Built by Design: Developing a customized marketing department

Built by Design: Developing a customized marketing departmentJeffrey Hoffman2003-09-0127The Centrefalse

First came the completion of a fall semester campaign to orient students, faculty, and staff to the array of union services and programs. Then came the preparation of an annual report. Next, she worked with a team of students from the programming board to develop a new Web site. In between these and a variety of other projects, she designed promotional coupons and frequent-user cards for union retail locations.

She successfully met the basic expectations of her supervisor, but did she meet the real marketing needs of the organization? Reflecting on the year, she realizes that she lacks the resources, direction, and marketing knowledge to not only elevate the stature and use of the union, but to prepare managers of the organization for dramatic growth and change. She needs an army, or at least a department, with a few more foot soldiers to lead the union in planned marketing activities.

What follows are steps to take in getting to where we would all like to be—where marketing activities and expenses fit into a well-considered structure and can be evaluated for their contribution to meeting organizational goals. This article will focus on the steps for building a customized, adequately staffed union and student activities marketing department.

Stating the need and sense of urgency

Marketing requires the cooperation and support of everyone in the organization, from the cashier providing direct customer service to the director making decisions on resource allocation. Everyone in the organization is involved in the process of developing and implementing marketing plans. Areas and departments closest to the customer on a day-to-day basis are integral to carrying out marketing plans because they know best what the market demands.

Marketing requires the cooperation and support of everyone in the organization, from the cashier providing direct customer service to the director making decisions on resource allocation.

The leadership for marketing efforts must come from the marketing manager and the organization's chief administrator, but all staff have a role in the process. Not everyone will buy into the importance of marketing. Not everyone will want to participate (even though they are unknowingly engaging in marketing activities every day). Not everyone will consider it his or her job to be concerned with being responsive to the market. But without the support and commitment of all staff, the effectiveness of organizational marketing efforts will be only partially successful (Hoef & Howe, 1990).

Sometimes there are gaps between the goals of upper-level managers and the staff who directly interact with customers and are responsible for, but not necessarily well trained to, execute those goals. Gaps like these can only be closed with a push from top-level administrators.

What does this have to do with developing a marketing department? Everything. The first and most important step in starting a marketing department is arguing the need and creating a sense of urgency. Identify the gaps in the organization and present your plan on how to fill them. If you do not identify these gaps, the customer will. For the sake of your market, be the connector between your boss, your colleagues, and the real experience and needs of customers.

Arm yourself with facts. Collect quantitative and qualitative data that illustrates the need for a comprehensive approach to marketing. Gather examples from talking with colleagues at other union and student activities marketing programs. And look for books on marketing from which you can gather experts' research and theories. Show the organization's leadership and the staff what you could accomplish with adequate resources and training. Impress them. Show them opportunities for growth in sales or growth in the number of students receiving real-world training for their careers. Speak their language. Convince them that excellence in marketing has everything to do with both image and substance. Let them know you cannot do it alone. Help them see the possibilities (Kotter & Cohen, 2002).

In his book, "Change the World," organizational behaviorist Robert E. Quinn (2000) says "helping others see what is possible is a great service" (p. 171). He suggests that effectively communicating potential requires the ability to use bold strokes in creating a vision for others. Marketing managers can be change agents in their organizations when they allow others to "see things with a simplicity … and have a view of the system that is both profoundly deep and profoundly simple. They can offer an image, make a statement, or ask a question and the world changes" (Quinn, 2000, p. 171). Marketers are bold-stroke painters by nature and can use this ability to build momentum in securing the resources necessary for effective organizational marketing efforts. This change will not happen overnight, or even in a few months, but building momentum is the first step.

Determine the scope of services

Before hiring staff or ordering new equipment, identify precisely what you will need to run your department and, most importantly, to meet the marketing needs of the organization. The first question to ask is basic but fundamental. Will the marketing department exist solely to serve the needs of the organization or will it also accommodate others by providing marketing communication services? If the department will be providing services to others, then will the area be revenue-generating or strictly a service bureau that offers free services? The answer might be more complex than a simple yes or no. For instance, the department may provide free services to areas within the organization and charge external clients.

Another separate but related question is to whom will the services be available? Will groups outside of the organization even be able to utilize the services? Will the department be expected to generate income in addition to serving the organization?

Clients outside the union and student activities might include university departments or divisions, student organizations, related agencies of the university, alumni, or community entities unrelated to the university.

The defined parameters for service when the department is established will drive everything from staffing levels and structure to where the service center is located. The operational philosophy of the marketing department must be clearly defined and agreed upon before moving ahead on establishing department structure and acquiring resources to support that structure (Gold, 1995).

