When it’s not purely a transactional sort of deal.

Brett Calvert:
Right.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. Really interesting. When you said horse-trading, I thought, “Oh, they’re in Texas. Of course, there’s horse-trading.”

Anne Peters:
Longhorn trading or something.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Brett Calvert:
Yeah. Manatee trading for you Floridians, I guess.

Anne Peters:
There you go.

Jarrett Smith:
Oh no, no. Don’t touch the manatees. Nope. Nope. You can alligators, we’ve got a ton of them. But nobody wants to trade alligators. Oh gosh. Well, when I hear the word coordination, I mean, I think coordination and collaboration is a beautiful thing, I think, Anne, to your point, can lead to much more effective communications and kind of everybody singing from the same sort of music, which I think is great. But there’s a flip side to that, which is it’s time consuming. And so I guess, could you talk a little bit about that? Maybe, how do you navigate the balance of the value of coordination versus the time and energy it takes to actually pull that off?

Anne Peters:
That is the kicker, right, is the more collaborative you are, the more time it takes to get everybody on the bus and to have the conversations and to have the pre-conversations before you have the-

Jarrett Smith:
The meetings about meetings?

Anne Peters:
… [crosstalk 00:27:31] and the meetings about the meetings. Yep. And then, sharing things widely and getting a lot of feedback and then, “Now we’re having to deal with a lot of feedback.” And how do you do that? And you have to just be super strategic about it, because there are times when you just don’t have the luxury of time to be able to be as collaborative as one would like. So it’s all a balance. But I will say that project management tools can be your friend in this regard. And we have really embraced and adopted Basecamp at UTSA. I’m kind of a Basecamp evangelist and, behind closed doors, people probably call me a Basecamp pusher at times, because I’m always saying, “Let’s Basecamp it. A new project? Let’s put it on Basecamp.” And I can feel the eyes rolling back in everybody’s head.

But I take joy in the fact that, now a lot of times I’m not the person that has to say it, other people are saying it. Because people have gotten just so used to using it and just like having that structure and that organization. So that asynchronous communication that you can do, through tools like Basecamp and Asana and Slack and all those tools that are out there, they just make such a world difference. It’s like a whole different ballgame. And so, we have lots of Basecamp projects going, including a big one that’s kind of for our campus communications, in general, and all of our campus marcom folks are on there. And so, folks can see exactly what’s going on, across the campus. And we put parameters in place, so that it doesn’t get so overstuffed or difficult to manage or wade through, that it’s not useful anymore. We’ve kept it a high level.

But it’s helped us catch things, again, that we wouldn’t have caught otherwise. It’s helped to bring people together and keep them organized. Then that helps with the time, right? Because you can move through things much quicker when you’ve got a really organized tool to help you push things through.

Brett Calvert:
Yeah. And just like video conferencing was new to us a couple of years ago, the Basecamp world, people have really embraced it and found it to be extremely useful for all types of projects and everything going on. So as Anne said, the evangelical nature of it has been quite infectious. And I think people like having a resource like that to be able to use, when they want to use it, rather than having to be in there all the time, or be in a meeting around a table of 10 people.

Jarrett Smith:
So this kind of takes me to another question. Just for context for everybody that’s listening, how are you all working now? Because during the pandemic, everybody went remote. How is the team working today?

Brett Calvert:
Mostly hybrid. A couple of days a week in the office. Some of us are coming in every day, just because of habits. But I think there’s a lot of people that really enjoy working remotely, like this. And when they’re in the office, I think the time is extremely valuable. They have get togethers and lunches and the team building and morale is really centered around those days that they’re in the office. And Anne and I try to make a point of making sure everybody knows how valued they are when they’re here. And we’ve had lunches and get-togethers. And happy hours are back for some of us. So it’s been a really smooth transition from that.

Jarrett Smith:
So thinking back across all the changes that you’ve made over the last year, or longer at this point, what are the things that you think are going to be sticking around for the long term?

Anne Peters:
I think that we’re going to continue to move to this kind of new role, new space, of serving as kind of the uber resource, I guess, and parameter setting entity for the university, as opposed to would be entity that’s churning out all the content and all the work. So this has kind of allowed us to specialize, over time, a little bit in that area and I think that’s been working well. And we’ll probably continue to do that. I hope we do. And I don’t want to characterize that as more talking, less doing. It’s just that, I think by setting those standards up here, for everybody to follow, but making sure we’re setting them collaboratively and we’re getting lots of input along the way, so people don’t feel like it’s just being handed to them, but that they’re actually part of the process. If you do that right, everything falls from that beautifully.

So one example I can share is part of our brand development process. Our new brand is Creating Bold Futures. And that is the core tagline. And early on, we had a lot of discussions around, “Okay, if that’s kind of the core institutional brand, how can we work with all of our units, across campus, to translate that into sub-brands, so to speak, that are appropriate for their audiences and that will really resonate with their audiences.” And so our tactic there was, let’s find a partner or two to work with them to develop a sub-brand and then share that story, share it widely. And show everybody like, “Look what happens, when you work with Central University Marketing and you use you use them as resources and collaborate together on how to develop something that’s brand-aligned, brand-adjacent to the university’s core brand, but also very customized to your audience and to your people.”

And so we did that with our capital campaign brand process, and we did that with our Research Enterprise Division, and we’ve done it with athletics and we’ve kind of shared the results and showed the new logos and had iterations of the Creating Bold Futures brand, for each of those. And then get a bunch more customers as we go. Right? Because people see it and go, “Ooh, I want that.”

Jarrett Smith:
Ooh, do that for me.

Anne Peters:
Do that for me.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Anne Peters:
I want to be brand-aligned.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Anne Peters:
And you’re like, “Ooh, okay. Yes.” This is a good thing. Right?

Jarrett Smith:
Oh, I think anytime you can get someone to willingly say, “I would like to be brand-aligned.” Doesn’t like a little marketer get their wings or something?

Anne Peters:
Right? I know. I know. And it’s been really awesome, the word “bold” has kind of become our mantra around here. And you see it everywhere. And everyone’s using it in all of our communications and everything that’s being produced across campus. People have really embraced it. And it’s just goes to show the power, I think, of when you set something up well and you share it widely and you make it available for people to use and teach them to use it, and tell them they’re welcome to use it, they’ll use it. They just want to have some guidelines to follow and then, most of the time, they’re more than willing to follow them.

Jarrett Smith:
All right. Someone’s listening to this and they’re like, “All right. I’m going to do it. Anne and Brett did. We’re going to have some cross-divisional teams. We’re all going to get in the room. I’m going to feed them pizza. I’m going to tell their boss it’s okay. It’s going to be great. We’re going to collaborate. Everybody’s going to walk away brand-aligned.” I guess my question that I’m teeing up is like, where does this go wrong? If somebody’s thinking, “Hey, my institution could benefit from something like this.” What kind of mistakes would you encourage us to avoid? Or where might that go off the rails?

Anne Peters:
Oh, that’s a good question, Jarrett. I think some of it is about building a culture and kind of putting it out there, just saying to folks, “You know what? This is about help helping one another out. We’re all playing for the same team here. Yes, we’ve got different bosses. And all of our bosses have different priorities, but ultimately we’re one university.” And one of the things I’ve found really fascinating, this is pre-pandemic, but I think this has been true through the pandemic even more so, is I find that for a lot of folks, there’s almost a fear of not looking busy. We’ve been through this tremendous time, where everybody’s been working longer hours than they ever have before. They’re working at home a lot of the time. The edges of home life and work life have blurred. And I think for a lot of us, through these tough stretches, we’ve kind of felt like we’ve never stopped working, right? You’re just working, working all the time.

And so it’s kind of perpetuated this, if you’re not crazy busy, if you don’t perpetually have your plate full, you must not be very valuable. And so I think, trying to break that down a little bit and say, it’s okay to say, “Yeah, I’ve got a little time on my plate. I can take that on. Or I can help you out over here.” And not have it look like a sign of weakness or a sign that your job’s not important enough or what have you. So that’s just an interesting little dynamic or wrinkle that we’ve tried to kind of [inaudible 00:37:20] in the different teams that we’ve worked with.

Brett Calvert:
I don’t know. I mean, we’ve had a lot change, but at the same time, this year in particular, we’ve had a lot of wins. So when you see a successful football program, all of a sudden, after only being around for 10 years, or you see us reach R1. I mean, all of that has nothing to do, necessarily, with what we’ve been doing in marcom. But on the other hand, I think you can say that we made all of those activities and those goals successfully communicated and put out to the public, in a way that probably wouldn’t have been as successful if we weren’t working together. So you can look back and say, we’ve had a lot of great things happen as a result of it, but at the same time, I think you’ve got to keep it manageable.

I mean, if you try and do everything at once and try to do everything and force something, I don’t think it’s going to work as well as it did with the organic situation that we had here. And as Anne said, getting buy-in and getting people to kind of let go of some of the preconceived notions that they have about what their job looks like and what they’re supposed to be doing, that’s a culture change. And that is something that any institution will tell you, is hard to do. And the pandemic, I think, was a huge challenge, but we found ways around it and at the same time gave ourselves a real good outcome for 2021.

Jarrett Smith:
You know, Brett, I want to key in on something you said, which is you can’t force it. And that’s something that kind of stood out to me in some of the comments that you were making. It’s like really creating a pull. Like you’re not coming in and saying, “I’m going to align you to our brand, whether you like it or not.” But you’re trying to provide enough opportunities and make the value of that kind of self-evident enough that people recognize like, “Oh, I want that for my team. I want that for my little piece of the organization.” And so kind of creating that pull. And then just kind of stepping back and thinking big picture. It’s like the pandemic sort of gave you cover to be able to make some pretty significant changes, but then it seems as if you sort of used the minimum amount of force to kind of make that possible. And then tried to demonstrate, “Hey, and here’s why it’s still worth it. Do you all agree?” And sort of make it optional in that way. Am I aligned with the way you’re thinking about it or characterizing that correctly?

Anne Peters:
You are. You’re brand-aligned Jarrett. No. Yeah, I think-

Jarrett Smith:
[crosstalk 00:40:14]. It’s so beneficial.

Anne Peters:
We brought you along and then you saw the light. Yeah. I think you’re spot on. I think the more you can bring people along with you, as opposed to just handing them things that are done and saying, “Please follow this.” That rarely works, especially, again, the more large and decentralized you are, because one size does not fit all. And I think, if I’ve learned anything in higher education, that’s it. One approach to any given audience, one type of messaging, one type of design, isn’t going to work for everybody. So you have to find ways to translate the core, the mothership, so to speak, in ways that are going to be appealing enough to all of your divisional areas, that have specific audiences they’re appealing to, that they’re going to want to use them. Because if they’re not using any of your brand elements, they’re not incorporating anything into their work, then you lost.

