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Home / Articles / News / News /  Appearance is everything
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Thursday, April 22,2010

Appearance is everything

By Jefferson Dodge

CU unveils results of $785,000 branding/marketing study

On the heels of announcing a 9 percent tuition increase, more layoffs and another $22 million in budget cuts, University of Colorado officials are rolling out the results of a branding and marketing project expected to cost $785,000.

Documents obtained through a Boulder Weekly open records request show that over the past year and a half, the university paid consultant Landor Associates $731,049.54 for everything from professional fees to travel to out-of-pocket expenses.

CU administrators have been meeting with members of the Board of Regents individually to present the firm’s findings, and the final logo artwork was scheduled to be presented to the board on April 22.

In response to the open records request, CU officials withheld that artwork and other materials as “work product” that has not yet been approved by the regents, but provided Boulder Weekly with copies of the contract with Landor, Landor’s invoices, its brand research findings, a “message platform” and a “brand driver” document featuring the overarching phrase, “Natural Genius.” The document features a photo of aquamarine crystals growing out of rock and states, “Similar to the Colorado aquamarine, the University of Colorado system provides the elements necessary to create the environment where natural genius thrives.” The brand driver document includes five key terms to describe the CU system, including “down-to-earth.”

CU spokesperson Ken McConnellogue told Boulder Weekly that the “Natural Genius” phrase is more of an internal “North Star, the compass point that you use,” and is not the public messaging campaign.

He also says the university is still waiting for the consultant to deliver an “identity standards manual.” The project was to have been completed by June 30, 2009, according to the deadline on the contract between CU and Landor.

Some have questioned the timing of spending $785,000 on a branding study at a time when the university is slashing its budget, laying off employees and raising tuition significantly.

Regent Tom Lucero told Boulder Weekly that he understands those concerns, but points out that the contract was signed in September 2008, before the state budget cuts were announced.

“We could have used those dollars elsewhere,” says Lucero, who voted against the latest tuition increase. “It’s troubling raising revenue on the backs of students and parents. Certainly, in light of where we stand today, it looks like an extravagant expense. … While a unified branding and marketing strategy was needed, was it worth $785,000? A person could ask that question.”

The project has been paid for with University Initiatives funding, which is the president’s discretionary money generated from investment income. Lucero acknowledges that while no state general funds were used for the project, appearance is important. “While it wasn’t taxpayer money, it still doesn’t look good,” he says.

Regent Stephen Ludwig, who is a marketing/communications consultant, says Landor’s pricetag for the project was “in the ballpark” of the other bids CU received; some were more and some were less.

“For a $2.6 billion institution, this price range, while it’s a significant dollar amount, is a good investment for the university,” Ludwig says. “There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of people saying things inconsistent with what others are saying. This will bring discipline to that. … If you haven’t been through the process before, it seems expensive, but you’ve got to line it up and do it right, and it takes time.”

McConnellogue says it’s not about a $785,000 logo, as some have suggested. “This project has always been about far more than just artwork,” he says.

One impetus of the project was confusion about CU’s two campuses in the Denver metro area. The two entities, formerly known as CU-Denver and the CU Health Sciences Center, were consolidated in 2004 for reasons that were never made clear or compelling, some employees said at the time.

Since then, the two-campus entity has been known as the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center and, more recently, just the University of Colorado Denver (UC Denver). The renaming of the Health Sciences Center to the Anschutz Medical Campus in 2006 contributed more unrest to branding and marketing efforts. And last summer, the regents agreed to market the Anschutz schools with the University of Colorado label instead of the UC Denver moniker.

McConnellogue says one of the reasons the Landor project has been delayed was that last spring, the regents and administration were mulling a study to reconsider the consolidation of the two campuses, but the merger has remained intact.

As for the cost, he says CU officials hope to eventually recoup the money through savings generated by making marketing efforts by the various CU departments and campuses more efficient. “On the face of it, it’s a lot of money,” McConnellogue says. “But we view it as an investment in the university, and we expect a return on that investment.”

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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