Services to consider offering under the umbrella of the department are: Web site development and maintenance, graphic design, photography, promotional and logo merchandise, press release writing and distribution, promotional campaign development, brochure and report development, survey and market research, banner-making and color printing services. Whether any or all of these services are offered to clients outside of the organization, these and any other marketing communications and research should be consolidated into the department (Bradley, 1995).

Build an effective budget

As the road map for activities in the marketing department, the budget will play a major role in the extent of the department's reach and, in turn, the effectiveness of its marketing initiatives. Begin by looking at the scope of your services and what will be needed to provide them fully and effectively. Develop a detailed list of expenses and budget categories (Gold, 1995), such as:

••Supplies – For in-house office demands and for revenue generation. You might also budget for furniture (including employee work space and client meeting space), storage cabinets, shelving, filing cabinets, drawing and art materials, lamps, wastebaskets, coathooks, bulletin boards, displays, desk-organizing items, etc.

••Equipment – Lease or purchase of computers, printers, photocopiers, display cases, and other promotional mechanisms.

••Advertising – Student newspaper and other student publications, local newspapers, school catalog, alumni magazine, Web sites, etc.

••Events – Programs and activities for public relations purposes.

••Printing – Fliers, posters, banners, reports, brochures, signs, etc.

••Books and periodicals – marketing, graphic design, and public relations materials for education and training.

••Training and development – Seminars, retreats, and workshops for staff.

••Maintenance and repair – Malfunctioning equipment and service agreements.

••Logo and promotional merchandise – Pens, pencils, beach balls, Frisbees, etc.

••Staff – Full-time, part-time, and interns.

Consider any revenue streams that will generate support for the department. Look for co-op relationships with other campus departments as well as corporate support. If the department will be a revenue generator, build income lines into the budget (those might depend on the different services previously discussed and fee levels for the various groups using those services). Be reasonable and conservative in the first year or two until you have historical data to use as a baseline.

When setting any fees for services offered, research those of local vendors, other similar on-campus entities, and unions' and student activities' marketing departments within your region. Many organizations have a tiered fee structure, offering discounted rates to student organizations and other on-campus clients. If the marketing department is expected to generate a profit or cover its costs, be sure that fees account for covering all of your overhead expenses incurred in the operation of the department.

A marketing department can survive and even thrive with limited full-time staff. Students bring a wealth of creativity, enthusiasm, and knowledge of what appeals to today's youth—our primary customers.

Assemble a competent staff and intelligent structure

Surround yourself with good people and your chances of success multiply. The important task of hiring good staff is elevated in organizations where resources are limited. Most marketing departments also rely on the talents of students. Students majoring in art, design, marketing, human resources, public relations, communications, and computer information systems are eager for career-building experiences, especially if the opportunity results in a convenient on-campus job.

Campus career center staff usually advise that students complete internships while earning their degree. Even when funding is not available to hire adequate levels of student staff, unpaid and for-credit internships are a good alternative. Most colleges and schools have career center coordinators who assist in developing internships and matching interns with job sites.

Consider these guidelines when developing a staffing structure (Bradley, 1995):

1. Allow for consolidation of all marketing functions in the organization with the understanding that it takes everyone in the organization to implement marketing plans.

2. Provide for regular interaction between the marketing staff and the organization's departments they serve.

3. Give the manager time to lead and plan, not just manage the flow of daily projects and paperwork. Depending on the scope of the department, it may be necessary to hire more than one full-time staff member.

4. Include more than just marketing communications in your department's scope of responsibilities. The area should encompass public relations, promotions, assessment, research, advertising, branding, and other functions.

5. The marketing manager should be as close as possible to a director-level position with marketing knowledge and experience.

6. Programming and marketing should be closely connected to ensure efficient and effective promotions for events and activities.

The ratio of full-time to part-time hours is dependent on many factors.

Factors may include range of services provided, degree of consolidation of marketing functions, necessity or desire for professional staff, health of the organization's budget, support and commitment from upper administration, revenue generated, organizational commitment to student training and development, and the pool of student candidates with the appropriate skills and training.

A marketing department can survive and even thrive with limited full-time staff. Students bring a wealth of creativity, enthusiasm, and knowledge of what appeals to today's youth—our primary customers. With strong leadership, training, and supervision, a marketing department can be almost fully staffed with students. Photographers, graphic designers, Web developers, free-hand artists, marketing researchers, writers, public relations specialists, and promoters can all be students.