Brett Calvert:
Yeah. I think one of the other things we did was we built our network internally. A lot of people, when they’re working at a job, maybe they’re looking to network externally, so they can look for their next gig. Or find ways to connect externally. But we really worked the jungle in our own house, and made it as successful as possible by building those relationships. And I think that was the key.

Jarrett Smith:
So looking forward, what’s next for marcom at UTSA? What’s on the horizon for your team?

Anne Peters:
Well, we have a lot of exciting things going on at UTSA, right now. In fact-

Jarrett Smith:
You sound so excited, Anne.

Anne Peters:
Well, I know, right? Oh, the excitement. [crosstalk 00:42:16].

Brett Calvert:
After the bowl game, she’ll be fine.

Anne Peters:
Oh my goodness. We have had this marvelous problem of so many good things happening, in a relatively short amount of time. Fall 2021, of all my years at UTSA, was the most action-packed, just in terms of good news. And it’s been awesome. But I think that the biggest challenge there is, when everything’s happening so close together, you don’t have the ability to really, thoughtfully, put together strategies for every single thing, to leverage it fully, because you’re just getting to the next thing, right? Like, “All right. 20 million gift, great. Conference championship, great. Carnegie R1, great. Okay. Next 20 million gift. Okay.” Nothing’s getting the limelight that it deserves. And so I think our big focus for 2022 is, “Okay, let’s take stock of all this awesomeness, from fall 2021.” All these big milestones, all these things that are really putting proof in our pudding, so to speak, of our Creating Bold Futures brand. And now how do we start to really leverage those, after the fact, and start to tell those stories and start to develop campaigns that are targeted to specific audiences that really care about these things and would be excited about them, but maybe haven’t heard of them yet because we barely had time to say anything before we moved on to the next one.

So we’re putting together a lot of plans like that. And then we are also in the midst of expanding our downtown campus in San Antonio. And that’s going to be hitting some really huge milestones this summer, with a brand new School of Data Science opening, in our downtown campus that’s under construction now. And that’s going to house the new National Security Collaboration Center. Cyber security is one of our signature program areas at UTSA. And so, those are another huge milestone for the university, so we’ll be doing a lot around those pieces.

Anne Peters:
So, everything at this point, now that we’ve got our brand established, is how do we hook that into the brand? How do we make that just another representation of how we’re creating bold futures for our community and our students. So it’s exciting. It’s going to be a fun year, I think. We’re going to see a lot of fruition, from all of our work in 2021.

Brett Calvert:
And along the way, we all also acquired a arts college downtown, which we need to integrate into our university. And that’ll be our summer 2022 project, as well. So lots going on.

Jarrett Smith:
You’ve a very full dance card.

Brett Calvert:
Yeah.

Jarrett Smith:
That’s great. Well, and Brett, if folks listening to this want to reach out, find out more, maybe ask some questions or engage with you, what’s the best way to connect with y’all?

Anne Peters:
Well, we’re both on LinkedIn, so you can look us up there. And then also, of course, our email addresses are right on the UTSA marcom studio website. And actually, let’s go ahead and give you the URL, in case any of your listeners are interested in checking that out.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, we’ll put it in the show notes and we’ll link to it. Yeah.

Anne Peters:
Yeah. I encourage folks to check that site out. That was another labor of love, and it is really representative of this kind of collaborative culture we built at UTSA. Because it is the resource for all things marketing, communications, web at UTSA from all across the university. All the different units that do this work collaborated on that. So it’s UTSA.edu/marcomstudio. And so check that out and we are also listed on there as contacts.

Jarrett Smith:
Excellent. Well, thank you so much. Thank you for sharing so openly and candidly about all the great things you’re doing. And I think folks are really going to enjoy this episode. So thanks for coming on the show.

Anne Peters:
Thank you, Jarrett.

Brett Calvert:
Thank you, Jarrett.

Jarrett Smith:
The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta, a full-service enrollment marketing agency for colleges and universities of all sizes. To see some of the work we’ve done and how we’ve helped schools just like yours, visit echodelta.co. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave review on Apple Podcasts. And as always, if you have a comment, question, suggestion or episode idea, feel free to drop us a line at podcast@echodelta.co.

 

How to Win Faculty and Influence Staff (and Athletics)

Enrollment leaders make extraordinary efforts to bring in each year’s class. And while they may be ultimately responsible for recruitment outcomes, they can’t do it alone. In today’s environment, recruiting students is a campus-wide effort that requires a sustained commitment from faculty, staff, and athletics.

In this episode, we’ll be exploring how enrollment and admissions leaders can form stronger, more collaborative relationships with colleagues in other departments. Joining us in the conversation is Brad Pochard, AVP for Enrollment and Dean of Admissions at Furman University.

We discuss:

  • The importance of transparency in building trust
  • Strategies for engaging faculty and inspiring them to take an increased role in recruitment
  • Tips for aligning coaches with your schools larger enrollment goals
  • Important differences in how DI and DIII coaches approach recruitment
  • How to cultivate a culture of mutual support with colleagues in other departments.

Transcript

Jarrett Smith:
You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith.

Jarrett Smith:
Welcome to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab, I’m Jarrett Smith. Each episode is my job to engage with some of the brightest minds in higher education in the broader world of marketing to bring you actionable insights, you can use to level up your marketing and enrollment efforts. This is the third installment in our VP summer series. A podcast mini-series, focusing on the unique challenges facing senior enrollment and marketing leaders.

In this episode, we’ll be discussing how senior leaders can build strong collaborative relationships with faculty, coaches, and staff. Joining us in the conversation is Brad Pochard, AVP for enrollment and Dean of admissions at Furman University. We’ll also be joined by Echo Delta’s own Laura Martin Fedich, who’s my co-host for the VP of summer series. We begin by talking about the role of transparency and building trust. And Brad shares some of the specific types of information he shared with faculty to inspire greater academic involvement in student recruitment.

Then we discuss how Brad has worked with colleagues in athletics to align their efforts with the institution’s broader recruitment goals. And Brad outlines some of the key differences between DI and DIII schools when it comes to athletics’ impact on enrollment. Finally, we explore some of the ways Brad and his colleagues have built a culture of mutual support and appreciation, and some of the key lessons he learned from his father, who spent 41 years in admissions and financial aid. Laura and I really enjoyed learning from Brad. And this episode is full of great advice for any leader looking to strengthen their professional relationships. So without further ado, here’s our conversation with Brad Pochard.

Brad, welcome to the show.

Brad Pochard:
Thank you, very happy to be with you all today.

Jarrett Smith:
Awesome. I think this is going to be a great topic. Before we jump into that great conversation, I’m wondering if you could just give us a quick snapshot of your professional background and the work you do at Furman.

Brad Pochard:
Yeah, I’d be happy to. And again, thank you very much for having me. It’s an honor to be with you guys today. My name is Brad Pochard. I serve as ADP for enrollment and Dean of admissions at Furman University. I’ve been with Furman since 2008. So going into year 13, which is hard to believe. Some of it feels like it has gone in a blink of an eye and other parts feel like maybe it’s been a little bit longer than that. But prior to my arrival at Furman, I was working at my Alma mater, which is Wittenberg University up in Springfield, Ohio. I graduated from there and began work in their admissions office, pretty much right after graduation.

Had the opportunity to work for them for about seven years and transitioned down here as director of admissions in the fall of ’08. And over the course of these 13 years here, I’ve been able to take on some additional responsibility in the office. And it’s just been wonderful, it’s been great. I’ve adapted to the south, I love the people, love the weather. So it’s been a great transition and a wonderful profession to be in.

Jarrett Smith:
I’m wondering if you could just start off by, I guess, paint the picture for us a little bit. Why is getting relationships right with folks in other areas of your school, outside of your functional areas so important? And I guess the flip side of that is, what’s the cost of getting those relationships wrong for?

Brad Pochard:
Yeah. And those are a couple of big questions, and let me start with the first one about, the way in which we are able to establish partnerships and develop those partnerships across campus as we go through this. During my time at [Wittenberg 00:03:44] and even at Furman, people hear me say all the time that it takes a campus to recruit, retain, and graduate a student. So first and foremost, you can’t do admissions work solely within admissions. If you want to be perennially successful, you need to establish those partnerships outside of your office. Where the admission’s office then is really the conduit to the marketplace, to the prospective students, whoever we may be working with at the time, to just simply relay that information and develop that rapport and develop that trust.

I really believe that, and that’s really at the core of how we operate. That in addition to an internal strategy and philosophy, that imitation is the best form of flattery. We strive to have wonderful practices, protocols strategies in place where we can exude confidence internally, but also then relay that confidence to our prospective students, to our applicant pool. When you have confidence in your process, it gives you the ability to be confident and to be transparent across campus. So those are two kind of foundational things that are important for me, as I’ve gone through and this office has gone through establishing those trusts and relationships across campus. When you have those two things, it gives you the ability to go and be transparent with your constituents, people that you’re working with.

It’s obvious on campus in higher education, faculty play a big role. And with faculty governance and tenure, that’s sometimes a game changer in how you operate and some of the things that you need to accomplish and the information that you need to relay. You of course then have your staff on campus that have a particular buy-in, that some tend to forget a little bit, as far as what staff can do to support you through this process. You have your alumni, your current students. So all of those constituent constituents are important in the work that we do. So for us, and my approach tends to be a whole lot of transparency, a whole lot of sharing information. When you do that, it does make you a little vulnerable.

It does open you up for critique and that’s okay, especially if you have those two foundational aspects in place. If you’re confident in your process and you are able to establish that trust across your campus, you are able to open up and be transparent in how we do our work. So I would say that’s the process. And there’s different strategies and approaches that you can take depending on who you’re speaking with, whether that be development, whether that be your board, whether that be your faculty, your admissions committee. There’s different approaches that I’ve learned that might be useful to discuss at some point.

Jarrett Smith:
You mentioned transparency. I think that’s an interesting one to pursue for a minute. I think transparency, when we hear that word we think, “Oh, that’s a good thing. We want transparency.” But on a day-to-day basis, how do you make that happen? What are some ways that that transparency plays out in concrete terms, I think is what I’m getting at?

Brad Pochard:
Yeah. Let me answer that in two ways. One, it maybe transparency on a daily basis with the staff, the admissions and financial aid staff, that is going to be much more on a daily basis. And then I’ll give you an example maybe with faculty or the admission’s committee of some examples that we’ve done, that may not be transparency on a daily basis, but it’s transparent in a way that it lets them understand some of the challenges and competing goals that we have. So we are currently in the midst of… And you’ll feel for me hopefully, when I say this, we’ve lost seven admissions counselors in the last probably six weeks. Lost, not in necessarily a bad way, they’re pursuing other options professionally. So they’re deciding to leave Furman and go take on other adventures.

