What to expect at a university comms/marketing position?
June 16, 2014 8:54 AM   Subscribe

I've been hired to be the Director of Marketing for a humanities faculty at a small but prestigious North American university. I've spent the last nine years at a mid-sized national ad agency. I start in two weeks. What should I expect in my new position?

The position is new -- until now, it's been the dean handling all comms, and they're very keen and excited to have somebody coming on board to handle it. The job description was (and is) quite broad; the Faculty has never had anyone to manage their "brand", engage in any sort of social media, or help them in achieving consistency in communications, etc. It's a mix of broad strategic thinking and day-to-day writing work like press releases, communiqués, presentations, etc.

I'm super excited about it, both as a significant step up for me careerwise and a chance to spread my wings after being in a creatively fulfilling but ultimately subordinate role at my agency.

What I do not feel entirely ready for is the... tonal? shift that this might entail. My current agency specializes in fairly technical subjects, like pharma, animal health, and B2B work for raw goods companies, so I'm a bit accustomed to marketing projects that are a little more stoic and glacial than, say, fast-food advertising.

But it's still a very fast-paced, short-deadline, exciting environment that's largely free of politics and interpersonal drama (it's a great agency). One university colleague of mine, when I mentioned the posting, gave me an eye-roll and said "get ready for politics."

If there are MeFites out there who work in institutional marketing, especially ones that have transferred from for-profit agency life, what's it... like? I know YMMV and many things are situational, but I'm looking for things to brace myself for. Red tape. In-fighting. Territorial issues with the main university communications team. Perpetual approval processes.

I just want to set myself up to have some ideas of what to watch out for, or push back against in the early days, if there are general pitfalls in this kind of institutional work that I could get mired in if I'm not a little wary.
posted by Shepherd to Work & Money (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This will not be like your fast-paced agency environment and you need to be very prepared for that. Academia is s l o w.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:00 AM on June 16, 2014 [9 favorites]

You will need to rebrand the word "brand," many humanities faculty will loose their shit if they catch a whiff the application of that word to their enterprise. I have seen it happen before.
posted by Good Brain at 9:05 AM on June 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

I agree with both comments above. I would add that university people really appreciate thoughtfulness and depth, and especially appreciate someone who gets the academic culture (or is clearly interested in doing so as opposed to trying to bring a corporate approach).

Depending on the faculty, independence of thought, and the ego that comes with being at a top-level university, can be formidable obstacles to doing the traditional strategic marketing and communications you're used to. Talk to lots of people, from deans through faculty to administrative staff. Make sure you understand what they think of the place-- do your own little SWOT analysis. After a while you'll probably find the ideas and attitudes everyone has in common, and there's your starting point for perpetuating or shifting the brand.

Also, smart independent people make great stories.

Something else to ask early and often from everyone is what they want from you-- do profs want more publicity? (Does their work merit it?) Do the deans want more students? Better faculty? Different students? Are there perceptions they're expecting you to fix? What if those perceptions end up being true-- will marketing goals influence the academic program?

I've been in this line of work for about 15 years, and I'm happy to be a sounding board or to offer advice-- just MeMail me.
posted by underthehat at 9:18 AM on June 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

Seconding Good Brain. I have seen people's critical thinking faculties completely shut down when the word "branding" enters the conversation, over in my corner of academia. You may want to shuffle your way gently into that one with some more general talk about creating a consistent message and set of expectations, and communicating the university's goals, plans, and missions better to constituents. Get people on your side with the actual goals you have, and minimize using buzzwords to refer to them.

