How to SMASH one past the Keeper

5 years ago  •  By  •  0 Comments

Boards are complex, sometimes bitter, organisms. They have a great say over how your ‘eco-system’ works and are one of the major hurdles to overcome when you want to change direction.

Like algae, if not handled appropriately, they can quickly muddy the waters and make your survival that much harder. Let me share some tips in having your way with the board.


You’ve done the two minute test and realise that your institution is in bad shape. You know what you need to do, you have the information at your fingertips, but now YOU have to convey this to the keepers of the coffer — the Board!

In 90{c2bc4dcc82a24c7a0a4780d09ca51e05a889725c4a6e53b8bbcdcdf364f60b87} of cases it all falls apart here for several reasons:

No in-depth knowledge

Owning and driving a car is not the same as building one! It’s exactly like that with your marketing and design — having a brand is not the same as building one.

When reasoning with a board, that needs to be explained tactfully. You’d be amazed at how many people never stop to ponder that simple truth. Recognised experience counts here. Owning a brand and developing a brand are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Each board member may be an experienced CEO, but that doesn’t mean they understand branding or marketing. I’ve seen this over and over again. We’ve fixed this over and over again.

If you’ve done your research you should be able to talk about areas that aren’t familiar to the board and make compelling arguments.

If you haven’t done your research, or have an expert reasoning in your place, then you’re sunk.

There are no visual examples

In my recent talk at the UCA conference in Canberra I touched on the lackluster approach to residential college and university branding — you can see a snippet of the visuals I used here. For some reason, especially in Australia, there is a very blasé attitude about marketing your differences and this attitude spills over into a woefully common and underperforming visual style.

Create a logo with an apple in it and Apple will beat a path to your door, beat you all the way to court and then beat you in court. In 2009, after Woolworths had finished rebranding itself, Apple mounted a legal challenge to prevent Woolworths from using their new logo. Why? Apple was arguing that it was too similar to its own logo.

I won’t go into the details of what happened, other than to say that companies take individuality seriously because they know that being different is one of the the fundamental keys to overcoming your competition.

Compare this with the residential college space, everybody is quite content to be the same as the person next door. You’ve got a shield? Hey, so do I! You’ve use red, white, blue, yellow and black! So do I! On and on it goes — so much for differentiation in a competitive market.

If we were to play a phylogenetic game and assume that university and residential college logos had evolved over time, you’d end up coming to the conclusion that some common ancestors were a shield, some animals or landmarks. Very little thought has gone into expressing individual essence. There is a bad habit of copying the person next door, quite literally.

I use the above as an example of the importance of using visuals to make a point. It’s especially important when talking with your board. Demonstrating your market awareness of how you fit visually with your competition is important, visual aids will help you express this.

You don’t have the experience in overcoming objections

There’s nothing worse than making a strong case for something and then having the board dismiss you and your ideas with the wave of a hand. That’s why the first two points are so critical.

I’ve seen a board ok a $50,000 – $100,000 toilet renovation and shake their head to a much needed, cheaper, reputation overhaul. It is absolutely incredible that where you ‘do your business’ is more important than where you do your business — the Master was very happy, once a day, though.

Point in case, the board don’t always make reasonable decisions. CEOs often get it wrong.

But you can’t blame the board for rejecting a poorly reasoned/explained argument! It’s their job to shoot those down. The question to ask is “why are $100,000 toilet renovations reasoned better than a reputation overhaul”?

Sometimes it’s better to get an outsider to help you. Let them come into the holy of holies (the board meeting) and talk about their experiences, problems encountered and solutions provided. It’s hard to object to someone with deep industry experience. In practice, this has been the most successful approach.


So, I encourage you, dear reader, to gather up your loins for the next attempt.

This time be prepared or, at the very least, let somebody who has a chestful of medals do the talking for you.

You may be surprised at the outcome.