Recruit New Students with Infomercial

Portland State University has approximately 20,000 students, but we could use 20,000 more. I believe we should recruit them by producing a snappy half-hour television infomercial.

Infomercials are hot. With the decline in regular business, even the fussiest TV stations are running them. We know they are successful. Carleton Sheets sometimes runs his “No Money Down” simultaneously on two stations. Ron Popeil runs his Ronco table-top broiler every day. They work for educational institutions. Portland’s Western Culinary Institute runs them repeatedly.

There are definite formats to the infomercial. The most successful has lots of action and cutaways to people giving testimonials about how the product saved their lives. These action infos normally have two main performers. Unless it is a gender-specific product, like anti-aging cream, the two are a man and a woman. One of which is the head honcho, the other the sidekick. Either the man or woman can be the head honcho. There is another permanent cast member, an off-screen voice, strident and annoying, hectoring the viewer to buy the product.

I advocate our two performers be two former student body presidents, Tim Young and Bar Johnston. I visualize the opening with Johnston standing at the streetcar stop at Southwest Park and Market streets.

Feminists may protest this as sexist. Remember, this is marketing, not social justice. Marketing is like fishing. You get the bait out where the fish can see it. At Portland State men statistically are a minority. We need desperately to attract more male students. If Johnston jangles some male hormones, fine.

When the streetcar pulls up, Young jumps off and the two immediately start talking about how wonderful their education at Portland State has been. In the background, The Party in the Park is going on, so we know college is not all drudgery, there’s plenty of fun, too.

I like Young as head honcho because he is a nimble and energetic speaker, plus he appears amazingly youthful, young enough to have just escaped from high school and young enough to appeal to young women just out of high school. Johnston reflects high believability and a genuine warmth. We’ve got some irresistible appeal going here, but I don’t know who I would pick for that annoying off-screen pitch person.

As Johnston and Young stand there, they are joined by the new Miss America, PSU’s own Katie Harmon. She extols the virtues of a speech communications major and a career in bioethics.

Remember, we are “selling” PSU, no matter how distasteful some faculty members may find that idea. Our infomercial needs a theme that focuses on the buyer, not the seller. That well-known line, “Let knowledge serve the city” may be a fine motto, but it doesn’t sell. Neither does that former unmemorable marketing line which I vaguely remember as “Where education is an experience.” We need a theme that is customer-directed. It could be something like “Learning for a whole life.”

A theme like this has multiple meanings. It focuses on “learning,” which is the consumer benefit, rather than “education,” which is the product. It can mean learning at PSU gives you a life of wholeness. It can also mean you come here for lifelong learning, not a bad idea when the average student age is about 27 and many students are returnees.

Conceding that most students come to an urban university to find a life’s work, what can appeal to them most? Based on the response to casting calls for reality TV shows, I would say many people yearn to be TV stars. All right, we have got’em among our graduates. Steve Amen, the head of program production at KOPB, can appear in his “Oregon Field Guide” setting and also extol the virtues of his Portland State learning.

Another dream may be to become an athlete who goes on to the pros. Bring in alum Neil Lomax, formerly one of the National Football League’s highest paid quarterbacks. A little research probably could turn up similar successes of the female variety.

We must have faculty on screen, or the faculty will never approve the infomercial. The sad truth that the university is a little thin on ethnic faculty can be glossed over by featuring what we do have; President Daniel Bernstine can make a brief appearance. We can show Darrell Milner being interviewed by Portland media on a racism problem, as he often is. Suwako Watanabe can convince us we have Japanese faculty. Maria Alanis Ruiz can carry the same water for the Latino influence.

As our sales closer, we can advertise a free beginning student workshop. These ideas only hint at the opportunities for Portland State in recruiting through an infomercial. Given the place and the circumstances, I’d say the time has come.