In Response: A Short Letter from Your President to Your Chief Marketing Officer

Becky Morehouse

Becky Morehouse

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Thank you for your recent letter.

I do appreciate the thought that went into your comments and appreciate, too, the candor and sincerity with which they were presented.

Like you, I want to make our marketing efforts as successful as possible. With that goal in mind, I would like to respond to some of your insights and then offer some observations of my own.


Your point about me being your sponsor is an important one. I intuitively agree that this is a critical role for me. But remember, that while I am your sponsor, I am the sponsor of the other VPs as well. I will publicly support our marketing efforts. I will run interference for you when necessary. I will listen to your voice. But there are other voices I must listen to as well.


I agree that you need to more completely understand my vision for marketing. From my perspective, the sole purpose of marketing is to increase the flow of resources to the institution. I see marketing as a means to those larger ends.


Your comments about compelling differentiation are helpful and timely. But here’s a question: How can we develop points of differentiation that are valued in the marketplace, yet are true to our core values? Furthermore, how can I be sure these points of differentiation are truly enduring? I remember once reading something by Michael Porter on competitive advantage. Perhaps he might be able to offer some guidance.


Let me respond to one more point before I offer some of my own thoughts on marketing. While I understand the need for a realistic marketing budget, I am also sensitive that any dollars spent on marketing—regardless of the source—mean fewer dollars spent on academic programs. To help me make the political case for marketing, I would like you to prepare a brief that looks at the following issues:

  • How our top competitors organize and staff their marketing efforts
  • How much they spend on marketing as a percentage of their overall budget
  • How our competitors measure the ROI of their marketing efforts

Now that I have commented on some of the points you made, let me offer a few of my own.

1. Know Our Senior Team

First, you need to spend serious time with other members of the senior team. You need to understand their roles, perspectives, and values. They need to see you as a resource and not just a competitor for resources. For them to more completely understand what’s in your head, you must spend some time in theirs.

2. No Surprises

Second, I don’t like surprises. One of the most important things you can do for me is to let me know about emerging issues that are heading our way. This means that you and your people must be deliberate listeners. Talk to your peers at other institutions. Join community organizations. Read relevant blogs. In short, you need to be my radar.

3. Establish Credibility

Third, take the time to establish your own credibility, especially with faculty. Learn the hopes and dreams for their areas and listen to their concerns about marketing. Over time, show how marketing can help them. And perhaps most importantly, be careful of the promises you make. We all lose credibility when we over promise and under deliver.

4. Share the Impact

Fourth, from my perspective, marketing is all outcomes rather than output. You provide updates on how busy you are, how many hits our website receives, or how many folks attended a particular event. While this is interesting, it is not particularly useful. Show me how all these activities have helped us recruit students and raise dollars.

5. Internal Communication

Fifth, I am concerned that we don’t seem to be paying much attention to internal communication. Almost all of our efforts appear to be directed toward outside audiences while our own faculty and staff wonder what’s going on. We can’t leave internal audiences guessing. Not only do they deserve to know, but with a better understanding of our marketing strategies, they are more likely to become advocates of those efforts.

6. Explain Discontinued Activities

Next, let’s talk a little more about the budget. I know we need to make a greater investment in marketing. But even as we spend more, make sure people understand that marketing is not always about doing more. Be prepared to show people what activities, based on data, are being discontinued because they are (proven) ineffective.

Walk Us Through the Research

Two last thoughts. First, even if we can’t always afford our own research, show how you have used primary and secondary data to inform the decisions you are making.

Be Accountable

Finally, be accountable for the resources you have received. We have raised the profile of marketing at the institution. You are part of the cabinet. Your staff has grown as has your budget. You have asked for and earned my support as well as the support of the other VPs. Please take care to steward these resources responsibly.

Thank you again for initiating this conversation. Be on the lookout for a breakfast meeting invite sometime next week to discuss how we should proceed.

If you’re interested in developing the most effective marketing strategy possible, let me know. I’d be happy to walk you through the research, strategy development, and planning steps.
Thank you:
Becky Morehouse 
[email protected]

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