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Communication Revolution
Communication Revolution

Twitter, texts, e-pubs, apps—a new CASE study reveals how communicators are managing

By Rae Goldsmith


"Doing more with less." That's the major challenge cited by respondents in CASE's first survey on communications and marketing trends. Whether at independent schools or colleges and universities, communications professionals are grappling with increased demands—social media, mobile websites, digital publications—while managing traditional print media. And they're doing so with fewer or stagnant resources.

"We're in an era of constant disruption," says Lisa Lapin, associate vice president for university communications at Stanford University in California. "It's important to understand the impact of pervasive change on our work so that we can continue to be strategic and effective on behalf of our institutions."

Lapin chairs the CASE Commission on Communications and Marketing, an advisory group of senior professionals that launched the survey earlier this year. Collecting uniform data on communications and marketing operations isn't easy, Lapin says, given the profession's wide variety of structures, activities, and budgeting practices. Because of that, the survey identifies broad trends "to understand who we're engaging and how our work is changing."

Among the key results: Senior-level communications and marketing professionals say other departments often don't understand their work and that inefficient organizational structures impede their effectiveness. In an age of accountability, many struggle to adequately measure their work and show its impact. They're proud, however, of their high profile on campus and how their work aligns with institutional objectives, whether implementing branding initiatives or helping institutions reach fundraising and student recruitment goals.

Survey participants are also optimistic about the future, saying that changes in the communications landscape will allow them to better target audiences and show the value of their work. Many say their roles will grow in importance in the next five years. As one respondent put it: "Like morticians and nurses, we're not going to become obsolete anytime soon."

Here are 15 of the survey's top highlights and surprises:


1. Big Responsibilities, Big Influence

The survey asked if primary responsibility for developing strategy and materials rests with:

  1. A central communications and marketing office.
  2. A central communications and marketing office incollaboration with another office.
  3. Another office entirely.

More than half of respondents have primary or shared responsibility for every audience, including the media, the faculty, legislators, parents, students, and the general public.


2. What Communicators Do (and They Do a LOT)

More than 90 percent of respondents say their offices oversee branding, media relations, social media, print and digital publications, photography, and the institution's main website and magazine. More than three quarters are also responsible for advertising, market research, video production, and student recruitment communications.


3. How Communications and Marketing Offices Prioritize Their Audiences

CUR_JA13_Goldsmith_Chart3Click to enlarge

4. Top 10 Activities Managed by Communications and Marketing Offices
  • Branding: 96.1%
  • Media relations: 95.8%
  • Social media: 95.6%
  • Print publications: 95.4%
  • Digital publications: 94.9%
  • Primary website: 91.6%
  • Photography: 91.1%
  • Print magazine: 91.1%
  • Online advertising: 89.4%
  • Print advertising: 88.7%

More than 80 percent of respondents also handle radio and TV advertising, digital magazines, and market research.


5. Percentage of Offices that Spend Less Time* on …
  • Print publications: 30.6%
  • Print advertising: 25.6%
  • Radio and TV advertising: 24.3%
  • Print magazines: 12.6%
  • Audio productions: 10.2%
  • Media relations: 8.0%

*Most communications and marketing offices say their responsibilities have increased—significantly—during the past two years. But the emphasis on these six activities has decreased in that time.


6. How Many Employees Work in Communications and Marketing Offices?

The figures below are for professional staff members based in a centralized office, using data from all respondents (although the numbers vary significantly by institution type and enrollment):

  • Average number of professional staff: 6.8
  • Largest number of staff members among respondents: 100
  • Smallest: 0
  • Largest number of professional communications and marketing staffers based outside of a central office: 200
7. A Link to the Top

How many senior-level communications and marketing professionals report to the institution's CEO? Here's the breakdown by type of institution:

  • Independent schools: 62.7%
  • Two-year colleges: 51.0%
  • Four-year private colleges and universities: 49.4%
  • Four-year public colleges and universities: 23.2%
  • Overall: 49.7%

Percentage that reports to someone one level below the CEO (such as a senior vice president or vice president): 30


8. Staff Gains Outnumber Cuts

About 10 percent of respondents reduced their staff size in the last two years; one-third of those positions were graphic designers.

[Art Director's Note: :( ]

But …

35 percent increased their staff size, especially in the areas of digital and social media and website management.


9. The Budgets Don't Budge

More than a third of all respondents report that their operating budgets increased during the last two years. But slightly less than half say their budgets stayed the same—and nearly one-fifth report decreases. As this chart shows, the numbers vary widely depending on the type of institution.

CUR_JA13_Goldsmith_Chart9Click to enlarge

10. Top Areas Receiving New Funding
  • Digital and social media: 24%
  • Website: 19%
  • Advertising: 17%
  • Marketing and market research: 12%
11. Percentage of Communications and Marketing Offices with a Crisis Communications Plan in Place: 72
12. How Communications and Marketing Offices Measure Results

The survey provided respondents with a list of ways to measure effectiveness and asked them to check off the ones that apply. The results show that communications and marketing professionals rely more on online metrics and subjective feedback than on measured attitudes or actions.

The most frequently cited way to measure effectiveness is …

  • Website and social media activity: 88.8%

Compare that to …

  • Enrollment: 68.8%
  • Qualitative surveys: 48.8%
  • Dollars raised: 40.0%
  • Percentage that doesn't measure effectiveness: 4.6%
13. Barriers to Effectiveness

CUR_JA13_Goldsmith_Chart13Click to enlarge

14. Communications and Marketing Officer Use of Time

Percentage of time chief communications and marketing officers spend on activities, average for all respondents

CUR_JA13_Goldsmith_Chart14Click to enlarge

15. The Times They Are A-Changin' (for the Better)

Looking forward five years, most respondents are optimistic that the profession will survive and thrive, largely because of advances in communications technology. Respondents say they see big opportunities in these three areas:

  1. Measurement. There will be more opportunities for demonstrating "the return on the investment through data … and showing the connection to achieving the institution's goals."
  2. Recognition. Professionals will have "an enhanced seat at the table" and the opportunity to "prove [our] strategic value to the institution and help reposition [it] for the changing economic, social, and demographic environment."
  3. Engagement. Campuses will deploy "far more powerful tools for creating and sharing messages in ways that grab our audiences and let them share stories themselves."

Best of all, some respondents predict that today's disruptions will lead to tomorrow's innovations: "Since the rules are constantly changing, [we have] new opportunities to think completely out of the box," says one participant. The result, according to another, will be exciting opportunities—the chance to be "bold, innovative, and willing to try new approaches." 

About the Author Rae Goldsmith headshot Rae Goldsmith

Rae Goldsmith is the vice president for advancement resources at CASE.




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