If you have the support to so, spend a lot of time at first laying low, meeting with everyone under the sun to learn about their pieces of the university, what they do and what they need and what has worked and not worked in the past, and what would be a success in their eyes, and what you can help them with, and what they can tell you about the culture. If you can afford the time to immerse yourself in the status quo for a while before you start making any changes, that will pay dividends in both the end result, and in people getting on board with how you get from here to there.
posted by Stacey at 9:22 AM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No intent to threadsit, but just for clarity, the terms "brand" and "branding" were in the job description, and used multiple times by the hiring committee (including the Dean and Associate Dean). It may be less of a stressor than common sense would dictate (but who knows?)
posted by Shepherd at 9:26 AM on June 16, 2014

Seconding what everyone has said so far, especially about the MUCH slower pace of academia. Going into this with the goal of making big changes right away is just going to put everyone's hackles up. You need to spend a good amount of time getting to know the pace, culture, and goals of your new environment. Go in with the attitude that you are there to learn from them, because you are. You know marketing best, but they know academia and you have to be very careful not to convey the attitude that you're there to fix what they've been doing. Float your ideas as things you'd like to try, not the way things should be. Listen 10 times more than you talk.

And keep your eyes open for cultural norms in things as seemingly innocuous as fashion or transportation. I used to work with a similar transitioning-from-industry-to-academia coworker, and things as simple as his wearing polo shirts, driving an SUV, and trying to get everyone to wear "team" t-shirts for a photo highlighted how badly he fit the culture. Absolutely standard in a corporate environment, but anathema to most of the faculty and students he worked with.

Just saw your update. The use of "brand" and "branding" in the job description probably means you'll be ok using that language with the dean who saw the need for this position, but definitely don't disregard what everyone's saying about general aversion to that word in academia. Job ads don't get run by the faculty, so I guarantee you there are people already rolling their eyes and bracing themselves for the ways in which this position won't fit into their culture.
posted by MsMolly at 9:37 AM on June 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

Just saw your update. The use of "brand" and "branding" in the job description probably means you'll be ok using that language with the dean who saw the need for this position, but definitely don't disregard what everyone's saying about general aversion to that word in academia. Job ads don't get run by the faculty, so I guarantee you there are people already rolling their eyes and bracing themselves for the ways in which this position won't fit into their culture.

Yes, administrators and marketing offices generally love the word "brand"; faculty really really don't.
posted by redfoxtail at 9:42 AM on June 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

I have some experience observing a 'branding' effort at a small but prestigious North American university. It meant getting all the departments to use logos and whatnot consistent with the university's documented identity system. And it took yeeeaaaaars. Almost everything operates by consensus, so for the first year or so, they worked on getting a bunch of departments to agree voluntarily to use the new logos (etc.) on their web sites. For the next couple of years, they said, well, the main site wasn't going to link to department/institute sites that weren't properly branded. I bet it hasn't reached 100% adoption even now.

I doubt that maps exactly to any problem you'll face, but the gist of it is be prepared for some Eastern-bloc level bureaucratic slowness that operates best on good will, polite deference, and friendly agreements. A ton of people there are going to be there forever, and they often have the option not to cooperate, so you want to cultivate long-lasting happy relationships. It may not be that difficult to get just humanities folks to agree to stuff, but the university marketing group could be a rival, and your own departments probably have their own people and initiatives doing things, etc.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:49 AM on June 16, 2014

Thinking about this a little more...

I think one major tonal shift you need to be ready for is that you're now support staff. In your ad agency job you were the expert. Companies hired you because they saw a need for what you provided and they were willing to listen to your expertise. Your expertise in how to market things is no less in this new position, but the way you fit in is drastically different. In your new role, the faculty are the experts. Your job is to support them by showcasing their expertise. That means you work around their schedule and don't have the power to "demand" anything from them. You may be able to get away with "Dean X asked me to get this story ready to go out by Monday, is there a convenient time I could stop by to talk with you?" But something like "I need a paragraph sumarizing your current research and I need it by Monday," will get you nothing but pushback. Like the departmental secretaries, your job is faculty support, and going into it with that attitude is a lot more likely to smooth your way.
posted by MsMolly at 9:54 AM on June 16, 2014 [8 favorites]

Hi. Only tangentially in marketing, but spent 10 years running web communications (and, de facto, communications) for a well-regarded public health school.

