Iowa Board of Regents want to better brand state universities


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The state Board of Regents plans to seek aid from marketing firms to better promote the state's universities, and it has started by reaching out to one firm.

The regents say they hope establishing an "Iowa Brand" will mean more allocations for public state universities.

"By building a network and demonstrating to the public throughout the state what benefits [to] the state from public higher education can be helpful in making our case to the legislature for additional funds," Regent Robert Downer said.

Sheila Doyle Koppin, the regents' communications officer, said the regents recently approved an agreement with ZLRignition — a marketing communications firm based in Des Moines. Doyle Koppin said that though the partnership has been approved, costs are not available because an agreement hasn't been signed.

If approved, the firm would focus on one specific area of the campaign, Downer said.

The regents haven't been successful in promoting their universities in the past, he said. Private-college scholarships and community colleges are receiving more state appropriations, he said.

"Not to say these aren't all good sources [of where funds should go], but it has taken away money from public education," he said.

ZLRignition previously partnered with Iowa State University for integrated marketing, collateral, and public-relations studies. According to its website, ZLRignition "initiated a major re-branding effort on behalf of ISU to turn around a trend of declining enrollment."

ZLRigniation officials did not return calls Monday evening.

The University of Iowa has been working since March with its own $170,000 marketing consultant partnership with Mind Over Media, a Pittsburgh-based market-research company.

Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the nonpartisan Pell Institute, said Iowa is joining a growing trend of universities finding creative ways to offset tuition increases.

"I interpret this as a result or consequence of the extraordinary cutbacks in state support … that have occurred over the last 10 years or so," he said, and he noted that other states have been compensating for decreasing state appropriations in similar ways since 1980. "Iowa is, in some respects, catching up to what's going on nationally."

Not all regents in other states concern themselves with marketing their public institutions. Brian Steeves, the acting executive director of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, said the administrations handle school promotion and marketing rather than the regents.

"The board doesn't get directly involved," he said. "The board is active in terms of being a partner in the administration on it, but it's just handled more by the administration."

The Iowa regents also said they want to better promote the public universities through "roadshows" that encourage students to promote public higher education to legislators and taxpayers.

"It's not only a matter of selling taxpayers on more funds but also disclosing to them how the funds already made available are being spent and how they're getting good value for their dollars," he said.

UI Student Government Vice President Brittany Caplin said the UISG's governmental liaison is working with the regents to determine the potential outcomes of their partnership with ZLRignition.

"You have to show your value to the community," she said. "State appropriations should be coming your way. It's all about connections and getting people to care."

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