During these unprecedented times, we're focused on bringing you thoughtful advice from fellow marketing leaders across a variety of industries — all of whom are also navigating these uncertain waters.

Kymm Martinez, Chief Marketing Officer at University of St. Thomas, provides some helpful questions companies can ask themselves right now to ensure they're correctly engaging audiences while being sensitive to the present marketing climate.

To start, describe where you’re answering these questions from. What’s your home office setup like?

I'm answering from my home office, which is in between my kitchen and my dining room - with three screens. I've got my personal computer, then I have my work laptop and then a work screen. My husband's home office is on the second floor, so he and I are at least a little bit separated so we don't have to listen to each other's calls. I wear a headset so that I'm a little bit more subtle. Although he tells me that I talk too loud, even in my headset. He tells me, "You don't have to yell, you can use your normal voice!”

What has been your biggest challenge leading a team through so many unknowns?

I have about 50 people on the marketing insights and communications team at the University of St. Thomas. The surprising thing for us has been how much of our work we can actually do remotely. We didn't have much of a culture of work from home prior to this, but the ability of our team to just literally pick up and do what they do from home has been really remarkable.

The challenge is the communication. There are no more hallway conversations. We have to be really intentional about our communications, so I'm constantly helping the team to think about that. Making sure that I’m being much more proactive about communication because I don’t have a way of organically getting information the way I’m used to.

What opportunities have surfaced for you and/or your team in the past several weeks?

We now have weekly departmental meetings that we do online, which we weren't doing before face-to-face. Doing it over Zoom has been incredibly productive and people use the chat function quite a bit - which is a nice secondary way of participating that people don’t have in-person. The participation in our meetings has been fuller because there are multiple ways to engage. It’s a good reminder that different people have different communication styles.

Another opportunity is for the university to think differently about how we engage students and prospective students. People can’t come visit the campus right now. Just before Minnesota announced shelter-in-place, we had two tour guides with video cameras and produced a virtual tour of St. Thomas. We’ve started doing online information sessions. We did a webinar this week for prospective students and families that would normally have been conducted on campus. 250 people logged in and were asking tons of questions. We've also looked at our marketing campaigns for appropriateness and COVID-related sensitivities. Do we have people hugging each other? Do we have people shaking hands? We've scrubbed our creative to make sure we're being sensitive during this time.

Just as importantly, we’re closely watching consumer’s reactions to our marketing efforts. Are our ads still working? Are people still engaging? What are the day parts people are engaging with now? Before we might've been trying to push more at night, but now people are home more. What does that mean for our TV buy? How is our website needing to adapt? Can you find COVID information quickly? Can you find the virtual information quickly? Are we connecting our entire community? Are we putting all the COVID information in a place that people can find it?

What advice do you have for other marketing leaders working through a time like this?

The most important thing marketing leaders should do right now is stay visible. Look at your communication patterns and ratchet those up. You should also be providing opportunities for employees to connect outside of just work related topics. This is a personal thing that's happening to all of us as humans, as individuals. Do virtual happy hours. Have people send in (appropriate!) photos from home that give people a sense of what our reality is like. Marketing leaders have to remember to be human and that this is a very personal thing and that people are on a wide spectrum of acceptance.

How do you think what’s happening now will impact the future of work?

At St. Thomas, we have a President's Cabinet. The president's direct reports in addition to all of the deans and broader leadership team. We usually have these meetings twice a semester. I'm very accustomed to going into the meeting, somebody does a presentation and asks if there's a question. Crickets. Recently, we had our first Zoom one and we invited people to use the chat function and it was fantastic! How do you take that experience into our face-to-face worlds? What does that look like in a meeting?

Given the remoteness of everyone’s situation, I think the future of work will be more trusting in letting people work the way we all have to work now. We’re learning to have more trust in our employees. Yes, they’re really working from home and probably even making better use of their time because they’re not in the office constantly getting interrupted.



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