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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

PR & Marketing

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Fall 2004 Status Report

September 1, 2004

Development of a public relations and marketing plan was one of the five strategic priorities identified by President Davenport and his administration.

Those priorities included:

  • Develop and implement campus-wide plans including: Public Relations and Marketing; Enrollment Management Plan; Campus Facilities Master Plan; and Fundraising.
  • Promote diversity.
  • Establish a distance-learning plan.
  • Review and enhance graduate education.
  • Enhance academic excellence in undergraduate studies.

The goal of the public relations and marketing plan was to establish MSU as a "modern university" known for providing relevant, high-quality undergraduate and graduate programs throughout the region and state. This priority was to be established by addressing the objectives determined by President Davenport and listed below. Progress made toward reaching these objectives via a measureable, achievable approach is also listed below.

Step 1.

Initiate an RFP to solicit proposals and select a consulting firm to develop a University-wide marketing plan.

Through an RFP process, MSU hired Minneapolis public relations agency Weber Shandwick in April 2003 to develop an integrated public relations and marketing plan to support the University and President Davenport with its branding campaign.

During the development of the integrated public relations and marketing plan for MSU, Weber Shandwick used a conceptual framework for strategic thinking and campaign planning called Outcome Management™. This disciplined approach, based on in-depth research, assisted in gaining a better understanding of the MSU landscape, its reputation and its communications strengths and weaknesses.

Step 2.

Conduct research and analysis to assess MSU's current image.

Examine the University brand and graphic standards to determine if the University is appropriately and consistently represented in all its communications internally and externally.

As part of its research, Weber Shandwick assessed MSU's communication materials, including publications, admissions/alumni brochures and advertisements for consistency in look and messages, as well as professionalism of design. Weber Shandwick also provided recommendations on additional standards. Subsequently, the MSU Marketing and Communications Department updated and expanded the Graphics standards and made the online Graphic Standards Guide available.

The Marketing and Communications department hired Russell & Herder, a multi-media consulting firm, to conduct a web audit. With the Fall 2004 scheduled launch of the MSU portal, Russell & Herder was asked to recommend re-engineered navigation and content changes to position the portal as the internal electronic information resource and the MSU website as the primary external university communications tool. Furthermore, Russell & Herder was asked to develop web standards and templates that will visually support MSU's brand identity.

Establish University academic reputation goals and identify strategies to strengthen the perception of the University's academic reputation to constituent groups. Examine the impact of the University name change to insure that institutional recognition and reputation are appropriately recognized.

Through the following research and surveys conducted on MSU's reputation in the region, it was determined that while MSU is a respected state university that offers excellent programs and diverse opportunities for students, it lacks a clear identity for most people in the region. Opportunities to better position MSU as a state university of preference and excellence were then established as part of the public relations and marketing plan.


Stakeholder Interviews—Based upon a list of stakeholders, Weber Shandwick sought to interview a cross-section of key external stakeholders, including alumni, community members and business partners to assess MSU's overall reputation. Telephone interviews were conducted during the weeks of April 28 and May 5, 2003 . A cross-section of key internal MSU stakeholders, including faculty, students and staff was interviewed to identify communications issues, opportunities and reputation. Telephone interviews were conducted during the weeks of April 28 and May 5, 2003 .

Outcome Planning—On May 9, 2003, a half-day meeting with 13 members of the MSU administration, faculty, staff and alumni was held to assess the communications environment, identify key audiences, map communications goals and create a winnable outcome for the public relations and marketing plan.

Meetings with Collective Bargaining Groups—The plan's framework for the public relations and marketing plan was taken to the collective bargaining groups. Weber Shandwick received feedback from all the groups and made necessary adjustments to the communications goals and winnable outcome.


General Public Survey—A region-wide phone survey was conducted July 25 – Aug. 7, 2003, by research firm Ipsos Public Affairs, on behalf of MSU.

