PSU seeks new image

A marketing research firm gave Portland State a gentle presentation about the campuses’ marketing needs Friday, but the firm’s printed and detailed report was not so mild.

A marketing audit, the conventional starting place for a detailed marketing plan, consists of a detailed study of where a client presently stands in marketing plus recommendations as to where it ought to go.

Larry Lauer, head of Lauer and Associates, and senior consultant Kelli Horst delivered a PowerPoint presentation emphasizing the thoroughness of the research, saying that 70 people were interviewed and many points of view considered.

Under the plans of the audit, Portland State would establish a “brand.” Every department would be expected to adapt to a Portland State “message on a page” with clear branding and graphic guidelines.

The university must clarify the key tenets of its mission and vision, the report said. Currently there is tension that must be reconciled between goals like a push for more traditional students while offering a limited traditional campus experience.

Major targets for a marketing effort, the overview said, are student recruitment, fund raising, alumni relations and reputation building.

The audit document also calls for a central intelligence function to be defined as the university’s central marketing unit, as well as an assistant vice president for brand marketing who reports directly to the vice president for university relations Cassie McVeety.

The Lauer firm argued that integrated marketing has become a growing need for higher education institutions. Governments everywhere are cutting back on financial support, putting more responsibility on the institution to find more income.

Some of this added funding comes from stimulating more philanthropy, but the need is also identified for more effective student recruiting and more effective pricing. The audit argued that public institutions have fallen years behind in meeting market demands. Prospective students, meanwhile, have become more sophisticated about their choices of universities and more sensitive to university marketing.

Nestled on page 41 of the complete audit is the core of the recommended plan, the Lauer firm’s proposed organizational structure for the marketing function.

The assistant vice president for brand marketing would supervise a variety of personnel and functions. There would be a department of strategic communication with three full-time assistant directors and one communication specialist. Other departments or directors would include web communication, publications, editorial services, advancement communication, admissions marketing, community relations and special events.

“There is so little collaboration and brand clarity on campus at this point that we are starting with a blank slate in terms of creative effective processes,” the executive summary stated.

The Lauer firm’s overview argues for this central intelligence function with the overall authority to guide the strategic implementation of brand identify and reinforcement.

The recommendations seem almost certain to raise hackles in some areas.

Publications by all departments would be expected to contain some of the institution’s brand identification. The timeworn slogan “let knowledge serve the city” is dismissed as a potential brand.

An umbrella strategic marketing and communication plan would be developed for advancing a brand that can embrace specific plans for admissions, fund raising, alumni support, internal communication and marketing, as well as selected academic and other programs.

Both Horst and Lauer stressed that their plan would be overseen at every stage by “the big table,” a continuing group of PSU people who would consider and pass on strategy and changes.

The entire university relations staff, plus the university’s academic and administrative leadership, would be put through a master class in integrated marketing. There would be separate training for the integrated task force and its action subgroups.

The Lauer firm and Portland State President Daniel Bernstine seem to be in agreement about the need for the university to clearly communicate where it stands and what it has to offer.

The Lauer audit report commented on the resistances to branding and marketing. “People are used to their autonomy and won’t relinquish willingly resources or authority to an unproven strategy, especially when the commitment of university leadership to such an initiative is in doubt.”

To dispel this air of rejection, “It will take a mandate and proof of investment to convince the campus community that this process is for keeps and has the support to succeed.”

The on-campus input for this audit was executed by the firm on April 13-15 of this year. Interviewees were asked to consider 26 questions prior to their individual interviews. The Lauer firm was summoned by McVeety after Bernstine in January formed the President’s Integrated Marketing Task Force. At that time, Bernstine offered the assessment that “right now we are diluting our circle of influence with inconsistent communication.”

Ten students were among the interviewees, including Vanguard editor Christian Gaston, and Matt Petrie, Vanguard news editor and next year’s editor in chief.

The complete text of the audit may be accessed at