InCASE: Spotlight on Terry Flannery
Stepping into the role of CASE’s new Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer is a “real privilege,” says Teresa (Terry) Flannery.
“I’m looking forward to working with our staff and senior leaders, volunteers across the globe, and our members,” says the longtime higher education leader and CASE volunteer. “It’s a huge opportunity to get a grounded experience in the work of our profession across the globe. I’m very excited about it.”
Here, she shares what drew her to marketing, what keeps her energized, her best career advice, and more.
What are you most looking forward to as CASE’s EVP and COO?
What’s most exciting for me is the opportunity to have a more enterprise-wide influence on an organization that I care deeply about and have been engaged with for years. It’s a different kind of impact than you can have as a leader of one vertical in an organization or as a volunteer leader. Also, joining an executive team that I already greatly admire, I hope I’ll be able to add some skills and expertise, and leverage my networks in ways that will help us reach the highest aspirations in CASE’s strategic plan.
We’re aiming to elevate the profession of educational advancement across the globe: enhancing understanding of the strategic importance of our work and creating more appreciation for the impact of advancement professionals as champions of their institutions and the people we serve. Those are all inspirational challenges for me to be involved in.
How did you get started in marketing and communications?
I've worked in higher education in my entire career, starting out in student affairs. A lifelong mentor moved from student affairs to admissions and encouraged me to follow her. While I was working in admissions in the 1990s, I realized that there was an approach beginning to emerge in admissions practice: marketing. I realized that it could help our departments focus on our target audiences and realize greater success in reaching our enrollment goals if we adopted it. I began learning as much as I could, and I was immediately hooked. Pretty soon, I was asked to become my institution's first marketing director and I've been engaged in that work ever since.
I find I most enjoy marketing at a broad institutional level that’s integrated across enrollment, advancement, and brand marketing, among other functions. The thing that really energizes me about this work is that strategic marketing and communications combine three things that I love: data analysis, strategy, and creativity. Those all tap into things that I think I'm good at and that I really enjoy.
When practiced as it should be, marketing encompasses more than just promotion. It has the potential to positively influence all of an organization's strategic goals. That's another thing that's kept me hooked all this time.
How do you describe your leadership style?
I’ve focused a lot on my leadership development, very intentionally, including through a leadership fellowship program with design thinking. I’ve learned that I’m a strategic, collaborative, and innovative leader. I’ve been mentored by great leaders who instilled in me the values of servant leadership, which really epitomizes so much of what we do in advancement work.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
First, you need to have a compelling errand—the thing that gets you out of bed every morning and gets you excited about what you’re going to do. For several years now, my compelling errand has been helping our profession mature and gain respect as a strategic function. Whether it’s the book that I’ve written [How to Market a University, published in 2021] or the professional development training opportunities I’ve been involved in or my volunteer leadership at CASE: These are all parts of the same compelling errand.
Second—and this is advice I was given by an important mentor—you can have it all, you just can’t have it all at once. This advice, shared by a woman leader, specifically addresses the issue of balancing work, family, and other interests. Even though it’s advice that has been particularly helpful for me as a woman leader, it’s important for all of us these days to find that balance, particularly coming out of the pandemic.
What’s your best tip for navigating periods of change?
Be curious. In times of real change and stress, it's harder to think about challenges without getting defensive or protective. I've learned in recent years that if you can be curious, if your first instinct is to not be defensive, it opens whole new opportunities for learning and growth. This seems like a particularly opportune time for that.
It's important to embrace the opportunity to think differently about the things we're doing, to challenge the basic assumptions that were in place before the pandemic. At the root of any real innovation is this notion of disruption, and it doesn't have to be necessarily a bad thing.
There's a book called Disrupt that I really like and the author [business leader and professor Luke Williams] advocates for thinking about the assumptions in any one thing you wish to change: like the idea socks must be sold in pairs that match, or that conferences must have plenary and breakout sessions. Think about the assumptions that underlie what you're working on and then consider flipping those assumptions to reveal breakthroughs or opportunities for improvement. Mix and match socks, for instance, or entertain a whole new way to organize a conference.
What’s something meaningful you keep in your office?
In my home office, I have a reading nook with a couch and a cozy blanket. It’s a place to move away from my desk and the tyranny of email. I can really think, retreat into reading, and pay attention to it. That is one of my favorite places to spend time.