Jenny’s Note: SEO enthusiasts and fellow marketing pros, meet Jill Nyhus. Jill, a new friend and colleague I met at a K-12 education marketing conference, was gracious enough to share tips and tricks with us on her digital marketing successes. Jill, VP of Business Development with Insight Education Group, is a super savvy, passionate, and busy marketer. Read this meaty, 1500-word Q&A to hear how Jill is balancing a challenge every digital marketer faces – execution with learning – as well as her answer to “what keeps you up at night?” Enjoy!
Please share an overview about your role and how it relates to marketing.
I’m VP of Business Development for Insight Education Group. We’re a national education consulting and edtech company that supports the growth of teachers and school leaders. Since 2000, we’ve specialized in developing deep partnerships with school leaders to understand their unique challenges and work together to design and implement large-scale educator-effectiveness solutions that drive lasting change.
My team is responsible for finding ways to reach school leaders and share with them how our tools and resources can overcome challenges and meet unique needs. I see myself as a collaborative, strategic leader and am continually working to find ways to better serve our current and future clients.
How do you maintain the balance of learning and implementation (and traveling!)?
Good question – it’s definitely a challenge in balancing learning and implementation. With most of our company and my team specifically spread across several times zones (and throwing in our crazy travel schedules), I’ve put structures in place that have really helped.
- Implementation focus – Daily stand-up meeting: My team has a daily 20-minute stand-up meeting where we talk implementation – status on latest campaigns, questions on an RFPs we’re responding to, etc. Knowing that we have this meeting each day has cut down on extra emails and additional meetings.
- Learning focus – Weekly sales & business development team meeting:As part of the agenda each week, one team member leads us in a 15-minute learning mini-workshop on a topic in an area in which we want to grow. For example, one week we looked at a few of the “107 Fascinating Sales Statistics That Will Help You Sell More, Better” from HubSpot, which led to a great discussion about gaps we’re seeing in our efforts. It was particularly beneficial because it wasn’t me, as the leader, telling the group what “to do,” but rather we learned together through discussion. (And still weeks later we’re still talking about those stats!)
- Implementation & learning in the moment: One saving grace for a virtual work environment like ours has been Sococo, a virtual office that allows us to “pop” into each other’s offices and connect by video, chat, audio and even screen sharing. The platform has made it possible for us to collaborate informally in the moment – from getting quick feedback on something to sharing some exciting insight on a problem we are trying to solve – just like would happen in a physical office.
What do you think is the biggest challenge K-12 Education Marketers face today?
I’d say the thing that keeps me up at night is finding ways to get and keep buyers’ attention. We’re in a world of distractions – there’s constant competition for buyers’ focus. Text messages, app notifications, Facebook and Twitter are enough to make a day of diversions. And when it comes to email, with the average person sending and receiving 122 business emails every day, it’s a challenge to make sure ours gets the attention.
At Insight, our clients are school leaders, who obviously are very busy people with a million priorities and distractions. It helps that most of us at Insight have been teachers and school leaders – and so we know their world first hand.
The key for us has been finding ways of coming alongside and not interrupting (as this Hubspot inspirational video so aptly puts) – but rather supporting and showing value, and that we are there to support and grow their work – not add more of it. We want school leaders across the country to know our name and brand so well that when they’re facing an issue with growing their educators, they think of us.
We’ve worked hard to create content that addresses real pain points school leaders face. We also like to sponsor and participate in events, like the District Administration Leadership Institute and EdSurge Summits, where we have time to engage with leaders in a meaningful, authentic way.
When I served as Senior Director of Technology for DC Public Schools, I found that the best vendors were the ones who really took the time to understand my challenges and presented me with information and options that was relevant and would truly serve my particular district best. It also helped when they were willing to be patient. Navigating the buy-in and procurement processes were always time consuming in a large school system, and I appreciated vendors who understood that.
You’ve had a lot of success with your team and with your senior leadership adopting and embracing modern marketing – what is advice you’d give to other marketers who need help with education and buy-in from their leadership and coworkers?
Yes, I’m thankful to be part of an amazing leadership team at Insight. Our two founders, Michael Moody and Jason Stricker, have created a culture in which we are continually pushing ourselves to grow. They’ve really helped set the expectation at Insight that every employee is a brand ambassador and have encouraged and celebrated the use of social media by employees to grow our brand.
For those who are working with senior leadership who are struggling to adopt and embrace modern marketing, I recommend starting small and and being strategic. Also be sure to show and share success in a way that connects with your leadership team members specifically.
In our weekly leadership meetings, I regularly share some kind of “fast-fact” metrics – like an open rate on an email campaign or interesting tweets to our company’s page – and it often opens up a great learning conversation. And sometimes their questions push me to go back and dig deeper about why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Recently, I shared one of our keywords for SEO we’ve been working on – “instructional frameworks” (which are basically guides for defining what good teaching and learning looks like). In the search, Insight’s own framework, the Insight Core Framework, ranks on page 1 along with the largest frameworks in the field. This got the team excited because this is a tool that we want to have an influence on the field – and it is. Two years ago, I don’t think it even showed up in a search – if it did, certainly not on page 1. Today, our framework is the top download on our site with traffic from literally all over the world.
What advice would you give to digital marketers on advancing their skills, and advancing their career?
Here are my top three pieces of advice.
- Read and observe. With the speed at which technology is changing, it’s critically important to stay up to date on marketing trends and fresh ideas. A few of my favorite go-to sources include:
- My LinkedIn feed and groups
- HubSpot’s Marketing & Sales blogs
- SmartBrief’s Marketing & Advertising daily emails
- Harvard Business Review & HBR IdeaCast podcast
- Connect with like-minded marketers.
Get out and connect with others. I know – not rocket science – but we can easily get so caught up in our own little worlds that we miss out on a world of connections within and outside our fields.
This past October, I had the privilege of serving on the advisory board for EdNet, the education marketing industry’s premier networking conference. It was my first time attending the conference and I was blown away. It was incredible to meet so many amazing marketing and sales leaders. I so enjoyed identifying with their challenges (i.e. great to not feel so alone!) and learn from their successes (i.e. bring best practices back that have worked!).
- Take regular alone time for reflection.
I’ve heard it said over and over that you can’t be successful as a leader if you don’t take time to reflect. And in a world that is connected 24-7, it’s even more important to pull away alone for a bit to just think.
A recent article in Fast Company, “How Solitude Can Change Your Brain in Profound Ways,” talked about how solitude is critical to creativity. And as marketers, it’s our job to be creative – so all the more reason to carve out some alone time. I’ve found, as the article talks about, that alone time allows for me to connect thoughts and ideas that may not happen in the busyness of my daily life.
A former boss used to call it “going into her cave,” when she would go off for a day or two days at a time to work through a big issue or project. I’ve now adopted the concept “cave” time at least once a year and have to say that some of my best thinking has come out of those times.
With integrating reflection on a daily basis, I’ve tried (tried being the operative word!) to make a regular, deliberate practice to reflect for a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day. A coach friend of mine recommended this practice to me and when I do it, my days (and nights!) go so much smoother.
Jenny’s Note: Wasn’t that great? Thanks so much, Jill!
Jill Nyhus is Vice President of Business Development for Insight Education Group, national education consulting and edtech company that supports the growth of teachers and school leaders. As a former classroom teacher, start-up entrepreneur and DC Public Schools’ Senior Director of Technology, she brings her expertise in communications, marketing, education and technology in role at Insight to lead marketing and sales initiatives as well as to grow and support strategic partnerships. Connect with her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jillnyhus and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jillnyhus.
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