On "The Dark Side," I’ve Seen the Light

Carnegie Higher Ed Jan 15, 2015 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

I recently joined Carnegie as a Regional Director after spending the past six years working on campus, and it’s amazing how quickly my perception of higher ed vendors and consulting firms has changed—and it’s not just because I made the move to the dark side. Rather, I’ve seen the light.

I wish I would have known some of what I’ve learned in the past month at Carnegie when I was working in digital marketing at Augustana College (Illinois) or as the Director of Recruitment and Communications at the University of Iowa. More so, I wish I would’ve done a better job of knowing what I didn’t know then and been more proactive and open to listening to vendors and consultants to learn how they could help me achieve my goals—because they can.

There’s an ugly stigma about consultants on campuses across America, some of it deserved but more of it a result of natural insecurity and positioning for self-preservation by communications professionals who feel they are more than capable of delivering the goods. But there’s a difference between capability and ability, and the truth is that most colleges and universities aren’t staffed to deliver the kind of sophisticated marketing campaigns required to meet increasingly challenging enrollment goals.

The first step is to have organizational self-awareness. You have to be realistic about your limitations and know what you can and can’t do. That takes strong leadership. In a recent meeting with a marketing director at a large public university, I was struck by how this person spoke about his vision for his marketing team, which he is rebuilding. He has clearly made an honest assessment of his group’s present capabilities and is systematically investigating and identifying vendors to help fill the gaps. I was so impressed, and I felt so stupid.

Why was I reluctant to meet with vendors when I worked on campus? Why didn’t I read their e-mails or take their calls? Why was I afraid to ask for help? It’s because it felt like surrender, like failure. But what felt like failure is really a necessary ingredient in any recipe for success, and I’m seeing that clearly now in case study after case study after case study with Carnegie. What we’re doing works, and our clients are seeing the results.

I’m not saying Carnegie is the answer for you—we might not be. The answer is to know your limitations and to listen and learn from every interaction with a vendor, whether you contract with them or not. It’s amazing how much collective knowledge we gather meeting with schools, large and small, from coast to coast. It’s just sitting there, like an oil reserve waiting to be tapped

It’s waiting for you. What are you waiting for?

Five tips for working with vendors

  1. Know your limitations, what you can and can’t do.
  2. Proactively investigate vendors who do what you can’t.
  3. Use vendors as a resource to find out what’s working for other schools.
  4. Demand customized services that serve your specific needs.
  5. Find a way to measure the impact to demonstrate ROI.

You can also follow me on Twitter @HigherEdEric

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