Friday Five: 1,000 posts and advice to a #highered newbie

A word-picture of all the "Friday Five" posts on this blog (via wordle.net).
A word-picture of all the “Friday Five” posts on this blog (via wordle.net).

Note: Technically, this Friday Five post is showing up on a Thursday. But I wanted to squeeze this post in before this Friday, just in case, you know, that whole Mayan doomsday thing is for real. – AC

Ladies and gentlemen, today’s post marks a milestone for this blog.

Today …. *drumroll* …. marks the publication of my 1,000th entry on Higher Ed Marketing.

That’s 1,000 posts over seven years, one month and 11 days.

I launched Higher Ed Marketing on Nov. 10, 2005, with an inauspicious observation about the rising cost of a degree from one of the nation’s most prestigious public universities. There weren’t many higher ed bloggers in those days. But the subject of that post — the rising cost of a college degree — has continued to provide fodder for higher ed bloggers and commentators in the ensuing 85 months, and that trend is likely to continue.

Last month, soon after I hit “publish” on the 999th entry, I mentioned on Twitter that my next post (this one) would be the 1,000th. Some of my higher ed pals, who share my appreciation of music, suggested that I mark the occasion by rocking out or blathering about the only band that matters. But there’s another space for those discussions — my side project, the collaborative Higher Ed Music Critics blog. (Watch for our collective’s annual “year’s best albums” listing soon.)

Instead, I thought I’d follow the suggestion of Janese Silvey, who suggested in a tweet:

How about advice for people who are getting ready to enter the field ;-) What you wish someone had told you.

Janese has an ulterior motive. Currently a higher ed reporter, she’s about to jump ship and go to work in higher education.

So, to Janese I say, “Welcome.” Higher ed is a great gig. It sounds cliche, but higher education really is about making a positive impact on the world. And as part of a higher ed communications, PR or marketing team, you’ll be contributing to the greater good of the world. Also, exceptional journalists like Janese often make great higher ed PR and marketing types, because 1.) they can write, 2.) they know how to crank out content on deadline, and 3.) their BS detectors are usually very sharp.

The key, once you enter the realm of higher ed, is to not let the system wear you down so that your writing becomes more fatuous and bureaucratic, your adherence to deadlines slips and your BS detectors become dulled by the sheer volume of BS you’re exposed to.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. On to the advice for people who are entering the field of higher ed PR and marketing today.

1. Remember that good writing matters. One of the biggest challenges for communications people in higher education is the tendency to have to deal with verbose, cluttered, unclear, cliche-riddled writing. You’ll probably be working with an admissions chief who wants to cram every possible benefit about your school into a marketing piece, or an administrator who insists on a 2-to-1 adjective-to-noun ratio. You’ll have to fight against the incursion of “world-class” or “best-in-class” faculty or facilities (never “buildings” or “labs”) into your prose. You’ll have to wage war against “innovative” and other meaningless modifiers that will water down your writing. Strive for clarity. Always. But realize you might lose a few battles along the way.

2. Ignore meaningless comparisons. The academy is obsessed with rankings — and not just those found in national news publications. It’s easy to get caught up in the arm’s race of rankings and comparisons. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about it. But one thing you can do is not get caught up in comparisons that affect your day-to-day work. I’m talking about comparing your ad budget, size of staff, workload, salary, reporting structure, etc., to those of others in the business. You should have known what you were getting into when you signed on for the gig. And if you spend too much time thinking about other schools, departments, professionals, and how they have more resources than you, pretty soon you’ll start focusing inequities among institutions and individuals. From there, it’s easy to start thinking that the institution owes you something more than you’re getting. (Trust me. I’ve fallen down this rabbit hole before.) But in reality, you signed up for the gig. No one forced you to take this job, right? Life isn’t fair, and that’s that.

But I don’t advocate ignoring comparisons altogether — only the meaningless or fruitless ones. Sometimes they’re not so meaningless. If the powers that be pay attention to national rankings and surveys, or reputable publications, such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, you can and sometimes should use their reports and data to help your cause for more staffing, better pay or a bigger budget.

3. Be data-driven. Yeah, I know that “data-driven” is one of those cliches I warned against in point 1, above. (But I also said you wouldn’t win every battle in the war against obfuscation. Sometimes you have to use the terms that have currency.) What I mean by this is to embrace the world of analytics and data in order to make decisions that are based on facts and research. Too often in higher education, we continue to rely on assumption or instinct. You’re likely to sit in on meetings in which administrators claim that “everybody else is doing” whatever might be in vogue these days, or that “we’re the best-kept secret” in higher education. (God, how I loathe the term “best-kept secret.”) But as my friend and fellow blogger Tim Nekritz recently pointed out, the era of data-driven decision-making is here — or soon should be, if we could get academic leaders to pay more attention to data and research and worry less about what the campus across the state is doing that we aren’t. If you focus on data and research to guide your planning and decision-making, you will be better able to focus on getting stuff done rather than chasing the latest bright, shiny object (as another fellow higher ed blogger, Michael Stoner, puts it).

4. Build networks. Not just social networks, although Twitter has been a terrific way for me to connect with other higher ed folks across the globe. And by connecting to others in higher ed via Twitter — like the aforementioned Tim Nekritz (@TimNekritz) and Michael Stoner (@mstonerblog), you’ll learn a lot. Plus, it’s great fun when you make a connection with Twitter pals in real life. You feel like you already know them. But don’t ignore flesh-and-blood contacts. Build networks on your campus, too — with co-workers, faculty and staff, alumni. And most importantly, with students.

5. Share. Your talents. Your expertise. Your time. Give back. Get involved with the higher ed world’s professional organizations, such as CASE, UCDA or HighEdWeb, and volunteer to help with conference planning, logistics, registration, etc. You’ll get to meet some great people and you’ll find it all very rewarding.

Those are my five top pieces of advice. I’ll probably think of some other things after I post this. In the meantime, maybe some readers will share their advice in the comments.

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

8 thoughts on “Friday Five: 1,000 posts and advice to a #highered newbie”

  1. Andy,

    I’m relieved that I’m still here to write and congratulate you on your 1,000th post: quite an achievement! Congratulations!

    As I read this again, I realized that this is good advice for a newbie, or someone at mid-career, or even a reminder for those of us who have been around for a while: the reminder to write clearly and eschew jargon never hurts. And thanks for the shoutout!

    May you and Dy have joyous holidays.

    Michael

  2. Thanks for the words of reflection, Andrew. Your winter solstice blog has great content and as usual, janother example of your vision, persistence, and consistency. Keep doing what you are doing and we look forward to seeing your 2,000th post in the years ahead. Best wishes this holiday season.

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