What everyone said above: It will not be fast, unless there's high level political will and a willingness to hit the accelerator at every roadblock thrown up. It took me roughly six years to get the org where I needed it to be; in a private institution it would have taken 1-2. And faculty... well, they're special snowflakes. Some are great, smart, want what you're selling, or at the least see you as beneficial if they're getting something out of it. Others are cranky, insular, and get their hackles up at the slightest sign of anything from outside academia showing up. And everyone has Machiavellian power games they're part of, because that's how the system works.

And I'll add in: You won't have any resources. Because academia is poor, or really, doesn't know how to correctly spend on marcom.

Does it mean you can't succeed? Absolutely not. I got to work with the university marketing office the last half of my career, which had been created from scratch, and they did some incredible stuff given the constraints they were under. And I'll say that I didn't do such a bad job myself, though I won't say it too loud because it was a team effort etc.

My advice:
1. Identify your high level sponsor (dean, VP, etc.) and make sure they are 100% on board with the plan. Keep them in the loop. Arm them with what they need to advocate for you.

2. Identify other strategic allies. People who want what you want, and have some power to help you get it done.

3. You shall know the truth, and you shall back it up with data. Quant, quant, quant. Real data always beats anecdata, and it will put those who oppose you in the position of relying too much on their own anecdotes if you hold all the data. Just don't play the card too much, too often, or salaciously. Be very, very targeted.

4. Smart, but humble. Be clear you have ideas. Show you'll listen to others' ideas and incorporate them. Treat the organization as one big client. And be able to identify the HIPPO (highest paid person in the organization) on sight.

5. Show results. Constantly show results. Quant and qual. Newsletter subscriptions are up? Trumpet it. A faculty member got press coverage because of the stories you pushed? Bang that drum. Applications are up because of your help crafting a campaign for student services? Buy a friggin' "Mission Accomplished" banner. OK, this is all over the top, but I hope you see my point -- you have to show value, constantly, in ways that people understand and can get behind.

6. Most importantly, fuck the haters. Work with them. Do not freeze them out. But there will be those who just don't get it and will whine and complain. Don't worry about them. I ran a survey of faculty and students to get ideas for budget cuts. One faculty member said "the web should be given to the department that runs the web best." It hurt, but it was one response. And that was against multiple students saying "you have to expand the web -- and do it more like the main office does it."

Good luck. Academia is tricky. But if you get used to the slower pace, you'll find it's a lot of fun. You're changing the world, and you're going home at 5pm every day. Can't beat that.
posted by dw at 9:55 AM on June 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Everything will be done in committee. Depending on the school and bylaws in the faculty handbook or student handbook, even, there may need to be voting on certain kinds of changes.

You will also likely have far more holidays off than you anticipated, and things may feel a bit loosey-goosey -- -they may even BE loosey-goosey (see: faculty and students).

Also, ask for help and delegate if you can --- from time to time that shows a willingness to work collaboratively, which is probably more admired in academia than anywhere else. Ask for input from faculty. If you have a person supporting you who has been there longer than you, have that person acclimate you to the institution's culture. Just because people leave at 3 on Fridays or disappear for a week at time doesn't mean they are not working. And it will happen.

And some deadlines will be hard, but some you'll find many more will b flexible --- even if initially they seemed hard. And they'll be flexible because a dean is on vacation, or the IT folks don't have time to meet, or because new policies about social media are in the process of being developed and will need to be finalized before you can move forward, etc.

Just do what you do, be nice, and value the experience of others. And most importantly --- don't make sudden changes without warning. In other words, if the school's logo or motto, for example, is changing, provide tons of notice that this is happening, then tons of notice about the process, tons of notice about how is involved, tons of notice about inviting input, and then warnings that the new motto/logo has been finalized and will be released for use once x,y, and z are done.

Academia admires processes as much as it admires results. I think that is absolutely critical for you to know.
posted by zizzle at 10:21 AM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I worked at a low level in university marketing early in my career, and my experiences were...um...sub-optimal. That doesn't mean good experiences are not there to be had, of course. But one factor that complicated things was that university marketing positions--your staff, in other words--often don't pay very well. So you're going to have a harder time recruiting and retaining good people. And if you are taking over an existing staff, I would definitely expect there to be some friction. People tend to "nest" in university staff positions and get set in their ways (in my experience) and can be intensely territorial about the smallest things.

