Back in 2014, we partnered with The Chronicle of Higher Education to launch the first study of its kind: a benchmarking study of the higher education Chief Marketing Officer. At that time, the role of the CMO was in its infancy. Less than a quarter of the most senior marketing leaders on campus sat on their cabinet, and even fewer reported directly to their respective president.
In the nine years since, the role of the CMO has made sizable gains in its presence and influence. But in many ways, the role continues to lag behind other cabinet-level positions in its maturity.
One clear example of that lag is the lack of a formal association for support. Historically, every member of the higher ed cabinet has had a supportive association of peers—VPs of Enrollment have NACAC; VPs of Student Affairs have NASPA; VPs of Advancement have CASE. Yet formal programming for CMOs has been limited to the CMO Salon, a single day of programming attached the the American Marketing Association’s annual Symposium for Higher Education conference—an event, it should be noted, that was created by our founder, Elizabeth Scarborough Johnson.
That is no longer the case.
Inspired by both the AMA Salon and a small, in-person gathering of higher ed CMOs last summer in Los Angeles, SimpsonScarborough hosted nearly 50 executive marketers from institutions nationwide in Midtown Atlanta for the official launch of the CMOLab. This event featured a day and a half of community, connection, and collaboration. We welcomed current and former clients, as well as new friends, from a diverse set of institutions such as Duke University, Spelman College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Baylor University, Grinnell College, the University of Kentucky, Scripps College, the University of Illinois Chicago, and many more.
Our program featured intimate conversations related to lessons in leadership, (re)defining brand value, centering the student experience, and the evolving role of the Chief Marketing Officer. Undoubtedly, a highlight of the Launch was the keynote address from Dr. Marcus Collins, author of the best selling book, “For the Culture: The Power Behind What We Buy, What We Do, and Who We Want to Be.” Dr. Collins seamlessly integrated lessons learned from his own experience to argue the importance of cultural understanding to our work in higher education—“if you want to get people to move, you must first understand the underlying cultural forces that make them tick.”
Attendees of the launch event described it as “a great event — and even greater community of leaders, innovators and strategists,” and “two days of invaluable networking and conversations.” Internally, this event felt like an experience only an agency like SimpsonScarborough can deliver—an event powered by the cumulative efforts of our integrated agency, focused on progress, grounded in data, and centered on the needs of higher education Chief Marketing Officers.
While we’ve billed this event as a “launch,” there is much more building to do. And our team is in the midst of planning future programming for participating CMOs. We’ve already heard from so many of you that you wish to be a part of this community; know that there will be many opportunities to get involved with The CMOLab.
Higher education Chief Marketing Officers have experienced undeniable growth and maturity over the last decade. But the industry so many of us are called to serve faces significant challenges. At SimpsonScarborough, we are committed to advancing the role of the higher ed CMO. We believe it is a critical step in moving our industry forward. Learn more about the CMOLab and sign up to receive more information about membership and programming by visiting the CMOLab page on our website.
We can’t wait to partner with you.
As Director of Community Engagement at SimpsonScarborough, Kevin Tyler works with CMOs from institutions across the country to help them reach their strategic goals with data, insights, and programming while moving the higher ed marketing industry forward in important ways.
Jason Simon became SimpsonScarborough’s CEO in 2020 and has led the agency’s growth while championing the value of higher education and ensuring our work has a lasting impact.
You can learn more about SimpsonScarborough's CMOLab by visiting our website.