And so we’re in the midst of training a new staff. Brand new admissions counselors seven of them, it’s about two thirds of the staff, from our counseling team, on the front end and admissions. And getting them for example, to understand what their role is, especially at a small private liberal arts college, in the mid market, at a price point that is awfully high, that competes with state flagships as their number one competitor. And helping them understand… They’re really focused now for example on, “Where am I going to travel, if at all this fall? How do I login to Slate? What in the world is financial aid?” Those kinds of things, they’re very all of those things that are right in front of them.

But they also need to understand how they fit into the bigger picture. So sharing with them honestly, that the college operates on that tuition revenue, if we fail, the college fails. And that’s a lot of pressure to put on a 23 or 24 year old first-year admission’s counselor, so we dilute that a little bit. But that’s an example of transparency and how they need to understand that what they do on a daily basis, when they’re meeting with families, where they’re responding to a college counselor, all of that matters. And it helps them understand where they fit in the big picture and create some buy-in, and create some understanding of how important their job is. A real quick second example would be, sharing data. Might be with our faculty admissions committee, for example, or it might be with even our cabinet, my colleagues on the cabinet, and sometimes even board members.

And I’ll give you an example that just happened this year. So really one of Furman’s challenges is yield. We have a robust applicant pool. We had a record number of applications this year, I’m sure a lot of you listening did, but our challenge was yield. And I’ve referenced our price point, I’ve referenced our position in the market and I’ve referenced our competition. So our yield suffered this year. And one of the misconceptions is, if you just get students on campus and provide them scholarship money, they’ll enroll. Okay. Well, the first part of that, we were only able to do in a limited basis this year, of gets students on campus. And then of course, due to the pandemic, everyone struggled in that capacity. But the second being scholarships. We offer for our full ride, full tuition in are basically three quarters, tuition scholarships, we had less than a 10% yield on those award winners.

So those of course are students at the highest of the academic food chain in our applicant pool, in our admit pool. There certainly have options, and we were discounting them with significant scholarship and they didn’t enroll. And so, one of the exercises that I went through is, I shared with other members on our campus, for example, the [Duke 00:10:58] scholarship was our full tuition scholarship. If they didn’t choose to enroll at Furman, where did they go? Some of the places were really strong, and some places where maybe not so strong. And it gave our board, our cabinet and faculty a pause a little bit and say, “Wow, I cannot believe so-and-so chose, name that institution over Furman, especially if we gave them a full ride.” And it goes to show them that it goes back to that, it takes a campus, it’s not just scholarship. It’s not just a campus visit, it’s the relationships and partnerships that they establish along the way,

Jarrett Smith:
And now for a short break. Hey everyone, Jarrett here. The past year has brought so many challenges for the higher education enrollment community. And if you’re like many enrollment leaders, you’re looking forward to being on the other side of census. So you can finally step back and think about your strategy for the upcoming year. That’s why Jeff [Calais 00:11:59] and I will be hosting Post-up. A free four-part webinar series for enrollment leaders starting September 29th.

From search to yield, to campus visits, Jeff and I will engage with Echo Delta’s enrollment experts to help you come back even stronger and smarter than before. Visit echodelta.co/post-up to register. That’s echodelta.co/post-up, all one word. I hope you’ll join us. And now back to the show.

If somebody is listening to this and they say, “Okay, Brad said transparency was good. I’m going to start being more transparent with folks.” I guess my question is, how might someone take that advice and maybe go wrong with it? What are some guard rails you might put around that, so that you’re being transparent in the right ways, that are going to be productive for your relationships?

Laura Martin Fedich:
Yeah. And throw in there, I keep thinking about this two-thirds of the staff that you’ve just replaced, which is not unusual. It’s a few more than usual, but we as enrollment people are used to losing a lot of our young folks, some for good things usually. But you want to get everybody on the same page, so they’re being appropriately transparent as Jarrett was just saying. So roll that in there Brad, how do you… And it could be for some of those [inaudible 00:13:20], is it their first job? And do they know what to say and what not to say? That’s got to be scary, right?

Brad Pochard:
Thank you for that additional commentary. Because with transparency comes a whole lot of trust, and you need to have confidence in your staff as well about when they understand to share information and when not to. And I can give you countless examples of times in which, I wanted to be a little bit more transparent and couldn’t. And maybe a time or two when I was a little too transparent and had to backpedal a little bit. So you really need to know your audience. You need to know who you’re providing information to. And for those listening on the podcast, I would venture to say you pretty well know that. There’s times that you can be pretty an open book, and maybe that’s smaller settings, maybe that’s colleagues on campus, amongst the cabinet, when you can truly say, “Here’s the challenges, here are the competing goals.”

Brad Pochard:
In front of faculty, you just have to take a different position. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be honest, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t share reliable or tell the truth, for example, you just have to be understanding of your audience. And so Laura, the staff for example, is a good one. And I joke with them that, “You meet with a family, I don’t want you thinking about net tuition revenue. And if I don’t get this student to enroll that somebody’s going to lose their job.” That might be the big, big picture, of we miss our class, people might lose their job, just in the way that the financials work on a college campus. But that’s an example of, “I want you to understand the big picture, but I don’t want that to necessarily influence how you go about your daily operation.”

So Jarrett, let me see if I can give you like a really good concrete examples. So one of the things that our faculty like to think they have power over is, who we admit. Okay. In our faculty constitution and in our faculty bylaws, they in fact have the ability to set admission standards. But a lot of times faculty think that that’s who we admit and who we deny, on an applicant basis. That’s not necessarily the case. The case is they have the ability to set the parameters of who we admit based on the curriculum that they’ve earned in high school. This would serve as an example of providing both some transparent information and also backpedaling rather quickly on both sides.

At one point I thought it was a good idea to invite them into the application review process, and this would be specifically what the faculty admissions committee. They began to backpedal rather quickly, after I shared with them our timeline, our guidelines, the volume and the amounts, and the time in which they would need to evaluate, or be with us as we are evaluating this process. The part of that that gets a little bit dicey for example, is faculty don’t always understand that we are receiving a segment of the overall population. All college going students are applying to college in one enrollment cycle, and we are getting a very, very, very small segment percentage of that overall going population.

So in a lot of times you have to review these applications within that context, that you can’t compare our applicant pool to an Ivy League, maybe where you graduated from. And you certainly then can’t compare our applicant pool to a school maybe ranked lower than you. That you have to understand those pressures and how things fit within your overall enrollment cycle. There’s tons of data, financial data, parent occupation, education attainment, that are all signals of affinity and yield that play into our decisions, that we don’t get into with certain segments for the faculty, for example. So I’m not sure if I’m answering your question specifically, but I think the key there is understanding your audience and knowing and trusting when you can be very transparent, and when you might need to curb that just a little bit.

Jarrett Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Brad, one thing as I was listening to you talk though, is it seems like there was good utility in pulling back the curtain a little bit. Like it was beneficial for you to pull back the curtain a little bit and to say, “Hey, let me invite you into this process. And you can see how it actually works and realize there’s more to it than maybe it looks like on the outside.” Is that fair to say?

Brad Pochard:
Well, sure. And maybe I’ll get a chuckle from those that are listening when I say this, but everybody is an admissions professional and everybody’s a marketing professional, until they actually sit in that seat and do it. “What do you mean you can’t get 700 kids to come to Furman every year, look at this place?” Well they don’t understand all of the complexity that goes into it, the competing goals, the competing priorities, who we’re competing with, our price point. Those are all factors that someone on the outside looking in who may have wonderfully good intentions, doesn’t understand why a student wouldn’t say yes to Furman.

And the reality is, about 15% of our students say yes to Furman, which means we have to admit more. And when they begin to do the math and they see how things work, on top of, then I go back to those foundational pieces. If you’re not buttoned up and being effective, efficient with your practices and in how you do things, if you’re vulnerable there, it’s more difficult to be transparent. But if you’re buttoned up and you’re efficient in what you do, you can seek some advice and wisdom and maybe sometimes some understanding from those who would begin to realize how difficult this work is.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Did you inherit those processes that were just really in place beautifully, or was it a little bit more hard fought for you?

Brad Pochard:
I would say at Furman, it was probably right in the middle. We did some things really well, and we did some things that we had to work on. And I remember inheriting basically a 50% admit rate and a 33% yield. It was consistent, you could bank on it. If you look at the data leading up to 2008 and then that entering class of 2009. And fortunate for me, my first class was that financial recession, when I didn’t have a 50% yield and certainly did not have a 33% yield. So there were some things that were running really well, but I would say that some of our enrollment tactics were a little lazy. Weren’t maybe working as hard as we could have been.

And if you think back to ’08, ’09 and ’10, that recession really challenged a lot of schools, very similar to some of the challenges we’re facing now. And we had to learn how to recruit, to be honest with you. How to emphasize value, even a campus tour for example, we weren’t selling at our price point. We certainly didn’t have our faculty involved like we do now, we weren’t leveraging athletics like we are now. So we had some good things in place, but we’ve had to really implement some new strategies and new tactics.

Jarrett Smith:
So just rounding out our faculty conversation, because I know we’ve touched on them a couple of times. I’m curious, just some of the practices you have in place today to build those strong connections in with faculty and to bring them into your process. Because as you said, it takes an entire campus to recruit and retain these students. So, what sorts of things are you doing on the faculty side of the house?

Brad Pochard:
Yeah. We’ve gone from begging to have faculty involved, to being much more strategic in how we include and involve our faculty. There’s absolutely a climate on campus now of, how can we help. For a longest time, sharing data at faculty meetings with the faculty admissions committee, with the provost, with academic affairs, that yield doubles when students interact with faculty period. We had a 51% yield for students when they were on campus who had a class meeting or a faculty appointment, and then it was like 22% for those who didn’t. So that’s simple nugget of data really was the impetus for us to get our faculty involved. Honestly, we’re at a point now of, how do we get the right faculty involved? And how do we use them in the correct ways, from the perspective of being resourceful with their time? We don’t want to waste their time.

So we don’t just let prospective students say they want a faculty appointment, because most of the time it’s mom filling out the campus visit questionnaire and the students, the last thing the student wants to do. And then that person just sits there or they say they’re going to meet and they get in the car and they go, and then the faculty member’s like, “They didn’t show up.” And it’s a waste of time. So we’re very intentional in how, and when and where we use faculty. We’ve incorporated our students a lot more in the process in some of those situations, especially for rising sophomores, juniors and pre applicants, and then we really reserve our faculty time for students who have applied. We’re at a stage now where we basically have a faculty liaison for every academic department and every major.

