UO communications issues RFP for excellent “Brand Awareness Study”

At first I read that as “Brain Awareness Study”, but no such luck. VP of Communication Kyle Henley is going  to commission a phone survey of 1900 random people and ask them if they think UO is excellent:

Full RFP/RFQ on the PCS website here. Apparently this is follow-up on a previous study which presumably was collected as part of the 160over90 branding fiasco which Mr. Henley and Diane Dietz killed, back in their younger days. I’d make a public records request for that, but what possible benefit would come to anyone from reading it?

Faculty delight as “inane and insulting” 160over90 branders chased off campus

7/20/2016 update: “What If” President Schill carried through on his promise to redirect 160over90’s branding bucks to new faculty hires? He has, as “Around the O” reports here.

1/20/2015: Faculty delight as “inane and insulting” 160over90 branders chased off campus

Kellie Woodhouse of InsideHigherEd has a report with many interesting quotes, here:

The University of Oregon’s decision to cut back its multimillion-dollar branding campaign has many faculty at the institution cheering. …

The change of course appears to have built good will among faculty members, many of whom complained the “If” campaign is too generic. A video for the campaign, for example, shows vague scenes and programs from Oregon’s campus, and doesn’t highlight with any detail the specific academic programs at the university.

“The original campaign was inane and insulting, and we were really disappointed that the Board of Trustees and our former president decided to spend that much money on advertising instead of addressing the university’s real problems,” said Bill Harbaugh, an economics professor and president-elect of the Oregon’s University Senate.

The quotes from President Schill’s new VP for Communications Kyle Henley are circumspect about the quality of 160over90’s work and the financial gains from ending the contract, as should be expected given the Chair of UO’s Board of Trustees past support for the branding:

Chuck Lillis, president of the UO Board of Trustees, built a $60-billion-plus empire on his background in marketing. Lillis earned a doctorate in marketing at the UO in 1972. …

Lillis, the inaugural chairman of the UO board — and $14 million donor to the UO business college — is squarely behind the 160over90 campaign.

“We can’t spend $3 million more intelligently than this,” he said recently.

That’s OK, Kenley deserves plenty of respect for doing the deed.

1/17/2016: UO Pres Mike Schill uses 160over90 ad firm to establish his “academic brand”

By firing their useless asses and putting the money to hiring new faculty for UO.

Schill is getting a lot of positive press for this. Diane Dietz’s report in the RG on Thursday now has 3.6K Facebook likes, including plenty of faculty nationwide:

The University of Oregon has pulled out of its high-profile three-year, $3.4 million contract with Philadelphia branding and advertising firm 160over90, and is redirecting money toward university academic and research goals, the UO said Wednesday.

… UO administrators negotiated a Jan. 1 end to the contract, which cost the UO about $40,000 in penalties but saved $400,000 to $500,000 in further spending, [VP for Communications Kyle Henley] said in an e-mail. The UO has paid 160over90 about $3 million in all. [And had planned to spend $20M over 5 years.]

InsideHigherEd and the Chronicle of Higher Ed are both doing stories on this. Perhaps the Chronicle story will be a bit more positive than Jack Stripling’s September report on UO. (Still gated, extracts here.)

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And the Register Guard’s Editorial Board notes that Schill has picked up “Oregon values” pretty quickly, for a New Yorker:

Any rancher could have told the University of Oregon that a brand isn’t worth much without a steer to put it on. UO President Michael Schill has reached that understanding, and now intends to spend less on hype and more on the university’s product: academics and research. Bully for him. …

So now that the branders are gone, let’s get to work on ending Harrang, Long, Gary and Rudnick’s contract with UO for legal work. The City of Eugene did that years ago, and has apparently saved millions:

UO’s HLGR contract is here. We pay them by the hour, which creates an obvious moral hazard. So who did former Interim General Counsel Doug Park put in charge of it? Harrang’s noted big-tobacco attorney Sharon Rudnick:

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Chronicle follows up with Mike Schill on “Academic Reputation at Risk”

5/1/2016: Text and video here: http://chronicle.com/article/Video-A-Call-to-Replace/236224. This is a brief follow up to Stripling’s “An Academic Reputation at Risk” report on UO, from September. That story is still gated if you are off campus, but here are some extracts below.

The re-interview touches on realignment and fundraising, and there’s a surprising amount on Schill’s decision to dump our 160over90 branders. Apparently UO’s academic side, and Schill, are still getting good publicity from our new “No branding crap”  brand. Thank you Diane Dietz!

Which prompted me to look at UO’s home page for the first time in months. Some of the 160over90 damage has been reversed – I didn’t see any mention of  What the If? or whatever it was – but it’s still hard to navigate. Which explains why the UO Matters “Crap-Free UO homepage” (TM) is still so popular.

9/14/2015: Chronicle’s Jack Stripling profiles UO and President Schill

Long article, well worth reading it all. Posted today, here: (Gated if you are off campus).

An Academic Reputation at Risk: The U. of Oregon’s big brand masks its fragile standing

An Academic Reputation at Risk 5

The duck is always up in everybody’s face. He shoves. He body-slams. He demands to be noticed.

The University of Oregon’s mascot, a Donald Duck knockoff in yellow and green, is a pure distillation of the university’s iconic brand. This is a place, the duck assures us, of unapologetically splashy sports and irrepressible good times. The image sells remarkably well to undergraduates, whose numbers have increased by 25 percent in the past decade alone.

