Why Hiring a Higher Ed Marketing Agency Should Be a Top Priority

As recruiting challenges in higher education continue to mount, the need for standout marketing to lift up and differentiate your academic departments and programs has never been greater. At the same time, the available pool of seasoned marketing help seems to only be getting shallower for many higher ed institutions.

For college and university marketing departments, securing the necessary expertise to oversee their schools’ substantial marketing needs is becoming an increasingly difficult problem to manage. Higher education has been roiled by COVID-induced hiring challenges as much as, if not more than, other industries. When internal capabilities are proving insufficient, schools are looking to higher education marketing agencies to fill the void.


A relationship with a knowledgeable higher ed marketing agency is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Leveraged properly, an agency partner is a critical asset that can be strategically deployed to fill in the gaps in your school’s marketing capabilities and ensure your priorities are achieved.

Traditional school-agency relationships are changing as current needs evolve. How are schools using higher ed marketing agencies to help them conquer today’s marketing challenges and meet tomorrow’s recruitment goals?

The Higher Ed Marketing Skill Set Shortfall

COVID has made finding and hiring the right talent difficult across many sectors. However, a shortfall of marketing expertise in higher education has preceded the pandemic.

Inside Look at Higher Ed Marketing Teams

Some university departments have fully staffed, highly capable marketing teams. Many others, however, function with considerable gaps in essential capabilities. Some teams may be proficient at social media and event planning but lack the necessary applied experience to manage website content or run a digital campaign. Marketing teams at the department level often don’t have access to critical website data or the capacity to track and analyze enrollment. This means they’re missing out on valuable opportunities to test their strategies and tailor and improve their tactics.

Often, there is not enough room in the departmental budget to support a more robust marketing staff. In fact, marketing roles are sometimes funded and shared by two or more university departments. Staffers occupying these roles support many different projects and are pulled in many different directions — usually beyond their actual capacity or expertise.

Typically, this is due to marketing know-how being generally undervalued in higher education, or confused with other areas of expertise. Communication, for example, is a more relatable profession from the traditional academic point of view. As such, it’s not uncommon for higher ed marketing teams to be led by professionals with a communication background. While related, marketing and communication are separate disciplines with distinct purposes pursued via specialized strategies and tactics.

Communication professionals’ primary focus is on conveying a clear message. Marketing is concerned with shaping an audience’s understanding and creating interest in a product or a service. Substituting a communication skill set for marketing expertise is not a recipe for success.

To be sure, there are capable marketing teams working hard to support their school brands, academic programs and recruitment goals. However, too few higher ed teams are able to staff up to full-strength or secure the necessary marketing experience and expertise to get the job done. And supporting the recruiting goals of schools and departments with a complicated mix of academic programs is a big job.

Where Are the Gaps in Higher Ed Marketing?

Managing marketing priorities at all levels of a higher ed institution requires considerable skill, experience and capacity. Higher education is a complex ecosystem. And those priorities shift at each level of the organization.

Central marketing units are typically aligned with administration goals. These teams are focused on supporting and maximizing the overall school (or system) brand. Accordingly, many of their strategies and tactics are formulated from a brand-first perspective. And because they’re best positioned to secure the funding and resources they need, a considerable portion of a school’s alloted marketing budget goes to achieving their goals.

That’s not to say that centralized marketing teams are flushed with cash or have all the resources they need. But a larger slice of the pie leaves less for marketing teams at the school and program levels. And while a rising (brand) tide lifts all boats, individual schools and programs do have their own distinct marketing needs to worry about.

In many cases, the needs of departmental marketing teams are better served by a more targeted marketing approach. Individual programs competing to fill seats have to act strategically in designing tactics and building out effective enrollment funnels for their specific audiences. Frequently, these teams lack the resources (access to data) to test and evaluate their strategies. Even if they do, most lack the bandwidth and the required skill set (data analysis) to maximize the use of such resources.

Centralized and departmental marketing units may be staffed and resourced differently, but all higher ed marketing teams have gaps in skill, experience and capacity. And higher ed leaders at all levels are facing pressure to do more with available marketing resources. With internal capacity stretched thin, schools are increasingly asking higher education marketing agencies like Rowland to fill in the cracks.

Expand Your Marketing Tool Kit with the Right Higher Ed Marketing Agency

Not all higher ed marketing agencies are set up to help you succeed. How does Rowland go about helping our higher ed clients meet their marketing goals?

Rowland leans on a holistic, well-rounded, multi-disciplined approach to higher ed marketing — one based on data, testing and validation. We don’t force higher ed marketing teams into one-size-fits-all programs or solutions. We listen to understand and offer help where it’s truly needed.

A seasoned agency partner knows that effective higher ed marketing is both science and art. There are marketing principles and methods to apply. And there are also operational realities that must be accounted for if you are to realize the fruits of your marketing efforts.

Our team has years of applied marketing experience in higher education. We know how to navigate the landscape to get marketing plans off the ground and deliver results.

Draw In Where Needed

No two higher ed marketing units are the same. All have their strengths and their weaknesses. Higher ed marketing teams need a partner flexible enough to support a specific weak point, while keeping an eye on big picture marketing goals. They don’t need someone “coming to the rescue” to take over. Thanks to a team that prioritizes collaboration, Rowland excels at working seamlessly with higher ed marketing teams to augment existing capabilities.

Share Knowledge

We fill in where help is needed. But experience also tells us that marketing strategy is the area where understaffed teams primarily struggle.

Much effort goes into executing various university marketing initiatives. Teams with stretched capacity don’t always have the time to strategize and evaluate. At minimum, they benefit from an outside perspective that can assess and validate their efforts. Or, help them plan for the future.

Agency partners help higher ed marketing teams leverage past marketing efforts to draw insights that optimize future initiatives. We have the opportunity to share current trends in data analysis, user experience, web design and other areas of marketing expertise. Our aim is to leave internal teams empowered to take more control of their marketing programs.

Validation of Marketing Best Practices

A relationship with a higher education marketing agency can be empowering in other ways, too. For instance, an outside perspective can help with consensus building, or to validate an internal idea or proposal for a reluctant academic stakeholder or key administrative decision-maker. This can be extremely beneficial for higher ed marketing leaders looking to modernize their approach to marketing.

An ongoing engagement with an agency partner can also help keep long-term or recurring projects on track. Your partner can make sure that any valuable branding and messaging advice you received at the start of your web redesign project is applied at the execution stage.

Higher Ed Marketing Made Easier Through Collaboration

Marketing capabilities are distributed unevenly in higher ed institutions. And a shortfall of needed talent keeps higher ed marketing teams stretched to the limits. Understaffed teams may not be able to hire for a position, but they can hire for a project. The right higher ed marketing agency can help you relieve the pressure by filling in the gaps in your marketing program.

Need help bringing your school’s marketing plans to life? Rowland can be an extended part of your higher ed marketing team. Let’s talk.

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.