We’ve all been there. We assessed the needs of students, created a program that would really benefit our respective populations, reserved the space on campus, bought the food, booked the speaker, did our best to get the word out, and the attendance was abysmal at best. The pit in your stomach rears its ugly head as you watch the clock, and then scan the paltry crowd. You don’t know if you should pray for more time or more students. You go over how you are going to sell the low numbers to the speaker, host, or your boss. “Well, it’s a really crazy time of year. Students are really swamped.” “I heard there was an off-campus party that had a big draw.” “My students I advise are procrastinators, so I was using this as a learning experience.” Does it ever cross our minds that perhaps most of us don’t really know how to effectively market programs to our students?
A recent #SAchat centered on this very topic. I heard voices advocate for traditional paper advertising while other campuses have outlawed such advertising to support sustainability efforts. I heard folks talk about social media as a plausible solution, but even the platforms we know and love are overcome with dozens of events and invites. It was clear through the conversation that we were basically throwing everything at a wall and seeing what stuck. Can’t we do better?
Many graduate programs have a core set of competencies that guide the curriculum, whether it is a theory to practice, administration or counseling focus. Do any of them include marketing as a core competency? I’m not asking them to throw Chickering out the window or chuck the Legal Issues class and replace it with weekly lessons in Photoshop. However, aren’t we doing our students a disservice to put time, energy and effort into coming up with thoughtful, challenging, engaging, and necessary programming, but it fails to ever get to their door because we are woefully under-prepared to market said programs?
Perhaps the responsibility shouldn’t fall solely to graduate programs. After all, we only spend a few short years in these programs, but decades in our chosen field. There are also tons of fabulous professionals who came from outside of higher education. Don’t we have a duty to educate ourselves and our departments on what it means to effectively market events and initiatives? Shouldn’t our professional organizations offer webinars, conference sessions and other professional development opportunities from leading marketing experts to help us grow our toolbox? I did a brief search of ACPA and NASPA’s 2010 joint publication“Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners” and the word “marketing” is only mentioned once (in the 32 page document!) and it was in regards to marketing mental health outreach. Can’t we do better? What do you think?