I don't know what your educational credentials are, but you will be asked about them, and probably judged on them, by some people, regardless of what you have accomplished since graduation.

Others have mentioned allies, and I would say find allies that are guides to the culture there. Every university has its own culture, quirks, history and taboos. Become an expert on the ones at this school and you will avoid many landmines.
posted by emjaybee at 10:43 AM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Know your goals - which at a university will be to increase funding/gifts, increase enrollment of smart kids, and increase enrollment in general. In university marketing, those things define success. If you can make those things happen you have succeeded; if not, you've failed.

Be absolutely aware that no matter what the hiring committee says, all academics believe their work is too pure and important to be tainted by such money-grubbing tactics as branding, marketing, or advertising. Talk about sharing ideas instead. Talk about building a strong identity. Talk about illustrating the institution's mission and goals and successes. Do not talk about advertising at all.

Keep in mind that all communications with prospects are marketing - email, letter, phone, etc count. First thing I would do is request and review every single piece of printed material that a prospect sees before she shows up for class. It's easy to forget the prospect funnel when you're fresh from an agency.
posted by kythuen at 10:56 AM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just some generalizations about faculty mindset, in case these are useful -

Administrators and faculty are different, and in most places this is a huge divide to be aware of and diplomatic about. Administrators will (mostly, probably) be moved by business-speak, "branding," etc, whereas faculty may not be -- and may be automatically leery of anything that feels like an administrator imposing businessy ideas. (kythuen has a good expansion of this idea.)

Possible substitute for the idea of "branding": the idea of "reputation."

For faculty, career standing and advancement is all about your scholarly reputation. Note this has only to do with how other faculty in your field see your work... which journals it's published in, etc. It has nothing to do with how the public sees you -- and in fact, being a public figure ("a popularizer") can often harm your scholarly reputation. Some academics will want their work to reach the public, but for others, they may not be interested in that at all. (The public is not equipped to judge their work. Only other scholars are.)

But... if publicizing their work could attract more money for books or travel to conferences or a sabbatical, or more support for their grad students, or a new faculty line (i.e., let them hire a new professor) for their department,... those things are valuable.

Ditto for attracting undergrad students. Number of students, who cares; that's an administrator concern. But quality of students, now I'm listening. Most faculty at research institutions are much more focused on grad students than undergrads, but will be interested if you can draw more of the brightest/academically interested undergrads. (Or more for whatever their pet extracurricular is - eg some faculty will care a lot about the chess team or whatever.) So the school's reputation, as perceived by bright/academically-minded kids, will be of interest to faculty.

So - faculty care about their research. In meeting a faculty member socially, it's normal to ask what their research is, and try to remember broadly what people work on*. Their research is their identity. For faculty, typically their own (hyper-specific) research is the most important thing that defines them, then of secondary importance is either (a) the state of their field, or (b) teaching. Another thing to be aware of is that different disciplines have different sacred principles/presuppositions - for example, in one part of the humanities, "be logical" might be most important, and in another part, "be inclusive of different oppressed groups' perspectives" might be. And faculty tend to be so immersed in their own field's presuppositions that they forget there are other ways to be. Thus, misunderstandings or antagonism. (Note what terms people use to praise work they think is good - that will give you a clue about what their field values.) And in academia people have long memories -- so you may encounter factions that have deep mistrust of each other based on something that happened 25 years ago.

* = caveat about asking about people's work. Certainly ask socially, with the attitude of an interested outsider - your attitude should always be that scholarly work in the humanities is interesting and important. Then remember what you can for the next time, but don't sweat the details too much. BUT - if you're ever describing someone's work in print, triple check with them to get the details right. There will be details you can't imagine would be important, but in the context of their field, those details matter hugely and if you get them wrong, you'll make the person feel humiliated or hard done by, or you'll make them think you are a dummy.

