Realize: How Not To Market a University

Lately I’ve noticed several different University of Regina billboards around Regina. Now if you immediately jump to “but Jeph you saw them and remembered them.  Isn’t that a great billboard?!?” Hardly. Not all exposure is good exposure.  Do you think BP’s oil spill was “good” exposure for the company?

Be a Project Management Guru - U of R Billboard in Regina

The first billboard caught my eye because it says “Be a Project Management Guru” Really? REALLY?  How many grade 12 kids are aspiring to be a “guru” in anything, let alone project management?  This one shouldn’t have got past the brainstorming session.  No one aspires to be a guru in anything.

We've go your back - University of Regina - Billboard in Regina, SaskatchewanThe next one says “We’ve got your back. Ensuring your success”. Thanks, but I don’t need my post secondary institution to “have my back”. I want them to be the smartest, most prestigious institution in the province, maybe country.  And how are you “Ensuring” success?  Sounds like a promise they can’t fulfill.

“We got your back” sounds like something the mob would tell you. “Don’t worry bout it, Vinny’s got yer back!”

Enrich Your Personnal Side - University of Regina Billboard The third one reads “Enrich your personal side.”  So they think spending $500 a class is a good way to ‘enrich’ your personal side?  I can think of at least 287 different things to do for $500 that will ‘enrich’ my personal side.  People go back to school to get more letters behind their name, boost their ego, learn something new, or all of the above.  “Enrich your personal side” sounds like the tag line for the Moose Jaw spa or Glee club.  Albeit, I am no where near the demographic this billboard is targeting so I could see the argument that my parents may enjoy this billboard, though I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t look twice at it.

I don’t want to come off as a negative Nancy here so here are some ideas of how I’d run the marketing department.

Contrast the U of R’s billboards to what the University of Saskatchewan has done.

University of Saskatchewan Huskies Billboard, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan I also remember a billboard the U of S put up in Regina last fall that had on it the number of CIS Championship Titles the Huskies have won.  That’s smart.  That makes me look up to their school and want to be a part of it.

My alma mater thinks I want to be a ‘guru’.

I have written about the UofR before and I’m going to make the same argument.  Tell the best story you have to tell. The Hill School of Business JDC West team won it all this year.  That’s right, they beat UBC, U of A, U of S, U of C, U of M, and every other school in Western Canada.  The marketing department (or the UofR’s agency) could have been on their toes with a billboard campaign stating “Best Business Case School in Western Canada – 2012 JDC West Champions”.

U of R mock Billboard That’s not a regular billboard. Put that up in Saskatoon and see what response you get.

It’s not only JDC that’s doing amazing things at the U of R, how about our women’s basketball team, ranked #1 in Canada right now. Tell people that. Put it on a billboard. Show people that the U of R isn’t a joke where people go to become a guru, but much more than “just” a regular school.


I know what you’re thinking. It takes months to plan an ad campaign and weeks to implement it. As long as you believe this to be true, the U of R will never have a remarkable marketing campaign.


Last fall, Siast put up this billboard and pissed off a lot of people.  As Martin Lindstrom states in the book “Brandwashed”, when coming up with a new campaign, determine who you target audience is not and try to tick them off.  If you can piss off a certain demographic, you usually make another demographic extremely happy.  Essentially from the book “Rework“, pick a fight.

You see, people who have BA from the U of R are the ones pissed off.  And who is the least likely of all people to enroll at Siast?  People who already have a BA or BBA.  Siast was brilliant in putting up this billboard.  They were pissing off the people that they weren’t targeting and creating an allegiance with every young kid that was thinking a University degree might be waste of time.  That’s very smart marketing.

Always remember,

“The number one thing you don’t want is for people to be indifferent about your brand.”

-John Morgan, Brand Against the Machine

We still talk about the Siast billboard, that means it was remarkable.

Or here’s a radical idea – scrap the marketing department altogether and give the budget to recruitment.  After all, what’s the goal of the marketing department?  To gain more exposure or to increase enrollment?

Thoughts?  Do you want to become a guru?  What other ways could the U of R’s marketing be improved so it’s not embarrassing for Alumni to see billboards with our schools logo on it?

13 replies
  1. @kiltedbroker
    @kiltedbroker says:

    Jeph, I absolutely love this post – thanks for bringing this together. I didn’t realize how bad the U of R marketing was, actually I didn’t notice it at all. In fact it is the SIAST marketing that has always bothered me. However that last Billboard, Congrats on your BA, see you this fall… is AMAZING!