… On a recent summer afternoon here, an admissions official asked a group of prospective students and their parents what they had already heard about the university.

Toward the back row, a young man said, “Big football team.” “Nike,” another chimed in, citing the university’s longstanding affiliation with the company’s co-founder, Phil Knight. “Track,” another said.

That’s to be expected, given how we recruit these students – UO’s administrators use football bowl games as undergraduate admissions events, so they can get the university to pay for their own junkets, family included.

Of course, there are other ways to attract students. Here’s the report from UC-Boulder admissions, where they emphasized academic rigor, instead of big-time sports (they’re currently #78 in the football rankings). Seems to be working:

A total of 3,083 Colorado residents enrolled as new freshmen in the fall class, as well as 2,786 from out of state and a record 386 freshman international students, a 41 percent increase from last year. …

“Our efforts in recent years to improve the academic rigor at CU-Boulder are paying off with the most academically qualified class we’ve ever seen,” said CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano. “Our Esteemed Scholar program, and our other scholarship and academic programs, continue to attract Colorado’s best and brightest to CU-Boulder, along with outstanding students from around the nation and the world.”

This year’s freshman class includes a total of 898 Colorado freshmen who were awarded Esteemed Scholarships, based on high school grades and SAT/ACT scores, up from 789 last year.  For out-of-state students, 425 were awarded the Chancellor’s Achievement Scholarships, 77 more than in 2013, and 102 were awarded Presidential Scholarships, up 18 from last year.

Stripling’s story continues with some information on the tensions that UO’s emphasis on big-time athletics at the expense of academics have created between the faculty and the administration, and President Schill’s plans to deal with them.

In Mr. Schill’s view, the university needs to break down barriers between professors and administrators. On the symbolic front, he has invited faculty members into his home, and asked them to stock his office library with their books. He has portrayed himself as a faculty member first, insisting that the title of “professor” appear alongside “president” on his business cards.

More substantively, Mr. Schill has signed off on a new contract with the faculty union, and he has agreed to settle a contentious lawsuit with the Oregon student who accused three basketball players of raping her.

“We need to end the circular firing squad,” Mr. Schill says, “and I think we’ve started that.”

If Oregon can avoid turning on itself, Mr. Schill says, the university can reverse the trends that have held it back.

Every promise Mr. Schill has made hinges on the success of a $2-billion capital campaign. The money will be used in part to hire 80 to 100 new tenured or tenure-track professors over the next four to five years.

… “I don’t want to sound too egotistic or narcissistic, but what was missing here was leadership,” says Mr. Schill, who is 56. “The last piece of the puzzle wasn’t here yet, which was a president who was going to stay and build a great university. I’d like to think I’m the person. History will look back and say whether I was.”

10/15/2015: Jefferson Public Radio interviews Jack Stripling Continue reading

Diane Dietz hunts, kills 160over90 branding deal, then writes its obituary

Back in May 2015 Register Guard reporter Diane Dietz published five stories on UO’s inane 160over90 “What the If” branding campaign, and the administration’s efforts to hide what it cost. (One strategy was to run the payments through the secretive UO Foundation, just as Paul Weinhold and Vin Lananna are doing with the 2021 IAAF track meet.) Links here.

Tonight she’s posted the deal’s obituary, here:

University of Oregon cancels high-profile branding/advertising contract

The University of Oregon has pulled out of its high-profile three-year, $3.4 million contract with Philadelphia branding and advertising firm 160over90, and is redirecting money toward university academic and research goals, the UO said Wednesday. …

UO administrators negotiated a Jan. 1 end to the contract, which cost the UO roughly $40,000 in penalties but saved $400,000 to $500,000 in further spending, Henley said in an e-mail. The UO has paid 160over90 about $3 million in all.

Lots of interesting stuff about Schill’s other realignment efforts in her story as well.

New VP Kyle Henley takes branding bull back from 160over90

Some good news. Just seven months ago, as part of a series on UO’s “What the F” branding campaign, the RG’s Diane Dietz got this quote from Chuck Lillis, the Chair of UO’s Board of Trustees:

Lillis, the inaugural chairman of the UO board — and $14 million donor to the UO business college — is squarely behind the 160over90 campaign. “We can’t spend $3 million more intelligently than this,” he said recently.

Fortunately new VP for Communication Kyle Henley thinks we can. As his email below explains, 160over90 is not working for UO any more, and they are not going to get the other $17M that Lillis was apparently prepared to spend on their branding [redacted].

Instead, Henley sketches out a centralization and in-house shift for UO communications, designed to save money. Maybe even enough money to support President Schill’s academic excellence plans? Of course the expensive Duck athletic department’s communication operation is exempt, and Tobin Klinger keeps his well paid job sending out “No Comment” emails to reporters. FWIW, here’s the latest google trends data. Searches for UO in green, vs. a few comparators. Worth the $3M we paid 160over90? I’m not sure I even see a blip.

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From: University of Oregon <khenley@uoregon.edu>
Date: Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 12:01 PM
To: Univ Communications – All Staff <ADV.email.communications.all.staff.email.group@uoregon.edu>
Subject: Communications Integration


I hope all of your holidays were fantastic and that 2016 is off to a good start. At the beginning of a new year, I am so optimistic and excited about the progress we have made in building the division of University Communications in such a short time and about the opportunities that are ahead of us. You’re a talented group of communications professionals who are doing wonderful work on behalf of UO, and I’m honored to lead this team and work alongside you.

