When it comes to stakeholder engagement, it can be overwhelming to say the least.

Who to approach at the institution? How to articulate your proposal in the most effective way? How to get buy-in for complex strategies? And, how to manage the working relationship once you get stakeholders on board? We get it, it can be daunting. But once you learn the basics, building and maintaining strong partnerships can be one of the most rewarding aspects of student marketing. We’ve put together some top tips to help you manage critical relationships and foster strong engagement from your stakeholders. 

Identifying and engaging key stakeholders

First things first. How to go about identifying who the key stakeholders are? Researching the institution to learn about the different teams and committees is always a good place to start. There will be the decision makers, budget holders and those responsible for designing the brief, so getting to know the various teams and key players is crucial. And, if you have researched and investigated what they have done previously, this will instantly put you one step ahead. You will have an idea of what your contacts are looking for, whilst also being able to add your own spin. 

It is also worth finding out about the sign off process and the different gates you will have to go through, so you are prepared for all stages. For instance, if the final stage is gaining buy-in from the directors, do you have enough facts and data to back up your ideas? When it comes to getting the higher-ups on board, nothing goes further than solid facts and reasoning in articulating your proposal. 

After the events of the last year, face-to-face meetings are less frequent, and often exchanges take place over email. Be prepared to put a good amount of work into your reports. Where before you might have been able to fall back on your charisma to win approval, you will now have to make sure your proposal is just as memorable. 

Don’t work in silos 

When it comes to engaging stakeholders, it can be difficult to find a language that everyone in an institution can understand. Often, there is not a centralised marketing strategy, and teams work in silos. Therefore, it is important to articulate the request in the language the person will understand, whether that’s for the benefit of the finance or the creative team. 

Ultimately, in order to achieve efficiency and clarity, all teams in an institution should be working together on the student journey. Fragmentation between teams can cause confusion. Not only do the marketing and advertising teams need to be included in the recruitment strategy, but all key stakeholders across the company from the top down should be involved. 

Why not get academics involved with the creative strategy and messaging? They are subject matter experts, so use their insights by getting them involved with the promotion of the programme. The more stakeholders on board, the more robust the strategy will be. 

Relationship styles 

Managing critical relationships requires a solid understanding of your audience. We touched on the importance of prior research earlier, but how does this affect your working relationships?

Once you know more about your stakeholders and their expectations, adjusting your approach accordingly will go a long way. When it comes to managing relationships, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. 

Generally, there are three main styles of partnership. Some stakeholders are looking for a collaborative approach. They see the working relationship as a partnership, and there will be constant ideas going back and forth as you try different things together. 

On the other side, you will have stakeholders who will strictly be after reporting. They are expecting the data and the facts, and the rest is up to you. 

And lastly there are stakeholders who see you as the trusted experts. They use the relationship as a vehicle to educate themselves, taking the opportunity to learn all they can from you on marketing and advertising. 

By determining early on in the relationship what style of partnership you have, expectations can be met accordingly. 

Managing budget requirements 

Managing budget requirements can be one of the trickiest parts of any stakeholder engagement. Being able to articulate the cost of various elements of the media plan can be hard to do, especially when it comes to explaining the value of the more abstract parts of the strategy such as brand awareness. Data2decisions can be a very useful tool in helping you to justify cost decisions. The platform uses marketing budget optimization to work out effectiveness. For instance, you can work out that brand awareness is in fact the most impactful part in the marketing strategy, and can help make advertising performance 18 times more effective. 

Of course, using data to get buy-in is very valuable. With the trend towards digital-first, it is now easier than ever to track conversion through the funnel and work out cost per acquisition. This means you can be very precise with your budgeting and in your justification. 

Another tried and tested way to set budgets with stakeholders, is to look at what competitors are spending, and to use this as a benchmark figure. 

Managing rejections

Lastly, how to manage rejection? Everyone has been there. The pitch went so well, but your stakeholders aren’t on board this time. Don’t beat yourself up, and definitely don’t be defensive. Take the time to reflect on the reasons why - what went well and what could you have improved on? Get as much feedback as you can. It could just be a matter of timing. Make sure you have proof of concept in place for the next time and make it a reality the next time round. You’ve got this. 

And if you don’t, not to worry! Speak to one of our experts to find out more on managing relationships and creating the perfect marketing strategies that really speak your stakeholders’ language. There's still time to catch up with Think Student Live Online too - watch the on-demand sessions here