The intent of this survey was to connect with the general public and determine their perception of MSU. The participants of this survey were asked to define a "modern university" and explain what they expect from an exceptional state university. Respondents also ranked MSU on the attributes associated with an exceptional state university.

A total of 644 adults were contacted to participate in the survey, of those contacted 177 were disqualified from participating because they had never heard of MSU. This left a total of 467 adults who participated and completed the survey.

Key Influencers Survey—A similar survey was conducted simultaneously with key influencers. The intent of this survey was similar to that of the general public's survey, the difference being the audience. This targeted group was also asked to define a "modern university;" explain what they expect from an exceptional state university; and rank MSU on the attributes associated with an exceptional university.

Ipsos Public Affairs was given a list of approximately 180 key influencers that included business leaders picked from the top 50 publicly traded Minnesota companies; business leaders in the top companies that employ MSU graduates; elected officials who sit on key legislative committees; elected officials that represent southern Minnesota; and key members of the media. Ipsos received an 18 percent response rate—high for this type of survey.

Faculty, Staff and Administration—Weber Shandwick also created a survey for faculty, staff and administration at MSU to learn more about MSU's reputation. The Marketing and Communications department fielded the survey in early September 2003; MSU support staff compiled results and Weber Shandwick provided the final survey results analysis.

High School Counselors —The University fielded a second survey for high school counselors. The counselors were asked to define their perception of MSU; evaluate the strength of its faculty and staff; and define what an exceptional education meant to them. They were also asked to define a "modern university" and rank MSU on the attributes associated with an exceptional state university.

Stakeholders—Research was done to identify the University's priority stakeholders. With the help of the Marketing and Communications department staff, the top audiences were identified as students, faculty, staff, alumni and key influencers in the Mankato community, as well as the region.

For each of the identified stakeholders it was important to identify the gaps between the University's desired perception and the stakeholders' reality. The desired perception is what MSU knows about itself and wants others to know, and the reality is what the audience currently believes to be true about MSU.

Identifying and addressing those perception gaps is one key to successfully changing how stakeholders view MSU. Closing the priority gaps should create a domino-type effect on other perceptions. For example, if the perception gap that MSU has nationally recognized programs is closed, a subsequent narrowing in the perception gap about the quality of faculty and staff, name recognition and overall reputation should occur.

A key element of the public relations and marketing plan is to focus initially on building the brand with the internal audiences: students, faculty, staff and alumni. In order to ultimately change the perception of all of MSU's audiences, the internal audiences must be the first priority. It is very likely that our efforts would be blunted if we tried to influence business leaders, legislators, etc., if those within the University didn't believe or were unaware of the great things happening at MSU.

Focusing on higher-priority perception gaps also will allow MSU to better use its limited resources in the short term, while building sustainable momentum for a multi-year marketing effort.

The following were the top gaps in each of the audiences, all of which were incorporated into the tactics of the public relations and marketing plan:

AudiencesAwareness Gaps
Current students and parentsNationally recognized academic programs
Quality of its graduates
Strength of faculty and staff
AlumniNationally recognized academic programs
Quality of its graduates
Strength of faculty and staff
Faculty and staffNationally recognized academic programs
Name recognition
Overall reputation

Key findings of the above research and surveys concluded that:

  • Very few people know about MSU's nationally recognized academic programs.
  • MSU's overall reputation is viewed as "average" or slightly "above average."
  • Faculty and staff are not seen as a University strength.
  • MSU has no strong connection to any one attribute.
  • A vast majority of people already considers MSU to be a modern university.
  • MSU is exceeding the top three expectations of an exceptional university.
  • People who hear about MSU are primarily learning about it by word of mouth.

Step 3.

Develop the Public Relations and Marketing Plan.

The overarching goal of the University's marketing and communications efforts is to increase MSU's prominence in the region and strengthen its reputation as a provider of an exceptional education.

