Getting Unstuck in #highered #marketing: Five Things You Can Do to Finish Your Year Strong

As we slide toward the end of the academic year in the northern hemisphere, higher ed marketers — like everyone else on campus — are tired. This is the time of year when we double and triple book, try to squeeze more into the month of April than allowed by the space-time continuum, and (like our students) are distracted by the nice weather.

At the same time, we have to keep our eyes on the ball. We’re telling the commencement stories, recognizing awards, covering multiple events, and looking at what parts of our annual plans we need to finish, and in many cases, finalizing budgets for the next fiscal year.

How do we finish the year strong when things are happening faster than we can plan for?

1. Take some time for planning. I know you’re all laughing at me, but taking some time to plan across several dimensions can make the rest of your year and the beginning of the summer much more productive. Think about what has to be done near term and what would improve your performance in the longer term. Look at what you need to spend before the end of the fiscal year and what can wait. For longer term projects that require collaboration, go ahead and get on people’s calendars now, before everyone goes on vacation. This can also give you a better idea of what’s on your plate so you don’t get distracted by urgent requests for “more”, “better”, or “shiny!” and can ensure that your core activities are done at the highest quality level.

2. Think about any outstanding questions you would like to answer in the next year — and how to generate fresh ideas. Are there areas where you don’t know what strategy will help you achieve your marketing communications goals? Maybe you need a structured staff retreat, which also can help junior people in your organization get more insight into your overall direction, helping them connect their daily activities to your mission. Get that on the calendar and figure out how to involve your key clients, collaborators, and organizational allies either before or during a retreat.

3. Look at what your peers are doing. Sometimes we get so heads down on our daily, weekly and monthly tasks, we don’t look around. Right now I am working on a metrics dashboard for our digital marketing. We have tons of data these days, but sometimes not enough information, making choice and presentation of metrics challenging. By looking at how competitors and colleagues are handling their metrics and applying it to the context I’m working in, I am getting “unstuck” and also gaining insight into our audiences and what content works. Even though this can feel like wasting time on “research”, I find that giving myself a goal — three things that I want to find out — and a limited amount of time to finish, I can be efficient and come away with a broader perspective.

4. Decide what not to do. Just because you have always done certain tasks at a certain time of the year doesn’t mean it’s the best use of your time. Look at everything you have on your list and think about what is adding value, what you can do better than anyone else, what you can delegate, who you can ask for help, and whether anyone but you will notice if you stop doing a particular activity. There are some tasks we have to do to keep our clients happy and the trains running, and others that seemed like a good idea at one time but are not creating “WOW”. If you aren’t excited about something and almost nobody else will notice if you stop — just say no.

5. Plan your tasks so that you can unplug on vacation. I am the worst at unplugging, but I think I come back stronger and with better ideas when I actually do it. Vacations should not come with a side order of existential dread about what’s lurking in your inbox or the long hours you’ll spend “catching up”. Keep your brain out of the office by reading books from outside your field, doing nothing, seeing new sights, spending time outside — whatever works to help you “zoom out” and come back with more creativity and focus.

If you have tips for getting through the last few weeks of the semester or the fiscal year, please share them in the comments!