Future-Proofing Your Higher Ed Marketing Department w/ T-Shaped Marketers at National University

In 1971, a veteran founded National University after experiencing the inconveniences of higher education for working adults—especially active-duty military and veterans.

We recently interviewed Aaron Edgell, Head of Marketing Services at National University, to talk about how T-shaped hiring can help you build a robust team able to perform at all levels.

In the world of higher education, the focus is on faculty who are beautifully obsessed with a small niche of a field, dedicating their entire life to its pursuit. It can be argued that as more and more is expected of higher-ed marketing departments to solve enrollment growth challenges, the same hiring approach isn’t working.

The concept of hiring T-shaped marketers fills this gap.

Aaron was first introduced to the concept while watching an interview with Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. Aaron noticed that soon after it gained traction within the digital marketing space.

After witnessing over the years the ever-blurring lines between digital and traditional marketing, the T-shaped concept resonated with him. Digital and traditional marketing have truly have become one and the same.

How does T-shaped hiring change your higher ed marketing department?

A T-shaped marketer is someone with the ability to be broad and focused.

At the top of their “T” is an expansive foundation of skills. This includes a wide variety of industry knowledge. However, just as important are soft skills such as empathy and the ability to collaborate.

At the end of the day, we need to get the work done and execute. Hiring generalists will prohibit you from a solid execution. However, if you’re only hiring specialists, what happens if someone is out on vacation?

For example, think of hiring a Director of Paid Search. During the interview process, the candidate makes his or her skill sets related to paid search well known.

To take it a step further, the interviewer should ask questions such as, “What else are you interested in when it comes to digital marketing?” Or if talking about paid search, “What have you learned recently?”

This allows further probing into their collaboration abilities.

What are the benefits of having a team of T-shaped marketers?

This model is an enormous benefit to a higher-education marketing department.

When building a team, you need a strong base of cross-functional training. We’ve all been there: if someone is out on vacation or is sick, we can still move forward with a project if everyone has the same industry core competencies.

Aaron went on to say, “I’m a strong believer in agile methodologies, where we’re moving quick and always getting better. If you can connect on different levels and collaborate, for example in SEO, you can jump right in, be in a conversation and understand it.”

Still another benefit to hiring T-shaped marketers is that you avoid the silos that so naturally come with specialists.

“High performers don’t want to be in a box,” Aaron explained. “They’re always looking for growth and the opportunity to learn new things.”

As the marketing industry grows and changes, higher-education professionals shouldn’t have to hire a specialist for the latest trend. T-shaped marketers will naturally be able to adapt and be nimble to whatever comes their way.

Data-driven versus data-informed?

Marketers love data, and it’s easier than ever to harness every imaginable data point out there.

Traditionally, marketers, higher-education varieties included, would look at the data and strictly make a decision based off of numbers. This is data-driven.

Data-informed is taking the data and making informed decisions based on the information. You can’t always measure everything, and sometimes what you find is not clear.

The biggest reason Aaron is a proponent of the data-informed approach is simple: “In short, it’s not driving every single decision that is made.”

What do you do if you don’t have T-shaped marketers?

In a perfect world, we would all like to have a bunch of T-shaped marketers on our team. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

What can you do to make your team successful? In the interview, Aaron stressed the importance of bringing in all of the functional experts into the same room. He makes sure to help the team connect those dots, so they all see the significance of each other’s areas of specialty.

“If we’re doing media buying with traditional media, I’ll have the paid search person in the room to talk about how this will impact brand search,” he expalined.

One final tactic to assist the team is through training and learning opportunities, as Aaron shared.

“If we’re in education, we should always be increasing our own education. I always try to facilitate ways to do that.”

This post is based on a podcast interview with Aaron Edgell from National University.To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.