Does your university have a chief marketing officer?

Whether or not to have a chief marketing officer (“CMO”) is an important question for governing boards and presidents in higher education. In a rapidly changing and competitive environment, colleges and universities cannot leave to chance environmental scanning, marketing planning, or organizational adaptation. As external political, economic, social, technological, and legal forces act upon higher education institutions, some have adapted their organizational charts to include a position for CMO. This has tacitly signaled marketing’s increasing (albeit slow) acceptance in the academy.

The College & University Professional Association for Human Resources ([CUPA-HR], 2005, 2013), which has been tracking salary and demographic data since 1967, added the “Director of Marketing” position to its annual salary survey in 2004-2005, and as of 2012-2013, did not list a college or university marketing position in its top executive and senior institutional officers category. The latest survey included a CMO position in the heads of divisions, departments, and centers category (CUPA-HR, 2013). No clear model for marketing in the organizational structure has emerged in higher education despite wider acceptance in other sectors (Fleit & Morel-Curran, 2012; McGrath, 2002).

However, titles don’t tell the whole story.

As I explained in a previous post, marketing is not the same as advertising and promotion. Marketing involves adapting an organization to the wants and needs of target markets. Advertising, public relations, marketing communications, direct marketing, personal selling, and interactive marketing are marketing activities. Additional marketing activities include environmental scanning, targeting the marketplace, segmenting, positioning, branding, developing products and services, and pricing.

With marketing properly defined, it is easier to imagine why higher education institutions have been slow to add CMOs to their organizational structures. Some marketing activities relate to university functions that are the purview of established and accepted positions such as president, provost (or chief academic officer), vice president for business affairs (or chief financial officer), vice president for student affairs, or vice president for enrollment management.

Perhaps your college or university’s CMO is the person in one of these positions, even if his or her title does not contain the word “marketing.”

When I conducted research on organizational adaptation to the rapidly changing external environment, I found that Notre Dame College in Ohio increased student enrollment from 894 in 2003 to 2,147 in 2011 by deploying marketing strategies without any evidence of a marketing plan or person with “marketing” in his or her title (Brown, 2012). President Andrew Roth was Notre Dame’s de facto CMO, which I found through an analysis of his shrewd application of the marketing mix on his leadership of the institution (Brown, 2012).

Just like it is possible to have a CMO whose title is president, it is possible to have a CMO position primarily responsible for marketing communications with little crossover in academic and student affairs or business and finance.

Therefore, answering the question whether your college or university has a CMO requires that you look past titles on an organizational chart.

Do you have someone reporting to the president or governing board who is responsible for (or brings senior staff together for) identifying target student markets, learning about the wants and needs of those students, and delivering products or services that satisfy those wants and needs in a superior way than competing institutions?

If you do, then you have marketing management in place, and you have positioned your college or university for adapting to a rapidly changing environment. This will give you a competitive advantage in your marketplace.

If you don’t, then how do you organize instead? Will your organization provide you a competitive advantage in your environment?


Brown, S. M. (2012). Organizational adaptation to the rapidly changing external environment: A case study of strategic marketing at Notre Dame College in Ohio (Doctoral dissertation). Available from Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3525742)

CUPA-HR. (2005). Administrative compensation survey for the 2004-2005 academic year. Retrieved April 7, 2013, from

CUPA-HR. (2013). Administrators in higher education salary survey for the 2012-2013 academic year. Retrieved April 7, 2013, from

Fleit, C., & Morel-Curran, B. (2012, March). The transformative CMO: Three must-have competencies to meet the growing demands placed on marketing leaders. Los Angeles: The Korn/Ferry Institute.

McGrath, J. M. (2002). Attitudes about marketing in higher education: An exploratory study. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 12(1), 1-14.

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