Education

University of Iowa hits snag in search of multimedia marketing partner

The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa is considering its next move in a search for “creative” branding and marketing opportunities after its first attempt to secure proposals from suppliers hit a snag.

In its initial call for “experienced, financially sound, responsible, and forward-thinking marketing” firms to craft a “comprehensive and cutting-edge marketing program” for the campus as a whole, the UI asked bidders to submit a payment — worth 5 percent of a contract’s first year — with their proposals.

The idea, according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck, was to ensure vendors were committed.

“The outcome of this bid should result in revenue to the university and, therefore, we only want serious bidders,” Beck told The Gazette in January. “We also expect them to perform to their proposals, so once an award is made, the security is changed to a performance bond.”

The performance bond further commits a selected vendor to success, in that it requires — upon notice of an award and in subsequent years — a surety bond “as security for faithful performance of the contract.”

The university reported six people from two companies attended a pre-proposal conference in January to ask questions or clarify their understanding of the UI’s expectations. Bids were due Feb. 8, and the university isn’t disclosing how many proposals it received.

But Beck said the UI did not choose a supplier or award a contract “because vendors were not able to meet our performance bond requirements.”

The university on Feb. 14 issued a revised call for the campus-wide marketing and branding that dropped the demand for bid and performance security.

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The window for proposals on that revised appeal closed March 1, and the university hasn’t awarded a contract — which, according to Beck, means officials can’t discuss it further, including whether any firms submitted proposals.

Bid documents said “bonding requirements have been removed due to the fact that services will be new to the university,” making it hard to guess contract values.

Although a relatively novel campuswide multimedia marketing rights agreement would be the first of its kind for the UI, Hawkeyes Athletics and dozens of other major university athletic departments nationally for years have been contracting out exclusive advertising rights at games and weekly coaching shows, on ticket stubs, as new conference backdrops and seat cushions and even arena floors.

UI Athletics’ now 13-year-old agreement with Learfield Communications, for example, has enabled the branding of Carver-Hawkeye Arena’s floor as “Mediacom Court” during basketball and volleyball games and “Mediacom Mat” for wrestling events — boosting athletics revenue.

And that is the point of the UI search for a campuswide marketing partner. In the wake of tens of millions in state funding cuts, the UI is scrambling for alternate revenue streams.

The institution is not shy about its motivation.

“Supplier shall leverage these partnerships to increase revenue, student/faculty/staff recruitment and retention as well as engagement of university alumni,” according to the UI revised call for proposals.

Services could include advertisement across multiple media platforms; establishment of a preferred bank or credit union; use of retail space locations; promotional products; and events.

“Supplier shall be required to collaborate and work with any established partnerships as needed by the university, inclusive of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics,” according to the bid documents. “This agreement does not supersede or negate existing agreements.”

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The Hawkeye Athletics deal with Learfield began in 2006 and has been extended to 2026. Learfield recently launched a spinoff of its athletics promotional work under the name, “Campus+.” That division “drives new revenues and business partnerships specifically designed to align priority university initiatives with the corporate community.”

In its search for new revenue streams, UI also is considering partnering with an outside firm to operate its utility system. The university had planned to issue a request for qualifications from prospective suppliers April 1, but that hasn’t happened yet.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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