So if a student, an applicant says, “I would like to meet with a professor in psychology.” We’ve established a relationship with psychology to say, “Who is our go-to person? Who do we send this person to, or who do we send this meeting request to?” Our provost and our academic affairs are instrumental in that. If we begin to have a department lagging, it’s not necessarily the admission’s enrollment office going to that department. And we simply say to the provost, “Hey I’m having a little trouble with name the program,” and the provost at the time will make sure that happens. I’ve been pushing for faculty recognition for those who are overly involved as part of the tenure and promotion, I’ve not been successful yet in that point, but we continue to emphasize how important that faculty interaction is. And you can link it to athletics.

A recruit who wants to go play volleyball isn’t going to choose a volleyball program when they’ve not met the head coach. And very similar, if a student wants to major in psychology, they want to meet a psychology major, they want to talk to a psychology professor. The admission’s office can go so far, but at some point they want to know, “Who is going to be my advisor? Who’s going to be teaching me? Who’s going to be mentoring me. Who am I going to be able to lean on?” And again, at our price point in the market, it’s essential that we do that.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Yeah. Hey, speaking of athletics, I’d love for you to talk about maybe some of your tips, some things that you’ve learned about developing relationships with coaches. Because they’re very competitive, there are different groups of people to work with. And sometimes I know in my career, I found that I was at odds with… my goals were different than theirs. Let’s just put it that way. So it can be a tricky one. But I know it’s something you’ve done well, could you talk to that just a little bit?

Brad Pochard:
I’d be happy to, and I think we could do a whole podcast on coaches and athletic-

Laura Martin Fedich:
I think you’re right.

Brad Pochard:
… athletic recruitment. And [crosstalk 00:26:01].

Jarrett Smith:
I’ll write that down, that’s our follow-up.

Laura Martin Fedich:
There you go.

Brad Pochard:
And being a former student-athlete myself, I tell the coaches all the time look, “Probably the only person on campus that wants to win more than me is you, in your particular sport. So we’re not in the business of not recruiting kids, no.” And so I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but it’s trust and it’s relationship. They need to understand that we’re all in this thing together. Wittenberg was division three and my approach at the division three level was remarkably different than what it is right now at Furman being a division one school. Division three coaches are much more an extension of the admission’s office.

A lot of division schools, and I would even say Wittenberg included at this point, are using athletics as an enrollment strategy. Division three schools often have many more sports than division one programs, and they’re using that as a way in which to garner enrollment. So at the division three model, it was reining coaches in a little bit. Making sure that they’re not overstepping their boundaries, walking into high schools when they shouldn’t be walking into high schools, going off script with marketing materials, creating their own marketing materials, whatever it may be. And so reigning the coaches in on a D3 level and making sure they’re in alignment with what we’re trying to accomplish as an institution, was one of those key things.

At a division one school, it’s all about, “Who can we get in? Who can we offer? Who’s allowed to sign the scholarship agreement?” Those types of things. And because volume is different at a division one school versus a division three school… I didn’t necessarily anticipate that coming in. But the volume of athletic recruitment is much smaller at a division one school than it is a division three school. So working with those coaches to basically ensure that, one, they’re on budget, do you in fact have the scholarship that you are… I’m expecting that happens to follow under my purview here now? Two, does the student meet enrollment standards? And three being a division one, we’re so kind of a subset, it’s not power five, so it’s not quite as intensive as it would be at some power five institutions, but the athletic timeline is much different than a traditional admission’s timeline.

So being able to work with coaches to be ahead of schedule, if you will, for application deadlines, notification deadlines, those types of things. But coaches need parameters. And what I’ve learned with them is they just simply want to know, what are the rules of the game? And that shouldn’t surprise you as a coach. They’re their coaches, they want to develop a strategy to win. “And just tell me the rules.” What are the rules? And then they’re going to develop a strategy and leverage that to be competitive. And sometimes it’s like, “Oh, well, okay. That’s now a new rule, you can’t do that.” As far as with what they’re doing. But for the most part here, our coaches understand that those parameters are in place for student success. They don’t want to recruit someone who’s going to struggle or be a challenge, that’s only going to lead to additional challenges.

Jarrett Smith:
Brad, you mentioned cultivating the sense of, “Hey, we’re all in this together. And building that trust.” Part of that, I think you addressed and saying, “Well, I recognize that they want clear rules to the game, and so I can help them with that. So they understand how they can be successful.” And I’m curious, is there anything else that you would point to, to say, “This is a way that I intentionally use to build trust and alignment with my coaches.”

Brad Pochard:
I am routinely, either myself or our director of admissions, we’re routinely in front of them before they go out on recruiting trips, or the recruiting season. Helping them understand, what are our priorities, what are we trying to accomplish. And here, how can you help us? They don’t always think that way. They always think in a way of… They think by just winning games, they’re helping us, and of course that does help. But there are ways in which they can help us. And let me give you an example. Furman is trying to really expand its recruiting footprint even, but prior to… COVID has hurt this. But beyond the Southeast, about 60% of our enrollment comes from North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. So we were openly trying to develop new markets. And one of the best way to do that is athletics.

So for example, the mid Atlantic or Northeast, asking those coaches to align their recruiting strategies with our recruiting strategies. Don’t just recruit in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, branch out and help us. We are a division one football program and we play the quote unquote money game every year. Let’s not play Georgia, South Carolina and Clemson every year, how about we go play UVA or let’s go play Rutgers, or let’s go play University of Maryland and some of our strategic markets. That’s an example that it can’t be just the admission’s office, and working with our coaches to help them understand how they can help us. Going back to transparency, we work off of certain parameters and who we want to admit and how we admit, and making sure that they have clear understanding of who’s admissible and who’s not. The rule of thumb there is, coaches should not be evaluating transcripts.

Okay. At one point, we were very clear in what we were looking for in a GPA and coaches don’t understand core academic GPA, they don’t understand AP and IB and college prep, nor should they necessarily. And so coaches would hand us transcripts with a 3.8, but when you look at it, it’s not necessarily the strength of curriculum that we’re looking for. And when you recalculate a core GPA, it’s really a 2.5, when you remove certain classes. So those would be some things that we’ve put into place, that we’ve given them the rules of the game, but we’ve also helped them understand how they can help us by, routinely being involved with them, meeting with them. We’re fine to meet with recruits and run them through the admissions process, those types of things where it’s a partnership.

Jarrett Smith:
So I would love to talk about colleagues in other areas of the campus. I’ve heard you talk in the past about campus safety or other folks playing a role in this. I haven’t asked also if like marketing, do they report up to you? Or that’s… Just wondering if you could speak to some of those other important relationships outside of faculty and athletics, and…

Brad Pochard:
Definitely. And, we maybe mentioned it a little bit already that staff tend to be some of those partners on campus that don’t get recognized often as much as they should. Marketing does not report through the enrollment division. They are certainly involved heavily in what we do, but there’s not a direct reporting line to us for that. But when you think about marketing and you think about development, we’re very intentional in those relationships, and just little things that we do. Certainly for example, everyone knows that May 1st is the national candidate reply date. And we get good luck and thumbs up and people will send us donuts on those days, and those kinds of things. And especially in an enrollment driven institution, which most of us are, May 1st you’re either celebrating or you’re not celebrating. And so people recognize that.

But we try to do the same thing, for example, like with development. If they are at the end of a particular campaign or we’re at the end of the fiscal year when gifts tend to be flying in, or I’m really good friends with our chief investment officer. And when I know it’s the end of the fiscal year, and it’s their long hours that… I’ll go put a six pack by his car and say, “Go home.” Or something like that, to at least recognize that other offices have priorities and deadlines that may not be as visible and large, if you will, as is, “Did we get the class or not?” And just acknowledging those, is really, really important.

Our police division and our facilities people, are huge. It’s routine for our Furman police to recognize that a campus visitor with New Jersey license plate is driving down the wrong way of a one-way street, trying to find the welcome center. And instead of going lights and sirens and flashing and pulling them over and the whole thing, they try to get their attention and figure out who they are, and get them to the right spot. Those things go a really long way. And we just like our faculty, our coaches, we’re in front of those people, they have to understand where they fit, just like a brand new admission’s counselor. Our facilities staff now, will not do anything to this campus without checking with our office first.

I’m looking outside my window right now and they’re redoing our fountain, the big fountain that people see when people come in. And the pipes had rusted, and it’s a three-week project, and I must have gotten 15 emails on this of, “When is the best time to do it? Here’s how long it’s going to take. We’re very sorry for this inconvenience, winter admissions visitors is going to be low.” All those kinds of things. That takes time. It wasn’t all that long ago on one of our orientation days in our biggest auditorium, they were doing the roof on the auditorium in which we were doing student orientation. Come on, we can’t be doing that.

And so we’ve gotten to the point where they won’t mow the yard in front of the welcome center after eight o’clock in the morning, for fear that a family might be early, those types of things, so we’ve developed that all-in buy-in, if you will, as far as working with our staff. And there’s all of those stories about the dining hall person, who’s instrumental in your relationship and just saying, thank you to them. Giving them a Furman t-shirt or some of that, all of the giveaway stuff that we have. We’re very open in providing thank yous [inaudible 00:37:35] to the campus for their involvement.

Jarrett Smith:
If I could jump in, one theme that just pops out across all these different groups that you’re talking about is this idea of just showing respect for, and gratitude for the contributions that other people are making, that impact to you. Or maybe even if they don’t impact you, but just recognizing the contributions of others. And demonstrating that, and then maybe not always, but it sounds like it tends to be reciprocated when you’re giving that out.

Brad Pochard:
It’s an interest… I appreciate you making those connections because it’s a little bit of a vulnerable position to be in. At the end of the day, we being the admission’s office or enrollment, is responsible for whatever head count we want with a certain characteristic at a certain discount, bringing in a certain amount of revenue. We’re individually responsible for that. If we miss or make it, nobody else is responsible other than this office. However, we cannot do it by ourselves. And so we have to accept that responsibility. But if we try to insulate and only do it ourselves, there’s no way you can accomplish it. So you have to open yourself up and be vulnerable to allowing other people in, who aren’t necessarily accountable, but you need them to be successful.

Laura Martin Fedich:
That makes me think of your community. So you’re in a smallish town, smallish medium-sized, and it’s a great town. And you’ve got some international companies nearby, you’ve got some other big universities down the road. Do you ever find yourself feeling like you want to connect with people in the community and say, “I’m going to send my prospective students and their parents to your restaurant, you all better be nice to them.” Does this branch out into the community at all?

