Things We Wish They Knew: Part 2

Posted: May 20, 2014

Matt Walters Vice President of Client Services

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Dispelling Misconceptions that Threaten Great Partnerships

In an earlier post, I drew on my experience of having worked in higher education to share several (often unspoken) misconceptions that can threaten to undermine partnerships between schools and marketing agencies. I called the post “Things We Wish They Knew,” using the pronoun “we” to speak from the perspective of a stakeholder in higher education.

As promised, I’d like to now share a few “things we wish they knew,” speaking this time from the firm’s perspective. Disclaimer: I couldn’t and wouldn’t dare to speak on behalf of all agencies everywhere. My brief experience is limited to VisionPoint Marketing, so these insights are more indicative of my early impressions of our philosophy and approach at VisionPoint than they are industry-wide, time-tested truths.

Still, I’ve found myself on several occasions during these first months at VisionPoint saying to myself, I wish I’d known this while I was still on the client’s side of the table.These are a few of those early lessons, which I hope will be useful for readers in higher education who wish they better understood what firms are really thinking.

3 Things Marketing Firms Wish Their Higher Ed Partners Knew

1. Your Goals Really Are Our Goals.

It wasn’t long ago that marketing was considered a nasty word on many college campuses, carrying connotations of crass commercialism that flew in the face of academic values. Thankfully, that conception has largely changed. While some folks in higher ed still think of marketing like kids think of vegetables–a necessary evil–the increasingly competitive collegiate landscape has helped many schools realize the tremendous value of telling brand-driven stories in ways their target audiences find compelling.

Still, there are moments with our clients when an old suspicion seems to resurface, the fear that at the end of the day, agencies only care about one thing: earning a buck.

We at VisionPoint wish our clients knew–really knew–that our ultimate motivation has very little to do with profit motive. Sure, good partnerships should be mutually beneficial. If we work well, both VisionPoint and our clients will enjoy measurable returns. But what drives us is not whether we can sell clients on a product or service. It’s the chance to share our expertise, our talent, and our vast experience with institutions that are changing people’s lives through higher education. Whether we earn a buck is a consideration, of course, but one of secondary importance. Our primary goal is to help clients achieve their goals. Period.

2. The Customer is Not Always Right (And Neither is the Agency).

Given that the clients’ goals are our goals, we also wish clients knew that the customer–in this case the institution–is not always right. Of course, I’d rush to say that the agency is not always right either. In fact, it’s not about either party being right at all. It’s about devising and implementing the best strategies and tactics to achieve clients’ goals.

Still, there comes a moment in every partnership when the agency and client disagree about what those strategies or tactics should be. Too many agencies shrink away from confrontation and simply give the customer what they want, more interested in smooth sailing than charting the best course.

In those moments–especially in those moments–we at VisionPoint believe we’d be doing clients a disservice by not pushing back with expert recommendations, even if those recommendations run contrary to prevailing institutional opinion. After all, clients hire us because of our strategic, consultative approach, and because of our commitment to help institutions be better than they imagined they could be. To back away from the tenets of that approach in moments of disagreement would be irresponsible.

3. There are No Cookie-Cutter Solutions.

VisionPoint enjoys extensive experience in higher ed marketing. We’ve been doing great work for institutions around the country for more than a decade, so we’ve learned a few lessons, sometimes the hard way. Still, while we bring our knowledge of best practices into every engagement, we wish clients knew that there are no cookie-cutter solutions, no bag of tricks that work in any scenario.

This last point has been one of my most pleasant surprises since joining the VisionPoint team. I always suspected that firms paid lip service to customizing strategies to fit clients’ goals, while actually they were copying and pasting the same old strategies into every engagement. I remember feeling like many agencies weren’t actually listening to stakeholders on the institutional side of the table. They’d made their minds up about what to do, and they were charging ahead.

As our many client references will attest, this couldn’t be further from the VisionPoint approach. We have no interest in pushing a particular strategy or service, and quite honestly we’re skeptical about any “silver bullet” assumptions. Our process focuses on working closely with clients to understand their unique marketing challenges and opportunities and develop the strategies and solutions that achieve their goals and exceed even their own expectations.

The Bottom Line:

We love higher education, and we’re thrilled to partner with schools in whose value proposition we truly believe. To learn more about some of the work we’ve done with higher ed partners around the country, check out our portfolio.