I want to let you know about some significant developments in University Communications that we are rolling out this week. President Schill has charged University Communications with integrating communications operations from the other vice presidents’ units into our central communications operation. I have had conversations in the last few days with members of the university’s executive leadership team and with our University Communications directors about this plan.

This is part of a university-wide focus on aligning our resources and operations with the university’s strategic priorities and goals as stated in the president’s email to campus http://president.uoregon.edu/content/aligning-our-resources-support-academic-excellence. Broad decentralization across the university has weakened the UO’s abilities to achieve administrative coordination, predictable budgeting and realize economies of scale. It is a challenge in communications, IT, HR, budgeting and elsewhere. Addressing this issue through smart and well-planned integration strategies in a variety of areas is one of many steps the university will be taking in the coming weeks and months as we focus on improving coordination and efficiency across the university.

For us, it’s pretty simple. Starting now, those in marketing, graphic design, public relations, writing and web development positions who currently report to a vice president within the administration will jointly report into University Communications. Over the next six months, the directors and I will work with the other vice presidents to ensure a smooth transition process from a management, HR and budgeting perspective. Beginning July 1, 2016, these communications positions will permanently report directly to University Communications. In most cases, individuals will continue to sit within their respective units and remain content experts, but they will be part of our management infrastructure and have greater access to communications resources.

A couple of caveats – Communications directors in enrollment and student life will be joint reports with University Communications and their respective units. I plan to have them join our leadership team, but their staffs will continue to report up through their current structure. Athletics is not included in this integration plan, but will remain connected to communications as they are now.

There are a lot of details that need to be worked out and many of you will have questions about this. I have some, but probably not all, the answers, and I’m happy to discuss your concerns and answer questions. We’re going to talk more about integration during our all-staff meeting on Friday, but I want to make a few things very clear – our priority is to improve coordination, collaboration and strategy across the board. Our priority will be to improve the central communications support to other administrative units throughout the university. Our priority will be to rein in expenses by aligning communications work with strategic priorities and by working to reduce the need for outsourcing.

This integration effort is not about cutting costs by reducing staffing within our shop or within any of the administrative units. Our priority and focus is on improved collaboration, coordination and service.

To launch this effort, I am making some changes within the University Communications management structure to help us successfully realize this integration strategy. As I’ve told many of you, I am not going to hire another AVP for branding and marketing. Instead, I’m asking people to step up within a flatter management structure to help us build the organization we need. Those moves include:

· I’ve asked Ann Weins to manage an expanded Marketing and Branding portfolio. This will include all of our graphic designers (including those coming in from other units), advertising and partnership marketing, and licensing and branding. Ann will be charged with ensuring that our branding efforts maintain strong momentum even though we are no longer using 160/90 and that the brand continues to be rolled out across the university. This is a massive effort, an institutional priority, and will require her full attention. I want to thank Ann for her willingness to take on this new, important challenge.

· I’ve asked Jonathan Graham to take on the role of editor of Oregon Quarterly. He’ll do this under the leadership of George Evano, who will head up Alumni and Development Communications. Ultimately, Oregon Quarterly’s primary audience is UO alumni – Alumni Association communications also reports to George – and this move will create opportunities for greater alignment and coordination of our efforts to engage this important audience. George will now report directly to me. Oregon Quarterly is an amazing channel that is the envy of universities nationally. That must continue, and I’m tremendously confident in the ability of both Jonathan and George to maintain and grow the publication’s reputation for quality and excellence.

· Jennifer Winters will lead our Internal Communications program. Under this new structure, she’ll continue to serve as our executive communications lead and manage a team that includes communicators from academic affairs and human resources. Internal communications is increasingly important at UO, and Jennifer will be responsible for helping us break down traditional silos to rethink the way that we engage faculty and staff. She will also continue to manage President’s Office communications.

· Tobin Klinger will continue to lead Public Affairs Communications, although we may elect to change the name of this group of communications pros. He will serve as our university spokesperson and crisis communications counselor, while taking on management of staff from other administrative units. This support will be critical as he and his team transform Around the O into one of the nation’s premier digital communications platforms within higher ed. ATO is good, but we must aggressively work to make it better. We have amazing content, we have powerful channels, and we must build ATO into a tool that reaches out into the world – regardless of what traditional journalism is doing – to tell the UO’s story of academic and research excellence. This is a big lift, my expectations are high, and I’m confident Tobin has the vision and leadership to help make it a reality.

· Zack Barnett’s world will become significantly more complex as we start to integrate digital communicators and web developers from across campus into his shop. As we move to bring consistency across the UO’s digital platforms – no small job – Zack will also continue to lead visual communications, social media and e-communications strategy for the university. Going forward, he’ll report directly to me.

OK, deep breath, lots to take in (that may have been more for me than for you). Let me just say that this is not something that has happened in the last few days. These moves reflect themes and priorities I’ve been talking to all of you about since the first day I stepped foot on campus. Integration reflects the themes and priorities of our university president. A lot of discussion, analysis and planning has taken place in the last few months as we’ve moved toward this day.

As I’ve said before – I don’t have all the answers. There will be questions, concerns and challenges that we’ll need to work out as we move forward. But we have solid leaders within this department that care about the University of Oregon and that care about each of you. I have no questions that, together, we will overcome the challenges and come out of this transition stronger, more nimble and unified behind a mission of telling the stories that position UO to succeed and thrive in the future.

