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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

IT vs. Marketing

20 Dec 2012

written by Mike McCready


When I moved into web management for a higher education institution, our web department was in IT.  Shortly after I started, our department moved into Advancement.  Even before that move, I began positioning the activities of the web team into a marketing-focused approach – implementing an appropriate analytics package, identifying clear conversion goals, focusing on the user experience, using online marketing tools and more.

I recently started at a new institution as the manager of marketing and web development, so the management of the institution’s website is the responsibility of marketing.  But who really “owns” the website?  I mean, the servers and access points to the website are likely managed by IT, but the experience and message is likely managed by your marketing department.  It’s this question that has caused this never-ending “turf war” to exist in higher education.

The answer to the question – “who owns the website” – the entire institution does.  The department that happens to be assigned responsibility to manage it is simply a steward – not unlike the Steward of Gondor in Lord of the Rings (OK, too geeky?).

If your department is tasked with managing your institution’s website, you need the support and collaboration of ALL departments on campus.  Unfortunately, one of the most critical partnerships, is often the hardest to form because of this “turf war.”

In many schools, IT and marketing are like oil and water or cats and dogs.  You may chalk the aversion to each other to the fact that marketing and IT have different goals.  IT is typically concerned with stability and security, while marketing tends to focus on pushing the envelope.

The truth is: marketing and IT share the same goals, they just have different ways of achieving them.

Does your institution have a strategic plan?  Are there 3-5 strategic priorities identified in that plan?  If so, those priorities are the same for every department.

What are this risks?

If your institution’s marketing and IT departments act as described above and the relationship is allowed to run it’s course, there are risks to be aware of.

The outcome of this scenario (if left unchecked) is almost always the same: rogue behavior.

At a smaller institution (4,000 students), we pushed to have the institutional website hosted externally because we wanted control.  We wanted this control, not because we wanted extra work, but because we didn’t think IT understood marketing or our needs.

While we thought we won and IT probably thought that they won because they got a thorn removed and had less work, we actually all lost.

Even though we went with a managed hosting environment, there were still very many tasks that we had to do, which would have been done by IT (eg. backups, monitoring, etc.).  And while IT now has less work to do, it opens up unnecessary security risks, adds extra levels of complexity and limits functionality.  Ultimately, this scenario, born from misunderstanding, continues to foster the underlying issue and limits the institution ability to be innovative.

How to bridge the gap

I’m a firm believer that in organizations, it’s difficult to trust people that you don’t know.  It’s this trust that is critical in bridging the gap between IT and marketing.

One of my goals in my new role is to liaison more with IT.  As our two departments work closer together, we’ll have opportunities understand each other and build trust and credibility.

Here are some tips that you can use to bridge the gap between IT and marketing:

  • Don’t assume the IT is out to thwart your work – give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Ask to have your web developer attend IT’s department meetings on a regular basis. This will help build rapport.
  • Involve IT early on in the discussion of a new project.  No one likes to be handed a project and told to make it work.

What are some strategies that have helped you successfully work with IT departments?

Photo Credit: Edgecote 2012 Battle by sandyraidy

The content of this post is licensed: The post is released under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa 3.0 license

About the author

Mike McCready

Mike is the Manager of Marketing & Web Development at NorQuest College. Mike has over 14 years in web communications with the last five years focusing on higher education digital marketing. He has developed and facilitated workshops for government, higher education and business organizations around the topics of social media marketing/governance and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

This post was written by - who has written 4 posts on .eduGuru

  • Rick Noel, eBiz ROI, Inc.

    Internet marketing is where marketing and IT come together supporting one another. While some solutions have taken the website and online marketing out from under IT, there will always be a role for IT, albeit evolved.

    You are right Mike when you say it is the entire organization that owns the website which is still the cornerstone of an organization’s online marketing efforts.. Having collaboration between marketing and IT makes life better for members of both organizations Thanks for sharing.

  • Erik Hagen

    I highly recommend having regular meetings between IT and Marketing. We’ve been doing this for a few years, and it not only opens the lines of communication but helps both groups understand each others needs and challenges.

  • Kyle James

    Mike, As you know I spent time in both higher ed IT and Marketing. In your example above I’m going to play devil’s advocate a little. I honestly think for most “smallerish” non research public institutions external hosting is absolutely the way to go. I’ve fought, and backed off, in the past that all institutions should be this way and here is why. You say that it opens up security risks, adds layers of complexity and limits functionality but I could easily argue that going external actually helps all of those. A hosting company that manages websites 24/7 can probably hire a better security expert than you can because of scale and repetition advantages, you have less complexity because it is possible to access the server more easily from anywhere without having to setup extra complex firewalls to get to it from the outside and you increase functionality because now if you need extra resources or bandwidth or whatever you can just upgrade your service. Also don’t forget the advantage of redundancy and backups in the cloud where you probably won’t need local backups that if a major disaster hit campus might destroy everything for you anyway.

    Like I said I’m playing devils advocate on one specific scenario here but it’s been a soap box topic of mine for a while and I saw an opening.

    The big takeaway… Communication is HUGE!

  • Mike McCready

    Rick & Erik, I’m glad that you guys recognize the importance of collaboration between IT and Marketing. I still come across people (from both camps) that have this predisposition to not trust or be frustrated with the other department.

    Kyle, you’re absolutely right that there are benefits for smaller colleges to outsource the hosting of the websites. When I mentioned complexities, I was thinking of my experience where our website was externally hosted, but also sent emails. We had to go through a back and forth process with our hosting provider and IT to have our SPF records updated to allow the IP address of the computer hosting our website to send on behalf of our main domain.

    If done correctly, and not to spite IT or because IT isn’t doing what you want, externally hosting can be extremely valuable. But even when that happens, consistent communications is critical.

    Thanks for all your comments.

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