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Guest post: What Higher Education Can Learn from Political Communications (or, what not to do)

I’ve asked my friend Amanda Adolph, a higher education strategist, to share her wisdom on marketing and strategy.  Below, her thoughts:
I recently got fed up with my preferred United States Senate candidate, and fired off a an e-mail responding to his campaign’s third request for contributions in one day (the 19th for the month):
“One time, just one time, send an email that isn’t a solicitation. Tell me what you will do for [the state], don’t just ask for contributions. I receive so many emails from your campaign asking urgently for money that it has completely turned me off. Believe me, I don’t want [your opponent] to be my senator, but this repeated urgency to donate for TV and other ads sums up how wrong the political process is today.”
Admittedly, I get a bit hot and bothered about political communications. I react viscerally to them. I turn them off when they come on TV; I ignore them on the web.  But as a long-time higher education marketer – one who has written plenty of mass e-mails – I thought I would take a minute to reflect on this as it relates to our work.
And it made me wonder, are we always asking (begging?) in our communications? Or are we giving? Are we providing valuable information, insights or opportunities for engagement? Do we know our audiences and what moves them to a mutually beneficial action? Or are we showing – through our communications – that we are only self-interested? In this example, the most obvious desired outcome is a campaign contribution; and in the case of our institutions or organizations it is, perhaps, a request for a donation, to attend an event, to enroll, to buy merchandise.
And what do these communications, taken together over time, reveal about values?
My candidate’s constant messaging tells me he wants to keep up with the other guy. He has ad envy. He wants to spend more. He wants visibility through bigger media buys, because the other guy has them and he thinks that is the way he will win the election. I am not so sure. In this case, he probably can’t raise enough. Not if he keeps asking me for $5 and $10 donations.
I’d be more convinced – and likely to contribute – if he engaged me by communicating his positions, by outlining his aspirations for his role in the Senate, his vision for the state and the nation. By focusing on the impact he wants to have, and not the activity it will take to win.  Or what the other guys is raising.
We in higher education communications make this mistake as well.  We focus on the number of times we communicate with alumni or prospective students. The number of press releases we distribute and the amount of media attention we receive. As the new academic year gets underway, perhaps we can consider the quality of our interactions as an outcome metric as opposed to the quantity. In the end, that approach is likely to get us closer to making a real difference, in the lives of our institutions and the lives of our communities.
And no, I haven’t heard back from his campaign staff.
— Amanda Adolph Fore consults with higher education and nonprofit clients on organizational strategy, marketing, and communications. Reach her at @amandaadolph