Three Superpowers CMOs Bring to Higher Ed: An Interview With Georgetown’s Chris Kormis


About one-third of universities (35%) have a chief marketing officer (CMO). As CMOs set strategic goals and employ cutting-edge tools, they are affecting the way higher education approaches marketing.

One such marketing leader is Chris Kormis, CMO at the Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Her role as a centralized marketing leader influences the way her school has increased brand awareness and improved marketing strategies.

1. Forming strategic plans

Universities with CMOs are 49% more likely to have a strategic plan than those without them. Kormis’ goal is to raise the visibility of her school by communicating with a variety of audiences: prospective and current students and families, alumni, prospective faculty, employers, and other business leaders.

To accomplish those goals, her team uses traditional marketing and advertising, digital communication, media relations, events, and publications.

A CMO shows that a university prioritizes a consistent brand and clear vision.

“Having a CMO impacts the ways you communicate with your audience and the way you’re measuring the results,” Kormis explains.

The role requires thoughtful planning and execution of the marketing message.

“It’s hard to maintain your brand if you don’t have centralized marketing leadership,” Kormis states. “People in different units see value in their piece of the pie. Having someone at the top looking at the whole pie is important. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

2. Collaborating and communicating

Ownership of the institutional brand across multiple departments is one of the top three roles of a CMO.

Some 24% of higher ed professionals want their schools to improve in maintaining a consistent brand across multiple channels. Because many marketers work under or with a variety of university departments with different audiences, this can pose a challenge.

Kormis sees this as an opportunity: “It’s all about collaboration and communication. You have to work very closely with other departments to accomplish your goals. It’s important to work alongside your organization’s various units to help them reach their goals.”

The CMO sets the overall strategy but must be team-oriented.

“Marketing can’t just be top-down; it must be collaborative,” Kormis states. For example, Kormis’ department works with Admissions to help it reach its target numbers. Marketing gets people interested, and the Admissions department builds the relationships.

3. Taking advantage of marketing technology

Universities with marketing leadership are 21% more likely to use marketing technology.

“Technology helps us evaluate what we’re doing,” Kormis explains. “You’re able to be more agile. You can change direction if you are getting metrics that are not the ones you want.”

One tool that is crucial for Kormis is customer relationship management software. With CRM, marketers can manage contacts with prospective and current students, parents, and alumni.

“We used to have people with multiple Excel spreadsheets all over their desks that tracked similar data,” Kormis said. “With CRM, you can coordinate and track how you are communicating with your constituencies.”

Some of the most popular areas for marketing automation include email marketing, social media management, analytics, and online forms management. By automating these areas, Marketing departments are able to save time and increase productivity. CMOs that employ these tools use technology to nurture relationships and reach their audience.

However, Kormis emphasized that technology is not the goal of marketing. “It is a tool to get the job done, but it’s not the answer to getting the job done,” she explains. “Data will only tell you so much. Personal interactions will tell you what is really important.”

What’s the Future of CMOs in Higher Ed?

CMOs are influencing higher ed with their ability to cast strategic vision and employ technology. Focusing on collaboration will allow CMOs to strengthen their brand and reach their audiences more effectively.

Schools with CMOs are positioned to outperform those that do not have marketing leadership. Kormis believes that universities that have CMOs and centralized marketing are excelling at defining their brand: “That is a much stronger base to come from in marketing.”

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