From launching Mars’ first foray into the world of ice cream to becoming the first Director of Marketing & Communications at the University of Sheffield, Jane has proved herself a pioneer who is not afraid to do things differently and challenge the status quo. When Jane joined the University of Exeter eight years ago she joined a successful global university with a strong legacy, but one that needed change. Applying her layers of expertise from different industries, Jane sought to adapt the role of marketing and brand within the university to drive it forward into a new era.
“One of the greatest shifts we had to make was to create a strategic marketing function. Whilst we understand student recruitment is an essential part of our role, it remains part of our wider role, which is to manage the brand, portfolio, pricing and reputation. Reputation can be an ethereal concept. People talk about reputation in different ways and it can be difficult to pin down. League tables have started to give us metrics on reputation and something to hang our hats on, but often what people really mean when they talk about reputation is what do we want to be famous for? What do we want people to talk to us about? A strategic conversation is needed to define this and underpin it with evidence so it does not become an empty promise, then it’s marketing and communications job to let people know.”
But as many of us have witnessed, redefining reputation and adapting strategy can lead to great resistance. Whilst this can be a big barrier to overcome where someone fundamentally objects, sometimes reluctance can come where colleagues don’t feel equipped to implement the changes required. To overcome this, Jane and the wider team at Exeter adopted a collaborative approach, working together to ensure they were sharing knowledge, bringing on board external specialisms and attending training.
“We have run a hybrid model to implement campaigns. The internal team has overall responsibility for success but they work closely with design, creative, strategic marketing and media buying agencies to pool output into a central hub. The team we have recruited spans a range of backgrounds and specialisms. This reflects their role as their presence can be required anywhere across the organisation, from research to B2B outreach. During COVID times, it was all hands to the pump and we really needed to make use of expertise across the team. Where gaps in experience existed we encouraged individuals in the team to develop themselves in line with where their interests lay. Many of our team have now completed MBAs through the degree apprenticeship scheme as well as attending various courses on digital marketing and utilising as much free external consultancy as they can get their hands on.”
Whilst having a well equipped and united marketing team of brand champions was a strong start, Jane was keen to ensure that colleagues beyond the direct team also felt comfortable talking about brand, reputation and marketing and felt that they were part of the conversation. By being mindful of where colleagues needed help and how the team could help them achieve what they wanted (whilst also achieving their own objectives) Jane and the team started to bridge the gap and build brand champions beyond the walls of marketing.
“I’ve always felt that whilst we are a strategic marketing and reputation building team, we ultimately exist instead for the advancement of the university. When reputation improves perception moves and we begin to become famous for our strengths. In turn this makes other jobs like international recruitment or fundraising easier and it becomes a virtuous circle. Managing the brand therefore becomes a partnership, because the whole organisation wants to have a great reputation. As part of this, we make a concerted effort to align our approach with the agendas colleagues within the wider organisation are looking to achieve. This enables us to create ‘brand champions’ where goals align with benefits for both sides. Brand champions can then be integrated into project teams to draw on their wider specialisms, leverage their influence or even open up new budget streams. I’ve been lucky to work with some really fabulous academics who I’m proud to say have become closet marketeers, using all sorts of marketing language. I’m happy when they sell the team’s ideas, because it means that they’ve really understood our approach.”
Building bridges across the university can come with additional benefits beyond collaboration on brand and reputation. Jane and the team found with more conversation came more opportunity and by being agile and responsive they could build on the team’s impact and success.
“Be prepared to be agile, opportunistic and make sure you measure everything. We have several cases where we have secured investment as a team where we have spotted the opportunity of an underspend in another area of the university and have been agile to implement a plan we had already ready to go with this budget. The benefit of this approach is lasting too, by reporting on successful outcomes the budget has now been secured for future cycles.”
Alongside agility, Jane has found insight to be another key factor in getting buy in and securing investment. By translating data into insight she and the team were able to spot deficits and opportunities and build strategies to leverage or overcome these, as well as track the impact of actions taken.
“Data has been central in our approach at the University of Exeter. We’ve utilised metrics to realise where our reputation gaps exist, for example where our citations are high but reputation low. By identifying and quantifying the gap, you can translate this more easily for senior leaders and share the plan to close the reputation deficit. We measure everything that we can get our hands on, including all the traditional methods that you would expect for awareness and visibility, but increasingly deeper measures around league tables and brand tracking too. Our league table positioning has bucked the trend and we have climbed considerably in recent years so we wanted to analyse this. By looking deeper into the data we found it was our reputation measures driving the increase. Alongside this brand tracking allows us to follow how our awareness ratings trend against competitors. We are also tracking specific words to see how these are changing from what we might have been famous for three or four years ago to what people are thinking about us now. We can then draw these back to the campaigns we have been running to measure impact. The dual methods we apply mean we have rich quantitative and qualitative insight into our performance and the impact of measures taken.”
But Jane offers a word of warning when dealing with the wider team who may not be as data literate or switch off when they see table upon table of information.
“When thinking about playing back the results, my advice is to try and show rather than tell. People love great creative, so keep it exciting, keep people engaged, and then show the results. Focus on what the organisation needs, and then find the people who understand and prioritise those needs as well. That way it’s not just the marketing department pushing the results, it can be the DVC research or the DVC education collaborating and authenticating the impact. It gives me a real sense of pride when I’m sitting in the meeting and I don’t have to say a word because colleagues instead shout about the campaigns we are running.”
If you would like to explore how you can adapt the conversations you are having internally to bring on board brand champions or discuss ideas to secure funding, 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.