Subscribe to the Journal, call 505-823-4400

          Front Page

Polishing UNM's Image: $4M

By Martin Salazar
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          A MasterCard commercial for the University of New Mexico might go something like this:
        Building a better identity for the school: $250,000.
        Hiring a Washington, D.C., media strategist to help cast the university in the best possible light: $152,000.
        Basking in the glow of a stellar image: priceless.
        In its ongoing quest to gussy up what it describes as a lackluster image, UNM has contracted with an Albuquerque agency to help identify and strengthen its brand.
        The $250,000 price tag for UNM's latest image-improvement project is part of an extra $900,000 the university is pumping into its communications and marketing efforts since President David Schmidly took office in June 2007. The university plans to spend more than $4.4 million this year on strategists, marketing campaigns and in-house communications staffers, a Journal review has found.
        The expenditures will be universitywide, encompassing everything from the school's main communications and marketing office to the Health Sciences Center, individual UNM colleges and Lobo athletics.
        "The university's reputation is directly connected with student success," Schmidly said in announcing the $250,000 contract awarded last month to McKee Wallwork Cleveland. "Telling our story will attract the best and brightest students, faculty and staff. It will invoke pride in the minds of those who shape and are shaped by this institution."
        The extra $900,000 was generated through tuition and fee increases and reallocated internal savings, UNM Associate Vice President Andrew Cullen said.
        "(President Schmidly) wanted to beef up the communications and marketing function for the university, and this is our opportunity to do that," said Susan McKinsey, UNM's communications director.
        Several colleges and divisions, including the Anderson School of Management and the School of Engineering, also have their own marketing staffs.
        UNM marketing director Cinnamon Blair said one goal of the branding contract is to get UNM's colleges and departments on the same page.
        "If each department or school is doing its own marketing and messaging ... it dilutes the university's brand," she said.
        The next steps
        Blair said the contract's first phase would involve detailed research about perceptions of UNM. Past research has shown that people recognize the Lobos and Health Sciences Center but don't have much of an impression of the university.
        Next, McKee Wallwork Cleveland will work with a UNM task force to create and refine the university's brand portfolio. Most people already identify the university's logo — a red circle rising behind a pueblo-style tower. The university hopes to develop themes and key messages that will convey the essence of UNM and come to people's minds when they see the logo.
        Companies like Volkswagen have been extremely successful in their branding efforts, Blair said, noting that when people think of Volkswagen they think safety. UNM also hopes the renewed marketing emphasis will lead to an increase in student applications and greater pride for students, faculty and staff. Full-time enrollments have declined over the last two fall semesters.
        Beyond the quarter-million-dollar branding contract, more than $250,000 of the extra money will go toward such things as advertising and television spots, McKinsey said. She said another $250,000 — perhaps less — will be used to hire additional staff for UNM's main communications and marketing department. The department now has the equivalent of 13.75 full-time positions. The remaining $152,000 is going to Washington, D.C., consultant Mike Collins, who provides media strategy and other services to UNM.
        Fraction of budget
        While UNM has upped its spending on communications and marketing since Schmidly's arrival, the total still represents less than one-quarter of one percent of UNM's $2 billion budget.
        Collins said that, if anything, UNM spending in this area is below that of its competitors. "It's never been more difficult for universities to recruit and retain qualified faculty and researchers and gifted students," he said.
        A 2007 national study by the marketing firm Lipman Hearne found institutions that invest heavily in marketing and communications see more applicants.
        Billy Sparks, executive director of communications for the Health Sciences Center, said the average health organization spends 3 percent to 5 percent of its gross revenue on outreach and advertising. At UNM, he said, it's less than 1 percent.
        "It really is our responsibility to inform the public of services available as a safety net institution for the people of Bernalillo County and New Mexico," he said.
        The UNM Cancer Center saw a 14 percent increase in patients last year after launching its marketing campaign.
        Athletics spends $644,000 on media relations and marketing. Kurt Esser, associate athletics director for external affairs, said the Lobos also get about $1.6 million in in-kind advertising from television, radio and newspapers.
        "We want to create demand in all the different ways we can for interest in the Lobo athletics," Esser said. "And in the broader sense, we think that we're the front porch of the university, so if we're doing things great and people grow up in this state or region and are excited about the Lobo athletics, then maybe they'll also check out our business school or the law department ..."