Brad Pochard:
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, it does. It really does. And Greenville, we sit just a few miles north of Greenville. Which is, depending on who you ask, the fastest growing city east of the Mississippi. We’re about an hour and a half south of Charlotte, and about two hours north of Atlanta, it’s called the [Char-lanta 00:39:56] corridor.

Laura Martin Fedich:
I’ve never heard that. That’s awesome.

Brad Pochard:
Char-lanta corridor, I 85. [crosstalk 00:40:02].

Jarrett Smith:
That’s okay. We have [Orlan-Par 00:40:04] down here.

Brad Pochard:
There you go.

Jarrett Smith:
Super catchy.

Laura Martin Fedich:
I think I have cousins with those names. [crosstalk 00:40:10].

Brad Pochard:
There you go. Yeah. If we start to see children coming through with Char-lanta or Orlan-Par, we know we’ve made an impact, right?

Laura Martin Fedich:
That’s right.

Brad Pochard:
But we do. We do leverage our location heavily. And we are intentional in hosting some events in downtown Greenville. We do have relationships with restaurants, hotels, particular meeting spaces that we meet with. And for example, the owner of the Greenville Drive, they’re now the AAA affiliate for the Red Sox, is a huge Furman supporter. And we do all types of events in the Drive state, and either during games or even just using the event space when games are not going on, and using their video board and those types of things. And so yes, that’s important.

When students and families are making a decision, the surrounding area is critical. Whether that’s for outcomes of internships and research, and employment opportunities, but even just for some fun and places to engage. And for some of our competitors and peers, having a more urban setting right down the road, is huge for us. Where some of the schools that we compete with cannot offer that. Clemson for example, is intruding on our space a little bit. Don’t know if I have any Clemson listeners, but they’re trying to make Greenville Orangeville.

Laura Martin Fedich:
No.

Brad Pochard:
And it’s a little bit of a David versus Goliath fight, when we’re trying to retain Greenville as Furman’s home, as that power of oranges is huge. But even some of our peers and competitors who are in close proximity to us, understand what we have here with Greenville.

Jarrett Smith:
Brad, it’s been such a good conversation, you’ve had just some really interesting, I think, valuable things to say. I want to ask you one last question, which is, I know that you are a second generation enrollment and admissions guy. And I’m just curious, your dad was in the business before you. And I’m just wondering, are there any lessons, things that you picked up from your dad along the way that you find yourself applying today?

Sure. Well, thank you for recognizing that, and mentioning that. My dad was 41 years in college admissions and financial aid, serving a multitude of institutions, finally ended his career at Spring Hill College down in Mobile, Alabama. And growing up on a college campus was… at the time I didn’t necessarily realize it, but it was really a unique opportunity. And I’d like to think I’m providing that same experience to my two boys who are 12 and seven, who for good or bad are widely known on this campus. I would love to think it’s always for the good, but they are widely known across this campus. Whether it be at basketball games or camps or whatever. The experience that I’d had growing up as well as they’re having is instrumental. My dad passed away a couple years ago, but there were multiple, multiple conversations that we had.

And I think about May 1st conversations or conversations leading up to May 1st. Or frustrations that I was sharing with him and words of wisdom that he provided. And he used to always say, “Don’t let them get to you. Put on a nice suit and don’t let them get to you.” And then there’s a lot to be said for that, I’ve just been confident. And again, I think in some ways, my transparency and just the way I deal with people and establishing rapport, certainly where some of the things that he did. And watching him and learning from him, I didn’t necessarily realize I was learning how to do this. And I joke all the time, I didn’t grow up necessarily wanting to be in admissions and financial aid, it just happened.

But the longer I do this, I see why he was able to do 41 years. This is great work. It can be stressful and it can be sometimes overwhelming, but at the end of the day, we get the opportunity to work with students and their families every single day, who are making life changing decisions. That’s pretty cool. I don’t know if there’s a whole lot of people that get to do that every single year. The investment that families are making, the decision that they’re being asked to make and the role that we play, is a pretty cool thing. And I think that’s what had him in the business for so long. And has now for me finishing year 20… Gosh, finishing year 20, is crazy. But I owe a lot to both of my parents, but in particular my father, who was able to do this job for a really long time.

Jarrett Smith:
That is really beautiful Brad, and thank you for sharing that. If folks are listening to this and maybe want to reach out and connect with you, I don’t know if you’re available on the various social media channels, if you have any active digital presence, or if there’s a good way for people to connect with you. But any preferred ways they might do that?

Brad Pochard:
Sure. Of course, the old way of email and phone is obviously perfectly fine, and I’d be happy to share those things here. I do have an activity on LinkedIn. I am on all those different social media stuff, but probably the best way would be LinkedIn and email, which is just Brad, B-R-A-D .Pochard, P-O-C-H-A-R-D @furman.edu, happy to chat amongst any of these topics or others. I’m sure there’s some two-way dialogue that I’d be happy to have.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Well, you’re doing this right. I admire you very much for the work that you’ve done there, it’s really impressive.

Brad Pochard:
Well, Laura, with your background too, that means a lot. I appreciate that for sure. And like I said, it’s great work, I enjoy it. And I feel fortunate to be able to be doing what I’m doing.

Jarrett Smith:
Well, Brad, thank you so much for your time today, it has been a real pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

Brad Pochard:
You’re most welcome. Thanks, guys.

Jarrett Smith:
The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta. A full-service enrollment marketing agency for colleges and universities of all sizes. To see some of the work we’ve done and how we’ve helped schools just like yours, visit echodelta.co. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. And as always, if you have a comment, question, suggestion or episode idea, feel free to drop us a line at podcast@echodelta.co.

 

 

Trusted Advisors: Working Well with the Board of Trustees

As a senior leader, you need a strong working relationship with your board. Unfortunately, there’s no manual for how to do that. As a result, most leaders end up learning through experience (read: observation, hard work, and some painful mistakes).

In our latest Higher Ed Marketing Lab podcast, we sit down with Joel Bauman, SVP of Enrollment at Duquesne University, and Karen Foust, former EVP of Enrollment at Hendrix College, to talk about the finer points of building collaborative, productive relationships with board members.

We discuss:

  • Important ways board members can differ in their approach to the role
  • Tips for effectively communicating the complexities of your work
  • Why trying to be the smartest person in the room can backfire with board members
  • The right way to go about delivering bad news
  • How to respectfully nudge a board member back into their lane when they start to overreach.

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Transcript

Jarrett Smith:
You’re listening to The Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith. Welcome to The Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m Jarrett Smith. Each episode, it’s my job to engage with some of the brightest minds in higher education and the broader world of marketing to bring you actionable insights you can use to level up your school’s marketing and enrollment efforts. This podcast is the second installment in our VP Summer Series, which is a miniseries focusing on the unique challenges facing senior enrollment and marketing leaders. In this episode, we’ll be discussing the critical task of building strong relationships with your trustees. Joining us in the conversation is Karen Foust, former EVP of enrollment at Hendrix College, and Joel Bauman, senior VP for enrollment management at Duquesne University. Also, joining us is Echo Delta’s own, Laura Martin Fedich, who’s my cohost for this series.

We cover a ton of interesting territory in this episode, including important ways board members can differ in their approach to their role, tips for helping board members understand the complexities of your work, why trying to be the smartest person in the room can backfire when you’re meeting with board members, the right way to go about delivering not-so-good news, and how to respectfully nudge a board member back into their lane when they start to overreach. Karen and Joel shared a wealth of hard-fought wisdom on this topic, that I know will be relevant to anyone who has to interact with board members on a regular basis. So, without further ado, here’s our conversation with Karen Foust and Joel Bauman. Karen, Joel, welcome to the show.

Karen Foust:
Great to be here. Thanks for inviting us.

Joel Bauman:
Thank you, Jarrett. It’s a real honor.

Jarrett Smith:
Laura and I are so excited to have you here. Really looking forward to this conversation on building great relationships with your trustees. Before we jump into that, I would love it if you could just take a moment to tell us a little bit about your professional background and work in higher ed. Karen, why don’t we start with you?

Karen Foust:
Well, most recently, I was the executive vice president for enrollment at Hendrix College, and retired from there a few years back. Prior to that, I was at Valparaiso University in Indiana. For a good portion of that time, I was there over 20 years, but I was the director of admission for a number of years, and then a host of other positions. During, especially my years as leader at Valparaiso and then at Hendrix, I did do some enrollment consulting with different people, and continue that, and have even done an interim position in the last two years. So, I have enjoyed working with other colleagues at their schools, and providing assistance that way.

Joel Bauman:
It’s scary to say, but almost 30 years in this business. Starting out as an admissions counselor at the University of Tampa, and then having some experience in admission and financial aid, some international admissions and recruitment experience at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I worked my way through the ranks at a couple different places in Florida, at a place in Salt Lake City, and now at a senior vice president for enrollment management at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Jarrett Smith:
Good deal. Laura and I are here to talk with you today about building strong relationships with your trustees. I think a good place to start with that would just be to talk for a moment about why that’s so important. Laura and I have discussed in the past, this isn’t something they hand you, and the VP of enrollment management manual that I know comes with the job, but it is an important part for the success. Can you talk to us just a little bit about, I guess, the importance of getting those relationships right, and maybe the pain of getting it wrong? Joel, I’ll tee that one up to you first.

Joel Bauman:
I appreciate it. I think you learn, and just in general, you’ve heard, in general, you realize it’s a board of directors. The trustees is, in itself, a word that strikes importance. Right? They are entrusted with the university. Sometimes people think they’re the owners, but they’re there to advise. They’re there to have fiduciary responsibilities. They’re there to carry out the functions of the bylaws in the constitution, and it’s the organizing principle around in which the university functions and meets its mission, and they hand off that responsibility, and really entrust you, the cabinet, the president, and the officers of the university, to carry out the business of the university. Not just in meetings, but in networking, and in people raising, and in fundraising, the trustees are, obviously, central.

So, as staff and faculty interact, the words, and the impressions, and expressions of trustees carry a lot of weight. So, your ability to induce in them the proper reaction, or understanding, or support, can have influence in every corner of the institution. So, it’s a relationship that bears strong, strong, and clear, and ongoing care and feeding.

Jarrett Smith:
Karen, what’s your take?

Karen Foust:
Well, I would agree with everything Joel said. I think that when you’re first at an institution, getting to know the trustees is always an interesting time. It’s important to do that. I’ve found that meeting with colleagues, my colleagues on the cabinet, getting their understanding about who’s on the board, and how they interact with them, has always been helpful. You need to have a good working relationship with them. You also, as a vice president, you’ll know your role, because you’re also there to be supportive of the president. So, that’s important, as well, as well as your colleagues that are there with you. All in all, it’s a very critical role that we work with.

