Talking the talk: 15 lessons learned working with creatives

December 16, 2019
feet in a circle around a doodled lightbulb

by Angé Peterson, AACRAO Senior Consultant, with notes from Katerina Brent, EdD. Assistant Vice President, Enrollment Management, Lamar University

With a resounding “Y’all” to the audience, Carrie Phillips provided a dynamic and interactive session for a large audience of practitioners at the 2019 AACRAO SEM Conference in November. As a Director of Marketing and Communication in this age of extensive expertise in social media and communication, Phillips brought the audience a sound view of higher education marketing and lessons learned as a new unit developed to work within the framework and structure of SEM.

Many SEM practitioners grew into the job from an admission portfolio and mindset that the front door to the university knows the most about marketing to prospective learners. The challenge is to see the ‘flywheel’ from each of the spokes in order to move the university forward. As Tom Huddleston, former VP-UCF and author, once stated during his SEM – Aspen session, “Marketing IS strategic enrollment management.” 

Centralized marketing

Arkansas Tech began as a communications division that made the transition to a Marketing and Communications Office in about two years. On campus the team is referred to as MARCOMM.

Arkansas Tech Marketing Communication Office acts as a centralized marketing agency, housed in Enrollment Management and has no chargebacks to departments. The priorities are listed in tiers with recruitment, foundation initiatives and presidential requests at the top. The staff in the MARCOMM office are creatives who are deep feelers, display productive originality and know how to touch the heartstrings and provide passionate ways to address feelings through all the senses. 

Phillips provided fifteen tips and lessons learned from working with creatives daily hoping to influence the audience of practitioners to find ways of taking the tips into their work environment. 

Fifteen tips/lessons learned from observing creatives daily

1. Creatives want to do a good job, but they intrinsically need to understand the ‘why’.  

The “why” enables the creatives to get it right.

2. Inspiration, not imitation.

Creatives want to be creative plus knowledge of what inspires clients.  They don’t want to just make a copy, they want to understand the audience or culture. If creatives understand the inspiration, they don’t need to imitate.

3. Build relationships.  

Arkansas Tech houses Marketing and Comm in Enrollment Management.  There have been past struggles with the Admissions team. The solution effective May 2019, was meeting every week to talk through projects and collaboration.  They began to understand each other’s worlds. Extend the olive branch and this takes time. At the end of the day, everyone is on the same team.  

4. Figure out the process and make sure all clients are aware of the process.

Always communicate what expectations are to creatives. Demand a process from each side.

  • Example of the process for a one off marketing piece:  Creative brief, talk about content look and feel, timeline, agree on a set of deadlines, and both teams sign off on this.
  • Process with admissions:  Look at piece options, bring to admissions about look and feel, talk about content, build into design and bring to weekly meeting, next week admissions brings it back.   Everyone understands final piece. 

Use a project management tool and stay the course regardless of initial resistance.

5. Final text is crucial -- know the "what."  

Final text helps have a conversation about editing and helps get creatives where they need to go. Arkansas Tech averages 30 projects at one time.  If there are final text changes, it slows down all projects. Project Management system + teamwork = final text. 

6. Shared governance.

Identify content experts in your division. Admissions office is the content expert about students. MARCOMM knows how to make content match the audience.   

7. Avoid drop-ins. 

Creative energy must be able to flow, which can be hard with drop-in staff requests.  Email works better than drop-in requests. MARCOMM use red, yellow and green door hangers for service to drop-ins. hangers to put on their door with red, yellow and green providing access.

8. Plan ahead.

The sooner marketing knows about a project, the better. 

9. Too much freedom: structure helps.

Communicate the look and feel of the project up front.  Too much freedom sets people up for failure. Give them inspiration, budget, size, and media used.

10. Plant seeds – it is a marathon, not a sprint.  

Debrief. This helps with the process and understand how to move forward next time. Understand where the issues/problems are so that we can do better next time. 

11. Lead with data.

Share data and share what you have learned.  Creatives want to learn.

12. Celebrate successes.

Celebrate when things go well.  Find out what motivates your team and send internal thank you’s.

13. Make time for norms.

MARCOMM uses a list of values and expects projects and work to be within those values. Talk about expectations with one another.  Everyone must trust one another and understand the norms for them to work.  

14. Aspirational is okay.

Take the pressure off of one another. Everyone knows there is always something you can do better, but focus on 2 per year and everyone is centered around the focus. 

15. Gratitude is awesome.

Thank you goes a long way with feelers.  Creatives like to know they are appreciated.