#HigherEd brand marketing: accessibility or intellectualism?

When it comes to higher education brand marketing, professors have long been an invaluable part of the equation by getting their work into the hands of the public. Some appeal to the masses through media interviews and magazine bylines. Most reach a small group of like minds through academic publishing.

But should academic purists shudder at the thought of writing more clearly (read: less like academics) for the sake of marketing? That is a question begged when reading Jack Stripling’s recent piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

According to anecdotes within the article, today’s professors are stuck between two schools of thought: supporting “anti-intellectual” modern-day marketing efforts and following the traditional mantra of “publish or perish” that lives in academe.

To me, professors’ journalistic contributions have their place alongside peer review journals and academic conferences.

While some academics may scoff at participating in PR, marketing and branding efforts, many colleges and universities rely heavily on these tactics to stay relevant.

For example, Inside Higher Ed reports that Gettysburg College has built a long-standing, successful brand with deep roots in history. For the past 12 years, it was rolled out subtly (“not beaten to death by overexposure”) and has settled into the culture in a way that guides PR, marketing, branding and recruitment efforts. And, better, a call to “Do Great Work” instills pride and purpose among students and professors alike.

Stripling closes his article with the following: “Academe is neither a purely corporate enterprise, to be sold like cola, nor is it a virginal enclave of intellectualism protected from the realities of market forces. And that contradiction is enough to drive any academic mad.”

My answer? Don’t be quick to choose sides.

It’s not a matter of selling out, or even buying in; higher ed marketing wins by connecting with important audiences – both inside and out of academe – in a way that creates unique, lasting bonds. Taking a balanced approach to reach both academics and the masses is how professors will support successful higher ed brand marketing efforts in an increasingly competitive setting.

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