The ACU Ethics Hub is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Ex Corde Ecclesiae with a ‘Masterclass on Any Catholic University’, exploring how various member groups are understood in the Catholic intellectual tradition. In this lesson, Professor Ramsay explores the role of marketing and communications staff.


ACU Melbourne Campus interior.

Marketing means creating and serving a market, and that may not sound suitable for a Catholic institution. But it is.

Without a market with which to interact universities would have no steady stream of enrolments and without these, we are like the symphony orchestra playing to itself in an empty Opera House. So how do you market in a way that respects the position of Ex Corde Ecclesiae on universities, faith and reason?

The first step, as always in the Catholic university, is truth. Marketing involves communication, and marketing departments often include comms functions. Communication should always be of the truth. That does not of course mean saying the whole truth, and in the same way, to every person and in every context. But it does mean that what we do say must be true; that if we are not sure, we shouldn’t say it; that if it sounds misleading or ambiguous, we should rephrase it; and that marketing staff, and all staff, should aim at being truthful in their work.

“Good marketing involves just about every skill of human intelligence and imagination. First, there are words and messages.”

Truthfulness means literally being full of truth – having truth in you so that your first thought is not how to sell but how to draw attention to the truth so as to sell. Truthfulness has to be worked at. None of us is as truthful as we would like to be. Truthfulness is built up by qualities such as personal honesty, striving for accuracy, valuing objectivity, scrutinising our first or most compelling thoughts, allowing others in to express their view, developing grace at accepting critique.

Good marketing involves just about every skill of human intelligence and imagination. First, there are words and messages. In our news-cycle driven age, with social media having chopped down drastically the capacity of people to follow a lengthy or complicated line of reasoning, messages have to be short and concise – which can make it harder to be accurate, and which certainly requires greater imagination. Catholic university marketers can get their message down to short, memorable, truthful statements – and then recall ‘and I must somehow convey Catholic faith or ideals in this.’ It is obviously much easier, and probably more effective, to include the Catholic dimension in the thought and phrase from the beginning.


Marketing continued...

There can be fear that the message will sound too pietistic if faith is included, or that it will put off non-Catholic people. Yet this need not be so, and indeed part of the art of the Catholic marketer is to explain honestly the university’s faith position and its welcome of all who believe they can flourish within that position. Authenticity, accurately capturing who we are, matters. It also appeals to those from other traditions who are open to consider a Catholic environment. People who are not Jehovah’s Witness can still respect the authenticity of their street missions. Long-term, then, there is good sense, and business advantage in presenting authentically.

In addition, it is perfectly possibly to be orthodox in theology and commitment but not conservative, old-fashioned, staid in communication. Catholic university messages can have the colour and appeal that comes from today’s youth world – particularly the vast and colourful world of Catholic youth media and events.

And speaking of colour – part of marketing is also images.

There is a whole theology of colour within the Tradition (green for Ordinary, black or deep purple for Lent and Advent, blue for the Virgin Mary etc). And then beyond colour, there is in iconography a set of beautiful, simple images associated with particular saints or events. These are common Catholic messaging tools that Catholic audiences worldwide will pick up on, including subliminally which is how these have always been used. The combination of meaningful colour, iconographic links and the colour and vibrancy of Catholic youth events gives a wonderful pallet for Catholic marketing.

More philosophically, marketing helps us raise the existential question of why we have Catholic universities at all.

The first institutions we would identify as universities were set up by Catholic authorities to take advantage of specialist teachers, in particular the then-new Orders of Dominicans and Franciscans, and to democratise the insights they brought by sharing their words more widely with future priests, lawyers, doctors, clerks. Specialism, expertise, students, shared minds, professional training, theological development, practically all of the elements of Catholic universities today, were there from the start.

To maintain these in today’s complex world involves the skill of the marketer to capture in word and image both a tradition and a future; to bring together worldly realities with youthful ideals; to open up moments we all remember fondly from our youth to those whose youth is still emerging. Catholic marketing then is a great work of harmonising faith and reason; not just selling but in marketing’s own way ‘spreading the word’. And for all of us working in a place of words, under the Word which was there from the beginning, our marketing is a public statement of our self-understanding and so is of immense value to us all.

Students walking inside an ACU Campus building.
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