This goal is to be achieved by delivering on these five communication objectives throughout a multi-year marketing communications campaign:

  1. Define MSU's identity and articulate the MSU experience.
  2. Tell the stories that make MSU distinctive.
  3. Showcase MSU's excellence.
  4. Engage and motivate primary stakeholders to become MSU advocates.
  5. Share the larger vision of the University and the presidency.
Progress against these objectives thus far includes:
Objective 1: Define MSU's identity and articulate the MSU experience.

Identify a unified market position that presents the University to its constituencies including alumni, potential donors, the Mankato/North Mankato community, the Minnesota State Board of Trustees, the Minnesota Legislature, employers and key influencers as well as prospective and currently enrolled students.

The brand is an emotional and intellectual identification that can be influenced and reinforced through careful and consistent communication with the University's audiences. The brand must also be identifiably distinctive about the University and important to its audiences. As previously stated, research indicates the "Minnesota State University, Mankato" brand does not convey a consistent meaning or value across its audiences.

When President Davenport came to MSU his vision was to define MSU's brand as a modern university. The president recognized the talent and contributions the University's faculty, staff and students were offering the state, the region and the world. The president sought a brand worthy of the University.

While developing the public relations and marketing plan, Weber Shandwick worked with MSU to define the modern university concept and illustrate how MSU fits the description. The first step was to have President Davenport and his administration approve three attributes that best described a modern university. The group participated in a branding session and agreed on three attributes:

  • Dynamic
  • Collaborative
  • Inclusive

Assist in the identification of institution-wide and segmented marketing strategies to advance the institutional position among identified constituent groups.

The Marketing and Communication department established an Integrated Marketing Team, which consists of representatives from departments across campus. The team's objective is to ensure all departments' goals are represented in the overall marketing and communications campaign. The Integrated Marketing team will also ensure consistency of messages and graphics standards campus wide.

Develop the final draft and share with campus and constituents groups.

The MSU Marketing and Communications department created storyboards illustrating the three agreed-upon attributes by which MSU would be marketed and "modern" defined—dynamic, collaborative and inclusive—and took these boards and a presentation on the public relations and marketing plan "on the road" in an April 2004 internal launch to nearly 30 University departments and campus groups. These attributes and the positioning of MSU as a "modern university" continue to be under consideration, based on feedback from these constituent groups

Objective 2: Tell the stories that make MSU distinctive.

Story Mining—Weber Shandwick met with members of the Cabinet and college deans for "story mining" sessions. Story mining is a disciplined approach that helped identify the untold stories at MSU and discover what makes the University distinct. These initial stories were used as proof points for key messages and were used throughout the year for pitches to the media to promote MSU.

Additionally, a half-day planning session with the integrated marketing team was held to brainstorm possible tactics that would help meet the objectives of the public relations and marketing plan.

Proactive Media Relations—As mentioned above, the calendar of story ideas compiled from the story-mining sessions supported proactive media relations for the University. MSU Media Relations refocused its energies into proactive media relations vs. news bureau activities to better utilize in-house resources. The messages communicated in these stories served to address the awareness gaps amongst our key audiences. The Marketing and Communications department also purchased the use of project management software and hired a targeted clipping service to more efficiently plan and execute small and large media/public relations campaigns, systematically track and record media contacts, organize and measure the outcomes of these efforts, and share results with the campus community. The system is helping to accurately evaluate the success of media relations efforts.

Media Training—Media training through interactive sessions to prepare members of the MSU Cabinet and other key MSU spokespeople to communicate university key messages effectively through the news media—print, television and radio also occurred in 2004. Participants learned what journalists want and need, how news is defined and how journalists decide what is and is not newsworthy. They also learned how to prepare for and conduct a successful interview. Participants in media training with Weber Shandwick included: Dean Trauger; Kevin Buisman; Michael Fagin; Joe Kunkel; Patricia Lipetzky; and Patricia Swatfager-Haney.

