in Higher Ed

Are you a direct report?

For those of you working in higher ed and charged with responsibility over the web site, are you a direct report to the President of the college or university?

If so, do you find it makes it easier to do your job or more difficult across your roles?

I began thinking about it (too early) this morning when I woke up. I think there’s a real difference in your ability to get things done, depending on where the web site is in the food chain and who it reports to.

I realize that the bigger the institution you work at, the harder it gets for this to happen, because bigger schools inevitably have more layers. Of course, I’ve never worked at a particularly large school as a staff member, so I can’t speak to the differences other than what I’ve observed as a consultant or via my friends in the trenches.

My experience says yes. And there are advantages to having the confidence that you have the ear of the “top brass” as opposed to not. Of course, being connected to the web always makes you feel like you’re in a different space, given the varied people across campus you come into contact with and how your natural constituency is everyone.

I think the relative advent of the “web offices/department” also makes this is a difficult question, because if the web is housed in marketing or some sort of public relations/communications arm of the institution, does moving it away and into its own space give it a “bigger profile” or relegate it to something like IT, in that, you know they’re doing great when you never have to see them. (Because it means everything is working…)

So is it just my groggy mind or do you notice appreciable differences depending on your place on the school’s org chart?

  1. In my first role, I reported to the Director of PR, but we were all direct reports to the President in that office. It made for a much smoother pathway to getting things done. Not because you necessarily had the ‘ear’ of the President all of the time, but by proxy you sorta did because of my boss’s face time with him weekly.

    It made things like getting a web redesign that wasn’t planned, but sorely necessary, much smoother to do than I’d been someplace else in a different structure. I was aware of it at the time, but in retrospect, I realize how advantageous the timing — and the experiences — of that role were central to my career development.

    I mean, when my boss couldn’t go to meetings, she’d often send me in her stead. Here I am a junior employee, fairly fresh out of the water (I mean, I wasn’t traditionally young, having been in the military pre-college, but still…) and having the experience of having to explain my craft to senior leadership on a fairly regular basis.

    But it shaped a lot of how I operated after that, because I had a certain expectation that a modicum of respect would be afforded the role, but also the level of involvement and visibility it’d be given on a campus would make it easier to do my job.

    In future roles, it’s still had that visibility, but I’ve witnesses the way things can shift and adjust and the politics of it all over time. That’s been the most interesting evolution, too.

    I suspect as the conversation about “the future of the web on campus” get bandied about, this is a part that needs to be injected into the discussion.

  2. It is interesting, the different organizational models that are used. On our campus, I report to the vice chancellor for university advancement, but also have one of those so-called “dotted line” reports to the chancellor. It has worked well during my tenure, especially with the current and previous chancellor, who understand the importance of our role and the outward-facing responsibilities of the campus leaders these days. (The old school president/chancellor was more like a provost, more focused inwardly with less emphasis on fundraising, PR, visibility.) This relationship also relies on a solid working relationship with my supervisor, too. I wouldn’t call this the ideal situation, but it is workable. Regardless of the organizational structure, you have to work at building those relationships and it all boils down to networking. The flatter the organizational structure, the easier it is to network. It’s also more time-consuming, but in the end, more rewarding, I believe.

  3. What prompted this, was thinking about being a direct report for a few years and then not being one and I was just thinking of the differences and found it interesting. Thanks for the insight, Andrew!

  4. I think it’s important that the online communication function be somehow integrated into the rest of a campus’s communications/marketing department, and ideally that department head report directly to the campus CEO. That way the electronic/web/online component is on a par with the rest of a campus’s communications tactical areas — media relations, public relations, publications, graphic design, video communications — and on equal footing. I’m a big believer in seeing the online function — not just the web per se, but all online marketing — become the center of gravity for a campus communications and marketing approach. But that move has been slow in coming, and so have the staffing realignments needed to bring it to pass.

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