Thanks for all that you do. Go Ducks!


Kyle Henley
Vice President, University Communications
O: 541.346.2329 C: 541.972.0222

UO cites progress in reducing Duck athletic stigma, promoting research

The RG has the story, here:

University of Oregon: goosing Google for a better reputation

President Schill:

“What we don’t want is — when you put in a Google search that says the ‘University of Oregon’ — we shouldn’t be coming up primarily about basketball players doing things, sexual violence-type stories, (instead) you’re hearing about all the great things that are taking place here in terms of research,” Schill said.

VP for Enrollment Roger Thompson:

Roger Thompson, vice president for enrollment management, declared victory — at least among Oregon audiences, in his annual year-end enrollment report.

“A study of Oregon residents showed that top-of-mind associations with the University of Oregon moved from ‘Ducks,’ and ‘football’ to ‘great school,’ ‘research,’ ‘Ducks’ and ‘football.’ Our target audiences’ perceptions of the university’s strengths also improved,” according to the report.

Yes, I’ve asked Roger for a copy of that study.

Tim Clevenger leaves UO

That’s the solid news from down at the faculty club this afternoon:

I write to you today with mixed emotions. On November 20, I will leave the University of Oregon to accept a position as the Vice President of Brand, Creative, B2C Strategy & Integrated Marketing at Cambia Health Solutions in Portland. 

We wish him the best in his new job. I’m assuming this puts the stake through the 160over90 branding mess. So Diane Dietz’s reporting may well have saved UO $20M.

Update: Thanks to those many who have forwarded Mr. Clevenger’s email to university communications to me. Diane Dietz has a story on it here. I’m not seeing a need to post any more about Mr. Clevenger, and I’m deleting comments. But any new info about 16over90 etc. is very much appreciated. You can email uomatters gmail, or make an anonymous comment which I will read but not post.

New VP Kyle Henley cuts off Clevenger’s 160over90 branding cash

10/13/2015: That’s the latest from the faculty club – no more money down this hole. It’s nice how even the rumors are more optimistic at UO these days.

But don’t forget how much effort it took to end this, if it’s really ended: public records requests, a petition to the DA after UO’s General Counsel told the PRO office to stonewall, then a full blown five story investigative report from RG reporter Diane Dietz, and a lot of UO donors asking “What the F” is our university wasting money on now?

9/16/2015: New VP Kyle Henley drops in on 160over90, asks how Clevenger blew $5M

That’s the rumor from the SOJC profs watching Mad Men reruns down at the faculty club tonight. Meanwhile VP for branding Tim Clevenger has been moved out of JH, to a suite far, far away from campus. We’re still paying him $209.625 a year though. Fire Clevenger and UO could hire, say, 2 new Human Physiology profs, with money left over for startup. Or give 15 full-ride scholarships to Oregon National Merit Scholars, including dorms and meals.

So which is it gonna be, Mr. Henley?

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Here’s hoping our new general counsel Kevin Reed can also find a way out of the 160over90 contract, which UO’s misnamed Public Records Office is still hiding from the public.

Meanwhile Mike Schill is off to the Pendleton Roundup, to see how branding is really done. Keep the iron hot and make your mark, Mr. President:

8/26/2015: Tim Clevenger to get the boot for 160over90 branding mess?

The rumor from a generally well-informed source down at the faculty club is that I’m not the first person who’s heard of Google Trends, and that Clevenger’s branding campaign is failing on other metrics as well. Meanwhile hits to the Crap-Free UO Homepage (TM) are way up.

8/19/2015: Tim Clevenger’s $5M 160over90 branding campaign fails Google buzz test

A few years ago the UO Economics department invited Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian out to give a talk to our undergrads. Among the topics was Google Trends, which lets you compare how often people search for different search phrases across time. Very interesting, the slides are here.

Try it here. Here’s what you get if you compare the frequency of searches for “university of oregon application” with searches for a few of our competitors in the market for undergrad students. Blue for Colorado, red for Arizona, yellow for Oregon State, Green for UO, and purple for last year’s BCS champions Ohio State:

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If there’s any impact from the rollout of UO’s $5M “What the If?” branding campaign, which started in March 2015, it would take a pretty creative econometrician to make the t-stat significant.

Oh well, there goes that $5M. Here’s hoping our donors will cut off UO’s $207K-a-year AVP for branding Tim Clevenger and $5M 160over90, and redirect those generous gifts towards, say, teaching and research.

Also no apparent effect from football. The Ducks win, the Beavers lose, it really doesn’t matter.

For more on UO’s branding and how hard UO tried to hide the public records showing how much we spent on it, check out Diane Dietz’s stories in the RG, links here.

And in response to comments here’s the last year of weekly data – noisier, and some spikes that may well be from football, but I still don’t see the branding buzz:

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Tim Clevenger and 160over90’s $5M “We If” brand campaign loses award to Tyler Junior College’s registration video

You can’t make this shit up. Thanks to an anonymous reader for the link. 160over90 was also in a 4-way tie for second place in the not very prestigious “Individual Sub-Websites” category:

University of Oregon – University of Oregon “Explore If” website

This website was built as a special landing page to accompany the new “We If” commercial. The commercial directs viewers to exploreif.uoregon.edu, where they can explore each individual story that is featured in the commercial in an interactive way. The Rose Bowl and National Championship bowl games provided an excellent platform to launch a new 30-second TV spot for the University of Oregon. …

I wonder how CASE, which does a lot of good work, ended up supporting this ridiculous contest. These ads make lots of money for UO’s branders and PR flacks like Mr. Clevenger, who costs UO more than, say, two new physics professors. But even if they were done well they’re not about helping academics. They’re about providing cover for Duck athletic director Rob Mullens and his coaches, so they can continue to exploit UO’s tax-deductible status to increase their own paychecks by claiming big-time sports doesn’t just sell beer, it also helps UO’s academic mission. Tell that to Jane Doe. Here’s hoping UO’s new VP for Communications Kyle Henley puts a quick end to this nonsense.

