Marketing efforts differ than years past

Some who were involved with Southern Illinois University’s previous marketing efforts said the current set up is taking experience away from students.

Gene Kabbe, who now works as a graduate assistant in the dean’s offce at the College of Education and Human Services,previously worked for Barking Dog Productions, a former inhouse advertising group at SIU.

The group, which began in 2006, was composed of radio and television students who were hired to handle the university’s advertising efforts. It produced commercials that played on SIU’s website and aired on TV and radio stations as well as various movie theaters in Chicago and southern Illinois beginning in 2007.

Hiring students was seen as a more cost-e!ective way to market the university while giving students experience at the same time, Kabbe said.

“The purpose for Barking Dog Productions was to allow students — that had the pulse of young people — to make commercials that would relate to high school students,” he said.

The group’s first commercial, “SIUC: One Place,” aired for three months in 2007 and centered around the idea that SIU offers the unique opportunity to participate in many academic and recreational activities at one school, Kabbe said.

Barking Dog Productions also produced a “Dawg Tales” series, which were unscripted and spontaneous stories about student, faculty and alumni Saluki life.

The commercials were popular among alumni and faculty members, Kabbe said. However, Barking Dog Productions was shut down in 2009 after a dispute about the direction of SIU marketing between Barking Dog Productions and University Communications.

The debate was put before SIU President Glenn Poshard and the Board of Trustees, and University Communications won. Barking Dog Productions was shut down, and Kabbe said students lost the chance for hands-on experience in the field as a result.

Poshard said the decision to change marketing approaches was made to meet the university’s needs.

“I am certain that the need for the campus was for a more comprehensive and larger statewide marketing program, perhaps beyond the capacity of the capability of Barking Dog Productions,” Poshard said.

Michael Ruiz, director of University Communications, said the decision was based on administrative and budget reasons.

Ruiz said BDP paid students more than the normal student wage.

Because the university doesn’t have a simple process for paying wages above the student-worker scale, Ruiz said the students had to be hired as extra help employees.

He said this led to another problem.

Students frequently needed more than the maximum 900 hours allowed for extra help employees to finish their projects. The university then tried to hire them as restricted term appointment employees, which also caused problems because these were short-term appointments, he said.

“When these problems arose, I was unable to find a permanent solution, so I knew that we were going to have to make major changes if the unit was to continue,” Ruiz said. “However, even if I had found a solution to the administrative problems, there were still the fiscal problems.”

SIU has tried various marketing strategies since this decision. Kabbe said the university originally hired a marketing company out of Chicago for $250,000, which met with Barking Dawg students for their input.

“(The marketing firm) was impressed with our ideas for marketing the university,” he said.

After a couple years of small marketing efforts, Chancellor Rita Cheng revamped SIU’s marketing plan by hiring Chicago-based Lipman Hearne for $1.5 million for two years in 2010. This  past summer, the contract was renewed at $2 million for two more years.

According to its website, Lipman Hearne has interpreted and analyzed existing research, conducted new research and developed a multi-year marketing plan as part of its agreement with SIU.

“It is my understanding that maximum input from the campus community was sought by Lipman Hearne in developing a more extensive marketing effort, and I’m certain they would welcome any ideas and suggestions from our students,” Poshard said. “Universities cannot succeed without appropriate marketing efforts to tell their story and recruit students to their campuses. SIUC had gone for many years without this comprehensive effort until Chancellor Cheng began the new marketing initiative.”

Rod Sievers, university spokesman, said Lipman Hearne is working alongside SIU’s marketing department and the relationship is a collaborative effort. He said Lipman Hearne makes recommendations and it is up to SIU’s staff to decide how to execute them.

Ruiz said his department still has students help with the university’s marketing and communications. He said they help with video and text for social media, university websites, printed recruitment publications and in the call center.

“By the end of 2013, I estimate that we will have just as many, if not more, students working in University Communications as we do full-time employees,” he said.

Kabbe said he thinks the marketing contract is not only expensive, but also unfortunate for students. Other regional schools such as Western Illinois University, Illinois State University and Southeast Missouri State allow students to handle the school’s entire marketing efforts.

Tammy Morris, who was Barking Dog Productions’ secretary, said the loss of the program is disappointing. She said several students who worked with BDP have since landed jobs with marketing firms across the country.

“Barking Dog Productions was such a good asset for our students,” she said. “Former students who worked for us still contact me with their success stories and attribute them to their experience with us.”

Kabbe said he believes Barking Dog Productions gave students more experience and also produced better results than what the university is receiving from Lipman Hearne.

“There is a history of administration incompetence in marketing the university; thus enrollment keeps going down,” Kabbe said. “The definition of futility is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

The commercials were popular among alumni and faculty members, Kabbe said. However, Barking Dog Productions was shut down in 2009 after a dispute about the direction of SIU marketing between Barking Dog Productions and University Communications. The debate was put before SIU President Glenn Poshard and the Board of Trustees, and University Communications won. Barking Dog Productions was shut down, and Kabbe said students lost the chance for hands-on experience in the field as a result.

Poshard said the decision to change marketing approaches was made to meet the university’s needs.

“I am certain that the need for the campus was for a more comprehensive and larger statewide marketing program, perhaps beyond the capacity of the capability of Barking Dog Productions,” Poshard said.

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