U’s $2M marketing campaign focuses on research

by Mike Enright

Now that campus streets are plastered with bright yellow question boxes, students are questioning what’s behind the University’s new marketing campaign.

The $2 million, two-year initiative, dubbed “Driven to Discover,” aims to explain why the University wants to become one of the top three public research institutions in the world.

Ideally, the campaign will alert more Minnesotans about the importance of University research and how it affects their lives, said Linda Thrane, vice president for University relations.

“We found that there is broad awareness of the University and broad support for the University, but it doesn’t go very deep,” Thrane said. “In particular, (people) don’t understand the research that makes us different from other higher education institutions in the state.”

A 2006 survey conducted by Thrane’s office shows that more Minnesotans think it is “very important” for the University to provide a high-quality education – more important than to become an international leader in research.

“So the University has a lot of work to do,” Thrane said. “We need to get people to understand how beneficial research is and how it makes us different from other schools.”

Thrane said the campaign took off in January, when the University began the planning phase of the initiative.

Journalism junior Lindsey Andrews said she doesn’t think the $2 million cost of the campaign is worth it.

“The University could use that money to continue doing what they’re doing, instead of telling people what they’re doing,” she said.

Thrane said the campaign is worth the price tag because it will help the University garner resources to support the research mission.

Howard Liszt, a senior fellow at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication who advised the campaign, said the marketing efforts are creative.

“I find the campaign to be quite fresh and original and I’ve never seen anything quite like it at a college or university level,” he said.

From the start, “Driven to Discover” has been a cooperative effort that has included input from faculty and staff from all over the University, Liszt said.

University marketing efforts aren’t unprecedented.

“Almost every other school in the Big Ten has some much more ambitious form of using the tools of marketing to tell their story,” Thrane said.

The University Foundation and the Alumni Association paid for what the University calls the advertising part of the campaign – about $600,000 for television, radio and print ads, Thrane said.

The University footed the bill for the other $1.4 million, she said, which was paid for with earnings from University investments, allocated by University President Bob Bruininks.

The University’s share went into development plans, creating ads, banners, integrating a new Web site and those little yellow boxes, called sidewalk clings.

Most students interviewed said they don’t know much about the campaign yet, including biochemistry senior Shawna Persaud, who said she came to the University because of its strong research reputation.

“You see a lot of random facts, but there’s nothing really tying it together,” she said.