Joel Bauman:
I would add, a couple of institutions I was at were state, public institutions. Most of the career is in private, enrollment-driven non-profit institutions. While similar, there are differences in the approach. There are nuances that a public, state-run institution trustee, or a board of directors, has that follow legislative mandates, that follow certain rules. When I was in Florida, the Sunshine Rules, what you can say, what you can take notes, and what was required to be reported on had differences. So, there are some … I think it’s really important, like Karen said, you have to take the time to learn about their backgrounds, and their instructions, and their not just interests, but requirements of them as board members, as you try to align your work, and your presentations, and your support of the president and the cabinet in each of these settings.

So, it’s really important to do the homework upfront, and read as much of the enabling legislation, the bylaws, the catalogs, whatever it takes, that inform the trustees about what their roles and responsibilities are, so you can align at least with those basic facts.

Karen Foust:
It’s even as simple as just, before you even begin, really getting to know what their names are, and where they’re from. Just so you have some familiarity with them. They’ll remember that you knew their name and those kinds of things. That’s important, as well.

Jarrett Smith:
Laura, I think you were going to tee up a question.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Yeah. Thanks, Jarrett. I’m just really curious because this can be an intimidating group. The first time I was ever in front of a board of trustees, I was extremely intimidated because they tend to be very accomplished people, and they’re all staring at me, looking at me, as the expert. I’m thinking, “Holy moly. I am nothing compared to you people.” So, how do you go about forming the relationship? I hear what you’re both saying about doing the research, learning about them. I think that’s really important. Are there other ways? Especially with a group that maybe you’re not going to interact with but a few times a year.

Joel Bauman:
I completely agree with you, Laura. First experience in front of a board, intimidating as all get out, especially if you read their backgrounds and what they’ve done for the institution. I do think there are those … You have to have the right group, and you have to understand just basic human dynamics and relationships. So, some are coming in, and regardless of background, and qualifications, and how successful they are, they’re there because they want to help. They recognize their role as mentors. They recognize their role as advisors. Those will come up, and they will identify themselves, and if they’ve got experience on the board, it’s a real treasure.

There are others who are there to interrogate you, and the university, and the officers, because in their background and experience, they’ve come up through the fiduciary ranks, through the oversight ranks. So, I think it’s important to understand different trustees come at it with a different mindset. If you get one of the interrogator trustee types, it’s learning by experience. The early experiences of being interrogated, it’s like a Senate hearing, like you see on TV. Right? You’re sitting there, and they’re at the table, and they’ve got the microphones, and they’re asking you these questions. Really, what you want to say is, “I don’t know,” but you do have to come prepared, do your homework, understand that there’s going to be almost a script of questions that they’re going to ask. It’s very rare that they want off-the-cuff, on-the-record, stream of consciousness in a formal meeting.

Joel Bauman:
Talk to the president. Talk to your cabinet colleagues. I’ve realized that, really, before going to a meeting, and having to experience that, and not know, meet with the board chair ahead of time. Meet with key members of the committee you’re on ahead of time, and get a sense of them, from them, what they’re interests are, what they know already, and what kind of questions they’re coming in with to the meeting. Sometimes by casual conversation, you could answer those. So, it won’t come up in the meeting. But at least you have a sense to prepare. My favorite experience of getting to know, good retreats. If there’s a trustee retreat, as opposed to a meeting, those are always helpful on the personal side. I remember saying names, families, interests, casual conversation.

The dinners and/or lunches, also a great opportunity to just really let your hair down. You don’t have to be as guarded as maybe during the meeting. Be careful about where certain things could go. You have to always have this social awareness. But I remember one of my favorite experiences was at a trustee retreat dinner meeting in Park City, Utah. It was actually a sushi restaurant that we all decided to pick out of three. I ended up sitting between a member, a trustee, that had been highly placed at HP during their big transitions, and somebody who was directly responsible for the marketing shift at Godiva Chocolates, about putting them in retail stores all over Manhattan and all over the country.

To hear those two converse, and then to ask me my opinion about it, and then to try to relate it to what we were doing at the university, was absolutely … I felt like I was in a mini-MBA class, really, a mini-strategy class, with Harvard Business Review, that you read about. Actually, I think the Godiva thing was in one of those books. I think it’s just trying to become socially aware, and ask the right questions, and be interested in their backgrounds.

Karen Foust:
I would add, over the years, we’ve always had executive committee meetings prior to the full board meeting. Those were all usually by conference call. The cabinet was gathered in one room and, obviously, the trustees who served on the executive committee were in their home bases. That was a good way to really understand what some of their questions were going to be, coming up then in the full board meeting. That was a preview of what was going to happen in that full board meeting. So, to take good notes, and make sure you mark down what kinds of things you, yourself, will need to respond to, I always found that to be good prep for any and all meetings.

Laura Martin Fedich:
So, Karen, you’re talking about pre-board weekend, or pre-board meeting.

Karen Foust:
Right.

Laura Martin Fedich:
All the trustees are getting, for lack of a better term, or maybe this is the right term, a board book.

Karen Foust:
Right.

Laura Martin Fedich:
With all the reports, ahead of time.

Karen Foust:
Yes.

Laura Martin Fedich:
If anything’s going to be voted on.

Karen Foust:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laura Martin Fedich:
So, there really shouldn’t be … I mean, is it true or fair to say there really shouldn’t be any surprises at a board meeting?

Karen Foust:
There really shouldn’t be.

Laura Martin Fedich:
If you’re doing your job. Okay.

Karen Foust:
Right. There really shouldn’t be. Part of that is the working relationship the president has with the board chair, because they don’t want things to pop up. Nonetheless, it’s a good way to practice before the board meeting, to have those executive meetings.

Jarrett Smith:
Now, for a short break. Hey, everyone. Jarrett here. You know the past year has brought so many challenges for the higher education enrollment community. If you’re like many enrollment leaders, you’re looking forward to being on the other side of census, so you can finally step back and think about your strategy for the upcoming year. That’s why [Jeff Collay 00:14:53] and I will be hosting Post-Up, a free, four-part webinar series for enrollment leaders, starting September 29th. From search, to yield, to campus visits, Jeff and I will engage with Echo Delta’s enrollment experts to help you come back even stronger and smarter than before. Visit echodelta.co/postup to register. That’s echodelta.co/postup, all one word. I hope you’ll join us. Now, back to the show.

I’m curious about some other ways that you all have worked with boards. I mean, I think one of the challenges in the group, in working with trustees, is that you’re coming at it from a very nuanced enrollment management perspective, and it’s its own little world. It’s a very deep body of knowledge. It’s complex. There’s a lot to consider there. Even if that trustee member is incredibly accomplished in their own domain, it is unlikely to be enrollment management. So, I’m curious, your best tips for how do you convey the nuances, the important points, of your job and your approach to enrollment management, without overwhelming them, without boring them with unhelpful details, or losing the plot?

Karen Foust:
Well, it’s important for us to remember we’re always educators, and not that we’re there to lecture the trustees … That’s not the point. But the point is you’re right. They don’t have the background that we do. So, we have to find ways to share that. Sometimes that was through a board report, by providing some sort of professional article that would be helpful for them to read and understand more about what’s going on in the enrollment area. Other times it was to provide trends in enrollment at other schools, on how those compared to your own school. Just a variety of ways. You’ll occasionally bring in somebody from the outside that can help validate some of the information, because they will listen to that person, a lot of times more than they might even you. Nonetheless, somebody that really can say, “Yes. Joel knows exactly what he’s talking about when he says this, that, or the other.” That’s not the sole purpose of having them come, but nonetheless, it does help.

Jarrett Smith:
Joel, would you add anything to that?

Joel Bauman:
Yeah. I have had the experience of, in my youthful exuberance … It’s the Enron thing about trying to be the smartest guy in the room. Because that’s what they’re paying you for, to know your business. Really not a good idea, because these folks are really smart. While they may not know your business, they want to be able to offer advice, and they want to ask really good questions, and they want you to walk through your thinking, not necessarily be a wand. Absolutely, Karen’s right. You need to show a mastery of your business. But my experience over the years is really allow time for their conversation to each other to sometimes break up a meeting, to what’s called, “Hey, just the ‘operational report,'” what you need to see to satisfy your fiduciary responsibilities, or that interest. But really, let’s talk strategy. Ask the hard questions.

At some point, with particularly enrollment committee, and sometimes the full board, we would have the statistics meeting, the reporting fiduciary meeting, snapshot meeting in between the official meeting, and then we started to record them, because they were through Zoom. That was a huge bonus for those trustees. You’d be surprised. “I couldn’t make the meeting, but I looked at the recording. Thank you for doing that, so I could feel caught up.” Bringing in experts, consultants and/or vendors that you work with, to give more weight to the state of the art out there. I’ve also invited trustees to do a life in the day. “Well, actually, why don’t you come in and sit in the admissions office. Let’s review an admissions file.”

Joel Bauman:
One of the more interesting, eye-opening experiences, especially for those that didn’t have recent college-aged kids, we collected samples for competition purposes, of financial aid awards. Admissions packets and financial aid award packets of competing schools, and just laid them out for them, and walked them through what they look like, and what a family experiences, and then showed them our own. That was really an eye-opening experience for them, because it wasn’t theoretical. It wasn’t just, “We’re a great school. Why aren’t they just picking us?” But they saw the reality on the ground of what individual families are doing. They can hang with you, everything from strategic planning at the highest level of the institution and fiduciary responsibilities, all the way down to having them help you, if they’re interested, read an admissions file and give their opinion.

I have found ask them, survey them. They’ll give you their ideas, and then some of them will do this, and some of them will do that. Just like our work in relationship building, build the relationship and offer them … Meet them where they are, as opposed to think of them all as one big monolithic fiduciary trustee.

Karen Foust:
Something simple that I did over the years was when board members referred a student to the institution, then that student’s name appeared on what I ended up calling a VIP list. Simply for the fact that then I could make sure that I shared that with the president, and that individual knew that board member had made a recommendation, and what that relationship was, and the outcome of that student, what had moved along with that student. So, that was always something critical. Then occasionally, I had an opportunity to share some information with the trustee, as well, who’d made the recommendation.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Can I go back to something you alluded to? You were talking about presenting information to the trustees, and they get the board book in advance. I’m assuming a lot of what you present to them is data. Then you do a narrative on the data. What if the news isn’t all good? Especially, we know that enrollment has seen a tough year in 2020, and 2021 certainly isn’t a cakewalk. How do you go about that? How do you present news that isn’t great?

