Episode 34: The Weight of Leadership with Jaime Hunt

Thought Feeder
Episode 34: The Weight of Leadership with Jaime Hunt
/

Jaime Hunt discusses the tone marketing leadership can set in higher education.

Thought Feeder
Episode 34: The Weight of Leadership with Jaime Hunt
/

Jaime Hunt discusses the tone marketing leadership can set in higher education.

Transcript for The Weight of Leadership

Joel Goodman: Welcome to the Thought Feeder Podcast. My name is Joel Goodman with me as always is the bearded Jon-Stephen Stansel and we are super excited to have Jaime Hunt on the show. She is the vice president and chief marketing and communications officer at Miami University of Ohio. Jaime, thanks so much for being on the show.

We’re super excited to talk to you.

Jaime Hunt: Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: We’re really excited. We’ve been meaning to have you on the show for a long time. And for those of you who don’t know Jaime’s work, follow her on Twitter, she just wrote an incredible manifesto on Inside Higher Ed that had both Joel and I like standing up and applauding as we were reading it.

So like halfway through it, I DMed Joel and was like, okay, we need to get Jaime on the show now. So, we’re glad to, glad to have you here. For those who aren’t familiar with your work, would you kind of just please introduce yourself, how did you get into higher ed? What what’s your day-to-day look like? And, just the basic intro.

Jaime Hunt: Yeah, so I’ve been at Miami University of Ohio, since September. It’s been an interesting experience onboarding in a pandemic. I moved to a state I’d never set foot in and then started a job there with a boss I’d never met in person or even over video. So it was an interesting transition. 

Before that, I was at Winston Salem State where I was the vice chancellor for strategic communications. And I was there for about five years. Prior to that, I worked more on the web and interactive media side of things, and I got into higher ed from the PR side. So I started out as a public relations coordinator at a small private university in Minnesota.

And then before that, I was a reporter, which is the best job in the world that pays $7 and 50 cents an hour. And, in Minneapolis, anyway, you can’t have an apartment on $7 and 50 cents an hour. So that’s how I got into the PR side of things. And I’m so happy to be in higher ed. 

I remember being an undergraduate student walking across campus at the University of Minnesota and thinking it would be, be so cool if there were jobs at a university. And I thought the only jobs at a university were professor jobs. So it didn’t even occur to me that this was a place that you could make a communications career. And I absolutely love it. I don’t see myself leaving this space. Although sometimes during a pandemic and you’ve got kids getting COVID and everybody freaking out, sometimes you think about leaving higher ed, but at the moment I’m pretty happy here.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah. Jumped out of journalism into the high-paying world of higher ed, right?

Jaime Hunt: It’s all context! Like I often joke, that’s why I make the medium bucks. Cause there are no big bucks in higher ed.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: But definitely I was kind of the same way The way I kind of fell into higher ed is you know one thing I learned in college was I was a really good student and you know I was like okay well I’ll ride this out I’ll teach And and and kind of from there entered into the staff side of it And yeah I definitely think that’s something not a lot of people don’t think of as an option. I don’t work at the university anymore, I just left higher ed, but when I told people I worked at the university is was like what do you teach? Like well no there’s this whole other side of it that that that’s completely different And sometimes there’s a little bit of a battle between those two sides.

Jaime Hunt: Yes absolutely And I get a lot of people who still think I’m in Florida. So Miami University is in Ohio. It’s not in Florida but I’m from the Midwest So being back in the Midwest when I was driving up and seeing cornfields again and cows it felt like coming home.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Well I want to dive right into it and talk a bit about the manifesto that you wrote for Inside Higher Ed which just blew our minds. We were super excited about it. It was entitled Death to Silos, which needs to happen right? 

Jaime Hunt: A hundred percent.

Joel Goodman: Also not a new statement. I mean this is something that that many people have said before in this industry. Maybe not particularly on the side of the C-suite or the vice president or president kind of level. I think it’s often talked about kind of more in the middle management to support worker side because they’re the ones that deal with a lot of the challenges that happen with these kinds of closed-off, super-insular like, I’m tired of the word “silos” so I try to find other ways to say “silos” but these silos do happen in our industry and specifically on our various campuses. And it’s hard to just get your work done when you don’t have those kinds of cross-functional relationships or the kind of open communication that should be happening when you’re doing that kind of work.

