Comments

Assege HaileMariam, Ken Baker and I invite the campus community to participate in the 2011 strategic planning process. We hope to have stimulating, productive discussions that will prepare us to educate the next generation of students and help us build a sustainable future for EIU. William Weber

Marketing and Communication



About This Concept Paper

Cay Kolling (chairperson), Ken Baker, Paul Johnston, Jody Stone, and Vicki Woodard formed the subcommittee responsible for preparing this concept paper.

This concept paper was first posted on September 14, 2011.

Download the printable version.


Introduction and Background

EIU is currently conducting a $50-million capital campaign that began under the direction of Dr. Jill Nilsen, Vice President for External Relations. Upon Dr. Nilsen’s retirement, the university changed the focus of external relations to greater emphasis on philanthropy, alumni services and marketing. The newly created division is referred to as University Advancement. This vice-presidential area is charged with developing, facilitating, and strengthening relations with the university’s internal and external stakeholders. EIU welcomed Bob Martin as the new Vice President for University Advancement (VPUA) in February of 2010.

University Marketing and Communications (UMAC) is a division of University Advancement. UMAC works with areas across campus to develop advertising, web sites, and posters, and to help areas market their department or programs to internal and external audiences. While their main areas of focus are admissions, alumni services, and philanthropy, in recent years their work has grown to include almost all areas on campus. The UMAC staff consists of two public information specialists and five graphic designers.

The EIU web team was created in 2009–10 to address the growing need for EIU to have a greater web presence. This group consists of five employees under the direction of the Vice President for Academic Affairs. They are responsible for mandated information on websites, assisting departments with new and/or updating existing websites, and managing the EIU online calendar. The web team has made a concerted effort to bring all departmental web pages under the EIU website to the same format.

Many departments across campus have their own marketing agendas that the VPUA is now attempting to unify into a single strategy. Intercollegiate Athletics and the Doudna Fine Arts Center are among the most active areas in the university in marketing and communications.

Intercollegiate Athletics’ marketing and communication strategy is aimed at event attendance, fund raising, and providing information to a wide audience of Panther fans. The Associate Athletic Director for Media and Public Relations has one graphic designer/photographer and two sports information assistants that work to cover twenty-one sports and related activities. Athletics has much time-sensitive material, and the staff works hard to update information in a timely manner.

The new Doudna Fine Arts Center (DFAC) has opened numerous performance venues to attract audiences to see local, national and international artists. In the fall of 2009, Dwight Vaught was appointed as Director of the DFAC to begin a more comprehensive planning and marketing strategy. The DFAC currently direct-mails brochures and postcards to approximately 2,000 households, and they will distribute 20,000 brochures throughout the communities of Charleston and Mattoon. Their website, online ticketing portal, and advertising in local papers have been important marketing tools.

The Eastern Illinois Alumni magazine remains the most recognized contact with alumni. It is mailed three times annually to 5,700 Alumni Association members. The Alumni Newsletter is emailed to 33,429 addresses every month with about 20% of those being opened. UMAC handles all the marketing and design work for the DFAC and Alumni publications.

Lessons Learned

In 2008, the consulting firm Stamats conducted a web-based survey of 4,733 current students, alumni, prospective students, faculty and staff. The survey measured 28 perceptions about the university and asked stakeholders to list EIU’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. The survey was designed to determine EIU’s image and perceptions among stakeholders and to begin clarification of EIU’s brand and attributes in order to more effectively communicate with all key stakeholder audiences. Nearly three years later, in the spring of 2011, members of the university’s strategic planning steering committee led nearly 60 engagement meetings involving almost 1,000 individuals. Lessons learned from the Stamats survey and the engagement meetings are summarized below.

Prospective Students

Prospective students’ perceptions of Eastern ranged between average and very good. While no attributes rated extremely high (4.5 or above on a 5.0 scale), none rated below 3.5. The friendliness of people on campus was the highest rated attribute of EIU in the minds of prospective students. Other highly rated attributes (above 4.0) spoke to EIU’s perceived fun college experience, its variety of on-campus programs, its accessible and safe campus, and the value of an EIU degree. Almost a quarter of prospective students listed academics and programs as Eastern’s greatest strength. Other assets included its size, the general atmosphere, its affordability, and the personal attention offered by smaller class sizes. Location was EIU’s greatest perceived weakness among this group.

