You did WHAT??? Experimenting with marketing and communications in the education sector

By Posted in - Experiment & Higher Education on August 4th, 2015 0 Comments

If there’s one thing that in over a decade of working with the education sector I have never come to accept, it’s our resistance to be truly experimental in our marketing and communications. And so goes our blog theme for the month of August as we turn our attention to provide insights and guidance on being more experimental in your work.

My frustration isn’t simply a matter of irritation that, as a whole, the education sector generally is pretty risk adverse in our approaches to communications. Instead, my frustration is borne of the incongruity that on the one hand the very essence of our sector is innovation, experimentation and advancing the human state, while on the other hand we sit and worry that we’re going to offend or fail if we challenge the norms of communications practice or a long-embedded sense of what is “proper”.

To advance the human state, to develop inquiring minds, to conceive of and implement world-changing research, we must challenge and – indeed – experiment. The very best academics experiment, the very best teachers experiment. So why is it that marketers and communicators working in education often feel restrained in our ability to experiment?


CC Image, Lightbulb Experiments 02, courtesy of *vlad* on Flickr 

When we’re working with our clients to develop strategies, one of the most important things that we seek to understand is the culture of risk taking and attitudes to experimentation within each organisation with whom we work. Through workshops and stakeholder interviews some of the phrases that we hear most frequently and consistently are “risk averse”, “blame culture”, and “it won’t get signed off”, and many other such statements that indicate a fear of, or barriers to experimentation.

But are these real barriers or simply perceived barriers to experimentation? For every junior member of staff that tells me “it won’t get signed off”, I equally hear as many senior managers despairingly telling me “I just don’t think my team experiments enough.” I’m therefore not always convinced that the culture is the thing holding us back, but instead it is often our own individual fear of diving into the unknown. Maybe, just maybe, we use “culture” as an excuse to disguise our own fears.

At Pickle Jar, sometimes our work seeks to move our clients along, fostering a culture of taking more risks. At other times, we work within the parameters of a risk-averse culture and develop strategies and plans that are comfortable to the culture of that organisation. It’s often a fine line to tread, and sometimes an organisation just isn’t ready to leap into extravagant experiments.

Throughout the month of August, our blog will explore ways in which you can become more experimental in your marketing and communications. We’ll hear views from our friends and colleagues working in-house in the education sector, we’ll recommend approaches that you can try and highlight examples of experimental approaches in education marketing and communications.

If you’d like to share either your greatest successes or failures from an experimental approach to marketing and communications in your university, college or school, or want help to become more experimental, then we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line at, tweet us @picklejar or tweet me directly @tracyplayle.


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