Advancement or Admissions?
If you are considering a major branding initiative for your institution, should advancement or admissions take the lead?
The short answer is that both should be included. Brand work by its nature is comprehensive. It concerns the image of an institution and takes into account all audiences, both internal and external.
Depending on your circumstances, however, you might have one or the other take the lead. If your major concern is enrollment shortfalls, then you’re obviously going to give priority to admissions. But note, admissions and fundraising audiences are fundamentally different: Admissions audiences have little or no prior awareness of your institution. The challenge is to strain the distinctive appeal of your institution through the fine sieve of admissions attention spans and limited ability to understand what life is actually like at your institution.
Advancement audiences are the ones who know your institution, either as current parents, friends, or alumni. Messaging challenges are very different. At the very least, if you are going to prioritize admissions audiences, you need to make sure that your friends, alumni, and supporters recognize their experience in your new image. In the long run, you are going to need their goodwill as well as improved admissions performance to thrive.
Here’s a quick rule-of-thumb: If your institution is mainly in need of healing – if faculty and staff say you lack a clear vision, if fundraising under performs, if, God forbid, you suffer from significant attrition – then most likely advancement should take the lead in your branding initiative. The alumni, with their pride in the institution, will be your rudder, and attitudes of current students, faculty, staff, and parents will all be critical. If people love your institution but there are not enough bodies, then lead with admissions. But make sure you incorporate all the other audiences as well, since the power of brand work comes through shared vision.
Either admissions or advancement can take the lead but do not under any circumstances leave the other out.