A number of years ago, I did a presentation called “Higher Education’s Web Offenses” at a HighEdWeb conference. I used one of my favorite Mark Twain pieces, Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses, as the basis for my presentation. The point I tried to make was that colleges and universities were still (in the mid 2000s) leaving important business decisions to unqualified amateurs. Yet it’s 2013 and we’re still expecting amateurs to make important business decisions.
It’s not just that they can’t write
We’ve tried cajoling, browbeating and bribery. But the simple fact of the matter is that most people cannot write. I see more evidence every day than I care to admit. Why we continue to let people who cannot construct a sentence, let alone a paragraph, write our most important business communications is beyond me.
But the real problem is that we’re in the business of copywriting, even if we don’t want to admit it. I’ve been working in higher ed for 20 years and I am very familiar with with just how anathema “marketing” is to the faculty; the reality we must not just face but embrace is that we are selling a product.
There is no cultural relativism
Where mere description was more than sufficient 15 years ago, we must go above and beyond now. We are not competing on a level playing field of peers: our content, our sites are viewed in the context of all sites on the internet. Our readers expect our sites to be on par with the best-produced, well-funded, and best-written sites out there.
Expecting a department secretary to be an expert copywriter isn’t cognitive dissonance, it’s suicide.
You need a full team
I’m preaching to the choir here: your core web marketing/communications team should include a copywriter, designer, information architect, content strategist, and photographer. I know: I’m way off the deep end.
You can skimp on some of these requirements if you have a CMS with well-designed templates: that’ll reduce your need for a designer and information architect. Depending on the capabilities of your CMS, you’ll still need someone with some design skill: individual pages and subwebs within your site will require some design work with the CMS tools.
Can you get by without a photographer? Maybe. Do you have a deep and very current library of professional images? My guess is likely not. What about your students? Do you have an art department? Journalism or communications major? Chances are real good that you have several students on campus who’d love to do a photography internship.
That leaves us with the copywriter and the content strategist. The core of your website is the writing. You must have the best copywriter you can afford. Retrain the writer(s) you have, if necessary. By hook or by crook, your writers must shift gears and embrace copywriting. Your school cannot afford the alternative.