26 50

CMO50 2016 #26-50: Jamie McDonald, Federation University Australia

  • Name Jamie McDonald
  • Title Director of marketing, advancement and community engagement
  • Company Federation University Australia
  • Commenced role January 2015
  • Reporting Line Deputy vice-chancellor (engagement)
  • Member of the Executive Team No
  • Marketing Function 27 staff, 3 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Education
  • 2015 ranking New to CMO50
  • Brand Post

    Federation University Australia (FedUni) boasts of a strong heritage as a regional university, providing education and training for more than 145 years. Despite this, the brand is relatively young as a result of merging the University of Ballarat with Monash University Gippsland campus and creating Federation University Australia in 2014.

    The challenge for its director of marketing, advancement and communications, Jamie McDonald, who joined the organisation 12 months after the merger, lay in overcoming and shifting barriers to enrolment around low brand awareness levels, ‘second-tier’ university perception and increased competition.

    “Students, staff and the community also were grappling with the significant organisational change and struggled to articulate the value proposition of who we were and what we stood for in the crowded, highly competitive tertiary education market,” he states in his CMO50 submission.

    Commissioning research into school leavers and analysing application and enrolment data, a multi-channel, phased campaign was created called Federation Generation. This approach epitomised the ‘attitude’ and ‘mindset’ felt by students, alumni, staff and prospects, amplifying and conveying their distinctive pride in being part of FedGen.

    The FedGen campaign was an outstanding success, with first semester 2016 enrolments 8 per cent above target, and Gippsland campus exceeding target enrolments by 26 per cent.

    McDonald says he’s proud of the way the Federation Generation campaign was embraced by students, staff and the community.

    “There was a palpable shift in confidence and pride across the University about who we are and what we stand under our new name,” he says.

    From the CMO50 submission

    Empowered business thinking

    As part of the structural changes, McDonald was part of a nine-member senior team in 2016 that developed the business case and worked to help FedUni take over Monash University’s Berwick campus from 2017.

    The impetus was an overriding marketing strategy of growth through innovation by better serving existing markets, entering adjacent markets and creating new markets, he says.

    As a regionally based and regionally focused university, taking over a metropolitan based campus posed significant brand challenges on the surface, McDonald says. Evaluation of student and population data identified close alignment of the socio-economic status and first in family tertiary education participation of the south-east corridor of Melbourne with many of the communities that Federation University currently serves.

    With stakeholders including government, business, the community and local schools, the marketing and recruitment effort required significant community engagement and public and government relations over a condensed timeline.

    “Creating a team within the marketing team to focus on the Berwick campus and pursue a data-driven approach to our marketing implementation enabled us to develop marketing strategies against tight deadlines by testing concepts, failing fast and testing again in an environment where the senior team and our creative agency were engaged with our decision making, challenges and overriding strategies,” McDonald says.

    Data- and technology-led approach

    Over the past 12 months, there’s also been a significant changes made to the technology used in marketing and for student recruitment. This has been triggered by the need to shift from multiple single channels of single contact through events, promotion and advertising to an omni-channel approach with prospective students and their influencers.

    McDonald sponsored two key technology projects to enable this cultural change. The first was development of a new digital Course Finder based on extensive focus group and user experience testing to showcase FedUni’s 400 plus courses. This links directly to an online application module.

    The second project has been developing a cross-university CRM with event and enquiry management. This has seen a skills shift in the marketing team from single channel student recruitment to customer acquisition and marketing automation in collaboration with the University’s in-house contact centre.

    Two structural changes also supported the omni-channel approach. The bulk of the marketing, public relations and media staff have been moved into one building to foster a greater shared understanding and ownership of strategy and actions. The second structural change has been the establishment of a school engagement team in additional to student recruitment to broaden engagement with secondary schools.

    These initiatives saw an 11.15 per cent increase in Open Day attendances at the Ballarat Campuses and a 10 per cent increase in attendances at the Gippsland campus in 2015, and promoted increased enrolments in 2016.

    McDonald says the marketing team has shifted from presenting a finished strategy and creative to the faculty, to a team that’s now involved with faculties at the very start and throughout any campaign.

    “The benefit is that the outcome is owned by both the faculty and marketing and faculties has come to understand that our strategy and creative reflects what our data and market research says the market needs and wants, rather than what they may have initially personally felt the market wanted,” he says.

    “For the marketing team, we have had to learn to involve and empower faculty staff, which is time consuming at the start of projects when we are still trying to clarify the project ourselves. The benefit is that we have been able to roll out campaigns that would have been knocked back by faculties in the past, but are now defended and championed by faculties as joint owners.”

    Fostering capability

    The ambition to be a more data-led team has meant shifting staff mindsets, and required the team to be closer to strategy and have a better sense of individual impact, McDonald says. To help, he’s worked to free-up managers from the bureaucracy of a large organisation with a common focus across all of the team so that staff can quickly evaluate and reset based on changing market expectations.

    Another initiative that’s also fostered agility is introducing a consistent model of engagement with stakeholders. This was done by applying the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) spectrum of public participation to how FedUni’s marketing team works with staff across the university, schools and the community.

    “Heavily used in government and the utility sector, IAP2 has enabled the marketing team to far better understand our customers and ensure that our customers are at the centre of our strategy and at the start of our strategy development,” McDonald says.


    Thanks to structural changes, a clear strategic focus across the team and the application of an agile approach to project management, FedUni’s marketing team has a work environment where creativity has an opportunity to be applied and tested against daily marketing challenges, McDonald says.

    “The Federation Generation campaign developed in mid-2015 which conveyed the uniqueness of FedUni as a tertiary institution and epitomised the ‘attitude’ and ‘mindset’ felt by staff was the first part in the marketing team’s mindset change,” he says. “This, in turn, gave a sense of focus for creative solutions to our significant marketing challenges and an openness to trust our expertise and be trusted by the university.

    “The change in mindset allowed us as a team to be unapologetic and proud and as a university to leverage our successes, our high employment rate, our teaching quality and our focus on a regional and personal approach to learning and importantly our unique, strong-willed attitude and desire to be different in a positive way.”

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