Creating a Marketing Plan

Like with any venture, marketing your program will work best if there is an intentional strategy behind it. With clear goals and a well-thought-out plan, your efforts have a higher chance of succeeding. So where do you begin?

Detail Current and Past Marketing Efforts

Start by taking stock of your current and past efforts. What are you currently doing to market your programs or events? What has your department done in the past? Consider all avenues of communication: social media, email, mailings, advertisements, and website. How are you using these tools? How have these tools been used in the past?

Once you have a clear view of your past and current efforts, you are in a good position to start planning for the future.

There are two foundational parts of a marketing strategy: the big questions that shape the strategy, and the logistical nuts-and-bolts action items that every program should ensure are in order.

Big Questions

The goal of the broad-view questions is to help construct the pathway moving forward. They help determine your audience, set your long-term and short-term goals, and define your program’s values.

These questions are a good starting point:

  1. The Elevator Pitch: Given 30 seconds, how would you describe your program and its value to a prospective student?
  2. What sets your program apart from others?
  3. What do you look for in prospective students?
  4. What are your recruitment goals for the upcoming academic year? For five years?
  5. What do you wish your program was doing for recruitment?

Consider asking these lofty questions to your department or program stakeholders. If there are major discrepancies between answers, you will want to sit down within your program or department and get to the heart of your goals and values.

Nuts and Bolts

The next step, then, is to consider the practicalities: what you would need to do in order to achieve the vision. Some questions to consider are:

  1. Who would be in charge of the project? Who would be in charge of this project if that person leaves?
  2. How much time could you reasonably commit to completing the project?
  3. Would you need outside support, such as a graphic designer, digital ad expert, videographer, etc.?
  4. How much would this effort cost?
  5. When would you want the final product? How much time do you have between then and now?
  6. Do you know where to start?
  7. How would you make sure this is sustainable?

This question is incredibly important. Many marketing efforts fail because they were considered only in terms of an immediate need and not in terms of sustainability. Posting to social media every day for one month and then never posting again, for example, will not give you the returns on investment you may hope for.

There will be more specific logistical questions to consider for specific ideas. Take social media, for example: which platforms? Do you already have any channels? Who is currently in charge of those channels? How often would you post, and what would you post? Who is your audience?

It's important to think through the logistics of your lofty visions before committing to them; you may find that you’re able to dedicate time and energy to one major marketing initiative per academic year, and it’s better to have a sense of what is reasonable for your department’s current staff and your program’s needs before getting started and losing both money and time.

Ongoing Efforts

On top of potential new ventures, there are a few items that every department already has and must ensure are factored into their marketing strategy:

  • Target X campaigns: inquiry email content is reviewed and refreshed each year. If you are interested in what other campaigns are running, and if your content is up-to-date, please contact Sarah Holland, CHSS marketing specialist (
  • Website: the CHSS web team site has a collection of resources, how-tos, and tips for maintaining your department website and making sure everything is up-to-date. A good place to start is their Maintenance Tasks.

These items are critical to your department. Your website should be the base for all operations and recruitment efforts. Keeping your email campaigns and your website up-to-date are necessary foundations of any marketing strategy.

Creating a marketing strategy is a time-intensive process, and this is only the beginning. However, creating a comprehensive strategy will set you up for greater success in reaching prospective students and growing the name of your department. The CHSS Marketing and Communications team is happy to help you develop a plan and walk you through this process, and we can provide examples of marketing strategy templates used in the past. Reach out to a member of the CHSS Marketing and Communications team if you would like to set up a meeting to discuss a marketing strategy for your program. And if you would more some tips for promoting your graduate program, please visit our guide