Jaime Hunt: Absolutely. I hate silos but I think the notion of  The colleague of mine who first introduced the concept of — I can’t remember exactly how it how it’s phrased but — we’re a loosely organized group of independent franchisees, all doing their own thing. That really was like, yep, that is exactly what it is. It is, it’s gotta be one of the most siloed industries that exists.  And I think it’s set up that way. Like that is it’s intentionally siloed, as much as we like to think it’s not.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: And silos within silos within silos right. But I think one you know we’ve talked about silo busting for years but I think one of the most important things that you strike on in your article is the things that we can do and how we as people in marcomm end up committing that same crime of siloing ourselves and how we can take that first step to busting those silos. 

And you list several key points, and I kind of want to go through these with some specific questions. And one of the first ones that really struck me is something I am a hundred percent guilty of, and up until I read your article I thought this was a good thing. And that’s referring to campus units and departments as clients or customers. 

And I first came across this with a boss who came from the marketing agency side and went into higher ed. And I thought, Oh this makes sense because we’re serving the institution. They are our clients, we treat them like that as such, and maybe even if they know we referred to them as clients, maybe it’s reciprocated and they see us as more of an agency within the university and respect. But this language also can kind of damaging is how we’re perceived a little bit. So can you elaborate on a little bit of that and why you don’t think this terminology is working for us?

Jaime Hunt: Yeah absolutely. My boss at my second job in higher education was really keen on the internal agency approach, and in theory, it sounded great. The university gets all the benefits of having a team of creatives working on a project without having to do a pesky RFP or get quotes. And I bought into this notion for a really long time. Probably maybe three or four years ago is when I realized that this approach really creates a silo not just for marcomm units, but also keeps us from bridging gaps between other units on campus. We’re working in a silo where we’re working for a unit, it’s harder to reframe your thinking and think about us as more working to serve the institution and the audiences that we serve. 

So as an office that… or a division that works across the university, we have the distinct opportunity to connect those dots. And if we view the projects that are in our shops as being distinct to a specific customer or a specific client, we can fail to see how all of those dots connect together. 

And another key point for me is when we think about the units that we work with as a customer or a client they don’t always see themselves and the marketing unit as pulling together toward the same goal, they see it more as the marcomm office is providing a service that supports them in achieving their goals. And I know there’s a nuance to this but to me, it’s a really important nuance. It’s definitely more of a sense of being in it together pulling together towards something everybody contributing sort of in an equal way toward accomplishing an institutional goal. And that reframes that conversation around “this is a Financial Aid goal” to “this is an institutional goal for Financial Aid”. 

And I think that’s something that gives us an opportunity to break down silos that are beyond what’s within our own units. It lets us break down silos across the institution cause you’re reframing and building that muscle memory around the idea that this isn’t a Financial Aid goal, it’s an institutional goal for Financial Aid, that sort of perspective. And bringing that into the conversation more frequently, I think can help break down silos overall.

 Joel Goodman: I think that’s really key because we do see this a lot within higher education where marketing isn’t valued by say the Alumni and Development office because they don’t understand that the work that the people in Marketing do will lift everything that they’re doing as well. That that a cohesive message is going to be better for the entire institution and that marketing is something that’s very much I guess kind of brand-defining for an institution all the way through. Or the same thing with faculty. Faculty don’t necessarily understand that the work that the Alumni Relations department does in fostering relationships with current students actually helps them and helps with the work that they do. And we’re all kind of working at very similar ends but without any cohesive lining up of our goals and strategy. 

And we’ll talk about that because the next point that you made in your article was around this tactical focus that we have in higher education. And that oftentimes when we take this approach of the client-customer kind of relationship that also turns around and has other departments viewing us as folks that just offer a list of services or a menu of services that they can pick and choose from. And as someone that runs an agency in higher education I find that this affects us on the outside as well, where when we are looking at a university as an entire unit that needs a cohesive strategy to move forward, we’re oftentimes just kind of stonewalled because we get in there and all they want is, well we need our website redesigned. Well okay, what are the goals for that? Well, no, we just need it redesigned because someone thinks it’s not pretty enough. Or you know we need paid media advertising. Okay, what are your goals? What are your conversion, what are the conversion metrics are going after? Oh, we just need to do it. We want to increase enrollment, you know? And it’s okay, we’ll increase enrollment. That’s fine. 

