Using truly collaborative processes for feedback and communication, Martyn Edwards’ broad and understanding approach to leadership is both refreshing and inclusive. Martyn is the current Director of Marketing and Advancement at Loughborough University, and he also holds various advisory and committee positions externally. His first job provided the background for diverse perspectives on customers and stakeholders:
‘My very first [. . .] proper job was working in a very busy international office at Cardiff, and then eventually travelling overseas and I think what that’s helped me to sort of appreciate and understand is about target audience, is about different customers – although people don’t often use the word customers, but just having that understanding that [. . .] we just have so many different stakeholders and overseas markets move so quickly, they’re so complicated, and we can often look at things through quite a sort of UK-centric, western, often parochial lens [. . . ] I think that’s a danger’.
From these rather humble beginnings, Martyn has climbed the ranks to become a marketing and branding leader. His well-rounded frame of reference from his early days in international recruitment lends itself to a restless energy that is always searching for the next challenge. With many different stakeholders demanding attention at any given time, Martyn’s ability to keep all of these plates spinning is not only a testament to his dedication to HE, but also to his insight in supporting diverse groups of workers and colleagues.
‘A big part of my role now as a marketing leader [. . .] I’ve been very heavily involved with different networks at Loughborough, staff networks, and allied to the LGBT+ group and the trans and non-binary group, doing a lot of work with race equality and the Race Equity Charter through Advance HE. One of the groups I do support as well is the staff inclusivity group and the reason I’m sharing this is it’s to support staff with visible and hidden disabilities, and I think anybody who knows me would probably say “yeah, Martyn’s got a lot of energy, [. . . ] he jumps from one thing to another”. I’ve never been diagnosed formally as neurodiverse, but I think working with colleagues that have embraced their neurodiversity, I think definitely the way I approach things, [. . . ] it can be quite challenging. What that enables me to do – that kind of restlessness, that energy – is spin a lot of plates’.
Not surprisingly, Martyn is a lifelong learner and completed Mark Ritson’s Mini MBA in Marketing during the Covid lockdowns of 2020 as a way to challenge himself. Martyn notes that ‘Mark Ritson very much talks at the [. . .] sharp end of [. . .] fast-moving consumer goods, real results-driven stuff’. With this inspirational outlook onboard, Martyn is able to analyse his own – and his teams’ – position within HE and disrupt any comfortable patterns:
‘HE has got some amazing, creative marketing people in it, but it is a very cyclical business that we’re in. We all essentially do the same thing, the difference is scale, but we do very much the same thing and [. . . ] you’re in danger of things just becoming the same from year-to-year. So I think with Mark Ritson, he does challenge you, he challenges what you know, what your understanding is, any complacency you have’.
Combining a real-world understanding with disruptive thinking, Martyn understands that universities currently have to be quite reactionary and tactical due to budget constraints, but that there is still a need to have a guiding and enduring ‘North Star’ investment in brand-building campaigns. In order to compete globally, UK universities especially should continue to invest in marketing and branding without being put off by the day-to-day challenges that might limit visionary thinking.
‘There’s not a huge amount of money sloshing around the sector and I think marketing budgets are constrained, so justifying brand-building work – some institutions I know can be quite challenging because you don’t always have that tangible, immediate impact on finances [. . .] we absolutely should be investing in our marketing and brand building’.
As a marketing leader, Martyn embraces a 360 degree feedback approach that is both reflective and suggestive. In reflecting on his own performance, the need for clarity and focus are two pivotal insights when it comes to managing teams of marketing professionals in order to get the best possible outcomes while taking current challenges in to account.
‘You get 360 feedback from your direct reports, from your peers, from senior colleagues, from your line manager; what I need to do better – and it’s not so much as a marketing leader although I think given the remit of most marketing leaders and the sort of people we tend to be I think probably true – is just the need to delegate better [. . .] because my team are willing to help me but then when I do delegate, to be really clear on how I delegate things and how I give people tasks to do and agree things with them. [. . .] Particularly at the moment, as we come out of Covid and I think as we’ve had such a disruptive, unpredictable couple of years, I think we do need a bit more focus and clarity as a sector. People are tired, we haven’t got abundant resource, so I think we can’t do everything’.
