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If you've noticed the Kansas University's emblematic Jayhawk following you through cyberspace recently, you're not alone.
On YouTube, Pandora, Twitter, Facebook, websites of all kinds — plus billboards and postal mail and other traditional platforms — KU has been searching out potential students and supporters so it can promote the university's message.
Both the money and organizational effort to do that have increased in recent years. Figures provided by the university show KU's spending on advertising increased by nearly $1 million between 2009 and 2013, from about $983,000 in the 2009 school year to about $1.83 million in 2013. Those figures exclude Kansas University Endowment Association funds spent on ads and other items that don't get termed "advertising."
Beefing up KU's marketing apparatus was a priority for Tim Caboni, KU vice chancellor of public affairs, when he began in 2011. He did that by reorganizing the university's communications and marketing unit into its own in-house creative team to develop content for ads.
His office also increased collaboration to manage messages across KU's many departments, units and campuses as well as Kansas Athletics Inc., the Endowment Association and the Kansas University Alumni Association.
The marketing blitz has been in part a response to a feeling throughout much of the state that KU was passive in its pursuit of potential students, Caboni said. The university might not be able to afford to be passive any longer. Total enrollment at KU's Lawrence and Edwards campuses has declined for five straight years. This year, however, the university saw its incoming freshman class grow.
Caboni credits this to KU's marketing strategy. With millions of emails and postal letters going out to recruits, high school students and their parents hear far more, and more frequently, from the university today than in the past, Caboni said.
Much of the effort to reel students into the university is taking place in the digital world. Working with Muller Bressler Brown, an advertising firm based in Leawood, KU tries to target potential students by reaching out to a demographically tracked audience.
Targeting allows the university to find those of college age in locations that have historically been reliable pipelines of students to KU and send them relevant messages.
Jack Martin, director of strategic communications at KU, said, "You could never run a TV ad in Dallas," because of the cost. "But you could run an ad on YouTube."
Aside from occasional Mizzou fans complaining about KU-sponsored tweets in their Twitter feed, a form of advertising on the social media site, Martin said his office has heard little from folks who might prefer not to be followed around the Internet by KU advertisements.