Karen Foust:
Well, when Jarrett asked the question earlier about surprises that might come up in a board meeting, that is one that you don’t want to come up as a surprise. So, you work with your president and your colleagues to make sure that the right kind of information is disseminated to the trustees on a regular basis. That includes things that don’t always have good news in them. That way, when they actually come to the meeting, they’ve had a heads up, or have some background about what might be going on. We thought going into May 1, it looked great, and then all of a sudden, it just totally fell off, that type of thing. Not that you necessarily use those words, but you get the idea. That would have been disappointing news. So, they needed to be prepared upfront for something like that.

Joel Bauman:
My observation on that, and I think as enrollment management, particularly on the strategic level, at the higher levels of more complex institutions, it’s about anticipatory enrollment management. I wish I could take credit for that term, but I think [Rochelle Hernandez 00:23:21], who is now at University of Texas-Austin, introduced me to that sense, which is much like Florida’s, my more recent experience, much like the cone of probabilities of a hurricane, it could land here, or it could land there. You talk about probabilities and not certainties. So, anticipatory, particularly around what Karen’s talking about. Right?

It’s May. We’ll go freshman admissions. Enrollment deposits look like this. Trustees told me when I first started at one of my institutions, “This is great news, since we don’t care, because we know by the time we come back in October and look at the budget, it’s completely different.” I said, “Oh, well, let me explain what the trend is, and what to anticipate.” If the news is not good, because there are leading indicators, I think they always get frustrated with lagging indicators. Right? So, I think you need to start to produce leading indicators and say, “This is showing us this potential. Here’s the probabilities to anticipate. Here’s what could happen.”

I try to inject some humor. I got known for the, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news.” Right? There’s that. “Which would you like first?” But the anticipatory side is really important, to set their expectations, that it could go this way or that way. You have to take ownership. I feel like early on, I joke about … I don’t know if you know mountain climbing. There’s a little chalk bag. You go into your chalk bag and you dip your fingers. So, I used to joke about this, a little toolkit that every enrollment manager has, and it’s like, “Oh, demographics.” You dig around a little more and it’s like, “Oh, competition.” You dig around a little more. “The economy.” You pick one. Right? “Oh, here’s the excuse, or here’s what helped. Great team. Recruitment. New programs.”

There’s always this toolkit. All those could be true. You always have to have ownership of the results. You always have to start with, “I think we could have done better because.” You can’t be afraid of opening up, looking under the hood, and if there’s a legit opportunity, you have to own it. You have to offer a solution. “We knew this. We observed this. We found this out. Here’s what we’re going to do about it.” That’s part of the expertise. They don’t think you’re perfect. They don’t think you’re not going to make mistakes. If you come in and you’re like, “Well, bonehead mistake number one was,” and then you’re like, “And here’s what we’re going to do about it.” I feel like, Laura, as you’re saying, as experts and professionals in their own lives, they can respect that. They may not like it, but if you know what the solution might be, and then come back and explain whether that adjustment worked or not, I think they accept your professionalism at that point.

Jarrett Smith:
Joel, I want to circle back to something. In the past, I’ve heard you talk about when you’re new at a school, the importance of understanding the types of reports the board was receiving, and the definitions they were using, and then how you’re reporting, which may be a little bit different, meshes with that. Could you set that up a little bit? I think you called out some important things to be aware of about that.

Joel Bauman:
Yeah. Thanks for reminding me. That would go under the bonehead category, mistake number one, new to reporting to trustees. What I have learned, and what I think now works really well, is finish out … If you’re new to an institution, you’re taking over, and possibly, if there’s a new trustee on the committee, this might work, as well, finish out, in their first meeting, what the historic trajectory, what the historic presentation mode, what they’re used to seeing. Then leave time at the end for, “Does this work for you?” Literally, survey them for their interests. This last go round, I found out that they actually hated the format of being reported to, each unit coming in, reporting their expert level, and then leaving, and then having 50 pages of reporting.

What they wanted to do was ask questions. So, we surveyed them, and then we found out three of them want the snapshots, want the reports, need to go into every nitty gritty detail, because they’re also on the audit committee. So, that’s their role. Four of them are former marketing experts. They’re like, “Let’s talk ideas.” Then three of them are from other areas of business and do want to support, and advise, and talk strategy. So, we shifted how we have the meetings. Again, snapshot, fiduciary level information, with the definitions, with the new approaches, with the kinds of reports in between. The reason I learned to do it that way was one of my first meetings at the board, I just rolled in. Again, “I’m the smartest one in the room. I’m new. I’ve got to point out where the data points are.”

I said something like, “We only deny two percent of our applicant pool.” Now, I didn’t go and say, “But you determine an admit rate in a different …” When I said, “We deny two percent of the pool,” the one trustee, who had been on the board many, many, many years, in response to reporting selectivity, and SAT score averages, and really hung up on those fiduciary details to make sure we were reporting them correctly to US News and World Report, was … He said, “That would mean we have a 98% admit rate.” Well, we didn’t. We didn’t report that. In the middle of the meeting, I couldn’t say no, because I see what he said. I said two percent. That caused a little bit of a ruckus.

To Karen’s point, that was a surprise. That’s not a statistic anybody wanted to hear or thought about. So, it took months … It took months to put the toothpaste back in the tube on that one. Right? We had to explain, “Well, admit rates are this. We do deny, but you count them like this. The point was we need a bigger …” What I was trying to say is, “We need a bigger applicant pool. We need a bigger funnel. That’s the direction we’re going in as a strategy.” But I chose the wrong indicator to make that point. That was painful. I mean, that undermined … the exact opposite effect of what I was trying to do. It undermined the integrity. They thought I was fixing the number somehow, or trying to make a case against the previous administration. It just took a while to rebuild … I have a strong reputation of integrity and transparency in defining how we do these things.

That was my point. Right? We’re going to define admit rate this way. We’re going to define selectivity this way. We’re going to grow it in this fashion. I’ll report it the same way here, and the same way to faculty, and the same way to cabinet. But that was a bitter pill to swallow, by giving the wrong statistic.

Karen Foust:
One of the ways that I’ve found helpful, as new trustees were coming on, the cabinet had put together essentially a training manual for them. That covered our different areas of responsibility. It also included a list of terminologies that we use in our profession. Financial aid is full of lots of acronyms. The FAFSA, this, that, or the other. So, to actually give them our definition of that, was a helpful piece. They would have that to refer back to. You explained what the admit rate was, and how you calculated it. Some simple things like that.

Jarrett Smith:
I’m glad you brought that up, because we started off earlier in this conversation talking about when you’re new. Right? Joel, you were talking about a situation, one particular pitfall that can happen when you’re new at an institution. Of course, you also have board members that are rolling off, new ones that are rolling on periodically. You, hopefully, have the opportunity to play a role in their onboarding. It may just be an hour when they’re new, when they swing by the office. I would be curious, when you are meeting with a new trustee, what’s your punch list? How do you think about that first one hour meeting, where they are maybe at your office, and it’s your time? How do you approach that?

I always start with trying to ask them what they know. What is their mythology about enrollment, admissions, financial aid? What do they know? Right? Some of them are educated. Some of them are from their own experience, their own going through college experience or their kid’s. It’s amazing what a mystique there is around our business, even to experts in the field, such a mystique. So, I start off with maybe telling some vignettes about what our admitted students are like, a few explanations about what it’s like to go through our financial aid and scholarshipping program, some recent graduates. Just to give a flavor of the human side of who our students are.

Normally, I’d start with the marketplace dynamics, an introduction to the demographics, and then lead to the funnel, and then describe some of the internal workings of how we do go about, from enrollment marketing, from the application process, all the way to enrollment retention and graduation. A little bit of trying to influence program curricular development. “Don’t tell the provost I said that.” How important it is to have the marketing in the particular academic program, to help with enrollment. I do like, to Karen’s point, a few of the definitions. I do like some of the AGB materials to hand off and then explain it’s either dated, or applies, or doesn’t apply quite exactly to our work.

I do try to give the framework of what a tremendous industry higher education really is. I take it from the story, the narrative, of the individual student, to the fact that it’s the seventh largest export of the United States, higher education. I think … I don’t know if this is still a true fact, so you’ll have to fact check me. Somewhere along the line, I said, “Worldwide, it’s a $500 billion, maybe $700 billion, industry.” All told, including the for-profits. So, all of a sudden, you’re like, “That’s a serious industry. It’s not just about visiting the high schools, which we can get to in a minute.” Right? So, I try to establish with them a sense of the complexities, the importance, from the individual student, impacting their life.

At the end of the day, the trustees really care about students. Right? And about the quality education, and sending them off to lives of significance and accomplishment. But then also the business side of things. I have a series of documents, and reports, and suggestions of books to read, [Lisa Lingo 00:35:28]’s book, those sorts of things to ground them, if they’re interested.

Jarrett Smith:
I came across an article. This dates back to 2015, but it’s in The Hechinger Report. It talks about how schools, as they’ve, over the years, come under more scrutiny for things like the rising cost of tuition, the value of the degrees that they confer, that along with that, trustees have also … There’s been a trend for them to take a more hands-on, down in the weeds, approach, compared to years prior. I’m curious. Karen, I throw this one out to you. Is that something that you’ve seen in your own experience? Does that resonate with you?

Karen Foust:
Well, I’ve certainly observed a little bit of that, but not, actually, a whole lot. Because of the way that the president would interact with the board, and he or she served as the primary person to make sure that they were aware of what was going on in the industry, and those kinds of things. So, I’ve never really been in a situation where we had a lot of interference from board members, or wanting to really drill down. Occasionally, you’d get somebody that was overzealous. It was, a lot of times, somebody that was newer to a board, that they thought, “Well, I better drill down on this.” It’s fine to drill down, but they only really need to go so far. I’ve not seen a lot of that. There’s been a lot in the news about it, that that has been a developing trend at some schools.

Jarrett Smith:
Joel, how does your own experience with that stack up?

Joel Bauman:
Yeah. It’s a combination of, again, the interests and backgrounds of trustees. I do think it’s become much more focused on both ethical and fiduciary, regulatory … I do believe it’s a higher regulatory, much more strict regulatory environment. I think it happened after the recession with all the financial firms and financial reporting. I think after the Title IX issues, and state, and some other institutions, I think Title IX has gotten … Especially if you’ve got D-1 athletics, there’s a lot more, I think, regulatory requirements. I do think that’s become a lot more difficult. Again, state schools versus private, non-profits. Obviously, a different level of regulatory compliance required in that sector.