New VP for Comm Kyle Henley to represent UO, or just the Ducks?

9/7/2015: Silly question. He’s paid to be the athletic department’s sacrificial anode.

It took the UO Public Records Office a month to provide his resume and the justification for changing the job from Associate VP to VP. They claim they didn’t have to provide his resume, but only did it because he agreed to. I’ll extrapolate that this new hire is not going to be the sort to deal with UO’s fundamental transparency problems.

Another bad sign is that the hiring committee was mostly PR flacks:

  • Tim Clevenger, AVP For Communications, Marketing and Brand Management
  • Jennifer Winters, Director of Public Affairs, Presidential Communications
  • Rita Radostitz, Director of Strategic Communications, Student Life
  • Zack Barnet, Director of Digital and Social Media
  • Kelli Matthews, Instructor, Public Relations

If this job was really to “… foster relationships and transparency among students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, as well as media, community leaders, and other constituents” as President Schill wrote, then why not put some of those constituents on the search committee?

My prediction is that Mr. Henley soon burns his credibility with the press, trying to explain away the latest tax deductible Duck extravagances and the heavily redacted documents that UO releases after the forthcoming athletics scandal.

But maybe he’ll surprise. The search docs that Greg Stripp’s public records office was willing to release are here:

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8/20/2015: Initial reports suggest that my skepticism about this guy is unwarranted, and that he may be the person to shake up UO Communications. Details on the way. Meanwhile UO’s Public Records office is still sitting on my request for his job description and hiring info, which really isn’t doing him any favors on the transparency dimension.

8/10/2015: UO hires Kyle Henley from CSU as new VP for Communication

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Job number one will be to write a press release explaining why UO is spending its money hiring PR flacks instead of faculty.

We’re paying strategic brander Tim Clevenger $209,625, and he’s just an Associate VP. This new hire will cost ~3 faculty slots. No wonder the well is dry.

While “Around the 0” says “Henley has been the assistant vice president for strategic communications at CSU, where he focused on promoting academics and research,” it looks to me like Henley’s main job was promoting their new $235M football stadium. Uh-oh.


Dear Colleagues,

As many of you have heard me repeatedly say over my first month as president, my top priority is to build the academic program and reputation of the University of Oregon. It is vital that we not only grow the faculty by adding great scholars, but that we promote the work that all faculty members do here to the outside world.

The University of Oregon has a wonderful reputation as a world-class institution. Strengthening our capabilities to promote the university―specifically related to academics and research―will further enhance our standing within the higher education community, help attract even more extraordinary students, support our fundraising goals, and bolster efforts in the area of faculty hiring. I am therefore pleased to announce that I have changed the institution’s organizational structure to create an independent University Communications office, and I am appointing Kyle Henley as the new Vice President for Communications.

Kyle is joining the University of Oregon in early September. He comes to us from Colorado State University, where he served as assistant vice president for strategic communications and led successful efforts to enhance communications related to academics and research. He’s an innovator with a track record of delivering results and effective advocacy among key external audiences. Kyle will provide counsel, vision, and leadership in our communication efforts to help foster relationships and transparency among students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, as well as media, community leaders, and other constituents.

I would very much like to thank Vice President for Advancement Michael Andreasen for his willingness to oversee communications over the past two years. The office has thrived under his leadership. However, as we move into the crucial stages of our ambitious $2 billion fundraising campaign, this frees Mike up to focus on development, alumni affairs, and government relations. In conversations with Kyle and Mike, we have agreed that, in the interest of achieving efficiencies, the new University Communications office will continue to receive operational support―such as IT and HR functions―through University Advancement.

I am thrilled to have Kyle join the University of Oregon and lead our talented team of communications and marketing professionals. Please join me in welcoming him to the UO community.


Michael H. Schill


UO’s $20M branding efforts pay off!

For Tim Clevenger, his 160over90 branders, and their advertising partners, that is:

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Meanwhile what is paying off for UO’s students are investments in education.  Diane Dietz has the story here:

“University of Oregon ranks better than middling on Forbes top college list”

… Here’s how the measures are weighted: 25 percent on student satisfaction measures, 32.5 percent on post-graduate success, 25 percent on student debt, 7.5 percent on graduation rate and 10 percent on graduate level academic success.

$20M directed at these metrics would actually make UO a better university, get us above “middling”, and then that better Forbes ranking would bring in more and better students, boost post-graduate success, etc. And Forbes and the RegisterGuard would do the advertising for us, no charge.

But why would a brander like Clevenger support giving money to the academic side, when he could spend it with his media buddies buying advertisements on buses in LA?

PR will make the UO great? Don’t buy it.

John Orbell is a UO Professor Emeritus of Political Science. The RG has his Op-Ed on UO’s “What the if?” branding campaign, here:

How to build a university’s reputation for greatness? The answer is straightforward: Actually be great, and the word will get around. Being great involves a lot more than just ginning up a public relations campaign to persuade potential students (and their parents) of the university’s greatness — which, if the university is not, in fact, great, is no more than high-priced lying.