Technology - especially older faculty may be very averse to technology. In philosophy for example, I never gave a presentation using Powerpoint, and didn't need to use online course software like Blackboard, etc. And I certainly diddn't need to use Facebook etc. And if I were a tenured faculty member, nobody would ever make me learn that stuff. I could just say no, and that would be it - I know people who are still just using photocopies of materials they made 20 years ago. So you may encounter people who are more out of date technologically than you imagine, and again you'll want to bring the conversation around to how the tech stuff can lead to goodies they value - money to advance their research, etc. (Not everybody is that way, by a long stretch. But you'll encounter a wide range.)

Scheduling - Be aware that faculty do a lot of their work away from campus. Over summer and breaks, there is no expectation that faculty will be around - they may go to France to hole up in an archive all summer, or whatever. Plus people take sabbaticals. So in some cases you may find that the person you want to reach is just unavailable for literally months. And faculty are FLAKY about anything deadline-related. (They are enabled in this by every professional process they encounter - easily extended deadlines are just a fact of life.) So you will need to give lots of reminders of meetings/deadlines/etc, and will still need to follow up to reach stragglers.

In-person meetings - If you're able, dropping by to talk to someone in person is a great way to defuse potential conflicts. Faculty are often in their offices with the door open (this varies a lot), so depending on your schedule and the physical layout of the campus, it may make sense to drop by and meet people/talk things over briefly in person. This can avoid stupid misunderstandings and people feeling like you've taken a side in some debate you may not even be aware of, and gives you a chance to underscore your interest in the correct thing (humanities research! how can I help you to get more support for your research, while maintaining the high standards we ask of students?).

Social hierarchy - Zizzle's point about academics valuing process, and Ms Molly's point about faculty being receptive to your contributions if they are pitched as "faculty support" is spot-on. Academia is very hierarchy-conscious - for example be careful to get people's titles right, "assistant" vs "associate" professor is a huge deal. This carries over to the administration-faculty relationship. There's an idealized picture, that has a strong grip on the faculty mindset, of the university as an entity run by the faculty. Once upon a time, administrators would have all been faculty members doing admin only as a side job, while still teaching. (Or this is the idealized picture.) In these downcast days, faculty have grudgingly allowed some of these tasks to be done by pure administrators... but the baseline is still that faculty should be holding the reins. Every action by an administrator is regarded through this filter - did s/he properly respect the ownership/position of the faculty by asking for/incorporating input first?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:17 AM on June 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

Another thought about the specific institution you're at - you mention prestige. This is super, super important. Among academics, institutions have strong brands, because everyone in a field is hyper-aware of the prestige of different schools. Again, the social-hierarchy-awareness issue I mentioned. (The prestige-ranking within a given field won't necessarily correspond with the public's prestige ranking, but they're often close.) Making small talk with academics, "what's your research" and "where do you work/where did you go to school" are standard questions, because these are important dimensions for locating someone in the social world of academia. Universities are some of the oldest brands, in one sense, and academics are more brand-conscious than anybody. So one of the difficulties you'll encounter (maybe?) is that faculty may not be able to imagine anyone not knowing the school, or not already having a strong prestige-factor associated with it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:40 AM on June 16, 2014

Everything you've read above is true, in my experience. I would also like to add that you might find (or more likely, will have to seek out) faculty members who will be your biggest supporters! I'm faculty, and I am asked to do so much marketing and social media and keeping a web presence and recruiting and everything else on top of my teaching, that if my department could hire a competent full-time marketing person, I would weep with joy.

So don't go into this assuming all faculty at your particular institution will be your enemy or uncooperative or will give you the stink-eye. They may just be ever so grateful for you to shoulder some of the load.

Find the faculty across the institution who already do some (all?) of their own marketing, and then get to know them, or even come right out and ask them about best practices at your institution (as they see them). It doesn't mean you have to do things the way they do, of course, but pick their brains for those undocumented, previously-fought battles.

