To improve program launch success, give marketing a voice

How FIU Online became a strategic partner in the program launch process

Most institutions have formal, multistage program development and approval processes that involve stakeholders across campus, but too often marketing leaders get involved only after a program receives final approval for launch.

Even at institutions where marketing is involved earlier in program development, faculty members may not fully understand or trust marketing’s expertise and understanding of the prospective student profile. Marketers may use too much technical language to communicate their value and insights, losing their academic partners in the process.

The most detrimental challenge to program launch, however, is that the informal collaborative networks and processes in place at many institutions hold no one individual or group ultimately responsible or accountable for program success.

Read the full study: Marketing Across the Program Lifecycle

Setting pre-launch expectations for program performance

Marketing and academic teams often have different expectations about whether, when, and how the marketing team should be involved in new program development. Unit and program leaders should consider the marketing team as a strategic partner in the program development and launch process, rather than an end-stage service provider.

Florida International University’s shared services marketing and recruiting team, FIU Online, has codified this position through a mandatory, marketing-led bootcamp that brings together all program and unit stakeholders at least six months in advance of a new online program launch to discuss the launch logistics and expectations.

Professionalized Program Launch Process

Professionalized Program Launch Process 

To ensure that FIU’s academic departments and programs don’t turn to external vendors for marketing support, FIU Online’s team uses this professionalized, standardized bootcamp process to position itself as the go-to marketing expert on campus. Prior to the expectation-setting bootcamp, the team conducts extensive market research and meets with department leadership to ensure faculty commitment and buy-in to the partnership. Within the bootcamp session itself, every stakeholder involved in the program listens to the marketing and recruiting team present financial projections, solicit enrollment targets, and walk through a detailed timeline of launching an online program.

To ensure accountability, all new online program launches must adhere to this bootcamp process or lose marketing support and investment from the team. This accountability is codified in a formal memorandum of understanding (MOU).

MOU sets expectations and ensures accountability across teams

Following the bootcamp’s completion, FIU Online’s marketing and recruiting team requires all parties to sign a memorandum of understanding, which lays out each group’s expectations and responsibilities for successful program launch. The MOU stipulates a number of conditions:

  • A consistent main point of contact within the academic unit
  • Faculty participation in a questionnaire designed to solicit marketing-specific program insights
  • Minimum and maximum enrollment targets to prevent last-minute program cancellations

MOU Sets Expectations and Codifies Accountability

MOU Sets Expectations and Codifies Accountability 

Though the formal nature of the MOU may not fit with the processes and culture found at some COE units, many COE leaders find the document helps to increase accountability and collective trust between academic and marketing partners. This helps solidify the campus community’s perception of marketing as a strategic partner in program development and launch rather than simply an end-stage service provider.

Additional benefits: Fewer failed program launches

The bootcamp and MOU not only educate on-campus stakeholders and academic partners about marketing’s crucial role in new program development, but also serve as critical milestones to minimize the risk of expensive failed program launches. Ineffective collaboration, misaligned expectations, and loose accountability can have devastating consequences in the program launch process:

Last-minute program cancellation
Prior to the bootcamp process, COE and program leaders had fully developed and approved a curriculum for a new online BBA in Management Information Systems. They had even started to accept and approve applications to the program, but faculty leaders were unable to develop the courses in time and had to delay the program’s start. The bootcamp process could have ensured that the academic unit had the resources in place to offer the program on time.

Last-minute program cancellation
In another example, program leadership decided to cancel the start of a new Master of International Business program due to lower-than-expected enrollments. Unfortunately, FIU Online had already invested $56,000 of its own budget in the promising program. The minimum enrollment targets stipulated in the MOU could have prevented this last-minute cancellation.

Aborted program launches deplete marketing’s scarce resources and damage unit brand perception and reputation in the market. FIU Online’s formalized program launch process and MOU now serve to prevent such expensive missteps.

Bootcamp and MOU Prevent Misunderstanding

Bootcamp and MOU Prevent Misunderstanding

More from the COE Forum

Once a program has launched successfully, marketing plays a major role in recruiting students for that program. Today's students are more web savvy than ever and increasingly research programs online rather than reach out proactively. Learn how one COE unit used live chat to engage these stealth shoppers. Download the study excerpt

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Marketing Across the Program Lifecycle

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