The relevant fact for the University of Oregon is that, despite its membership in the prestigious 62-member Association of American Universities, the UO’s ranking by U.S. News & World Report has slipped to 106th.

Making an academically mediocre university actually “great” is not the same as persuading a 17-year-old to buy a particular brand of jeans, as one PR person suggested in The Register-Guard’s stories on May 16 and 17. The bad news is that it’s not that easy; the good news is that it might cost much less than hiring dozens of public relations people. …

This $20M 160/90 branding campaign has done more to destroy the faculty’s trust in the judgement of the new UO Board than their delegation of authority policy grab did. Time for them to turn it around, cancel the contract, and put the donor money into real investments in UO faculty and students.

RG turns over more rocks, uncovers more of UO’s bloated branders

5/16/2015 update: 

Two new stories to add to the three printed Saturday in the Register Guard about UO’s branding efforts. These are all online now, new ones in print Sunday. I’ve posted extracts with a few comments for all five stories below. Follow the links to the stories, and please consider leaving your comments on the RG website, where they will be read by many more people than here.

This series of five stories is another tour de force for Diane Dietz and the RG’s Higher Ed reporting. Rich Read at the Oregonian must be a little green.

I’m no journalism professor, but I’m gradually learning a little bit about how reporting works. The UO administrators that Diane Dietz quoted in these stories really didn’t want to have to answer questions about where the money was going. But they knew they would have to respond if Dietz had documents. So they tried to stonewall her public records requests. Once the District Attorney made Dave Hubin’s office produce the public records, the administrators had to give interviews, or be embarrassed with “no comments”. And so Dietz got these revealing quotes from Chuck Lillis, Tim Clevenger, and others.

There are tens of millions of dollars and UO’s national reputation or “brand” at stake here.  I know that at least a few UO donors have been questioning the wisdom of the road that the UO administration and the new Board are taking us down. These news stories are going to help fuel those questions. Once again the RG has done the University of Oregon a great service with their reporting. I’m guessing those UO administrators who worked to keep the basic facts secret are going to see it a little differently, of course, and that they’ll keep trying to hide public records as well.

With its scores of communicators, UO tries to find one voice. Diane Dietz, here

Dietz goes through UO’s long and expensive history of failed branding efforts:

The UO already employs platoons of communicators, marketers and public relations specialists — and it farms out millions of dollars to outside contractors for the same kind of work.

The UO’s marketing and PR machinery, in fact, has become so costly and unwieldy that top UO officials are taking steps to figure out if it’s working well.

Citing a need to coordinate the extensive effort to sell the university, interim President Scott Coltrane in mid-March imposed a hiring freeze on communications and marketing-type jobs, except with special approval.

…The hiring of the top-flight 160over90 firm about a year ago under a three-year $3.4 million contract marks the second major branding effort the university has undertaken.

In 2008, the university signed a three-year, $1.2 million contract with global firm Fleishman-Hillard for a “branding, positioning and media strategy” to make the UO sought after.

… Still, on staff, the UO has more than 100 marketing, public relations, strategic communications and digital communications employees, a review of the UO’s personnel records shows. All work largely in the service of the UO’s image-building. The total salary and benefits cost the UO about $10 million a year.

A hiring spurt added as many as 20 new marketing and communications employees to campus over the past 18 months. And, despite Coltrane’s recent freeze, the hiring continues.

… Separately, UO schools and colleges have launched their own self-promotional efforts, spending at least $3 million in recent years on marketing, advertising, public relations and branding contracts.

Four years ago, the UO School of Journalism and Communications — SOJC — sought to define itself as a “destination” school for journalism students nationally, said Tim Gleason, dean at the time.

… Alumnus Tracy Wong’s A-list agency, the Seattle-based Wongdoody, put his staff to work for the college. The staff helped write the SOJC slogan: “Ethics. Action. Innovation.” … Wongdoody did the work at cost — $20,000, Gleason said. “If we had taken it out to an open bid, it was several hundred thousand dollars worth of work,” he said. “We were very fortunate.”

… In 2013, the Lundquist College of Business hired Songlines Communications of Bend — for $36,000 — to create a unifying “brand story” that “succinctly, elegantly and emotionally communicates the unique identity of the Lundquist College of Business,” according to the contract. Next, the college bought $12,000 worth of marketing advice from Fixx Consulting of Portland. … De Kluyver also OK’d a $100,000 contract with White Horse Productions in Portland in fall 2013 to redesign the college’s website with a “lightweight, forward-thinking” touch. De Kluyver is featured on a website video — wearing trademark suspenders — playing a banjo and explaining that teaching business management is like improvising in jazz.

Two years later, 160over90 is refashioning the Lundquist brand, writing brochures and ads to promote MBA programs; eventually, the firm will redo the college’s website, Clevenger said.

UO’s ever helpful 160over90 branders even provide the administrators that sign their $3M check with talking points on how to fight off faculty who think it’s a waste:

The UO’s agency, 160over90, warns its university clients about likely opposition to their branding plans from “a disgruntled tenured professor in the humanities department with a dull ax to grind,” according to 160over90’s humorously written manual for university administrators.

… At the UO, Clevenger fretted about which faculty should be invited to talk with 160over90 to help discern the essence of the UO, according to an email obtained by The Register-Guard through a public records request. Let deans select four to five professors to participate, Clevenger wrote. “I don’t want any open call to faculty,” he wrote.