But I mean there are a lot of ways other than just dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into paid media spend or half a million dollars plus into a massive website redesign. And if you’re a little bit more purposeful in how you put things together you can do it. So we see that on our side on the outside, when we want to come in and say okay let’s get you set up for success, but internally it’s really just about we need an SEO audit. We need that sort of a thing.  How are you I mean how are you seeing that in-, play out internally in the way that silos work and how you observe them at the couple of institutions that you’ve been at? How does that tactical approach kind of affect the institution more deeply in terms of its end goals?

Jaime Hunt: Yeah from my perspective a menu of services was something that was all the rage maybe 10 or 15 years ago. I remember that was something my boss with that internal agency really wanted us to do was put together a menu. And we created some cutesy thing that looked like a restaurant menu. And people could check off what they wanted. And that to me was so problematic. like you were saying, people didn’t have the ability to identify what their goals were, they would just say I need a brochure. Well, what are you going to do with the brochure? And it would be just blank so we

Joel Goodman: Post it on Twitter, right J.S.?

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Exactly

Jaime Hunt: It’s it’s. That is not even funny because it’s so true. Can you make this wordy graphic and then throw it on Instagram? 

So at Winston, when I was at Winston Salem State we took down our form that was just a menu. You could check off I need a brochure, I need a social media post, I need a news release. And instead, just ask people what their goals were. People lost their minds. People said my goal is to have a brochure. 

That’s, that’s not a goal. That’s certainly not a goal that we’re going to be able to. I guess we can measure it. You have a brochure in your hand there we’ve accomplished the goal of this initiative.

 Joel Goodman: that’s a pretty low bar.

Jaime Hunt: I used to say exactly that, if your goal is to have a brochure I can take a piece of paper, fold it in thirds, put a smiley face on it, and hand it to you, and you have your brochure. So it took a long time to get people thinking differently about goals, but it was so worth it because people finally understood that We want to know how many students are you trying to get into this program? How many fewer phone calls are you trying to get to Financial Aid? What are the actual measurable goals? And when we identified an area on campus that really understood that this is what we were trying to do and worked with them on some initial campaigns and then had really strong measurable numbers coming out of that, people understood it a lot better. 

And I think that the big key for me here is that a Physics professor or a Career Services director or the provost or whomever they don’t have the depth of expertise in marketing and communications that, in theory, your marcomm office should have. They shouldn’t have to develop their own marketing plans and we really shouldn’t want them to. 

We are undercutting our professional expertise when we allow people to think that marketing is something anyone can do I would never tell my CFO how to balance the books or tell a professor how to create a curriculum And in my opinion offering a menu of services implies that we aren’t here for strategy, we’re here to make whatever it is you think you need. So we really have to reeducate our campus partners on that. There are definitely growing pains, people don’t like giving up what they see as control but on the other hand, I’ve had many people say, thank God I had no idea what I needed. Thank you for taking this on, I was so worried about having to tackle this marketing plan I am so grateful for your expertise on this and that to me is where the magic is, is when we can use our expertise to help them accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Exactly And I think offering that menu of services leads to this sort of Copy Shop mentality. I’ve tweeted a few times like people treat marketing like it’s a short-order chef like I’m hungry, make me a hamburger. What we should be is more like a dietician. Like I would like to be in better shape, what should I eat? You know, I want to be healthy, what should I eat? And I think offering a menu like what a perfect analogy right? You know you just have a menu of brochure X Y Z, rather than having more goals, focused options and actually bearing down and saying what do you want to achieve?

Joel Goodman: I think a lot of times the practitioners are the ones that get stuck. You know they’re the web designer that you have or the content strategist or just content manager, the people that are executing on this work, they’re sitting there a lot of times with this deep feeling that this is a bad idea but the History professor asked for this thing to be here and there’s no shield for me. You know they don’t have, there aren’t proper chains of governance to go through, there may not be leadership that’s backing up this idea that the marketing office should be setting strategy for all the media stuff that’s going out. And so if you’re sitting there as a web person or as a content strategist or as you know the staff designer, you’re just kind of stuck because you don’t feel like you can say no. You know? You don’t feel empowered to set that strategy or to or to communicate it. And I think about how kind of frustrating that is. 

Because I’ve definitely been in that position right? As as the lone web person and having to sit down. And for me I’m different, and I’ve talked about this on past episodes like I have no problem telling people that it’s a bad idea or just saying no I’m not going to do that for this reason, and if I don’t have backup, oh well. But it’s for me I’m more like wait for my boss to tell me to do it if it’s a bad idea so that I’m not taking the hit on whatever happened. 

