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.