Martyn feels truly humbled and privileged to be working in HE, even amongst demanding deadlines and changing priorities. With focus, clarity, and understanding, he is able to drill down to the meaning behind the work, and the long-ranging impact it has within smaller communities and around the world.
‘Sometimes we can forget, because we’re so busy, we can forget we are in the people business. UCAS did some really nice surveying maybe about a year or two ago [. . .] for a lot of students, particularly students from disadvantaged backgrounds and students from ethnic minority communities, one of the things that makes a real difference for why they chose a university is the “feel” of the university – that was the term that UCAS used – and it’s that kind of intangible “am I gonna belong here”, “does this university’s values fit my values?”’
In trying to package these rather intangible feelings from a recruitment perspective in a meaningful way, Martyn’s ‘projecting excellence’ project works with academics to curate exciting content for audiences and stakeholders. Cutting through the noise, this brand strategy puts content at its heart.
‘We knew we needed to start to package how we worked with the academic community in order to try and build that kind of content strategy, [. . .] because everyone is time poor [. . .] it was about coming up with a framework that was really clear. It’s quite challenging but we haven’t got the capacity to tell every single story so it’s really trying to pick out that research that really substantiates, when we say we are world leading what do we mean by that, and coming up with a mechanism to sort of start to curate that content and manage that content’.
The project focusses on three elements, or the ‘three R’s’: real, rare, and relevant. Martyn explains how these three characteristics filter through to branded content strategies:
‘We need to identify research innovation activity that meets the following criteria, the 3 R’s: real, rare and relevant. Real – is it of high quality and can we evidence it as such [. . .] is it rare: so is it distinctive? In the sense that not everyone could say that or make the same claim. [. . .] Is it relevant: so how done make it meaningful with those target audience[s]’.
With the knowledge that Gen Z audiences have different needs and access information in increasingly digital-only ways, these strategies are even more relevant as universities attempt to engage these cohorts of students.
Martyn’s focus extends to up-skilling colleagues within his teams so everyone is kept abreast of new developments, giving them the best possible shot at engaging Gen Z audiences with updated content. Through connecting university strategy with team-centric objectives, Martyn has created a tangible way for colleagues to track processes and progress as they contribute to the institution as a whole.
‘We’ve got a new [university] strategy, [. . .] off the back of that we’ve got our own marketing sort of strategic framework which joins up the dots as to what do you do in a particular team, how does that contribute to this bigger picture and setting people’s objectives so they feel motivated [. . .] in order to be able to see how they definitely make a contribution every day to the strategy’.
Collaboration is key, as unified strategies extend out from teams to the institution as a whole. Academics must also be involved, and Martyn understands that marketing professionals can’t themselves create the intellectual narratives that academic members of staff produce. Instead, teams must work together to produce this content; he explains that ’what I’ve tried to do, and it’s very much my sort of mantra, is not to fight silos with silos: a concept of being one team. And so it’s not us against them, it’s really about working in partnership with the academy’.
It’s this identification with others – the human element of the work – that Martyn reflects upon when looking back at his time in higher education. His ‘six C’s of marketing’ include consideration, contribution, coordination, communication, connection and collaboration, and marketing leaders would do well to reflect on each of these elements when gathering ideas for any brand strategy. Martyn’s collaborative approach and willingness to self-reflect and take on feedback offers a refreshing perspective on his role and the roles of other marketing leaders:
‘As marketeers, we can often believe our own hype a little bit, we think that we know everything and obviously we are very good and what we do and we’re specialists. But if we don’t take the time to explain, if we don’t take the time to ask questions and be curious, and then if we get that pushback – which you can do with academic colleagues because they’re specialists in their field, often even more preeminent than us – and sometimes we need to take the time to understand what their motivations are and what some of their issues might be’.
If you would like to explore how you can focus your teams and strategise your content to boost your brand strategy, get in touch with us here at The Brand Education. We offer thought leadership and workshops and we’re always excited to hear from you.
Listen to Martyn’s full conversation with The Brand Education CEO Zeenat Fayaz on Apple Podcast or on Spotify.