But I think that’s something that needs to be addressed internally at a lot of institutions you know kind of industry-wide. I don’t know how that happens. But I wanted to make that point because I’ve definitely felt that way and I think there are a lot of people on that, currently in those roles that feel that way. They know that they’re uh,  actually I think this leads into our next question, but they know what they know because they’re specialists in web design, in content strategy, in content development, in writing, in designing. They know that it’s a bad idea, but they don’t kind of have that backup because everyone has been empowered as a generalist. And this is one of the things you talk about, Jaime. 

Let’s dive in a little bit cause I this idea of I personally have always been a generalist, sort Of you know fairly talented one I think but you know I’ve definitely been at places in my career where I’ve had to decide okay what am I going to specialize in? What am I going to become really really well-versed and an expert in entirely? And I wonder how you see the two of those playing different roles or even coexisting in different ways at an institution.

Jaime Hunt: Yeah I think that this generalist versus specialist conversation is one of the toughest challenges that we face. Most institutions I think still have a decentralized model, so we have a lot of units hiring for marcomm jobs that maybe don’t have the depth of understanding of how marketing works. They don’t know how to write a great job description, they ask for everything under the sun and pay $30,000 a year for that. They don’t know how to hire somebody who really knows what they know because they don’t have the right people in the room helping make those decisions. 

So we get people who have to be Swiss Army knives when maybe an ax or a saw is needed for some projects. They have to juggle multiple communications tools and technologies. They might have to write a press release in the morning, design a print piece in the afternoon, manage a social community somehow in between all of that, craft recruitment emails, plan events, you know all of that. And there is no way for one person to have the depth of expertise in all of those areas and then pull that off.   

There’s a lot of ways I think we can fix this. I think centralizing is one option, but even in central marketing offices, you have a lot of generalists that maybe have had to be really broad because the shop has been small or um was hired back when we had that menu of services where we just checked things off. And so what I’ve done in previous roles and I’m doing here at Miami is identify a generalist’s superpowers. Like everybody has one or two things that they’re really good at, that they really enjoy doing or they excel at. And how do you identify those things and allow them to build expertise in that area? 

So at Winston, we couldn’t afford to have an expert in every single Communications vertical but we could build some expertise in each vertical across the team and give our team members a chance to become more T-shaped, so they have a broad layer of expertise but they also have depth in one or two other areas where they can be the point person on those types of projects. As you work to build your shop build your team and hire for expertise when you have the opportunity. 

That T-shaped notion I don’t know who came up with that but president Greg Crawford here at Miami shared that concept with me and I just love that because generalists can communicate with others across the team. They understand at a certain level the different tools and technologies that they’re going to be using, they know how to talk the language. But if we can give them some depth of expertise in specific areas and then make those people with that expertise available to each other, that’s when I think we can overcome this generalist problem for lack of a better word.

Joel Goodman: I sometimes speculate on how the lack of appropriate funding of Marketing offices, I think this applies to all offices, contributes to this well what you said of having to hire a bunch of people that are generalists that can do a lot of things and can do a lot of them pretty well, and then it forces you into finding or developing those kinds of specialist roles. And a lot of times I wonder like if the dream team was just hired at the salary that they should have been hired at and given the empowerment to do what they do best, how much more revenue would be coming into the institution in order to fund everything that you want to do? But instead and, you know, this is kind of cultural systemic issue I think within the industry, but there’s this approach of well we need to do the best marketing ever on the razor-thinnest of budgets. And we need to ring every last bit of productivity and skill and talent out of all the people that we have until, to be honest, a lot of them get burnt out. 

And I think that’s what we also see when everyone’s kind of forced to be a generalist and do all these things. Like you were saying, write a press release in the morning and manage a social media community in between doing a flyer or a webpage rebuild or email content or whatever. Like that’s a recipe for burning out and I think, more than just burning out, generating ill will between your institution as a community,  as a place where people want to work and want to do good work, and the folks that have tried to do that good work for you, and they just found that there was no value that got placed on them to do it. 

And now I sound like a labor organizer but. 

But I think it’s, I think it’s a problem. I, you know, I’ve been in higher education for 15 years and I’ve seen that at multiple institutions I have worked at and continue to see it with institutions across the country. And there are those people I think that are very good and they can dig in, and they can deal with it mentally and emotionally, and get through and do really great work. But there are a lot of other people that just get caught up in what’s there and chewed up and spit out, and then they go try to find a job somewhere else because they can’t deal with it anymore.

