Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cheng on WSIU, Part the First: Logogate

I was feverishly finishing up syllabi yesterday so managed to avoid listening to Chancellor's Cheng special "Morning Conversation" of Friday until today; she was invited to respond to "clear the air" about certain questions raised by the Board of Trustees and yours truly. Plus she'll be back on Monday! Here I'll respond to what she said about the BOT special meeting and the concerns raised about marketing. A second post will follow, probably tomorrow.

Why did the BOT call a special meeting about the logo? The Chancellor really hit this question out of the park: the Board of Trustees has four new members who don't know what the hell they're doing. So she'll spoon feed them next time. That will go over well.

Marketing. The Chancellor started by saying the new logo did not cost $1.5 million. I'm not sure where that figure came from (she just blurted it out during the interview); rather, the spending went for all sorts of marketing efforts. Obviously the logo itself didn't cost $1.5 million (it looks more like about $1.50). The charge she raised is a straw man--perhaps she has learned something from our ace debate team. Then she argued that most spending was facilitated by "reallocating and reallignment" of current spending and staff. She said that almost all of the $1.5 million was covered by via savings, moving SIUC communications staff to other areas, etc.  This is a more substantive response. Is it true?

Not if the DE story of June 28th was accurate.
Cheng said she doesn’t know how much it has cost to hire Lipman Hearne [!] but said the university would be spending twice as much on marketing and advertising than before, which she said was originally estimated between $2 and $3 million.
So the plan was to double spending on marketing. The second half of that sentence is remarkably opaque. I took it to mean that SIUC is spending between $2 and $3 million now and will spend twice as much later.

Hoping for a bit of clarification, I looked back at the BOT minutes from May 11, where the proposal to hire an outside firm was passed (it can be found toward the end of the minutes). The rationale for the plan describes its funding source as follows.
The services will be funded from existing resources including the University’s marketing initiative fund and departmental advertising and marketing funds consolidated to support this coordinated recruitment initiative. 
And the resolution proper says this:
Funding for this purchase will come from the University’s marketing initiative fund and reallocated funds.
At the very least, central marketing funds have been increased by sweeping up marketing funds previously allocated to departments. But the language obviously leaves wiggle room for reallocation of other sorts of funds, which could include money saved through furloughs and empty faculty and staff positions.  I.e., it is consistent with doubling spending on marketing. I would therefore encourage Jennifer Fuller and the BOT to clarify this matter with the Chancellor: how much more are we spending on marketing than we did before?

In addition to the question of how much more we are spending on marketing, there is the issue of whether we were wise to hire outsiders rather than relying on our own faculty and staff. To my mind that's a tougher question: one can certainly argue that whatever we were doing in the past wasn't working tremendously well. But the Chancellor's claim that she is, in fact, making ample use of local talent strikes me as disingenuous. That certainly isn't what I hear from people in Art & Design. Indeed, if what I've heard is true, that department--which of course includes many experts in design, as one might have guessed--is again being forced to abandon their own high quality recruitment efforts to follow the university's brand. And of course by sweeping money from departmental coffers the university makes it difficult for any department to do any recruitment of its own.

We need effective marketing. Perhaps hiring an outside firm was a good idea. Perhaps local talent needs outside help. But so long as this new marketing scheme is perceived by many on campus--including many of those with the most expertise in the relevant areas--as an external imposition that hurts more than helps their recruitment efforts, it is money and effort wasted. The Chancellor has hired an outside firm to tell us who we are and spread the word to others. If we--the faculty and staff--aren't part of fashioning that message, if we don't recognize the new SIU[C] story as our story, that story won't have any staying power.


  1. It has been said... If you treat your employees like convicts... they will become... convicts.
    If you treat your experts like idiots... they will become ....far less than experts
    If you treat your greatest university & business asset (faculty educators & staff) like they do not matter... soon they will not matter...
    ... and when that happens... what does a University have to offer???

  2. Two points to consider
    1. The DE is notorious for garbling information and getting facts and quotes wrong. Its a student newspaper so most don't worry about that too much, but I would not rely on DE reporting if that is the sole source of information. I am not saying the info reported is wrong in this instance, just suggesting that it be independently confirmed before weighting it too heavily.

    2. Let's wait 10 days after tomorrow before we decide if the university's current marketing efforts are "wasted".

  3. 9:30: You are right that the DE garbles things--the sentence I quote was certainly garbled. That's why I looked elsewhere and expressed a hope that others would keep looking, too.

    I suppose we will really have to wait a year and 10 days for something like a reasonable data sample on the new marketing effort, since the marketing firm's efforts are just well & truly getting underway. Note that the President has already given the Chancellor credit for the massive 100 student spike in summer enrollment.

    I'm not opposed to marketing per se. I like to try marketing of my own--fliers for classes, the ostrich "favicon" for this site. Imagine a marketing effort that utilized the outside firm (its findings about views on SIUC throughout the state were valuable, for example) but began with a real campus conversation about what SIUC was all about--perhaps in conjunction with the revisions to [Southern] at 150. Instead, as I understand it, we've just outsourced marketing, including the decision as to what our "story" is, in the belief that marketing needn't be connected overly closely with the product; no, marketing is a self-sufficient enterprise that when done cleverly enough can sell anything to anyone. This might work with soap, at least in the short run. I don't think it will work with a university.

  4. Dave,

    Lipman Hearne held focus groups with selected people last year to match the "story" to the "product" that we already have. From what I heard, the marketers seemed earnest to get the story right.

    With that said, they failed to anticipate that a new logo so soon after the last new logo would be poorly received. I'm concerned that Lipman Hearne won't get the next steps right either.

    The university's mission statement, as overly long and unfocused as the SIUC statement is, and long-term plan, as long and unfocused as Southern at 150* is, should belong to us, not to a business that will be gone when the contract is ends.

    *No link to Southern at 150, as most of the links to it have been broken in the new Web site

  5. Good post.

    It isn't just the logo that is the problem. As many see it there are two problems here. First, what is SIU's "brand?" We are a 150 year old institution that had to hire an outside friend of the chancellor on almost her 1st day to provide us with an identity. What happens when she leaves? Let's face it, she has no vested interest in this school leading to one of two possibilities. 1. she'll continue to cross the board and be fired (the more likely scenario) or 2. she'll, by some miracle, actually succeed in which case she'll be off to the highest bidder at the first chance she gets. In either case, where will this brand be then? With absolutely no input from any of the campus community I see little chance of it continuing beyond her tenure.

    Next, what about the brands that many departments have built for themselves over the decades in absence of any help from campus? For some departments this will not just hurt but could jeopardize the very existence in a climate where the only thing that matters is student count and funds will not be there. I can think of at least 3 departments that can't recruit along with the rest of campus as their target students are far different than the norm. What will happen to those departments in an error when the university is telling the "we don't care, you'll do what we say?"


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