Through an unwavering commitment to continuous training and development, marketing managers can parallel and complement what students are learning in the classroom. The students will be better prepared and well rounded for the work place; the department and the organization will benefit from the deeper knowledge pool. Students do not always learn the full range of skills in their college program curriculum to be successful. For example, many graphic designers are not trained in client relations and how to run a business in their trade (Gold, 1995; Bowen, 1999). Marketing managers can sponsor on-campus lectures or send staff to workshops like those sponsored by the American Institute of Graphic Arts. They can fill identified knowledge gaps, add value to students' education, and build a stronger department that is better connected to the market.

Design a creative work space

Creative thinking ought to be exercised throughout an organization. The marketing department can be the catalyst. Although the essential principles of operating a successful marketing department involve more than high levels of staff creativity, without it, everything from design to promotions to even staff supervision will stagnate and maintain about as much sharpness as an overused razorblade. As Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (1996) said: "If too few opportunities for curiosity are available, if too many obstacles are put in the way of risk and exploration, the motivation to engage in creative behavior is easily extinguished" (p. 57).

Strange and Banning (2001) delineate between static and dynamic organizations. Applying these concepts to the learning environment, the authors suggest that the dynamic environment is consistent with organizations that are functionally developmental in their approach toward staff, and in this case, specifically students. The spaces designed for marketing staff must be dynamic; where the unique and creative are appreciated.

Cameron Foote (1996), creative director for Fortune 500 companies, suggests that space planning for marketing departments, particularly graphic design firms, should apply the "Three C's Formula." Work space should be cozy—providing a home-away-from-home feeling, creative— fostering a stimulating setting, and comfortable—enhancing the productivity of the staff (Foote, 1996).

Squeezing too many staff into a small space will violate Foote's three C's. College campuses are not known to have surplus space open for bidding. However, consider the impact of the marketing office's design on the creative force of your organization. Professional creative office settings use a standard of a minimum of approximately 250 square feet for every two staff (Foote, 2001).

No matter the amount of space you have, making it cozy, creative, and comfortable is not an expensive venture. Balance open, free-flowing space with the need for individual privacy. Include the staff in finding this balance. This is a matter of simply determining the arrangement of furniture and equipment. Fill the office with the best pieces produced by the staff. Not only is this a reminder to the staff of their accomplishments, it also communicates creativity and excellence to clients.

Marketing, particularly communications, are significantly driven by image, style, and visual appeal. Creativity, one of the foundational building blocks to effective marketing programs, has to be evident every time a client walks into the office to meet about a new project. Developing a space with visual appeal that represents the capabilities of the staff furthers the department's credibility and reputation (Bowen, 1999).

Making a difference in the field

In 1990, ACUI published Ted Hoef and Nancy Howe's "Marketing the College Union," which followed the trend in the nonprofit organization world of moving toward an understanding, even an urgent commitment, to marketing. Renowned marketing scholar Philip Kotler (1987), in his third edition of "Strategic Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations," noted how the landscape changed since he wrote his first edition in 1975 and even his second edition in 1982. He found the need to "market marketing" to practitioners in the arts, education, and health fields was no longer necessary. Nonprofits began to see marketing as both legitimate and necessary to compete and healthy for organizational development and survival (Kotler, 1987).

Likewise, more than a decade ago Hoef and Howe (1990) had reported that the results of their union marketing survey indicated there was a "lack of sophistication, commitment, and understanding of how marketing can be useful in a nonprofit, service-oriented environment such as a college union or student activities program" (p. 2). Since then, more and more college unions and student activities departments have poured resources into marketing activities and even created marketing departments. If college unions and student activities continue a commitment to the development of marketing in this field, there will be fewer persons without the training and support needed to accomplish organizational marketing objectives. The rippling waters from the changing tide will challenge upper-level administrators to further their own knowledge of marketing concepts and skills. And student affairs graduate students will aspire to become college union marketing managers.

Bowen, L. C. (1999). The graphic designer's guide to creative marketing. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Bradley, F. (1995). Marketing management: Providing, communicating, and delivering value. Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall.

Csikszentmihaly, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention, New York: Harper Collins.

Foote, C. S. (1996). The business side of creativity. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Foote, C. S. (2001). The creative business guide to running a graphic design business. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Gold, E. (1995). The business of graphic design: A sensible approach to marketing and managing a graphics design firm. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications.

Hoef, T., & Howe N. (1990). Marketing the college union. Bloomington, IN: ACUI.

Kotler, P., & Andreasen, A.R. (1987). Strategic marketing for nonprofit organizations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Kotter, J., & Cohen, D. (2002). The heart of change. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Quinn, R.E. (2000). Change the world. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Strange, C.C., & Banning, J.H. (2001). Educating by design: Creating campus learning environments that work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Updated Nov. 9, 2012