    To hear through the grapevine that someone may have lost their job over that one is so backwards. In one clever marketing message, they were able to get me (someone who absolutely hates traditional methods of advertising) to laugh and get behind a school that I have otherwise never liked. They finally take a huge step in the right direction and hopefully the person behind it got a raise and not a pink slip.

  2. Derek
    Derek says:


    I agree … and I disagree all at the same time.

    Two of the billboards you show are not aimed at high school kids, they are for the working person, looking to upgrade their skills – be it professional, or personal. (The “we’ve got your back one” is weak, and I certainly would’ve considered the U of R if they were case based 10 years ago). However, while their choice of words “guru” may not be ideal, in the IT industry right now, certifications & designations are required to advance your career. So, if you are a young professional aspiring to a be Project Manager, you need your PMP … and to get your PMP you need training … so, this one could actually peak the interest of a lot of people, especially in a place like Regina, where there is a large amount of IT work. So, while the billboard may not have been the best, they marketing department did a good job of identifying their target market. I think … keep in mind, I’m just an IT guy.

  3. Kim H
    Kim H says:

    Speaking of picking a fight…do you remember the Burger Baron billboards (before they opened the east location) that said “Finally a reason to go to the north end”. I thought it was hilarious, and I’m a northender myself. But I’m sure many others did not find it as amusing.

  4. @DerekWu
    @DerekWu says:

    Great post Jeph. I couldn’t agree more, however, we must keep in mind the realm of traditional media in general. Traditional media isn’t necessarily meant to create a call to action, but rather just to state something in bold and create Top of Mind Awareness. I’m not saying what the U of R did here was correct and in fact I think it’s weak at best, however, I get the drift of what the message is supposed to accomplish.

    Your creative idea would be a great way for the U of R to exploit its most recent accomplishments, Something that I think people would appreciate (especially Alumni). I think posting these across Saskatchewan and in other major cities across Canada would pose as a great recruitment tool.

    Also, “Big Ups” to SIAST with their billboard campaign. I love the odd board that can step on a few toes and that can leave a lasting impression on the people who saw it.

    I’ve “got your back” bro!


  5. Matt
    Matt says:

    Great post Jeph,

    I’ve been attempting to take a project management course through the U of R for quite some time now (three years, to be exact). The courses are not offered very frequently (often only once a year) or at convenient times (for a working professional – usually during the workday). They also only offer one program. So, I had to chuckle a bit when I saw the above billboard. I am a young IT professional, attempting to advance my career, but the U of R has not been very helpful in doing so. The U of S, in contrast, offers a few different project management courses/programs throughout the year. I’ve since registered for a course in Saskatoon.


  6. Brodie Aikman
    Brodie Aikman says:

    Interesting post. I agree with a lot of what you said. Esp the whole “guru” thing. I hate that word, along with ‘rock star’ or people claiming to be at the forefront of some sort of revolution. It just comes off so infomercially and snake oil salesman-like. People positioning themselves as experts to make a quick buck telling people stuff thney can learn from a few books and a couple of hours on the internet.
    I do however find the comparison of the bp oil spill to billboards misplaced. I understand the use of hyperbole, but it’s a little off the mark.

  7. @chaboiTGalon
    @chaboiTGalon says:

    Good Post Jeph, seeing both sides of the coin is always the best way to force perpetual improvement and that’s exactly what you did.

    The one thing I noticed going through them, is the boards with colored backgrounds catch my attention more than the white ones. I don’t think this is for the obvious reason of aesthetic appeal, or lack thereof; but more so for the following reason. I am usually reading all day, usually things I enjoy and/or things at work. I find I’m a lot less likely to read something “on a drive by” if it feels like someone else is putting a piece of paper in front of me. Reading the white boards, and particularly the ones filled with writing and/or fine print feels like a chore and they’re more likely to lose their audience before they finish taking in the message. I know these may be elementary “marketing 101” observations, but still often forgotten by many ad campaigns.

    Side note: I agree, it does take the proper time to plan and execute an ad campaign. However, digital outdoor billboards (also known as DOA) have significantly reduced the amount of time it takes to have a billboard advertisement produced and live. They can also be very nimble throughout an ad campaign for updates as a campaign progresses.

