Collaboration Is Everything: Working Well with University Stakeholders

If you’ve just been tasked with developing a marketing campaign for a new graduate program or donor fundraising event, one of the most important things to do before getting started is to make sure your marketing and creative team is on the same page with all internal stakeholders involved. Whether you're collaborating with admissions counselors, deans, faculty, directors, or the president of the university, it’s critical to establish and maintain strong ties of communication and trust.

When kicking off a new donor fundraising initiative, social media campaign, or university website redesign, here are some ways to ensure effective collaboration with all necessary stakeholders:

Schedule a Face-to-Face Kickoff Meeting (if possible)

It’s always valuable to schedule a face-to-face kickoff meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page. This reminds everyone involved that you’re not dealing with only email addresses, but collaborating with fellow coworkers. This also enables everyone involved to discuss expectations, ideas, and goals from the get-go, which can become obscured if only communicated via email. In this meeting you can ask questions for clarification, demonstrate your marketing and creative expertise to gain stakeholders’ confidence, and convey your commitment to meeting university goals.

Conduct Research Beforehand

Whether you're meeting with a dean to talk about a new adult degree completion program or a University Advancement director to discuss designing this year’s annual report, make sure you do your homework before the initial meeting. If possible, email necessary stakeholders in advance asking them to send you program details, previous campaign metrics, examples they like from other schools, and anything else that might help you to be more informed during the initial meeting. Not only will this make the meeting more productive, but it will also demonstrate to stakeholders a commitment to serving their needs, and it will establish greater bonds of trust.

Ask Plenty of Questions

As the marketing and creative expert, there is always a temptation to come to the table with preconceived ideas and a tendency to shoot down other ideas or suggestions. However, an immediate resistance to hearing what stakeholders have to say can put them on the defensive. This is especially the case when it comes to creative work, where feelings can be hurt due to lack of tact (and you don’t want to upset a key stakeholder if you can help it!). Although you are the marketing specialist, they might have a much better grasp of the intended audience or program benefits than you do. Additionally, by asking questions, you will gain more clarity around expectations and goals, avoiding miscommunication and frustration down the road.

Be Prepared to Explain Yourself

Of course, as the marketing and creative expert in the room, it’s also important to hold firm when necessary and not weigh all ideas as equal (even if from key stakeholders). You should allow a space for stakeholders to share their ideas and suggestions, even if you eventually have to push back against them for good reasons. This is why it’s important to be prepared to provide valid reasons why you are or are not adopting an idea. Perhaps you could share a previous analytics report, a best-practices article from CASE, or an example from another university that was (or was not) successful. They've hired you for your expertise, so while it’s important to create a collaborative and respectful space to share ideas, it’s also your responsibility to make sure you’re maintaining best practices with the university’s resources.

Keep Stakeholders in the Loop

While it’s not helpful to update stakeholders on every little detail, it’s important to make sure they feel like they are in the know throughout the course of the project or campaign. You can do that by regularly emailing status updates, meeting notes, and agreed-upon action items and due dates. This not only helps stakeholders feel they know what is going on, but these continual updates allow for any miscommunication to be corrected immediately (as opposed to weeks later once resources have been spent). It’s not uncommon for stakeholders to walk away from a meeting with conflicting ideas about what was decided or what next steps should be. That’s why continuously updating stakeholders in writing can help avoid confusion and keep them feeling like the key team members they are.

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