Insights — What's the Real Impact of Including the Lead Marketer in the President's Cabinet?

What's the Real Impact of Including the Lead Marketer in the President's Cabinet?

Thought leadership , Higher Ed CMO Study / February 28, 2022

When we launched our first Higher Ed CMO Study in 2014, just 58% of Lead Marketers reported holding a spot in their President's Cabinet. Growth was stagnant in 2016 and 2019 as that number hovered between 53%-56%. But this year we saw meaningful growth as 73% of Lead Marketers reported they had a seat at the proverbial leadership table. 

While we don't fully know the cause of the growth over the past two years, we can assume it's at least somewhat related to the breadth of support that central marketing communications played over the past two years of the pandemic. From managing crisis communications to building new virtual campus visit experiences to collaborating across campus as admissions and advancement teams sought to deploy new strategies to meet their goals.

Lead Marketer Strategic Involvement

To better quantify the impact and reach of the Lead Marketer, we began asking about their involvement in a variety of strategic areas.  In 2021, Lead Marketers reported significant growth in a number of key areas: 

  • Board Management +31%
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion +30%
  • Employee Morale +29% 
  • Retention +21%
  • Student Experience +16%
  • Tuition & Pricing Strategy +11% 

While it's positive to note that there were no statistically significant declines in involvement, lead marketers are still noticeably absent from important conversations driving the financial health of an organization that they would be involved in—if not explicitly in charge of—in almost any other industry. Despite these increases, consider that only about half report being involved in Retention, Fundraising Strategy, and Program Development, and less than 40% report being involved in Pricing Strategy.

This begs the question — are there meaningful differences between Lead Marketers who have a seat on their President's Cabinet and those who don't?

The Impact of Including the Lead Marketer in the President's Cabinet

To understand the explicit value of including the Lead Marketer in the President's Cabinet, we ran secondary analysis to compare the differences between those included in the cabinet and those not included. 

Unsurprisingly, Lead Marketers who are involved in the President's Cabinet are more involved across the board, highlighted by Pricing discussions, of which they are 132% more likely to be involved than their non-cabinet level counterparts. 

Still, it's worth highlighting how much more involved they are in discussions relating to the financial performance of the institution. Considering the losses to auxiliary revenues and considerable investments in virtual learning formats and health protocols as a result of the pandemic, long-term institutional financial health is a critical area of focus for all but the largest institutions. 

  • Pricing +132%
  • Employee Morale +76%
  • Fundraising +52%
  • Retention +48%
  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion +42%
  • Program & Product Development +33%
  • Recruitment Strategy +17%

According to a recent Survey of College Presidents from Inside Higher Ed, 21% said they weren't confident or didn't know if their institution would be financially stable over the next 10 years. Another 51% said they were only somewhat confident. In other words, shoring up the financial health of the institution is a priority for the majority of college and university presidents around the country. 

The study went on to ask presidents what actions they would take to increase revenue or cut costs. These were the top responses given outside of lobbying government officials for additional funding or grants:

  • Cultivate New Donor Bases 91%
  • Reassess In-Person vs. Virtual Education Modalities 79%
  • Start/Expand Capital Campaign 64%
  • Increase Tuition 51%
  • Reduce Academic Program Portfolio 39%

This is where we start to understand the potential strategic alignment between the financial priorities of the president and the inclusion of the lead marketer in their cabinet. Listed below are those same priorities of the president noted against the increase in strategic involvement of a Cabinet-level Lead Marketer.

  • Cultivate New Donor Bases 91%
    • Fundraising +52%
  • Reassess In-Person vs. Virtual Education Modalities 79%
    • Program  & Product Development +33%
  • Start/Expand Capital Campaign 64%
    • Fundraising +52%
  • Increase Tuition 51%
    • Pricing Strategy +132%
  • Reduce Academic Program Portfolio 39%
    • Program  & Product Development +33%

Cabinet-level Lead Marketers Are More Likely to Regularly Measure Brand Strength

While 99% of all Lead Marketers reported being responsible for managing their institution's brand strategy, only half had measures in place to periodically assess brand strength. Simply put — if the Lead Marketer isn't regularly measuring brand strength, who is? Fortunately, Cabinet-level marketers are far more likely to periodically assess brand strength, conduct brand research, and have greater resources at their disposal. 

  • 41% more likely to have conducted brand research in the past three years
  • Nearly twice as likely to report having measures in place to track brand strength
  • 78% larger budget toward staff salaries & benefits
  • 27% larger true marcom budget
  • 68% higher salary

As these data indicate, Lead Marketers holding a cabinet position report having significantly more involvement in these discussions compared to their colleagues without a cabinet seat. This is a key opportunity to champion the importance of institutional brand strength, the necessity of cross-campus data strategies, and the net impact of marketing’s performance on achieving institutional goals.

The Strategic Inclusion of Marketing is Critical to Advancing Higher Education Forward

Christopher Simpson and Elizabeth Scarborough Johnson founded SimpsonScarborough in 2006 with the vision to advance higher education marketing to be seen as a strategic partner instead of a glorified print shop many had become. They advocated for the role of CMO, lobbied for its inclusion in the President’s cabinet, and fought to allocate the resources and organizational structure necessary to succeed. In many respects, our Higher Ed CMO Study is the most tangible expression of their original vision—this study is a tool to inform, inspire, and make your case to secure the resources you need to create a lasting impact.

It's now been more than 16 years since SimpsonScarborough was first founded, but that original vision hasn't changed: we exist to advance our nation’s colleges and universities by building brands that inspire, endure and elevate the role and mission of higher ed. Never has there been a more critical time for the advancement of our industry. Never has there been a more important cause than to dispel the misconceptions underpinning the belief that higher education is no longer a public good. The long-term success of our country depends on our nation’s colleges and universities, and we must work holistically, strategically, and collaboratively to rebrand higher education in the heart of this country. 

Related Insights