Jaime Hunt: Absolutely. I hate when we lose people to outside of the industry. Like people who are just finally realized that the perks of higher ed maybe don’t outweigh the benefits of being outside of higher ed. And that’s just a shame to me because I think we should be the most fun, interesting, exciting, cutting edge, forward-looking marcomm offices because we have access to, most of us who have like a Business school, have access to a lot of business expertise and marketing expertise. But the pay that we give to a lot of folks, particularly middle managers and below, is just, can’t compete with a lot of what’s in the quote-unquote real world or in corporate America. And that’s really tough. And I really worry about competing with some of those private-sector jobs when we go back to quote-unquote normal because I’m afraid that we’re going to lose people to offices that have said remote work, you can work wherever you are. And higher ed is so rigid with that. So now you have to work in the office because we say so. I think we’re going to lose people to consulting gigs.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: I mean that’s one reason I left, like, perfectly blunt you know I kind of got to a point where I was like you know I love higher ed but the money is not worth it for the headache that I have to go through to just do my job. If I’m going to have to deal with the headache at least I could be making more money, you know? 

So I think it does come down to that. I think part of it is centralization and were talking about some of these issues of being generalists versus specialists and listening to the experts. How many times, I know all of us have been in a room where we’ve thought, okay this is what we need to do, X Y Z. Well we’re not going to do that because, like Joel’s anonymous history professor you know, doesn’t like this idea and this is what they want, so we’re gonna go ahead and do it. You’re not going to foster the best talent that way ever. Like you’ve got to you know make people feel like their experience and expertise is valued.

Joel Goodman: Like I stay working in higher ed because it’s an industry that has so much potential but we just never, we never fulfill it. And I want this industry to do that. Like you were saying Jaime, I want we should be doing the best marketing. We have one of the most exciting demographics, actually, a couple of the most exciting demographics, to be marketing to. We have built-in structures to build community. We have all these things that actually companies don’t have built into what they’re doing. 

They’re selling a product. We’re selling an entire experience. You know we’re selling hospitality, we’re selling future outcomes, we’re selling personal growth, all these different things.  But we’re content to not pay our people enough to communicate those messages you know. And it relies on the very few leaders like yourself that you know try to push against that. But also come in with this sobering mentality that there really is a lot of challenge within this industry to do that good work. And so how do we progress it How do we move it forward? 

 I have a lot of ideas on how we do that but it’s hard as I’m sure you know and have experienced, to get that buy-in internally, and to change the overwhelming culture within the industry. And that’s part of why JS and I started this podcast was we wanted to talk about this kind of stuff.

Jaime Hunt: Well it’s a huge leadership challenge, and it is a leadership challenge. Because I think that as much as I want to empower the people who work for me all the way up and down the org chart, it’s on me to make sure that I’m fighting for that, I’m advocating for their salaries, I’m advocating for their expertise, and it’s it is tiring. It is so much easier to offer a menu of services and just like let things go and do what everybody wants and not push back against things that are a bad idea and just lay low. That’s so much easier. And sometimes I wonder why I’ve chosen this path instead. 

But I think the thing that’s great from my perspective is that when I’ve interviewed for positions, the leaders that are drawn to me are the leaders that are open to this idea. And so that’s where you have the opportunity to know that Miami University can be one of those places that is going to be a great place for communicators to work. And it’s going to be a great place for us to sort of showcase and do some innovation and do some more cutting-edge things, and to be a positive force in the higher ed landscape around communications. And hopefully, it will be contagious, people will see what we’re doing and want to do it.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: And that’s it, exactly you know? It just takes one domino for the rest to fall because in higher ed, we’re constantly copying each other, right? I mean that’s half the reason you get that request for a brochure is because some you know director of a department saw another department with a brochure and just I want that! Right?

Oh their website has this drone footage on there and I want that here, rather than thinking about what they really need or actually asking the hard question and going yeah that drone shots really pretty on your homepage, but is it getting results? And we’re not they’re not seeing that backend understanding that. 

Another thing and this leads us to our next question, is like there’s a lot of org chart hierarchy and a lot of title based issues that go on in higher ed and sometimes like okay I don’t have to listen to you, you are a Specialist, or you are just a manager, or project coordinator or something that goes along with that when that person with the title probably needs to be in that meeting Right. I think or we often leave out you know as you said in your essay you know we leave out voices based on job titles. So why does this happen? And how can we solve that and bring more people into the fold?

