Bringing the three Rs to higher ed marketing


Purple squirrels … blue diamonds … unicorns.

No matter what terms we use, we all have those special customers that Psychology Today coins “pseudo-exceptionals.” These pseudo-exceptionals are those who believe they’re completely different from others – and, in the higher ed world, they want the marketing department to treat them as such. They want marketing to waive the ordinary branding guidelines, go beyond the established boundaries and prioritize their requests over all others on the to-do list.

But marketers don’t do cookie-cutter work, and not every print or post needs to be frosted and sprinkled.

This article is part of a monthly series provided by the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations (NCMPR), an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Tri-County Technical College (TCTC) in South Carolina has recently undergone a rebranding process, including a new logo, fonts, color palette, and look and feel, placing emphasis on clean, crisp communication. TCTC’s colleagues have embraced the new brand, but the stricter guidelines and established processes have been met with less enthusiasm. However, TCTC is committed to educating its customers, strengthening its relationships and creating amazing print and digital products that celebrate the mission and vision of the college.

The college is achieving these goals by bringing the three Rs to higher ed marketing: relationships, resources and reflections.


Relationships work best when they’re rooted in effective communication, a shared understanding of goals and mutual respect. To help all be effective in these areas, TCTC created a new position called the marketing account coordinator (MAC), whose purpose it is to be the proactive point-of-contact between the customer and the artistic work ahead, such as writing, designing, videography and campaign development.

These MACs are advocates for customers and the TCTC marketing team alike. They get in front of project requests with regular touch points and take the time to understand the why behind the requests. Understanding the customer’s motivation drives meaningful team conversations to help prioritize workload. Through the MACs, customers get transparent, knowledgeable answers to address common questions centered around production times, social media guidelines and brand standards. This relationship-centered model is foundational for all creative and strategic work and has yielded great success for the team and the college.


Beyond the MAC role, there was also a need to provide resources to help customers maximize their marketing. Marketing wanted to better equip its customers with tools and resources while still employing necessary quality processes and parameters.

As a result, the college has a new tool called the Flyer Engine, which offers templates for 8 ½x11 and 11×17 vertical and horizontal flyers. These templates are branded, limiting the look and feel to approved images, photos, colors and fonts. Once flyers are completed by the customer, they’re routed through marketing for a quick review of grammar and spelling. Then a PDF is generated with a click of a button.

This resource empowers colleagues to do some of their own work without the formality of project request tickets, and it frees MACs and designers to be able to focus on larger projects.


Whether it’s providing Google Analytics to customers or communicating a project load to administration, recaps are vital to a marketing team’s efforts to educate and improve.

Reflections aren’t one-sided, though. Information gathering is as important as information sharing. TCTC’s MACs work with their customers to identify quantifiable results. Whether it’s through student focus groups, formal customer surveys or informal conversations, the goal is to understand the impressions left on employees and students. It’s vital to celebrate what succeeded and identify areas of improvement, infusing that feedback into future strategies. Marketing has to market marketing and share more than its expertise. Nurturing relationships and continually improving processes serve to promote various teams as valuable partners in the tasks ahead.

The TCTC marketing team long ago stopped trying to change the purple squirrels and unicorns – the pseudo-exceptionals – because, after all, everyone is truly unique and has equally unique needs and expectations. The hard lessons learned have helped the team look at clients, customers and themselves differently. They’ve embraced the purple squirrel perspective.

About the Author

Gayle Arries
Gayle Arries is director of marketing at Tri-County Technical College in South Carolina and a member of NCMPR’s 2022-23 Leadership Institute cohort.