The future is fractional: A new paradigm in school marketing

There is a problem that is deeply ingrained into the structural fabric of Australia’s independent school sector. Schools need high-level marketing support, but only a few of the largest schools can access this type of talent. A concept borrowed from the commercial world might be the answer.

In corporations, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) oversees marketing, brand strategies and communication. However, the ‘Fractional CMO’ is a relatively new iteration of the role, gaining prominence over the past decade.

With the rise of digital media and the importance of brand strategy, the role of the CMO evolved into a more holistic position encompassing a broader range of responsibilities. The 2000s saw a surge in the gig economy. Professionals were seeking flexible work arrangements and companies wanted expert skills without committing to full-time hires. This created a fertile ground for the inception of new roles like the Fractional CMO. The rate of technology-driven change in the communications and marketing sector meant that the Fractional CMOs, often working with multiple companies, became seen as a way to tap into a broader knowledge base without a full-time commitment.

The 2010s witnessed a boom in start-ups and small businesses. These entities needed expert marketing leadership but couldn’t afford or justify a full-time CMO. The Fractional CMO became a solution by providing strategic guidance without the long-term commitment. The recognition of the need for strategic flexibility — the nimbleness to pivot based on market conditions — further powered the growth of the Fractional CMO.

But how does this trend relate to education?

‘Fractional CMOs’ in education

Factors like the swift evolution of digital marketing and the rise of the gig economy spearheaded the introduction of Fractional CMOs to both the corporate realm and the North American tertiary sector.

With higher education institutions facing increasing competition, budgetary constraints and the necessity for agile marketing strategies, the idea of a Fractional CMO became a compelling solution. Smaller colleges and universities, in particular, saw significant value in this flexible model.

“The digital marketing environment is changing so fast that it’s a challenge for full-time CMOs to keep up, much less someone who’s strapped with those responsibilities on the side,” says Bart Caylor, President of Indianapolis-based education marketing agency, Caylor Solutions.

At imageseven, we have long observed that communication and marketing trends emerging in smaller United States tertiary institutions typically manifest in Australia within a three to seven-year window — and the time gap is getting shorter every year. This suggests that the potential for an Australian iteration, a Fractional Director of Marketing or Fractional Director of Advancement, will gain traction among Australian schools in the next few years.

How does it work?

Within a school setting, a Fractional Director of Marketing operates as a strategic linchpin, connecting the dots between the school’s goals and its communication and marketing strategies.

  • They are engaged on a part-time or fixed term basis, which creates the flexibility required for the school.
  • They bring their expertise to bear on the school’s challenges and opportunities with a particularly focused approach.
  • They work collaboratively with the school’s leadership, admissions, alumni relations and other key departments, ensuring a cohesive marketing message.
  • They leverage data-driven insights, refine and adapt marketing initiatives to resonate with prospective families, current parents, alumni and the wider community.

The important difference to be recognised by Australian Heads is the leverage they can now bring to their leadership using a Fractional Director of Marketing who offers the expertise and agility to navigate the dynamic landscape of school communication and marketing, without the long-term commitment of a full-time role.

Why this might be right for your school

Expertise access: Partnering with a Fractional Director of Marketing grants schools top-tier marketing knowledge without the commitment of a full-time salary. Such professionals offer fresh strategies, ensuring your school’s messaging remains dynamic and relevant.

Budget optimisation: Every dollar matters. A Fractional Director critically assesses current strategies, suggesting modifications for better outcomes. Their grasp on digital landscapes means your budget is utilised effectively.

Alignment with your school’s mission, vision and strategy: The role ensures your branding aligns with the school’s ethos. By understanding the school’s objectives, from enrolments to brand identity, all marketing activities resonate with the overarching goals.

Adaptability to rapid change: The pace at which the marketing realm evolves is rapid. imageseven estimates the change in marketing (particularly marketing technology) occurring in one term is similar to the change educationalists see in curriculum and pedagogy in five years. A Fractional Director of Marketing, with experiences across institutions and even across industries, is well-placed to adapt to emerging trends, tools and strategies, ensuring the school is always at the forefront.

Cross-departmental collaboration: Beyond just marketing, these experts foster cohesion between departments – from admissions to alumni engagement. Their holistic approach amplifies the effectiveness of the entire school community.

Data-driven decision making: Leveraging data to make informed decisions is vital in today’s digital age. A Fractional Director of Marketing, equipped with analytical skills and tools, can measure the impact of marketing initiatives, refine strategies and ensure a higher return on investment.

Tailored messaging: Given their broad experience, a Fractional Director of Marketing can effectively tailor the school’s messaging to different audience segments, ensuring resonance with prospective students, parents,\ and other stakeholders.

Risk management: Engaging a Fractional Director of Marketing minimises long-term commitments and associated risks. Schools can leverage expert guidance during crucial periods without the constraints of a permanent position.

Fresh perspective: An external expert often brings a fresh set of eyes to existing challenges. They can identify overlooked opportunities and provide solutions from their diverse experience across different educational environments.

Continuous learning and training: Apart from crafting strategies, a Fractional Director of Marketing often acts as a mentor, ensuring that the in-house marketing team is updated with the latest skills and knowledge, fostering a culture of continuous learning.

What this means for you

Australian school Heads are at the forefront of an evolving educational landscape. The emergence of the Fractional Director of Marketing provides an opportunity to access top-tier marketing expertise flexibly. Considering this concept represents a commitment to forward-thinking leadership. It’s not just about updating marketing strategies; it’s about understanding the future direction of education and positioning your school for long-term success.

insight applied

  • Fractional Directors of Marketing offer high-level marketing without full-time commitments.
  • Schools can access top-tier expertise and remain budget-conscious.
  • Rapid marketing evolution demands adaptable leadership.
  • External Fractional Directors bring fresh perspectives to challenges.
Brad Entwistle is the Founding Partner of imageseven. Since 1990, he has led his team on a mission to amplify the impact of schools by working directly with school Heads, tailoring solutions to maximise their communication and marketing effectiveness.

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