One common reaction to ANYTHING new at my school is basically "Here we go again. Someone else's pet project that will eventually wither away, just like all the other projects we've seen before." Don't get discouraged if you encounter that attitude.

Volunteer for as much as you can, especially committees that are open to staff, even if you don't get paid for attending meetings on your own time. That's the best way to get to know people, plus faculty love seeing that staff is as committed to the mission of education as they are.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:49 AM on June 16, 2014

Yes - sorry to sound negative in my comment! You'll encounter some crabs, but you'll encounter a lot more really smart, funny, good, interesting people, who are in this job to pursue really interesting research or because they really care about giving students the highest quality education.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:57 AM on June 16, 2014

Thought of another thing. (Shows how slow summer days can be in academia.) :)

One of the ways you can really be useful to your school is to start thinking proactively about when/how to respond when shit inevitably hits the fan. A friend of mine in our university relations office told me that they do a 2 day workshop each summer to brainstorm responses to major disasters. This can be anything from a major snowstorm closing campus (or NOT closing campus, which will rile people up even more), to a student who dies during a study abroad trip, to an active shooter incident on campus. Undoubtedly the main university relations office will handle most of the press for things like that, but it will help your departments if you're ready to work with them and do liason work. So think of your job as not just how to tell people about the good stuff your school does, but how to talk about the bad stuff as well.
posted by MsMolly at 12:04 PM on June 16, 2014

Working off MsMolly's comment, I would add that it is absolutely critical that you identify your department's relationship with the PR department -- like physically, on the org chart -- and be absolutely respectful of that.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:15 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

In academia, web resources and activities are much more part of the reality of the organisation than in most kinds of organisations. The web is not just a high-tech brochure or sales catalogue—some of the stuff of the web is as much part of the reality of the organisation as what goes on in the building. If you are going to propose radical changes to the web presence, you need to bear in mind where all this real stuff is going to fit in, rather than just sweeping it aside to make room for a pure marketing site.

Similar things apply to social media profiles etc. (Parts of) academia are much more advanced than most organisations in terms of people actually engaging using social media rather than the organisation "putting out messages". Attempts to reign this in in the name of consistency ("all tweets go through me") is misunderstanding the culture.

Generally, you need to think about the individual professors etc. as having individual networks—one of the reasons that they have been employed is that they bring those connections etc. into the university, and a lot of this networking takes place in a public space. There is an element of this which is more similar to talent-driven organisations than product-driven organisations, particularly at the research level. Think "here is Prof X. who has this profile and does these things and is working right here at this University" rather than "here is this university and we do these things and btw interchangeable Prof. X has been hired to do them" (like with marketing a film: you don't say "come to New Film to see top WARNER BROS. stars", you build up the film company's reputation from the talent outwards).
posted by Jabberwocky at 2:21 PM on June 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

For context, I am a former university relations student worker and a current academic.

A few things to know in addition to the ones above:

1) Understand how your job relates to the university relations folks. Who gets to publicize the new named building/Digital Humanities lab/honorary degree recipient? If said small and prestigious university is private, then they've probably established branding and color scheme requirements and equally probably they are having trouble getting faculty to comply. Determine what's up with that project and what your role should be.

You need to thread the needle between being buddies with the faculty and buddies with university relations and other administrative types; you need to be buddies with both because academia is built (as above) on reputation and relationships.

2) Meet, schmooze, and learn to love the donor relations folks. These are not your campus PR people, these are your fundraising people. They're the ones who get the big donors to donate scholarships, buildings, fancy tech, etc.

Your news will probably be coming from one of two sources: faculty doing something cool that is newsworthy and donors doing something great for your humanities people. Occasionally the cool news is generated by students, but a lot of times anything to do with students goes through campus PR, not you. The source of that second type of news is donor relations and they are a distinct but important part of university administration.

3) Discover whether you will have student workers available to you. As a student worker with zero background in marketing, communications, or journalism, I was the one writing news releases for the press describing our honorary degree recipients (that's the university's biggest donors being written up by a snotty 21 year old with no background on the topic).

