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It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of a number of President Potter’s decisions. When I heard that President Potter hired a California marketing company to improve SCSU’s image, I got upset. Here’s what President Potter said in announcing that hiring:

As some of you probably know, we have been working with Earthbound Media Group to create a new branding strategy. This California firm has deep expertise in social media and a keen eye for the truth. They are helping us to identify the words and images that will tell Minnesota and the world what makes St. Cloud State special. Strategy, which comes before the development of specific marketing campaigns, serves as a decision making framework for every aspect of how we tell our story. Thus, it is imperative that we get the strategy right before we begin craft the campaigns that will address each of our important audiences.

In their study of media and social media and through conversations with students, faculty and staff, alumni and community partners, the Earthbound folks discovered that we, especially students, are saying positive things about St. Cloud State. And yet many refer to us as a “Quiet giant”, that we’re hiding our light under a basket, so to speak.

Even more concerning, they found that negative perceptions from many outsiders who control the “blogosphere” are not grounded in reality. In their language, we have a “brand gap”, a gap between perception and reality.

First, the people that participated in EMG’s focus groups weren’t randomly selected. They were hand-picked. Next, I’d love hearing President Potter explain why morale is so low if “students, faculty and staff, alumni and community partners” are “saying positive things about” SCSU.

Make no mistake about it. Morale on campus is low. The faculty isn’t happy with President Potter, either. That was verified when faculty essentially gave COSE Dean David DeGroote a vote of no confidence. I’ve heard that the vote wasn’t close, either.

If the things that President Potter said in that speech are verifiably false, what other things should be questioned? Was EMG hired to ‘verify’ a predetermined outcome through rigged focus groups?

If they were hired with that intent, then it’s justifiable to think that the money SCSU spent in hiring EMG wasn’t money well spent. It was money spent on a CYA operation.

At a time when budgets were being cut, how could President Potter justify paying more than $500,000 for EMG’s services?

President Potter made that speech in August, 2011.

A closer reading of EMG’s statement indicates that they aren’t great communicators. First, there’s this paragraph:

Earthbound Media Group’s (EMG) Co-Founder and Chief Visionary Officer Damien Navarro recently spoke at St. Cloud State University’s (SCSU) Fall Convocation ceremony where he unveiled the universities new “Education for Life” branding campaign created by the interactive communications agency in partnership with the school’s marketing and communications department. The event also saw university President Earl H. Potter III and President of Student Government Samantha Ivey join Navarro in the addressing the audience consisting of faculty and students and provided for the unveiling of the branding initiative that hopes to change external perceptions of on-campus realities.

Not to be nitpicky but the grammar in that oversized paragraph is, at minimum, unprofessional. If I had written their press release, it would’ve looked like this:

Earthbound Media Group’s (EMG) Co-Founder and Chief Visionary Officer Damien Navarro recently spoke at St. Cloud State University’s (SCSU) Fall Convocation ceremony, where he unveiled the University’s new “Education for Life” branding campaign.

The branding campaign was created by the interactive communications agency in partnership with the school’s marketing and communications department.

University President Earl H. Potter III and Student Government President Samantha Ivey joined Navarro in the addressing the audience consisting of faculty and students. The event served as the official unveiling of the branding initiative that hopes to change external perceptions of on-campus realities.

Nothing says ‘Don’t take me seriously’ quite as effectively as a statement filled with misspellings, poor punctuation and long sentences and oversized paragraphs.

That’s just one more reason why it’s impossible for me to justify paying EMG hundreds of thousands of dollars for a marketing plan.

Taxpayers deserve to be treated better than that.

5 Responses to “Questioning President Potter’s questionable spending decisions”

  • eric z says:

    Potter should have hired Landform to do the rebranding.

    They’re local. Their rebranding coup, calling the failed Ramsey Town Center “the COR” and registering or having that registered as a trademark.

    A real Wowser super dynamic performance, yes/no?

    Same doldrums in today’s real estate market, but getting a five figure monthly amount from City of Ramsey is nothing to sneeze at.

    Oh, and causing a big sign to be put up along Highway 10, between Anoka and Elk River, reminiscent of the monolith in Kubrick’s film, 2001, but with an electronic banner ad section to distract drivers. Sign said “COR” of all things. Now if Potter had a contract with Landform, think of a big monolith saying “SCSU – A Quiet Giant” or whatever the rebrand is/might be.

    Imagine it. Outside of whatever SCSU building houses Potter’s Office. That would be special. 30 feet tall, or bigger, and flashing news-and-promotions banner advertising night and day.

    It could be a Quiet Giant, right there on campus. Bright and gaudy, but quiet.

    Mentioning a half million dollar figure, the California folks did score about as well with SCSU as Landform over time scored with City of Ramsey.

    I feel your pain on this one, Gary, but I suppose it’s our fault for between us lacking “a keen eye for the truth.” We just get the possessive case of nouns correct, apostrophe and all, or try to; and when a “branding initiative” “hopes” for something, we think to rewrite the sentence correctly.

    So, aside from a detail or two, this Earthbound band might ultimately steal the “great communicator” mantle from the Gipper. In a few years as they mature. But they’ve Landform in front of them in the chase. And I do concede Landform has a lead, grammatically.

  • Patrick says:

    Earl forgets the first lesson many learn in life “perception is reality”. SCSU has always had a hard time shaking their party school image; just the other day I ran into a guy who had an SCSU sweatshirt on and he saw my Aviation logo. He mentioned parties he went to and I said how about that downtown scene – his reaction “heck that’s why I went there”.

    Earl is approaching this whole “re-branding”, “reorganization” and whatever as trying to put an oversized round peg into a square hole. He just doesn’t get it that lasting and effective change comes from within and starts with leadership that understands his employees, customers (students/parents) and external constituencies.

  • Gary Gross says:

    Patrick & Eric, SCSU has gone downhill under Potter’s watch. There have been a few successes but overall, it hasn’t been a great ride under President Potter.

    If money is going to be spent on an outside marketing firm, isn’t it President Potter’s affirmative responsibility to check into EMG’s work product? Isn’t that called doing your due diligence?

  • Patrick says:

    On this page http://www.stcloudstate.edu/admissions/scsu/ I noticed they used an archaic and sexist term – Freshmen

    The correct term should be New Entering Students – that is what they called new students back about five years ago.

  • eric z says:

    Patrick – One hundred percent correct at 8:20 AM. You do not build anything strong and lasting overnight. And the expedient of changing terminology is too often seen for what it is, a fake, quick-fix bandaid thing. Or worse, a diversionary tactic. Rome burns but Nero plays a fine tune. Even if the intent and belief is that you have to start somewhere, you do not start with throwing lots of scarce money away on consultants in a set-up where you get told what you structured things in advance to hear. For Potter, his critics might be his best friends, in terms of things he should be hearing, thinking and doing. From the claims the focus group was packed with yes-men [sorry Patrick – make it persons of a yes-persuasion] then you get nothing beyond your own thinking handed back. That you already have without paying good money to bad consultants.

    BIG QUESTION: As I wonder with consultants who insinuated themselves into City of Ramsey, the who and how of the selection process matters greatly. Who told Potter these are great folks, or did he dream it alone, or go to a soothsayer? What happened, how were the grammatically challenged PR folks recruited and then selected? Whose brainchild? What objective track record was Potter offered? Or was there cronyism at play, that being the worse suspicion when pricy consulting is bought and a hack job delivered.

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