Yes, best to get that essence from the usual brown-nosers. Not that it matters, Chairman Lillis has spoken:

Chuck Lillis, president of the UO Board of Trustees, built a $60-billion-plus empire on his background in marketing. Lillis earned a doctorate in marketing at the UO in 1972. …

Lillis, the inaugural chairman of the UO board — and $14 million donor to the UO business college — is squarely behind the 160over90 campaign.

“We can’t spend $3 million more intelligently than this,” he said recently.

Actually, I think it’s more like $20M over 5 years, plus the $10M per year in internal salaries. But whatever, here’s Sunday’s second story, on how little this branding crap can do to counteract reality:

Blizzard of bad news may be tough for UO to sweep aside. Diane Dietz, here:

As the University of Oregon tries to boost its image nationally, one measure of success UO executive Tim Clevenger touts is the number of times a single story — favorable to the university — appears in newspapers across the United States. An Associated Press story about the UO’s $20 million branding initiative, for example, ran in 230 newspapers, Clevenger recently told the UO Board of Trustees.

But Google searches show that bad news can travel farther and faster, underscoring the difficulties UO marketers face.

When a Duck football tight end dumped a bucket of snow on a hapless UO professor in 2013, the story appeared in 225 media outlets, rolling out as far as TV 2 in Norway. A video of the incident drew 4.7 million YouTube hits.

A Duck running back punched an opponent on the football field in 2009, and the story rocketed through 2,136 newspapers and other media outlets. Even a UO effort to engineer good national attention — by giving The New York Times and Sports Illustrated an exclusive first look at its new football operations center in 2013 — wasn’t an all-out success. Of 311 online comments on The New York Times article about the center — ‘Oregon Embraces ‘University of Nike’ Image’ — negative reactions outnumbered the positive, three to one.

… The UO’s leadership can choose to ignore negative media reports in the hopes that the branding campaign makes a bigger noise, [Some PR guy named Forrest Anderson] said. … The pressing challenge for universities now is sexual violence …

For the UO, the subject has led from one black eye to the next.

First, the UO chose to release little information about the incident. The UO responded to records requests from newspapers — including The Register-Guard and The New York Times — with color-coded redactions that concealed the text of most of the documents. Publications ran photos of the colorful redactions. [Coffee cups and t-shirts available at UniversityofNike.com.]

That looked like a cover-up, Anderson said. “It just looks like (the university has) something to hide. It’s my take as a general consumer. ‘Oh, they must be hiding something’ if they don’t want to let us know.”

University lawyers typically advise in favor of blacking-out information, Anderson said. “One of the signs of a good CEO is that sometimes they ignore their lawyers. They say that might be the legally prudent thing to do, but is that the right thing to do? And they do the right thing,” he said.

5/15/2015: RG analyzes UO’s “What the if?”  branding campaign and JH’s trust destroying secrecy

The stories below were posted Friday and in the Saturday printed paper. Read them all, and please consider leaving comments on the RG website, where they will be read by more people than here. I’ve just posted extracts with a few comments:

1) UO’s $20 million national branding campaign holds promise, faces steep challenges. Diane Dietz, here:

Chuck Lillis thrills to the sight of the University of Washington rising in the top 100 best-colleges rankings.

But Lillis, the current — and first — chairman of the University of Oregon Board of Trustees, frankly doesn’t like what he sees in the rankings when it comes to the UO, where he also went to school.

“I want us to see our rankings and have goosebumps,” he told the UO Senate recently. “I don’t like these rankings that are 92nd, 104th, 86th. That just isn’t good enough.”

So in May 2014, a month before the Board of Trustees formally won control of the university, the UO quietly started a $20 million, donor-funded plan that included hiring an edgy Philadelphia branding firm — 160over90 — to elevate the university’s stature.

To put this in perspective, the $20M the board has decided to spend on PR would have paid for start-up packages for 10 to 20 top research professors. They are gambling instead that “What the If” TV ads will encourage enrollment of out of state students willing to pay full tuition – meaning not academically gifted enough to get scholarships from other schools:

But in recent decades, the UO found itself at the bottom of the AAU pack in key academic excellence measures, says a report by interim UO President Scott Coltrane.

For a research university, the UO is short on tenured faculty, doctoral students, research spending, research production and high-achieving students, says the report. Bringing all those measures up to snuff would take an endowment of billions, says Lillis.

“We’re financially weak,” Lillis told the Senate. “We’re very weak if we want to be a great university.”

Unexpectedly, it seems our 160over90 branders agree with my analysis of how this $20M campaign is in some ways needed to counteract the pernicious influence of Duck football wins on UO’s national reputation. After all, what parent wants to spend $200K sending their child to a big-time football party school for 4 years?

The sports success has been an asset and a drawback for the UO’s new academic branding initiative.

The university’s academic side, in adopting the Bakas-designed “O” as its logo, tapped onto the sports brand that Nike built. The UO president at the time, Dave Frohnmayer, wanted the “O” to represent the whole university. “If you’re not represented by something,” he said, “people don’t know what you stand for.”

Some faculty saw that as a takeover of the university’s image by Nike and the football team — a contention the UO’s new branding firm assumes is true.

“Obviously the university has a big problem getting out the message that we’re a serious academic institution,” Bill Harbaugh, economics professor and publisher of the uomatters.com blog, said recently. “The football program has co-opted the university’s message; it’s all about the Duck brand.”