Student workers can end up with fairly high levels of responsibility and it's up to you to train and rein them in. They only work part time (typically fewer than 20 hours a week and often much fewer) and can be incredibly flaky when deadlines hit (mid-terms, finals, good powder on the mountains or waves on the beach). For digital marketing, especially, student workers can be handy because they have fairly good insight on new and upcoming media/memes/news.
posted by librarylis at 8:48 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is some beautiful advice you're getting, everyone hit all the highlights I would have mentioned (the faculty-administrator-staff divide, the special snowflakes, the hatred of corporate-speak by faculty members, the slower pace, the flaky students, the moving deadlines).

People in the academy are not paid very well, and only have their clout and territory to make up for it - so keep in mind that territoriality is widespread, and can bite you when you least expect it - even when you've deliberately tried to include someone in a process.

This is as true of support staff as it is for faculty members. One of the institutions I worked at, the main locksmith was deeply hated. I heard one administrator say, in mixed company, that he couldn't wait for the guy to die, since he wasn't retiring any time soon. He was that hated! He would honor requests from some departments and not others, making five people share the same key card. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but he did make me wait something like six months for my key card.

Another thing to keep in mind. Staff members at universities usually come from the nearby community, and some of them are not especially attracted to the "life of the mind". Some of them like the glacial pace of change. You might find that it's staff, not young to middle-aged faculty, who are pushing back on the things you want to change.

There will also be someone who is kept on despite having "issues". Years ago I worked on a contract for a university which set up a portable classroom and office, just for one faculty member who had tenure and taught no classes. They couldn't get rid of him, but they also didn't want him near any students. There was another guy that no one would let me interview for the promotional project I was doing, because he was, in their words, "a screamer". What I learned from that experience was to remain professional and set boundaries based on the projects or goals we were working on: if they were prima donnas the only schedules they cared about was their own, so if I had to, I would use their schedule to my advantage. Faculty are great people, by and large, but their yearly rhythm is very different from administrators and staff. So, you adjust how you describe the schedule needs in order to fit the things they care about.

After busting my butt, then having a) other people slow down or drift off for several months and b) projects completely orphaned by faculty or administrators, I built my schedule in such a way that I could roll with the people who would flake out and need an extension at the last minute, or hit some sort of roadblock ... and those who suddenly had a Very Important Thing That Must Be Done Now!

When you find someone who is a prima donna and disorganized and always Needs This Done Now, Right Now, Even Though I Knew About It Five Months Ago, you need to know that you have the support of higher-ups in hitting the brakes and setting boundaries. Who that person is, and their method of reigning in these jokers, will have the most impact on your success.

You should read Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education frequently. Also read bloghighered.

If you give your student workers or young entry-level folks free reign with your social media, make sure you train them at length about professionalism.

Current students are going to be their most productive October through mid-November, late February through mid-April. Have them bunch up their schedule so the week before midterms, they don't work. If they're work-study, they receive a set sum that their income is drawn from. Check with financial aid, but they probably can work 15 hours one week, 10 hours the next, if that works better for your project. Ultimately, their first job is to finish their courses, so book projects involving them accordingly.

Treat your web people and IT personnel with respect and support: they're often the "mushroom people". Find out what they need from you, not just what you need from them.

One of the most powerful people at a college is usually an older woman who is support staff working for building services or a central department in the administration, has been there forever, and knows everyone and where all the bodies are buried - but is nonetheless, supportive and giving. Your mission is to find this woman, and treat her like the gold mine (of information, interesting stories, and phone numbers) she is.

Get to know people not only in your department, but outside. Some of the HE marketing folks I know didn't roll with any of the faculty members, just other staff, or just other marcom people. If you develop genuine friendships with people outside your department and area of expertise, you will not only have a good time (because higher ed attracts both the faculty snowflake set, but also some exceptionally nice, idealistic folks), but get a sense of where you and your initiatives fit in the broader picture.
posted by mitschlag at 4:45 PM on June 17, 2014

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