To help MSU athletes and coaches best optimize media opportunities, Weber Shandwick will conduct a two to three hour media training session on September 22, 2004. This session will review what the media is looking for when they conduct and interview, what to expect when being interviewed, and how to make each interview opportunity rewarding for the athlete, their sport and the University.

Objective 3: Showcase MSU's excellence.

Magazine Advertising—In an effort to highlight successful MSU alumni, eight profile ads will be placed in Minnesota Monthly beginning in September 2004 and concluding in May 2005. Each will feature a photograph and short biography of a successful graduate and a sentence identifying the person as an MSU graduate. These ads will help celebrate successful, quality MSU alumni and encourage a sense of pride in the University and its graduates. Those alumni interviewed and photographed during 2004 in preparation for the ads include: Glen Taylor; Al Lenzmeier; Sandy Hey; Obie Kipper; Lori Menecke; Margaret McRae; Mark Kunerth and John Currie.

MSU Experts—With the assistance of the integrated marketing team and MSU IT, Weber Shandwick worked to enhance media access to MSU information resources by creating a web-based, searchable source list of faculty and staff members who could be positioned as experts in their field and be available for media interviews when opportunities arise. MSU Media Relations will proactively market the new web-based database to local, regional, state and national media by creating and mailing a postcard to reporters, editors and producers announcing this resource and where to access it. A portion of the MSU Experts database will also be marketed as a MSU speaker's bureau to regional civic organizations.

Weber Shandwick pitched Political Science Professor Joe Kunkel as a campaign expert for the 2004 Presidential Election. Kunkel has been featured as a guest on the one-hour Minnesota Public Radio call-in-show, Midmorning, and was quoted as an expert in a nationally syndicated Associated Press story and in the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press and other Minnesota media.

The Media Relations Office, with the assistance of Weber Shandwick, is pitching other selected MSU faculty experts to Twin Cities and southern Minnesota media.

Faculty, Staff and Student Recognition—A full-page ad featuring the 2003-2004 academic year accomplishments of MSU faculty, staff and students was published in the August 23, 2004 Free Press . One thousand copies were purchased and distributed at the President's convocation that day.

Alumni Wall of Distinction—MSU representatives and Weber Shandwick graphic designers met in June 2004 to discuss creative concepts for an alumni recognition wall. MSU mobilizes leaders and this visual display of alumni and their accomplishments will let internal and external audiences know about MSU's successful alumni. The Alumni "Wall of Distinction" will be located in the grand stairwell of the newly remodeled Centennial Student Union.

U.S. News and World Report Rankings—The U.S. News & World Report ranking formula gives greatest weight (25 percent) to the opinion of those in a position to judge a college's academic excellence. The peer assessment survey allows presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions to rate peer institutions on a scale of 1 to 5. The Marketing and Communications Office has direct mailed the University strategic priorities piece and the Fall 2004 Today magazine to this peer group. Quarterly communications via direct mail with these peer raters are planned in an attempt to educate and influence the opinions of these key individuals.


A funding request for Fiscal Year 2004 and Fiscal Year 2005 was finalized, submitted and approved in April 2004.

The FY2004 proposal secured funding for the following priorities. Progress against these priorites is included in the information above.

  • MSU Magazine Advertising $12,000
  • Proactive Media Relations $2,250
  • MSU Experts $6,700
  • Media Training $6,000
  • Web Audit $9,500
  • Faculty, Staff and Student Recognition $1,800
  • Alumni Wall of Distinction $15,000

The FY2005 proposal secured funding for the following priorities:

  • MSU Billboards $37,000
  • MSU Magazine Advertising $16,000
  • Proactive Media Relations $6,300
  • Media Interviews $11,200
  • U.S. News and World Report Rankings $2,500
  • Internal Communications Assessment $1,500
  • Bylined Articles $10,000
  • Faculty, Staff and Student Recognition $6,400
  • Lecture Circuit $8,000
  • Media Training – MSU Athletics Department $3,000
  • Post-Campaign Research – Spring 2005 $16,000