10 ways that education advancement has changed in 10 years

By Posted in - 10th birthday & Advancement on August 7th, 2017 0 Comments

Today marks the official 10th birthday of Pickle Jar Communications. That is, the day when I incorporated and therefore officially formed the company.

To mark our 10th anniversary, every day this week I’m going to be sharing my own reflections on 10 things that I’ve witnessed, learned or predict from 10 years of leading this company. Today, I start by sharing 10 ways that I think advancement in the education sector has changed.

1. Professionalisation and recognition

While we have some way to go, in 2017 advancement is firmly rooted as a proper profession in the education sector, especially communications. The schools sector is a little further behind in this regard, but in universities communications isn’t only regarded as a profession and recognised as an expert specialism, but it is increasingly given a seat at the top table.

2. Scale and scope

In 2003 I was offered a job at a UK university to join their marketing and communications team. Including alumni relations, the entire function consisted of no more than about six people. A few weeks ago I returned to that same university to deliver a talk to everyone that works in communications, marketing and other advancement professions. There were over 100 people in the room.

3. Digital first

When I started the company in 2007, digital communications was often an afterthought. Press releases would just be whacked on the website as it is, people would panic to get information about an event on the website, our social channels would just share re-hashed versions of content created for other channels, and we’d just throw pdfs of print publications online just because we could (some still do, please stop – or worse still those horrendous flip-book-style digital experiences *shudders*). In 2017, that has mostly flipped on its head, though there’s a way to go yet.

4. Embracing social

One of the biggest shifts that I’ve witnessed is in our attitudes to social media as a means of engagement, and a key tool for communications professionals. In 2007 when I started delivering workshops that covered trends in social technologies, the question I was asked most frequently was “how can we stop people talking about us online?” Now that question is “how can we get people to talk about us online?”

5. Rise of development

This is a slightly UK-centric view here, as in some parts of the world, especially North America, development as a profession was already well established. But certainly in the UK, and some parts of mainland Europe, we’ve seen a major rise in the development profession in education, and – most notably – the growth in professionalism and professional development in this field.

6. Marketing is for all

In 2007 I would work with many universities that didn’t have a single person with the word “marketing” in their job title. This was particularly true of more selective universities, and schools that needed to “do marketing” would often bolt it on as a job for the headteacher’s PA. Now even leading universities recognise the need for marketing as a discipline in their advancement teams. Complacency has lessened.

7. Embracing brand

Alongside the rise of marketing as a profession, we’ve inevitably also seen an acceptance of education institutions as brands. 10 years ago, the word “brand” was considered by some in education as a dirty word. But while we’ve embraced the concept, we’re still not doing a great job of moving towards differentiation and in our content strategy work we have to work hard to help organisations think about how to bring their brand to life.

8. Customer service

If “brand” was a dirty word in 2007, then “customer” was the most filthy and abhorrent thing imaginable to some. And to some, perhaps it still is. But a recognition of our students, supporters, partners and communities as “customers” has started to bring about a marked shift in communications and a deeper appreciation of an audience-first approach to communications.

9. Internal communications

Alongside that acceptance of some of our audiences as “customers”, we’ve also seen a growth in the internal communications profession. When I started working at the University of Warwick in 2002, there was already an internal communications officer in the team. But this was extremely rare. Now, not only do we have internal communications professionals, but we’re seeing a rise in the role of the student communications officer. This is long overdue in my opinion.  

10. Measurement and evaluation

Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs) were still happily being accepted as a measure of communications performance in 2007. Now, talk of AVEs as a credible metric and you probably ought to be put on performance measures, or sacked. But we’re certainly seeing a rise in awareness of the need to measure and evaluate work in advancement in a meaningful way, and I welcome that challenge with our clients.

We’ve still a long way to go as we evolve and develop the advancement profession and work towards being seen by all as a function of strategic leadership in the education sector. As the profession evolves further in the next decade I’m confident that we’ll make great strides forward. And so, that’s the topic of tomorrow’s blog post as I’ll make predictions about the 10 things that I expect to see change in education advancement in the next 10 years.

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