    Enjoyed the read, keep ’em comin’.

  8. Jeph Maystruck
    Jeph Maystruck says:

    Jackson – Thanks for reading!

    Derek (1) – I can see where you’re coming from on the Guru bit, though I would still disagree. Just seems so geeky or out of place to me. I like how you blame it on being an “I.T.” guy ha!

    Taron – Cheers!

    Kim – I also thought that was a hilarious billboard and I’m from North of Dewdney. Annnnnd I just lost half my readers in the city. Thanks for reading.

    Derek – “Top of Minda Awareness”?!?!? Shut the front door, you must remember it to be anywhere in your mind let alone the top of it. I wouldn’t say this campaign accomplished that either. It was too “safe”. We’ve had this debate before. 😉

    Matt – Very interesting story, I hope someone in admissions sees your comment and offers more class options. Maybe then you can be a Project Management Guru. Cheers my friend!

    Brodie – You picked the BP oil spill remark as the misplaced part of this post? That’s so peculiar.

    TG – Digital Outdoor Billboards? Where did that come from?!? I know I know, I lot easier to change on the fly, makes sense. I do like your thoughts on the reading and color of billboards. Very smart.

  9. Brodie Aikman
    Brodie Aikman says:

    Well I actually found a few things misplaced. The BP oil spill just stood out – it’s like saying don’t eat chicken cuz Hitler ate chicken. It went so far out it didnt prove any point. I also found the basketball idea misplaced. No offense to college athletics, but do you really think 90% of people looking for a school to go to factor in the ranking of the schools sports teams? How does that get me the world class training i need to get a career again? Show me the people teaching me – awards they’vr won. Actual academic accomplishments that mean something to people looking to get a quality education. I agree the current stuff out there is weak, but if you’re going to critcize them, make sure your suggestions are better. Billboards with 27 -33 words will not be read in the few seconds you have to make an impression. A billboard with that many words would never be effective.

  10. Jeph Maystruck
    Jeph Maystruck says:

    Whoa whoa whoa Brooodie I’m sorry you thought my ideas sucked, but that’s all that they were, just ideas. I wouldn’t have put those up as is, c’mon, don’t be a silly nilly. I’m definitely not a designer. And you’re right, showcasing the positive side of our academic achievements is a great idea, maybe you should design the next billboard for them.

    As for the BP oil spill, it was an exaggeration trying to prove the point that “any exposure isn’t good exposure”. As in, just having your name out there in the media or on a billboard doesn’t always mean it’s benefiting you. Next time I’ll try and provide a more definitive example for you.

    As for your previous comment, it’s easy to take shots at people who are doing something different. Giving feedback is easy. Receiving feedback is hard.

    Next time I’ll try to do better.

  11. Brodie Aikman
    Brodie Aikman says:

    As I said in my first post, I understood the BP oil spill comment to be hyperbole, i.e. exaggeration to prove a point. And I wasn’t taking shots or think what you suggested was really different. I understand it’s easy to give feedback – that is what your blog post was, feedback on the billboards. So when you offer an alternate suggestion, they are open to the same criticism of effectiveness. And I also understood the billboard would still need designing. I was commenting on the copy that while integrated closely with design, is an artform onto itself.

    Perhaps my first comments were a little inflammatory, but I think taking shots is a popular pastim in this industry, especially locally, and I apoligize for playing that game. It seems too often the business plan is built around building one’s self up by tearing others down, instead of resting on the work and results people get for their clients. In the end that is really what should matter creating the best work set within the parameters of getting the clients the best results for their business. Somtimes that means a portfolio worthy piece. Somtimes not.

    This industry is in need of a little more love and a lot less vitrous. From henceforth I am choosing to love. I agree, ALL of us should stop the shots and learn from celebrating the good, not always admonishing the bad.

  12. Jeph Maystruck
    Jeph Maystruck says:

    Thanks for the apology Broooodie. Whenever I’m talking about advertising in a negative light I always try to offer ideas or examples that could be used instead. Always trying to put a positive spin on an otherwise negative post. I hate people that just complain. Complaining is easy. Coming up with ideas or alternatives, attaching your name to them, and making them public is hard. I’m just trying to create a place for healthy feedback, not just bashing billboards (that site isn’t up yet ;)).

    People disagreeing with me makes my site sooooo much better, so I thank you.

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