An energetic ad campaign for something called ‘Penn State in Philly’ received heavy run during March Madness (alas, more than the University’s perpetually disappointing men’s basketball team). This is a smart strategic move and, based on our experience, an extraordinary organizational achievement.
Penn State consists of 24 campuses across the Commonwealth. There is no physical Penn State undergraduate campus in the City of Philadelphia – the largest campus is several hours northwest of here. This campaign is actually a joint effort of several smaller, suburban campuses – including Great Valley, Brandywine and Abington.
This initiative makes sense for a host of reasons, including:
- Despite some unwelcome recent headlines, Penn State casts a large shadow in this region – with engaged and successful alumni dotting the landscape. Promoting the idea of strength in Philadelphia can effectively galvanize key audiences, especially prospective students and eager alums, to explore and support the institution.
- It helps to defuse the perceptual issues faced by many state universities – that of a ‘main campus’ of high quality with a host of smaller satellite campuses of lesser appeal. In such a college-rich region, Penn State is missing an opportunity to acquire students who want to or must stay local if the perception is that only secondary (read: lower quality) campuses are nearby. Combining the marketing face of regional campuses conveys strength and focus.
- Prospective students and other key constituencies are seeking something to hold onto and buy into. To be able to say that the Penn State passion and excellence can be accessed in one’s backyard is far more emotionally powerful than these smaller campuses using their limited marketing resources to differentiate from one another (and all the other options).
In addition to the strategic merit of this approach, we can just imagine what it took to persuade campuses with stretched budgets and individual accountabilities to pool resources in this way. Our experience suggests that such campuses consider themselves (hopefully friendly) competitors on some level and this degree of coordination is obviously smart but exceedingly rare.
Simply look at the alphabet soup of regional economic development and tourism marketing agencies that may tentatively collaborate on some things but advance heterogeneous marketing campaigns (with reduced effectiveness thereby). Why would anybody look to build a brand by seeing the world through the eyes of the market when there are fiefdoms to protect and budgets to defend?
So kudos to Penn State in Philadelphia – the strategy is progressive, the creative approach is solid and the degree of organizational collaboration is (uniquely) enlightened. Now if they can only get the men’s basketball team on track…