Trends and Issues in Higher Ed

October 19, 2017

The Foster School of Business: When centralizing services leads to widely shared benefits

Eric Nobiss
The new model has helped us establish the Foster brand as an extension of the UW’s excellent reputation. It’s also allowed us to focus on the ‘customer experience’ — for prospects, students, alumni, recruiters, donors and our programs’ staff.”

—Eric Nobis, managing director of Marketing and communications at the Foster School of Business

Centralization can sometimes produce similar benefits to a shared services model — especially, when the priority is to reach more customers with improved service.

The challenge: Decentralized marketing and communications services led to inconsistency and confusion

Before 2008, marketing and communications were separate entities in the Foster School with independent reporting lines and goals. Most of Foster’s programs had their own web editors, as well as someone on staff serving in at least a partial marketing capacity.

As programs ran direct mail and advertising campaigns to recruit prospective students, there was a lot of room for confusion. Communications with prospective students sometimes overlapped, web standards were difficult to establish, and navigation across programs was uneven. This made it more difficult for prospects to look at multiple programs — and for the separate units to function efficiently.

Access to services was also uneven for the programs themselves. Revenue-generating programs could fund in-house marketing and communications needs, but others had fewer resources to do so — often, the same programs that could benefit most from a dedicated marketing team.

Paccar Hall January 2017 winter campus shot

Paccar Hall

The solution: Build an internal marketing and communications “agency”

Staff in the marketing and communications units worked together to brainstorm how to best combine and improve services. With support from the dean, they decided to consolidate everything from the website to advertising, video production and market intelligence into one centrally supported Marketing & Communications unit.

To make the shift, the units merged under a single director who reports to the Associate Dean for Advancement. Advertising was paired with visual brand management to establish a consistent look and feel for outbound communications. Website management was transferred to an online marketing team to structure and support the community of web editors across Foster. They centralized web content creation, editing and theming services, and shifted responsibilities so that their multimedia producer could focus more on video production and tell more of Foster’s stories, from web features to marketing pitches, via video.

The team makes market intelligence more accessible, allowing programs to use information — such as demand for various degrees and the factors driving rankings — for future planning. In addition, they now do comprehensive advertising, recruitment campaigns, social media, communication plans and publication of Foster Business magazine. They create and execute marketing plans at the school, program and center levels that benefit all Foster’s programs.

The benefits: Service at greater scale with a smaller, nimble team

The team today is smaller, and yet they complete more, larger-scale projects. Since the new unit is centrally-supported, individual programs don’t need to build in marketing and communications capacities; all programs have access to the team’s improved services. “Centralization means we have a shared opportunity for the rest of the school — we can be shared further afield,” says Eric Nobis, managing director of Marketing and Communications at Foster.

For example, the Consulting and Business Development Center connects student consulting teams to local businesses. The program provides low-cost marketing services to minority- and women-owned businesses, and a real-world practicum for students. Foster’s centralized team now handles the program’s marketing and promotion at a scale that would have been previously unaffordable. These services bring in more support for the program — and by extension, the local community.

Foster’s work-compatible MBA programs also benefit from the team’s new approach. The four programs have revenue-generating need; they also often compete for students in the same market. Now, marketing and recruitment efforts can be more consistent, targeted and efficient, since they are all being executed by the same team.

Unlike conventional shared services models, the team’s coverage of services across Foster doesn’t lend itself to individual partnership-level agreements with clients, or to setting shared goals and values at the start of each service relationship. “The shared aspect to the new model is, primarily, the enabling of a broader set of clients than we otherwise could have,” says Nobis. And, as with shared services, the team is “really steeped in what they’re doing,” he says. Now, that expertise can reach programs, staff and students across Foster.