Regents launch "Iowa Brand" campaign, despite independent marketing efforts by universities

BY KRISTEN EAST | MARCH 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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Despite marketing efforts at all three state Board of Regents' universities, school officials support the regents' new "Iowa Brand" campaign.

The regents approved an agreement last week with ZLRignition, a marketing communications firm based in Des Moines.

"The University of Iowa is supportive of the board's initiative as another means, along with ongoing outreach efforts at each university, to demonstrate the profound impact that public higher education has on Iowa's future," said Tysen Kendig, the University of Iowa vice president for Strategic Communication.

Regent Robert Downer told The Daily Iowan last week the creation of an "Iowa Brand" would help garner more nonresident enrollment. In recent years, each regent university has paid thousands for similar assistance.

The UI already has a one-year $170,000 partnership with Mind Over Media, and officials expect to complete work with the firm this summer.

Kendig was unable to cite specific outcomes of the partnership with the Pittsburgh-based marketing firm because research is still in progress.

"Our relationship with Mind Over Media is to conduct research that will guide our communication efforts for years to come," he said.

John McCarroll, the executive director of university relations at Iowa State, said the Board of Regents' agreement with ZLRignition will bring similar positive results to the state.

"ZLRignition is a very good firm; there's a lot of good expertise there, and I think they'll be very helpful," he said. "… It's certainly helpful to bring in officials."

Iowa State has partnered with ZLRignition for more than 10 years.

Marc Harding, the director of admissions and enrollment services at Iowa State, said ZLRignition helped the university launch its "Adventure" recruitment campaign in 2005 to reverse a trend in declining admissions applications.

"Undergraduate enrollment has been steadily increasing during the past five years," Harding said. "I believe the work that [ZLRignition] has done for Iowa State has contributed to a greater awareness of Iowa State and enrollment growth."

Marketing officials for Iowa State were unable to provide specific contractual costs as fees have varied over the years. The school's current contract with ZLRignition runs through September 2014.

One marketing expert said the number of colleges and universities partnering with marketing firms has skyrocketed in the last three years.

"It's mostly due to the fact that in the past colleges and universities have been poor marketers," said Elizabeth Scarborough, the CEO of a Virginia-based marketing research firm. "In the last five or 10 years, they've learned that their brand is an asset, and it needs to be managed."

The University of Northern Iowa had a $113,000 contract with Edge Partnerships, a Lansing-based marketing firm, from 2009-2010. The firm helped UNI launch its "I Am … UNI" brand initiative two years ago.

James O'Connor, the executive director of university relations at UNI, said though the school no longer has funds to work with outside sources, it's important for the school to utilize its own resources.

"Our budget has been cut so severely so we're not doing anything now," he said. "[But] we've always done [marketing] internally," he said. "We always want to conduct research on a regular basis."

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