What to Do With Marcom Staff During Unexpected Downtime

When a crisis disrupts your team's usual flow, there are still ways you can sure everyone remains productive.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been facilitating online conversations with our higher education clients and colleagues. One of the issues managers are currently struggling with is how to occupy staff who aren’t actively involved in ongoing crisis communications or continuing operation conversations. 

Marketing and communications staff members usually have a very full plate this time of year — gearing up for commencement-related work, producing yield and orientation materials, writing press releases and pitching media for end-of-semester events — and are now finding themselves with little to no work. What can they do with this newfound time?

Attack the Low Hanging Fruit

Priorities are constantly shifting and some members of your team who were previously slammed will suddenly free up. It’s important that they have clear direction on where they should focus their efforts. This can be a challenge for some, particularly for roles that need special equipment to perform their day-to-day tasks — like photographers and videographers.

Now is the perfect time to start picking away at your backlog of internal work and small projects that keep getting kicked down the road because there’s higher priority things that need to be addressed. For example, one of our clients has her media relations director focused on metatagging their entire image catalog, while another has her designers working on a secondary color palette. They may not be mission-critical right now, but working through these small tasks will help your team stay productive and pay dividends in the future. Here are some additional ideas we discussed:

Admissions & Enrollment

  • Get a jump start on fall projects – is your viewbook, search or travel pieces up for rethinking?

Brand Management

  • Button-up and/or expanding visual brand assets (logo lockups) 

  • Begin developing a trademark/licensing program and related guidelines

  • Conduct a competitor review to see where your institution stands in the market

  • Update your style guide and make it available on your website. Here are a few examples:

Crisis Communications Planning & Documentation

  • You’ve likely learned a lot in the past couple of weeks about your college’s preparedness for issues management and crisis communications. While still fresh in your mind, tighten up your crisis communication plan and related documentation, or start documenting now if you don’t already have a set of standard operating procedures in place.

Digital Asset Management

  • Tag, organize, or setup a digital asset management system for photography and videos
  • Create caption files for all your video content

Digital Marketing

  • Plan digital marketing efforts for next fiscal/academic year

  • Get better tracking and measurement systems in place (analytics, Google Data Studio, Google Tag Manager, other tracking code, etc.)

  • ​Partner with career services and/or institutional research/effectiveness to review outcomes data and develop a plan to start highlighting this information (see also Writing section)

Internal projects

  • There are always projects that go to the bottom of the priority list that are more internal to your department, such as updating or revamping your department’s website and/or processes. Now is the time to raise them and re-evaluate them.

Professional development


  • Re-evaluate tools and potential integrations between tools such as email marketing platforms and CRMs.

  • ​Implement a project management system


  • Conduct user testing (there are several great remote testing tools)

    • Conduct a content audit

    • Is all of your top level content up-to-date? Relevant? 

    • Is content brand-aligned?

    • Is content quality where it should be? (no typos, good grammar, proper style)

    • Is visual content appropriate and current?

    • ​Are your campus map (visual map and descriptions) and virtual tour current?

  • Revisit your website governance process and related policies. Is anything in need of updating or revision?

  • Update your house style guide or website training documentation

  • Optimize your website analytics configuration, creating helpful views and dashboards


  • Write and bank stories for future web content and alumni magazines

  • Write outcomes stories – interview alumni

  • ​Per the outcome of your content audit, revise website content accordingly

We’re also hearing some schools are looking for strategic ways to reallocate budgets that were previously allocated to counselor travel, in-person events with venue fees and a slew of printing materials that are produced for them, etc. Ramping up on digital marketing efforts, from paid campaigns to SEO, are two of the most common areas we are hearing from their clients where they are putting their focus this spring.