Higher ed is experiencing a crisis most of us have never seen at this scale — the pandemic, its economic fallout, and the amplifying reckoning around racial injustice. For people accepting a new role in the middle of this storm, the times call for unusual leadership skills, perhaps nowhere more than in marcomms.
Jaime Hunt, Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Miami University of Ohio, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss the challenges, opportunities, and positive constraints of taking over a Marcomms division mid-pandemic.
The benefit of having to rethink everything
Jaime’s team has shifted away from doing things that support in-person tactics, such as developing travel pieces and materials for college fairs. Although valuable in ordinary time, those activities offer little return now.
“We actually invested more this year in print to try to rise above the noise in the digital space,” Jaime told us.
Rethinking everything like that is a great place to be.
In higher ed, we are distinctly structured to maintain the status quo. There’s this academic year with a track that runs around it, and our tires just slip into those ruts.
This pandemic gives us an opportunity to say what needs to change because right now…well…everything does. And some of these changes need to stick. Beyond that, just having to come up with a new way of doing things gets the wheels in your head spinning.
That’s going to help us identify new communication channels and create materials that answer the new questions we receive in the post-COVID world.
How to split focus between 5 weeks vs. 5 years in front of you?
Part of looking at the future means focusing on the immediate.
“Our trademark and licensing office had a huge dip in workload because nobody was buying things for much of the year,” Jaime said. “So we’ve been able to draw them into a rebranding effort.”
And the time they’re saving on creating some of the print pieces? Jamie has redirected her designers to focus on the university’s updated visual identity.
Her theory is that you have to direct resources toward the immediate, but where can you find resources that you can direct to the future?
“I am not going to get caught flat-footed,” Jaime said. “One way you can differentiate yourself in this marketplace is if you don’t just sit and think about the urgent things that are in front of you.”
Instead, think about what the future is going to look like and where you are going to be then. People who think like that are going to be ahead of the game when COVID is behind us.
Mid-pandemic realities that should continue post-COVID
1. Efficient Meetings
“My day is full of meetings,” Jaime told us, and we could relate to that. “If I were crossing campus for all of those meetings, it would not be possible to cram them all into my schedule.”
We could relate to that, too.
Hopefully, after the pandemic, we’ll still do Zoom meetings for quick check-ins and hold in-person meetings for real opportunities to connect, dialogue, and even socialize. But post-COVID, maybe we’ll retain some of the efficiency we enjoy with the Zoom meetings we’re holding now.
2. Involving People
During COVID, we’ve been forced to reach out to people who aren’t in proximity to us.
That’s not something we often do in higher education.
It seems like we’re an out-of-sight, out-of-mind culture where it’s too easy not to involve people whose office is on the other side of campus. Hopefully, we’ll keep reaching out post-pandemic.
Over the last 11 months — or is it 400 years? — since the pandemic started, we’ve had to be really innovative, turn on a dime, and get used to pivoting.
This pandemic is also giving us an opportunity to reframe things a little bit. Hopefully, that means we can emerge with a strong brand message informed by some of the challenges we’ve had to face.
Advice for others considering a new opportunity right now
“When my husband went back to finish his bachelor’s degree, he said, ‘I’ll be 35 when I’m done. Why would I do this?” Jaime shared with us. “And I told him he was going to be 35 either way. He might as well be 35 with a bachelor’s degree.”
If the opportunity is something you would have seized before the pandemic, go ahead and seize it now while everybody else is putting their lives on hold.
That’s her advice for everyone considering a major career shift during these uncertain times.
Why let an opportunity pass you by?
If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.