You can’t do good creative work without taking risks. That can be a problem for academic institutions, which tend to be risk-adverse. As fundraising takes over as an institutional priority, risk aversion will only grow. So what to do?
Honestly, it’s a hard problem to solve. If you are the one responsible for the management structure, you need to empower a single individual as a leader in the communications area with the experience and professional standing to take an institution where they are not inclined to go. Just as difficult, you need to minimize collegial decision-making processes so that good work doesn’t die the death of 1,000 edits.
There is something else . . . it is helpful to have a coherent brand strategy based on rigorous market research. Academic cultures may not understand creative work but they do understand arguments based on research. And they do feel the urgent need to survive and prosper in our post-1997 world. With a brand strategy in hand, you can explain to vice-presidents and deans that the creative risks you want to take are not arbitrary. Instead, they are the implementation of a researched survival strategy for the institution.
Honestly, neither of these things are will work in every case. Creativity vs. bureaucracy is an age-old battle. It is a battle worth fighting for those of us who care about academic institutions because creativity can accomplish certain goals in a unique way. For example, want to improve recruitment or retention? build alumni support? improve the climate on campus? increase access? If these things are important to you, figure out a way for the creatives to do their work well. If not, you’ll be tackling major problems with one hand tied behind your back. In these times, no one can afford that particular handicap.