The Stamats report suggests that when contemplating what might keep prospective students from considering EIU, we should look to the low-scoring characteristics: availability of scholarships, quality of life in Charleston, quality of athletic programs, and student diversity. If these perceptions are unfounded, then EIU’s recruitment marketing program must target them for realignment with reality. If these perceptions are accurate, these issues should be addressed.

Current Students

Highly rated attributes (above 4.0) according to the 2008 Stamats survey speak to the quality of EIU in the minds of current students: the value of an EIU degree and the quality of EIU’s faculty, academic programs, and technology. In addition to the quality attributes that rated highly, 2008 students were also pleased with the variety of on-campus activities, the friendliness of the EIU community, the personal attention they received from faculty, and service and leadership opportunities. One in five students in 2008 believed that academics and programs of study represented EIU’s greatest strength. Students also mentioned personal attention/class size and faculty as strengths of the university. Attributes that rated below 3.5 (just above “neutral” on the 5-point scale) included quality of life in Charleston, amount of financial aid, and availability of parking. Weaknesses included parking, location, and academics. (So, while many more students saw EIU’s academics as a strength, there were some who felt academics was a weakness.) The 2008 Stamats report recommended that EIU address these issues in an effort to improve perceptions.

In engagements with the strategic planning steering committee, students expressed concern about the business community of Charleston and the lack of entertainment, restaurants and shopping. Students commented on the need for a better connection with local high schools and surrounding communities. Their comments also seem to indicate a lack of school spirit and promotion of extracurricular activities. International students feel EIU’s programs should be promoted to a broader number of foreign institutions. Students also suggested that Eastern have an increased presence at community colleges, that they make sure that students are more easily able to transfer, and that EIU works to conform to the greater electronic communication world.

Faculty, Staff and Administrators

Overall, faculty and staff rated 16 of the 28 attributes at 4.0 or higher in 2008 Stamats survey. Only two attributes rated below 3.5—ethnic diversity of students and availability of parking. While these mean scores are generally positive, it is concerning that quality of academic program scores appear as far down on the list as they do. Further, only about one-quarter of responding faculty and staff considered the university’s performance in the area of academic quality as “very good.” Faculty and staff felt that EIU was strongest in regard to personal attention. This group frequently mentioned parking, budget/funding issues, and location as weaknesses. The report also indicated that the quality of EIU students was not held in high esteem with some faculty and staff.

Committee engagements with faculty and staff confirmed that this group feels EIU has many positive attributes including student/teacher ratio, quality education and notable alumni. This group suggests there is a need for us to communicate our attributes better in our marketing and branding. They also would like the university to more effectively highlight faculty and student accomplishments and service. They feel that we need to celebrate our “teachers college” heritage and emphasize our safe and friendly campus. They are concerned that the community is stagnant and less inviting to students and is resulting in fewer faculty and staff living in Coles county. Faculty and staff are also concerned about EIU’s stature in the state and Midwest. They would also like to see improvement with internal communication and a centralized campus-wide calendar to inform all stakeholders of upcoming events. Faculty and staff also suggested that EIU cannot be all things to all people; therefore it is important that we better define ourselves. Faculty members noted that while the Daily Eastern News provides valuable journalistic experience for students, it is not always a positive reflection of the university.

Alumni

In the 2008 Stamats survey, alumni had positive perceptions of EIU overall and rate a number of attributes at 4.0 and above. Only two attributes rated poorly (below 3.5): study abroad opportunities and availability of parking. (This is the only instance in this survey when study abroad rated this low; perhaps alumni simply did not have information about these opportunities.) One-fourth of alumni felt that EIU’s size is its greatest strength. The next most mentioned strengths included personal attention/class size, academics, and faculty. The location was listed as EIU’s greatest weakness. From the alumni perspective, however, EIU is not well known and has problems with its reputation. Over half of the alumni in the survey did not feel connected to EIU in any way. (This is problematic for a number of reasons: encouraging others to attend, charitable support, word-of-mouth, and marketing.)

