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?

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.

The 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!”

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.

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”.

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?

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