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Archive for Friday, September 19, 2003

Image upgrade

September 19, 2003

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Kansas University is looking for ways to improve its image. Hopefully, the effort will be successful.

It's good that Kansas University officials are concerned about the school's image across the state, and it's generous of the KU Endowment Association to hire a consultant to analyze that image and develop a marketing plan, but it will be interesting to see if the consultant comes up with anything the university hasn't heard before.

The Endowment Association funded a similar study in 1999 to help the university understand its image. And university officials can't be deaf to the comments that many people hear across the state and in the Kansas Legislature. KU's "snob hill" image is alive and well.

Many Kansans think KU is a bastion of liberal political thinking. They don't think the university is in touch with the needs of Kansas. It seems to them that KU gets more state money than it deserves and pays too much attention to the Kansas City area. It doesn't care about the rest of the state or pay enough attention to recruiting outstanding Kansas high school students.

Are any of these comments news to KU officials? Is this not what the 1999 survey revealed?

Perhaps the real crux of the recently announced effort is the marketing strategy. Even if KU officials are aware of the school's image problems, they haven't shown much ability to deal with them. Despite their best efforts, KU still isn't striking the right chord with Kansas residents and Kansas lawmakers, and being able to make a persuasive case for the university is important to its future vitality.

It's easy to be skeptical about the hiring of a consultant to tell KU how to market itself better to Kansans. What does a Williamsburg, Va., firm know about how Kansans feel about KU? But the firm has worked with other universities and may be able to give KU a fresh perspective on the issue. And the consultant emphasized in a Journal-World story that any marketing strategy it recommends will use "every dollar as effectively as possible." The last thing the university needs is for word to get around the state that KU is spending thousands of dollars to improve its image.

The problem with KU's image around the state seems fairly obvious, but the solutions, so far, have proved elusive. Hopefully, this new approach will yield some positive results.

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