Jaime Hunt: Yeah this is one of the most hierarchical industries, well I shouldn’t I mean, that I’ve ever worked in, so newspaper publishing and then higher ed, so that’s quite the diversity of experience I have there. But this is very hierarchical And it’s so frustrating I often talk about a project that I undertook at WSSU, I pulled together a group of about 25 people across campus, including a lot of frontline people, people with specialists or assistant in their title, to talk about how we communicate between the time a student is admitted to the first day of classes. And I made it really clear going into that that I genuinely wanted their input and feedback and ideas. And we met maybe four times over the course of two months. And the first couple of meetings that you could tell they were really hesitant to offer their feedback and input, and I really consciously didn’t offer mine because I needed to be silent and really really reflect the idea that I am listening to you. I want your expertise I’m not here to tell you what you should do. I need to hear about what the challenges are from your perspective. 

And it can be really hard for leaders to shut up because we’re paying people to listen to us. And so the idea of just shutting up and absorbing, it’s somehow like foreign to us. But it was so constructive to get input and feedback from people that are on the front lines with students. There are people who are sitting watching students sit in the entryway of the Financial Aid office and hearing the types of conversations that they’re having that we’re not privy to because we’re in these executive meetings and you know we’re in suits all day and are unapproachable to students. 

So that’s one piece of it is, as a leader being open to listening to other voices and not just within the comm shop but across the institution. And as an executive leader, I’m persistently reminding people to bring others to the table. And I sometimes get pushback because nobody likes a group project right? You’re like I can just do this, I don’t need so-and-so, this is going to be awful, there’s that one kid who’s going to do nothing and then they’re going to get an A. But that’s not what this is to me. It’s about giving subject matter experts and opportunity to bring that expertise to the table. 

And even within my team and my leadership team within UCM at Miami, I push them to do the same thing. Bring other voices in even if the person’s a pain in the butt or you know it’s going to make your job more complicated, it’s going to make us more effective. But I have to practice what I preach and that’s the critical piece of leadership.

 Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah I think that’s really important and bringing all of those voices in. And I think one of the things I’ve always struggled with is forcing myself into meetings of like, hey I you need a social media manager in this. Like if you’re going to ask the social media manager to do something after the meeting they need to be in the meeting. 

So I think it is a bit of a two-way street. There there’s the leadership’s role of like inviting those in but those of us in in in middle-management roles and all the way down like need to be beating at the door, like Hey let us end to this because we have things of value to add. And I think that the term exhaustion has come up a couple of times in this conversation. That can be very exhausting, sometimes of like, it is a lot easier just to roll over and say all right well okay I’ll just do this thing that rather than constantly try and try and do that but.

Jaime Hunt: Yeah it’s scary to challenge your leader. And I don’t think it’s scary to challenge me because I get challenged so much, which is good, I mean, I think that’s good. And often when I would find out about a crisis, or an issue, or just something reputational or something, I would pick up the phone, and the first call I would make would be to the social media person or the media relations person. But both phone calls would get made because they needed they were going to be the frontline of this. Making a really conscious decision to not release bad news at four o’clock on Friday because you’ve now just take decided somebody’s weekend is going to be spent dealing with people who are upset when they can not easily reach somebody who can help solve problems. 

You’re making those conscious decisions but it does take a certain level of bravery to have a willingness to say you told the president that this is what we’re going to do, but I think this is a bad idea, and here’s why. And it takes a little bit of humility on the part of the leader to then go back to the president and say, we’ve rethought this and I’m changing my recommendation. and I have had to do that many times because while I have managed social communities particularly when I was at Radford, the social media area reported to me, I don’t live day to day in that space. And I don’t live day to day in that space here at Miami So what worked at Radford or what worked at Winston Salem State, might not be the same as our audience. Nobody knows this audience and how they’ll react to anything on social media better than our social media director. And I need to hear her voice.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Every university’s audience is going to be slightly different. You know when I was at Texas State it was a Twitter world. Like every student was on Twitter. Then at the University of Central Arkansas, just nothing. Right? And they reacted differently to different issues as well. You know there were times that at UCA, where you know just based upon my experience at Texas State I was just dreading hitting the button Like we’re just going to get killed for this but we got to do it. And then just crickets and then vice versa on other things too. So it’s just yeah your social media person learns that real quickly and can tell you what that reaction is going to be.

