I shared in my last blog that I came across a brief legal ad published in the Southeast Missourian over the Memorial Day weekend.
It was a notice from the University for a no-bid single source purchase for services from Ologie, the Ohio marketing firm that created SEMO’s current promotional campaign, “The Will To Do.” No dollar amount was listed in that legal notice so I went through the steps required to get answers from the University to several questions that this advertisement raised. Their response, which I got last week, generated even more questions. Those additional answers I got this past Tuesday evening.
In a nutshell, this fact-finding mission has inspired me to quit my job and become a full time consultant.
That apparently is where the money is.
First a little background on the University and its association with Ologie. The firm was hired by SEMO in 2014 to do market research and brand analysis after a bidding process that attracted 8 vendors. It was reported in the Southeast Missourian at the time, that this work was going to cost the University an estimated $193,000 with the goal of creating a “more focused approach to attracting students.”
The University calls this initial work Phase One. According to them, Ologie was paid $192,999.19 for Phase One.
After the initial market research Ologie was needed to assist in “implement(ing) / launch(ing) the work.” This was Phase Two and an option in the original Request For Proposal, according to the University.
SEMO paid Ologie an additional $96,721.15 for Phase Two.
For sake of continuity, we will call the current phase of the Ologie project, the legal notice I spotted on Memorial Day Weekend, Phase Three.
The University estimates this phase will cost $150,000.
SEMO says “the work is limited to the creation of enrollment messaging concepts that align with the existing Will To Do campaign.” Marketing collateral and media purchases are not included in the estimate. Their justification for using Ologie is that the marketing firm can “quickly refine Southeast’s brand without redoing efforts previously completed such as focus groups, communications audits and interviews.”
It is difficult for me to grasp how the University can find this sizable amount of money to spend on “refreshing” a marketing campaign when it was facing a $6.1 million budget shortfall just 6 months ago. Perhaps they won the lottery or found $150,000 secreted away in an old pair of pants. It is quite baffling.
I also asked the University how they were measuring the effectiveness of “The Will to Do” campaign.
They say that since the campaign started they have “enrolled a higher number of recent high school graduates in (Fall) 2016 and (Fall) 2017, than in the previous 10 years.” They even included a nice little chart in the document I was emailed. I don’t doubt that it is true since they were sharing a very specific subset of the beginning freshman cohorts enrolled for those years.
However, a pie can be sliced in many ways to justify a particular point of view.
When I looked at the University’s 4 Week Census Reports for all full-time beginning freshman – so not just “recent high school graduates” – the enrollment improvements during the Ologie promotion years are not quite as dramatic. Since 2006 there are four years – 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 that are either higher than the Ologie Era or within 2% or about 30 students.
Considering the reportedly tenuous fiscal conditions at SEMO, I’m not seeing such dramatic improvements in enrollment that would justify the spending of an additional $150,000 for “messaging concepts.”
But maybe that’s just me, and maybe they have a funding source already identified.
Personally, the most money I’ve ever found misplaced in a pair of pants was a five-dollar bill.