Very similar, same story about that one experience. It’s related to not only your own internal dynamics, but a news story broke about a competitor school up the road that either was misreporting its application numbers and selectivity, or the SAT scores, and excluding some test scores. That report comes out. It’s in your neighborhood, and the natural questions. The Varsity Blues. I don’t know any admissions or enrollment professional that, once that story broke, there weren’t trustees in their office, looking through their applications. “Who do we know? Did you let somebody in? What about the rowers?” Et cetera, et cetera. You get a story like that, there’s heightened awareness.

I have sat in a room with the president, the chair of the board, the IR director, myself, and a trustee who wanted to see that we reported the SAT scores correctly. So, we spent four hours, page-by-page, name-by-name, tracking what was in the system, what was reported. He just needed to know that we did that. There’s a couple discrepancies here and there going back, what is it, three, five years? But it was fine. Right? It was actually as tight and with integrity as you can get. So, we were able to prove that. Boy, that was painful. I do think there’s a much more difficult regulatory environment these days, particularly in the state school sector. Anyone dealing with financial aid, anyone dealing with Title IX, and particularly D-1 these days, is under a microscope.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Wow. I just want to explain it for the audience. IR, if you’re not familiar, is institutional research. That’s why they were in the room with you. There’s some controlling of the narrative that you have to do in your roles. Would you say that’s true? How do you do that?

Karen Foust:
Well, I think you do it by making sure that everybody knows that you’re operating with integrity and doing the very best you can do. You demonstrate to them, the way Joel did, that, “We have three to five years worth of data here. We found a few discrepancies, or a few honest mistakes, but on the whole, we continue to calculate our SAT scores the same way every single year. Here’s how we did that.” So, I think you just state the facts and show them that you’ve been on top of it. It’s not to say something won’t slip through occasionally. There are times like that experience with you have your annual audit, and the auditors come in. They all of a sudden have some new accounting rules that they have to follow, and you’re not aware of those. Then you get dinged a little for something, especially in the financial aid world, that you didn’t even know. It was an honest mistake, but they do give you a warning about it. You learn from that. You learn what needs to be done differently for the future.

Joel Bauman:
In the tuition-driven institutions, you really have to have your ear to the ground, and be reading the tea leaves, and understanding the dynamics. I think that the narrative … You have to be prepared, you have to count on colleagues in the business. I’ve always been lucky to have colleagues, like Laura, like Karen, like people in the consortium, or friends that I’ve worked with over the years, to be able to pick up the phone or send an email and say, “I’ve got a trustee meeting.” Different institutions, so you can’t really compare, but they want you to know that at such-and-such school, here’s what they’re experiencing. “In our environment, we are …” Then you can explain, “We’re unique. We’re not unique. We’re right in there.”

I think really counting on colleagues to be able to have … and the industry material. Right? You have to read Inside Higher Ed. You have to read the blogs. You have to listen to podcasts from quality partners. You need to understand what’s in the business. They may also come across those. You should be able to answer questions that come from a place that has context. I know what you’re saying about controlling the narrative. It’s that overall context, the framing. I’m a big fan of framing. Whatever the issue is, or the presentation is, there’s a frame around it. There’s a narrative frame and context, I think, that you have to set first. If it’s incongruent to what they believe, or they’re hearing, or what you’ve talked about before, that’s when that surprise that Karen was talking about can happen. That dissonance that if you walk into it without aware that you’re about to change the narrative, or update the context, it’s going to cause some eyebrow furrowing.

Jarrett Smith:
Okay. So, while we’re talking about, I don’t know, tricky topics, it’s not unheard of that a trustee might go around the president. They have a particular agenda that they’re looking to push, and maybe they come to you, or they’re going to other members of the cabinet. How do you navigate a situation like that? How do you, I guess, for lack of a better word, respectively nudge them back into their lane, if that’s a thing that can be done? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on that.

Karen Foust:
Well, I think we’ve both had experiences that way. Probably the one that I’ve shared most frequently was a very nice gentleman who thought that every time he rolled into town, that he needed to make sure he came by the enrollment office to find out what the numbers were, and how things were going, and then he would also make phone calls in between, and so on and so forth. As it turns out, this gentleman was somebody that I’d talked to the president about, of course, and it was a valued trustee, so you roll with some of it. But at the same time, you learn that there is a line in the sand that you can draw with it. I would not go into things with him that he wanted to know, that really had more information about students. Because of FERPA, I couldn’t share those things with him.

So, I drew the line there. I had the support of the president and the board chair on that. That was important for the board chair to know, as well. So, you occasionally will have somebody like that, who they mean well, but sometimes they take way more of your time than they really should.

Joel Bauman:
I think this is a case of you really want and hope to be working with an experienced president, an experienced board, cabinet, so that you all can know that happens when that happens. I’ve had some great colleagues on cabinet who were like, “Hey, so-and-so is asking about … they were wondering …” I’m like, “Okay.” That’s also really important to stay in conversation there, about that with the board, have with your colleagues. Do the walkthrough with your cabinet. Make sure you’re telling them what’s going to be in the report. This really excellent group of colleagues I worked with once, we shared our status reports, as opposed to the experience many of us have is, “Oh, that’s what they’re doing in that department,” because you’re at the board meeting. You’re reading their status reports. “Oh. Good. I wish I knew that.”

Joel Bauman:
You try to do that ahead of time. I’ve had presidents who thought that was their experience, and that’s the way they wanted to run things. If a trustee had questions, and if they said something in the meeting or outside the meeting, the board secretary and the board council would take the notes, and they would divvy up … If there was a question, they would divvy it up between the cabinet and say, “Get this answered. Funnel it through.” We’d all see what the questions were, and we’d respond. I had another president who worked for them that said, “Any requests for staff, cabinet, come through the president’s office.” Because his contention was where we are in the strategic plan, the work is so … There’s such volume of work that any request could throw us off the momentum we’ve got. So, at least that was the frame of talking.

It can go multiple ways. If you’re an experienced group, you’ll know that there’s a rogue member out there saying things, and interpreting things, with a possible agenda, or just misinterpreting. That makes it awkward for a lot of people, because it is a … The meeting itself is a very scripted, choreographed experience. Unless it’s a retreat, and you have a session that is free-thinking, again, those out-of-the-blue moments become awkward and difficult for trustees to process, and for presidents to manage, and for those of us who convey these demands.

Jarrett Smith:
One thing that seems to be very consistent between the two of you is, as you said earlier, Joel, relying on your colleagues, making it a team effort, and really supporting the team. If there are issues that you are bringing up in front of the board, nobody on the cabinet should be surprised about that. If a board member is maybe veering outside their lane a little bit, or aggressively pushing for an agenda, also go back to that same core team that you have and problem solve it together.

Karen Foust:
I think there are any number of times over the years where I’ve had colleagues say, “So-and-so asked a question about this topic in our committee meeting today.” That’s really helpful, because then I can address that question. It, obviously, would have been related to my area. Just to be good colleagues that way, and know when to share with your colleagues what’s going on in your meetings. I think that’s helpful, as well.

Joel Bauman:
We’re all, like Karen said, educators at heart. So, it’s important to educate. When your colleagues feel armed and well-prepared to talk about enrollment in their session, they come away … I mean, they walk away like, “Oh, I was able to answer that for that trustee.” Right? “I’m of service to that trustee, and I knew something about it.” Same thing with us in enrollment, whether we have, for example, retention under our umbrella, officially or unofficially. Right? You support, and you explain where we are with particular angles. If you’ve got graduate, you make sure you’re able to support your colleague and/or understand that there’s something else going on, and then come back and share that information. I think at the backend, there’s much preparation for the cabinet, the debrief, the hot wash, like Karen is talking about. What did you hear? What happened in your committee? How did it go? Where is the sense of the board?

Jarrett Smith:
Well, good deal. As we wrap up, you both have many years of great experience, and some hard lessons learned along the way, but also no doubt, quite a few successes due to the longevity of your careers. I’d be wondering if you had any words of wisdom for folks who are newer to the VP role, and anything you might want to share with them on this topic to help them make sure they get off to a good start? Karen, you want to tee that one up for you?

Karen Foust:
Sure. Well, we both talked throughout this, at times, about, essentially, the importance of networking. So, if you have developed a strong network of colleagues in the enrollment profession over a period of years, and now you’ve moved into a VP role, you’re going to know other people who have done the same. To be able to pick up the phone and talk to them, gather their ideas on how they even have their organization structured, or what kinds of reports they have to give out, whether it’s to the cabinet, to the faculty, to the board, those kinds of things, just get some general information from them that way. Then certainly work with your cabinet colleagues, as well, so that you have a deeper understanding.

I think it’s important to have those professional relationships, to not hesitate to pick up the phone, or send them an email, or even a text that says, “Hey, I’ve got this issue going on. Could I spend a half hour with you talking about it?” That type of thing. I think you’ll learn a lot that way, by engaging with other people. Obviously, there’s some professional opportunities, but there is no training manual for this whole thing. You just have to learn and take it step-by-step. It’s not all going to come to you overnight. There’s nothing magical that’s going to happen just because you’ve been named a VP. Rather, it’s going to take a lot of work to really get an understanding of what goes into the position and the role.

Joel Bauman:
I think that ability to commiserate with colleagues, and/or what they call that in New York, which is kvetch, to be able to call somebody and commiserate and toss around ideas is extremely important. I think Laura nailed it a while back when she said, “There is tremendous pressure, regardless of funding and regardless of where you are in the pecking order of schools.” Just varying degrees. There was an article, I think, in Inside Higher Ed a while back that chronicled the hottest seat on campus. Always is, always will be. So, there’s just tremendous pressure. You have to develop the hard skin. You have to develop, as you see with our colleagues, Karen and Laura are expert at the stoic response, mastering your emotions, mastering your business, knowing it well and knowing that you don’t know, and being able to handle that deftly.

I think if you’re going into this business, know that there’s great pressure, but also know that, like you see with our colleagues, no pressure, no diamonds. Right? So, pressure produces diamonds. I think if you come out the other end, I just think it’s one of the most underrated industries, higher ed is, out there, in its complexity and the ability to change people’s lives, and society for the better. Worth getting into, but it can be a tough road, but worth the journey.

Karen Foust:
Most definitely.

Jarrett Smith:
Well, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for sharing all of the accumulated wisdom that you have, and this was a great episode with some just really fantastic information. Thank you both so much.

Karen Foust:
Thank you.

Joel Bauman:
Much appreciated it. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Jarrett Smith:
The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta, a full-service enrollment marketing agency for colleges and universities of all sizes. To see some of the work we’ve done, and how we’ve helped schools just like yours, visit echodelta.co. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. As always, if you have a comment, question, suggestion, or episode idea, feel free to drop us a line at podcast@echodelta.co.