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.

What parents are saying about going to college

Inside Higher Ed and Gallop recently released the results of a poll of parents of pre-college students about college. The article and full report provide valuable insight to marketers and communicators in higher education.

Some of the key findings are as follows:

  1. Sticker price reigns supreme. Despite efforts to educate students and families about financial aid, seven out of 10 parents of ninth to twelfth graders are somewhat likely or very likely to restrict their child’s college selection based upon published tuition.
  2. Parents want their children to go to college to get a good job more than any other reason. This ranks higher than to become a well-rounded person, to earn more money, to learn to think critically, and to learn more about the world.
  3. Parents may or may not help pay for college. The poll showed that 21 percent of parents would consider taking $50,000 or more in loans to pay for college, and 20 percent would not take on any debt.

These are important findings for anyone on a college campus responsible for academic and co-curricular programs, tuition and financial aid, and communications to students and families. Higher education marketers should review these results in the context of their own institutions, perhaps asking key questions about their programs.

With respect to pricing and debt, marketers might ask the following questions: How do parents respond to published tuition and fees? How well do parents understand how financial aid works? Would keeping tuition low help attract more students or would it not likely make a difference?

With respect to jobs, marketers might ask how the career services office is prepared to help students enter the job market, beginning from the time that the student arrives on campus. The question does not need to be limited to career services, however. Provosts, deans, and department chairs should consider how academic departments are counseling students to find jobs.

For communications professionals, the survey results invite questions about how we promote a college or university and its programs. These findings are particularly challenging for small, private, liberal arts colleges that have a higher sticker price and a lower emphasis on job placement. What do you say to parents in this environment?

The survey results indicate that a focus on competitive cost and positive job placement outcomes would resonate with parents. Additionally, colleges and universities need to be sensitive to the preferences of parents on the topic of debt for their son or daughter’s college education.

When did marketing come to higher education?

Let me quote a college president and ask you to guess the year it was said.

The uncertain future will be determined largely by the vision and the untiring effort of the college servants in ascertaining the educational needs of that section of American youth which the college serves and in fulfilling these needs in a superior way—but also partially at least by national and economic forces wholly outside their control.

Perhaps it would help to know that it was a president of Hiram College (my alma mater) that said this, and he was referring to the tumultuous environment in which small colleges operate. In fact, this quote sets forth the importance of marketing in higher education. It demonstrates a particular president’s understanding that organizations must adapt to external influences beyond control, and that success or failure is based upon ascertaining the wants and needs of students in target markets and serving those students better than an institution’s competitors.

The author of the quote is Kenneth Brown (I have no known relation to him), and the year is 1940.

When did marketing come to higher education? It was at least 73 years ago.


Brown, K. I. (1940). A campus decade: The Hiram Study Plan of intensive courses. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Marketing Defined

It seems reasonable to establish a definition of marketing, which Kotler (1976) defines as follows:

a management orientation that holds that the key task of the organization is to determine the needs, wants, and values of a target market and to adapt the organization to delivering the desired satisfactions more effectively and efficiently than its competitors. (p. 14)

Marketing as defined in the literature involves adapting an organization to the wants and needs of target markets. This definition does not include either the word advertising or the word promotion.

A more contemporary definition of marketing is as follows:

the process by which companies create value for customers and build strong customer relationships in order to capture value from customers in return. (Armstrong & Kotler, 2007, p. 6)

Neither the word advertising nor the word promotion was added to the definition of marketing in more than 30 years.

I have observed in practice that marketing is often misunderstood as advertising or promotion. For example, I have been asked on many occasions to help “market” a program or event, as if “marketing” is the same as advertising. Usually the implication is that motivating more customers to buy a product or service or attend an event (i.e., selling more things) is the desirable end of marketing. I’m certain that many others have experienced the same.

Upon examination of the definitions above, it is clear that the goal of marketing is not to produce a thing and find customers for it, but the goal of marketing is to find customers (or target markets) and produce a thing for them. These are opposite approaches.

The conclusion from this is that marketing is often grossly misunderstood in organizations today. Marketing may be understood as advertising and promotion. The outcomes of advertising and promotion plans include websites, social media outreach, display advertisements, email and direct mail campaigns, television commercials, and personal selling. These are critically important outcomes, but they are not marketing by themselves.

Marketing is a management orientation that identifies targeted customer groups, learns about the wants and needs of those groups, and delivers products or services that satisfy those wants and needs in a superior way than competing organizations. Promotion is part of marketing, but marketing is not entirely promotion.

The definition of marketing will be an important consideration in this blog, and I welcome your input about how the term is used in theory and in practice.


Armstrong, G., & Kotler, P. (2007). Marketing: An introduction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Kotler, P. (1976). Marketing management. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.