How to market your internal IT department

Without some element of marketing, IT will often be neither seen nor heard, unless summoned, save for the rumor mill rehashing its most recent stumble or failure. Here's how to promote IT's image.

Marketing their organization is something most CIOs spend little time considering. While no one likes a shameless promoter, many of the most successful IT organizations I have worked for actively market themselves around the corporation, even if they may not use the term "marketing" to describe their activities. Without some element of marketing, IT will often be neither seen nor heard, unless summoned, save for the rumor-mill rehashing of its most recent stumble or failure. With some simple marketing efforts, the company as a whole can be reminded of the services IT can offer, informed of recent successes, and be seen as a home to thought leadership on technology. Here are a few simple ways to market your internal IT organization with little to no marketing budget and a minimal investment of time.

Change your attitude

The most effective leaders in any organization are those who can sell their vision. While it may seem crass to call every great leader an effective salesperson, it is largely true. Effective leaders can pitch their point, expound on the benefits that are most likely to appeal to the current listener, and then "close the deal" with the support of much of the organization.

This "sales" attitude permeates everything from management presentations, to structuring organizational efforts that appeal directly to potential "customers." IT especially is a group that peddles ideas, and considering every interaction with other business units as a chance to pitch your most compelling ideas can do wonders for how you structure a proposal and present its benefits. While something like enterprise software might affect the whole organization, a change in attitude will cause you to present the package differently to operations than you might to finance and will cause you to have laser-like focus on appealing to the listener's interests, rather than self-centered technical discussions or questionable and unconvincing "benefits."

Drop the jargon

The most effective marketing reaches us in a language we can easily understand. The same product description will use different language and imagery when targeted at one group versus another, but in each case will appeal to those groups in their own terms. While we in IT may get excited by talk of virtualized cloud services and ITIL frameworks, the people impacted by these technologies usually care less about the fancy verbal footwork and simply want to know how their working lives will be improved by what we are peddling. When we can separate the benefits from the technologies that deliver them and effectively articulate those benefits, then IT will be best presented and most easily accepted and embraced.

Become a thought leader

Technology, especially in the consumer space, is changing at a record pace. Most of us have been cornered and asked for an opinion on some new gadget or technology making the press's rounds. Rather than waiting for these ad hoc "hallway moments," publish an informal newsletter that talks about some of IT's recent successes and addresses current technology trends. There's no shame in having a young staffer who is passionate about the latest mobile technology pen a couple of paragraphs about how Android could affect the company or about some apps that could help the iPad become a productivity tool. If you as CIO are not presenting this information, executives may be looking to teenage children or staffers outside IT, making corporate IT look like a dated dinosaur rather than a trend spotter.

An IT newsletter need not be an overwrought, ten-page affair with marvelous graphics. It can start as a simple four or five paragraphs that are e-mailed to a handful of colleagues. The best are informal and informational that address the concerns of readers. Ask a trusted colleague or two what technologies they are following and interested in learning more about. Combine this with short and subtle promotional features about IT's recent successes, and you have a winning formula that presents IT as competent and knowledgeable. Old-fashioned e-mail is usually a better tool than a blog buried on an internal Web site that few will read, and if you are comfortable with it, self-effacing humor and an informal style will gain more readers than a staid yawner that reads like a master's thesis.

While marketing is probably one of the last things you thought you would need to worry about as an IT executive, any organization, whether it is a Fortune 100 company or an IT department of five people at a small company, can benefit from being presented in the best possible light. Dedicating four or five hours each month to these activities can build trust in the IT department, improve its image, and even make the next budget-approval process far less painful.