A key UO image challenge, according to the brand strategy recently developed by 160over90 for the UO, is the “unbalanced national perception of the university, currently dominated by athletics.”

So, instead of spending $20M on academics, we have to spend it on advertising. How convenient for 160over90 – that just happens to be the business they are in!

Will it work? Even PR flacks like UO’s $209K Chief Strategic Communicator Tim Clevenger seem to think it might make more sense to spend the money on science instead:

The university needs academic substance to be great, said Tim Clevenger, a long-time private sector ad man whom the UO put in charge of the new branding effort.

The university needs the academic corollary of a Rose Bowl or a national championship — a scientific breakthrough, a Nobel Prize win, a reinforced perch among the nation’s pre-eminent schools.

“A brand can have a really cool logo and neat ads,” Clevenger said, “but if there’s no substance behind it, it doesn’t mean anything.”

2) The RG’s second story, here, goes on to explain some of the ways Clevenger is spending his $20M. 

Let’s just say it’s not on substance.

3) UO slow to release records on its cutting-edge branding effort. Diane Dietz, here.

This last story goes into the enormous difficulties the Register Guard had in dealing with Dave Hubin’s Public Records Office to get the branding documents. When UO wants to spin reporters about something that makes the administrators look good, they’ve got plenty of well paid PR flacks like Clevenger, Tobin Klinger, Craig Pintens, etc. Money is no object. Not enough flacks on staff? Hire Anna Richter-Taylor from Gallatin Public Affairs to consult, at about $300 an hour.

But when a reporter wants some documents that might have some actual facts, and might actually inform the public about what’s really going on in Johnson Hall, they send them to Dave Hubin’s black hole of transparency and trust. Dietz reports:

The University of Oregon is breaking a sweat telling the nation about the benefits of a UO education.

But it has moved at a crawl to disclose basic public information about the cost and other aspects of that branding campaign. It took an order from the Lane County District Attorney’s Office to force the UO to produce some records.

When the Legislature granted the UO independence from most state oversight in 2013, lawmakers required it to remain a public university and to continue to obey Oregon public records and meetings laws.

In June and September 2014, The Register-Guard submitted records requests seeking documents on the work that 160over90 and other branding and marketing firms were doing for the UO. Tim Clevenger, the UO’s associate vice president for communications, marketing and brand management, in May had established 160over90 as the “ad agency of record.”

The university charged the newspaper $800 for the June request and $500 for the September request to supply hundreds of pages of documents.

Then, in both cases, the UO took more than three months to begin releasing documents.

And in both cases, the UO heavily blacked out some documents and simply neglected to provide many others that were in its possession, even though they were clearly covered by the newspaper’s request.

…  [UO Economics Professor Bill Harbaugh] said the UO’s redactions and delays in this case are typical of the UO.

“Most university public records offices are very business-like. They try to help you find the documents and they try to get them to you as quickly as they can,” Harbaugh said. “They don’t waste your time with trivial fees and they don’t waste your money with big fees.”

By comparison, the UO public records office is known statewide for its delays, high fees and heavy redactions, Harbaugh said.

“The University of Oregon is as prompt as molasses on a really cold day, or a really cold winter, because a day is too short a time period to capture the full extent of their slowness,” he said. “It’s best measured in geologic time.”

At a recent meeting of the University Senate, Harbaugh told UO interim President Scott Coltrane that delays in providing public information is hurting relationships at the university. “Without that transparency, you’re not going to get trust,” Harbaugh said.

Coltrane’s reply: “It’s getting better. It may not appear that way to you, but we are working on it.”

But Harbaugh said he’s seen no evidence the public records office is improving. “If anything, things are getting worse,” he said.

But don’t trust me on Johnson Hall’s obsession with secrecy – read what the RG has to say about how they had to go to the District Attorney to force UO to release the public records:

The Register-Guard determined that the UO failed to provide at least 20 key branding-related documents. The newspaper knew the documents existed because they were referenced in emails that the university did release.

For example, the records the UO released mentioned numerous advertising and public relations conceptual and strategic papers and presentations, including slides, Powerpoints and other documents, that 160over90 and the UO had recently developed and were at the heart of the branding initiative. But the UO failed to provide those to the newspaper, even though they were clearly covered by the newspaper’s request.

In February, The Register-Guard petitioned the Lane County District Attorney’s Office, asking it to order the UO to provide the omitted documents and undo the redactions.

In mid-March, before the District Attorney’s Office ruled, the UO suddenly provided the newspaper with many of the missing documents, and also with previously redacted documents that the UO decided should not be blacked out after all.

On March 30, the District Attorney’s Office ordered the UO to un-redact a significant number of additional documents.

In his ruling, Assistant District Attorney Spencer Gwartney said the UO could black out parts of records based on federal student confidentiality law, and on exemptions to Oregon public records law in matters of trade secrets and personal privacy.

But Gwartney said the UO erred in claiming many documents could be blacked out under state public records law’s “internal advisory communications” exemption.

Gwartney ordered the UO to disclose all 34 pages that UO lawyers had blacked out, in full or in part, under the “internal advisory communications” claim. Gwartney said the UO had failed to establish that the UO’s need for secrecy outweighed the public’s interest in openness. The UO obeyed the order.

No transparency, no trust. Unfortunately that’s now a large part of the legacy of Scott Coltrane’s brief interim presidency.