University of Iowa launches $756,000 marketing blitz

Efforts respond to Board of Regents funding model

University of Iowa senior Shelsey Monroy (second from left) talks about housing options during a campus tour for prospec
University of Iowa senior Shelsey Monroy (second from left) talks about housing options during a campus tour for prospective students at Burge Hall in Iowa City on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. The university is getting more aggressive in recruiting as it tries to grow its student population. (Justin Wan/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

In hopes of attracting, enrolling, educating and graduating more Iowa students, the University of Iowa today launched an initial $765,000 marketing campaign aimed at shaping how residents refer to and perceive the institution.

The University of Iowa is becoming the “University for Iowa” in its massive marketing blitz that will pepper the state’s malls, airports and venues with signs; push advertisements via television, radio and newspaper outlets; and hype its message at events such as RAGBRAI and the State Fair.

The campaign, which runs through the end of August, will spread the UI “story” via billboards, in video and audio spots on websites such as Pandora and Hulu, and through online video and display ads. Using the hashtag “#TheUforIOWA,” the campaign also aims to reach its younger audience through social media, according to Joseph Brennan, vice president of UI communication and marketing.

Faculty and staff also will make presentations across the state — 22 talks are scheduled through the fall.

“And the university’s admissions staff will line up visits to every high school in Iowa,” according to a news release.

The UI campaign comes in response to a Board of Regents decision last month to change the way it allocates state money by tying a majority of the funds to in-state enrollment. The new funding model allocates 60 percent of the dollars based on resident enrollment and the remaining 40 percent on things like progress and attainment, access, and research.

If the new model were immediately applied, UI appropriations would drop by $47.8 million. But, to lessen the potential impact, the Board of Regents agreed to roll out the model over a three-year period beginning in 2016 and to cap the amount of money that can move from one university to another annually.

That means if enrollment numbers remain unchanged at the state’s three public universities, the UI could lose up to $12.9 million a year. The UI marketing blitz is its attempt to avoid such losses by growing its student body — something it hasn’t felt comfortable doing in recent years.

“The university is seeking to grow its enrollment after several years of maintaining the size of its student body while it concentrated on rebuilding facilities after the flood of 2008,” according to the news release.

Brennan said UI officials in coming weeks will engage in strategic planning and analysis discussions to set targets for how much the UI can grow and determine a capacity that’s manageable.

UI President Sally Mason in a news release said the “for Iowa” message aims to “remind Iowa families what our university is all about.”

“We offer outstanding academic programs, we conduct research that adds to our state’s well-being and prosperity, and we have a rich history of serving Iowans everywhere,” Mason said.

And while the university is focusing more efforts on enrolling Iowa residents, Mason has said it won’t stop recruiting out-of-state and international students. Brennan said plans also are underway to expand UI marketing efforts to other regions.

“We want to recruit more students from other states and other countries,” he said. “They bring tremendous talent and diversity to us, and many remain here in Iowa to build their careers.”

This first marketing blitz could be followed by additional campaigns throughout the school year, Brennan said.

“(In August), we will step back and assess and decide where to go for the fall,” he said. “This is the first phase.”

Officials with Iowa State University, which has been using its “Choose Your Adventure” marketing campaign for years and now boasts the largest student body among the three regent schools, have said the institution doesn’t plan to change its recruiting and marketing methods in response to the new funding model.

“We have a marketing plan, and we have what I consider a very strong market-tested approach to what we are doing,” said John McCarroll, executive director for the ISU Office of University Relations. “Our approach is tested and has paid off. Our enrollment numbers are proof of that.”

University of Northern Iowa also said it doesn’t have any new marketing plans tied directly to the funding model. But, according to UNI spokesman Scott Ketelsen, the institution did roll out some initiatives to grow its enrollment last year.

UNI increased the number of campus visit days available to families, and it is ramping up its communications with high school students. The school also will debut new TV commercials in coming weeks, Ketelsen said.

And the institution has new admissions counselors out “telling the story of UNI primarily in the Iowa markets.”

“We are doing a lot of things,” he said. “But we have been working on these things well before the performance-based funding model was accepted.”

Ketelsen said UNI isn’t concerned about any increase in competition from the other regent universities.

“For us, it’s not about competition,” he said. “It’s about getting the word out about UNI. If we are the best option for a student and their college experience, then we want them to select us.”

So far, Ketelsen said, UNI’s efforts seem to be helping.

Numbers for this year’s incoming freshmen orientation are up 6 percent over last year. And orientation numbers for transfer students are up 8 percent, Ketelsen said.

Those numbers, he said, provide the “strongest barometer” for fall enrollment projections.

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