Jaime Hunt: Yeah they’ve been really good at predicting how things are going to go. And they’re a little bit, I would say a little bit gun shy right now because it’s been such a tough year. And so there’s sort of this feeling of whatever we put out is going to cause a reaction, and I totally get that and I get why we think like that. And sometimes you know we’re not going to be able to reframe and sometimes I’m right It didn’t get the reaction but at least having the space for them to express to me their concern about what that’s going to be and give an opportunity to maybe tweak it based on what they’re nervous about. 

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah we’ve become very nervous in the past year.

Joel Goodman: I think the beauty of bringing those people that are kind of on the front lines or in positions to observe, maybe it’s in the registrar’s office, maybe it’s an administrative assistant or front desk worker at uh you know in your admissions office, maybe it is a social media manager, but I think the beauty of bringing those people along is that when you give them a voice and you truly do listen, they a lot of times have really good ideas. And they want to share are those ideas, they just don’t know the outlet a lot of times. 

I think a lot of times those people end up either being there either the kind of career higher ed workers that have been you know at your institution for 20 years and are just kind of in the flow of everything and how it goes or they’re the super new entry-level, just out of school, and so, either way, they don’t necessarily either have the idea that they’re not going to be listened to And so why try because they’d been beaten down over the last decade-plus, or they’re brand new and they don’t have the confidence to try and speak up. But a lot of times that’s where you see the change right. That’s where you can have an idea about this is the message that needs to go out but the person running social media will be like, well I interact with our community every single day, I think they will do this, maybe we can shift the message. Or you know people have this issue when they walk into our admissions office, maybe if we moved this rack of brochures over to that wall and added a couch or something like that. Like they have ideas, a lot of times. They just don’t know how to share them or feel like they can share them. And it’s like a low-hanging fruit kind of like, it’s a really easy thing to do to just listen to those people and then try to incorporate their ideas. 

But I think like you said it’s you know it’s a leadership challenge. And yeah we wanted to close with one question here for the record.  Where do you think marcomm should belong in the university org chart? And co question with that, what do you think the biggest challenge is for the leaders in those positions? Whether that’s a CMO or a vice president vice chancellor of marketing or you know whoever’s at the kind of top of that organization, what’s the biggest challenge you see right now?

Jaime Hunt: Yeah, so I think marcomm belongs reporting to the president. I think it should be its own unit. I don’t think it should fall under Advancement or some other office. And I’ve been in just about every possible organization, I’ve been at Administrative Services. I’ve been in Advancement. I’ve been in Information Technology. And then I’ve been in the chancellor’s office. And then finally you know at the division of communications and I think that’s growing and changing. I wouldn’t apply for a job that fell within Advancement. To be perfectly honest because I think that’s an outdated model. 

But I think it belongs reporting to the president because there’s so much value that we can bring to the organization. We can be drivers of growth, we can be bridge builders, we can be ombudsmen for our audiences, we can really give insight and into how an action or initiative might be perceived or received by various audiences. We just have a ton of value and we need to have a seat at the table. And I think that as we said earlier, higher ed is so hierarchical, unless that title is vice president or vice-chancellor, it’s not going to have the same weight in the room as the other vice presidents and vice-chancellors will have. 

And it needs to have weight. What we do is so important and it’s not easy. It’s not something just anybody could do. It’s years and years. And we have hundreds of years of expertise among all of the people on my team right now, and let us use that expertise. If you don’t want it then I don’t even know what to say, we should all go help another university that wants to leverage that expertise and that talent, honestly. 

As far as the biggest challenge, I think for me the biggest challenge is constantly staying on top of that voice that we need to have because it will it can slide back so quickly. In my last position when I left, I think I was gone a month, and they had switched back to the menu of services. They switched back to the “just tell us what you want.” And I’ve had former staff call me very upset because they bought into this idea of using our expertise and creating strategic solutions to problems, and now they’re going back to checkboxes. And it’s so disappointing but it’s so easy to do because it’s so much easier. It is so much easier. It’s just not the right thing to do. 

Jon-Stephen Stansel: And I think those two questions kind of intersect really well because so often what happens is this push and pull of I’ve been in marcomm offices that have just skipped from division to division you know. We were under Enrollment Management for a while and Advancement was upset, we weren’t doing enough for them, so when the director of Enrollment Management leaves, that VP will then restructure and Advancement pulls you over. 