External Stakeholders

In community engagements with the strategic planning steering committee, external stakeholders expressed their appreciation for EIU and its contributions to the community. EIU is highly recognized and greatly appreciated as important to employment and economic development in the area. The community also appreciates the Student Community Service office and the projects it performs. Community members encouraged continued meeting between city and EIU officials. They would like to have access to a central calendar of events. They also expressed frustration with negative articles from the DEN. Parking is a topic mentioned by all constituents but is particularly frustrating to our visitors. There were concerns expressed about the attractiveness of the Route 16 entrance to Charleston. External stakeholders encourage EIU to maintain a presence in all of Coles county, not just Charleston. Improved collaboration with Lake Land College is seen as an opportunity for growth of our programs. Electronic signage surrounding campus about upcoming events was requested in a number of engagements.

National Trends

Universities have traditionally looked at factors that lead people to recommend the university to others: numbers of graduates, graduation rates, degrees granted, percentage of faculty with terminal degrees, and faculty research. Increasingly, though, these measures have been replaced by factors including the balance between the academic and social experience, the support for career planning, the strength of the relationship between the university and the community, and the university’s engagement with global issues. So, university marketing messages must adapt to these new paradigms. Alumni are often the key to conveying the quality of the university experience to prospective students. Furthermore, connections with alumni, faculty, and/or staff members often play an important role when students choose where to attend college.

Another recent study indicates that when universities invest in research and planning to guide their marketing efforts, increases in enrollment and the quality of applicants result. This study also found that 96% of universities still use print publications and that resources devoted to print have not declined. At the same time, the use of interactive and social media is growing, and increased budget in new media may come from decreased advertising budgets. The study suggests universities that invest in new media are more likely to report higher enrollment yields, quality of applicants, website hits, philanthropic giving, and alumni participation rates.

Future Directions

To effectively communicate with internal and external stakeholders will take a concerted effort not only by University Advancement, UMAC, and the web team, but by all areas of the university. University recognition and branding are paramount in marketing the university. The university logos have been standardized, but there remain areas on campus that fail to comply.

University Advancement has continued marketing practices that have worked in the past and is also implementing new strategies. EIU is working to increase exposure in the Chicago area and promote the new in-state tuition policy for students in neighboring states. With the Admissions office, they are using segmented marketing to target specific groups, including first generation college students, high school juniors, community college transfers, honors students, parents, and guidance counselors. In collaboration with the web team, University Advancement has also added sections on Notable Alumni, Faculty Research and Creativity, and Sustainability to the EIU website. President Perry has started writing a blog called “Eastern Ways.”

The university has also invested in social media, which is tremendously popular among our current and future students. In June 2011, Facebook received 79,967 views on the EIU page and 29,212 on the Alumni page. (These numbers are even higher during the academic year. To indicate the speed of electronic communication evolution, Twitter and Facebook were in their infancy at the time of the 2008 Stamats survey.) UMAC has continued to adapt to new media demands by assigning a graphic designer to handle electronic media. The web site team will also be launching a new EIU homepage in the summer of 2012. While new media are important, EIU is still recognized for its personal contact, so EIU will need to continue to take a balanced approach in communications with all stakeholders.

Summary

The perception seems to be that despite all our efforts, the positive message of Eastern Illinois University is not reaching some of our stakeholders. However, there seems to be an awareness that effective communication with students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, prospective students, and members of the local community is critically important to the university. With decreasing state support and increased competition for students, the university needs to clearly communicate Eastern’s many attributes to all stakeholders. This effort will help EIU to recruit the best students, faculty, and staff and to engage alumni and community members in meaningful ways.


About EIU

Eastern Illinois University is a comprehensive institution, fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. The university is located on 320 beautifully landscaped acres in Charleston, Illinois. Eastern provides the total education experience, while maintaining those personal relationships that its students expect and value. Offering 47 baccalaureate and 25 master’s degrees, Eastern enrolls more than 11,000 students in undergraduate and graduate programs. Small class sizes allow close individual attention and guidance by faculty known for their excellence in teaching, research, creative activity and service. During its 116-year history, Eastern has enriched the lives of generations of students and established a lasting reputation for excellence. The university’s reputation reflects its mission to provide superior, accessible undergraduate and graduate education in the arts, sciences, humanities and professions.


Six Strategic Themes