3 Benefits to Supplementing With a Higher Ed Marketing Agency During Unstable Times

Even before the pandemic, your higher education marketing team may have been experiencing hiring challenges. A decrease in enrollment rates and ensuing budget cuts has led to staffing shortages and hiring freezes. Predictably, the pandemic only exacerbated these staffing burdens, as the enrollment clip increased along with tuition rates.

The pandemic also heralded a new phenomenon complete with its own challenges: remote working. While a boon for many, remote work has been a burden for higher ed marketing teams who cannot seem to find and retain mid-career marketing staff—those who bring broad experience to the table. Suddenly, your in-house staff members can work for big agencies across the country without leaving their homes. And who can blame them, especially if they are advancing their careers and increasing their earning potential.


But the responsibility still falls on you to course correct during a mass exodus of in-house marketing professionals.

You’re not alone, as this competition incited by remote work is leaving gaps in higher ed marketing teams everywhere. As a result, instead of hiring seasoned professionals, colleges and universities are hiring recent graduates and job candidates with very little real-world marketing experience.

And the worst part? It shows. Most often, these institutions’ marketing strategies are uncertain, resulting in clunky content and branding with opaque messaging.

In order to compete with other higher education institutions, marketing teams need to step outside of their comfort zones and start conversations with marketing agencies that can fill in the gaps.

Advantages of Partnering With an Outside Marketing Agency When Understaffed

It has become vital for higher ed marketing staff to execute thoughtful strategy and storytelling to sell an experience — especially one with an increasingly prohibitive price point.

But, colleges and universities typically haven’t operated as businesses with these capabilities. Instead, most higher ed marketing teams function as a mix of communications and outreach staff. So, even though the landscape of higher ed has made it imperative for marketing teams to step up, not everyone has the skillset to do so.

How do you market in the most effective manner when dealing with these constraints? That’s where hiring an outside marketing agency comes into play. Here we discuss three of the significant benefits to bringing on an agency partner.

1. Seasoned Professionals

Interns and entry-level employees who are hungry for experience are easier to find for internal higher ed marketing teams. Late-stage career marketing staff are also more likely to be available, as they are typically the individuals weathering staffing cuts.

When you’re feeling gaps in your staff it’s important to consider what an agency represents. Agencies are often staffed with individuals who have the professional skills and experience to understand things like the enrollment pipeline. Or how to implement data-driven strategies, or utilize a brand voice that resonates with a myriad of personas. With an outside agency, you will get that expert guidance needed to stay nimble and train your staff up.

2. Agencies Guarantee a Business Mindset

Increasingly, the enrollment fluctuation requires a business frame of mind that can tie enrollment numbers to marketing dollars. To market your institution effectively, your team needs to operate like a business. Another way of putting it: your marketing team needs data-driven strategies, and they need to think in the context of an enrollment funnel.

For instance, which digital touchpoints garner the most applications at your institution? And when are your personas using your website, if at all? What is the cost per acquisition related to recruitment? Recruitment issues can be boiled down to data-driven insights if you’re thinking and acting like a business.

As mentioned, hiring an agency means you’re more likely to get professionals who can fill in marketing capability gaps. And being data-driven is a proficiency that an agency has at its disposal. Partnering with business-minded partners will leave your team better equipped to address current enrollment challenges.

3. Agencies Offer an Objective Perspective

Let’s say you have begun trying to architect a more customer-centric website, but you cannot achieve internal buy-in. In fact, you need consensus from all manner of stakeholders in order to get anything done in your department. You’re starting to feel stuck. Sound familiar?

Any marketing agency will tell you that stakeholders are more likely to commit to a strategy if the advice is coming from an outside perspective. In addition to offering fresh insights, a higher ed marketing partner can underscore an approach that’s been echoed internally.

Scheduling a Conversation is a Low-stakes Starting Point

It never hurts to start the conversation with an agency partner early, especially because procurement processes for vendors at higher ed institutions can be lengthy. Beginning a conversation even before you’re ready to commit is a step toward preparedness in an uncertain hiring landscape.

The goal of this discussion should be to determine whether the agency you’re talking to is the right fit. To get the job done well, your personalities and approaches need to align. You also need a shared understanding of what the needs of your team are, and the skillsets you require from a partner.

You will also need to talk about the budget – candidly. There are many steps before a request for proposal (RFP) is written, but it’s better to talk budget early on to establish whether the work is even feasible. Once the terms are written into an RFP, it’s harder to build in flexibility.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Your experience with a higher education marketing agency will be different, depending on the size of that group. With larger agencies, there is plenty of staff to fulfill your hiring needs. Contrastly, it may be more difficult to reach the people you need to communicate with, or to establish consistent relationships that can lead to steady collaboration.

With smaller agencies, you develop a close working relationship with everyone on the team, and communication is more streamlined. Moreover, the staff you work with at smaller agencies are almost entirely made up of seasoned marketing professionals — the ideal supplemental guidance.

Connect with a Higher Ed Marketing Agency

Hiring an outside higher ed marketing agency will not only augment your team but also your strategy. And the earlier you reach out, the better.

At Rowland, we take pride in our expertise and approachability. Reach out to chat with us about your marketing goals.

Ready to talk about your next project?

At Rowland we take pride in being knowledgeable, experienced, and accessible. We're ready to talk about how we can help you meet your higher ed marketing goals.