And that’s one that’s not a way to run a stable organization you know? But two, when we have so much turnover like that, and especially leadership turnover, before long we’re like well why are you doing it this way again? Oh well somebody from five I think we almost have generations within our universities that there’s just like this generational turnover that’s like every five years. We got to have that stability and it’s almost like NASA’s plans like, Oh we’re going to go to the moon, we’re going to go to Mars. Okay, well new political administration comes in and no we’re not doing any of that, right? There are some things that need to happen on a long long-term course That’s going to outlast whatever leadership is currently in place.

Jaime Hunt: Absolutely I am borrowing from the work of Jamie Ceman at Chapman University. She has a marketing maturity model that I’ve kind of taken and fleshed out a little bit more to work for me and what my purposes are, but part of that is as you’re moving across from a transactional relationship in a marketing office to a really high performing marketing office, part of that’s the culture and the culture of people feeling the ability to give feedback and input and the ability to weigh in. And then the culture of the campus community being receptive to feedback from university communications and marketing on issues. So it talks about operationalizing what you do so that it’s repeatable and it doesn’t rely on one person being in a seat making sure that things happen a certain way. 

And that’s something that I think, it takes time to build that sense of, we’re gonna stick to this even if you’re not in the seat, but it can be undone by the next person that comes in and that’s what that’s just heartbreaking. If you do all this work to build things to be where they need to be and the next person comes in and says no I want a checklist. That’s hard to watch but I think you can immediately see the degradation in the quality of the output and the outcomes of the product when you start to do that. So hopefully the top leadership will see that and say wait a minute what were we doing before that we need to keep doing?  

Joel Goodman: One idea I guess to kind of ensure that work sticks a little bit is when you do, tie all of your operational goals to specific metrics right? Because then that’s one thing you can see. So it may be less about the president or a senior vice president realizing that the quality of design has gone down but more, hey our conversion rate has dropped a ton, or our applicants are not hitting the numbers that we had. What was that change? 

Because when we don’t tie things to those specific metrics it’s very easy to just kind of float. And I think that also a lot of times you know that, that surfaces kind of the posers in marketing from the people that really take it seriously. If you’re an executive or a leadership level marketer that goes in and you’re not tying your stuff to goals it’s going to be very easy for someone to take your job. And higher ed’s finally, after decades and decades, moving this direction. Like I think there’s a warning I think the writing’s on the wall for the folks that aren’t moving towards this aspect of tying data and tying metrics to what their marketing operations are. 

But that but that’s how you can set a legacy right? Because once you once the president sees that you know you have increased inquiries on the website by so much, or click-through rates from ads that are tied directly to conversions on your website, or you know whatever that metric is, if that drops by a little bit, he then or she then can see how it affects the entire business operation of the institution.

Jaime Hunt: Particularly if you’re net tuition revenue-based, that’s a big driver. You’re not getting a bad one bad year can really set you back for you know four years. You have one bad class or one small class and for four years you have that small class and that budget ding throughout the operation. Yeah, I think that’s so, that’s a really good point And that’s part of that maturity model is data reliance. How reliant are you on data? And then also how connected are what you work on to the university’s priorities and the amount of your work that you’re doing that is connected to the strategic goals of the institution? And so if you move everything sort of to the right on that chart to high performing, you’re going to have this really fantastic marketing communications office that is doing really great things, that is leveraging the university’s brand, is just making the place sing, it’s going to be really hard for you to then attract somebody who just wants to kind of be retired in place and do very little when they take on a leadership role. And you attract people who have a keen interest in keeping that going and building on that further.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Jaime, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate you coming on the show where can people find you on Twitter? And do you have anything to plug? What what’s next for you?

Jaime Hunt: So you can find me on Twitter @JaimeHuntIMC. Because I am named after Bionic Woman, it’s spelled J A I M E. And there’s a story there about my parents lying to me for decades about what I was named after.

And I’m also a pretty active user of LinkedIn, you can find me there, same spelling. I don’t really have anything to plug at the moment but I’m happy to connect with people. And I’ve I’m also really happy to do conversations with people if they’re looking to do something like this and just want to pick my brain about stuff. I think that we’re here to help each other and anything I can do to help move in a direction that I think the industry needs to take I’m happy to do. 

Joel Goodman: Thank you so much for listening to the Thought Feeder podcast. If you would like to listen to past episodes you can go to thoughtfeederpod.com or find us on whatever podcasting service you use to listen to episodes of other podcasts. 

We want to thank Jaime Hunt for being on the show today. Jaime thank you so much.