JACKSONVILLE — Colleges are like their students, constantly analyzing what their strengths are and trying out new ways of presenting themselves to the world.
A college’s image is particularly important for wooing prospective students and donors.
And in a state dominated by Auburn University and the University of Alabama, smaller schools like Jacksonville State University must work particularly hard to create a memorable brand.
“When you’re looking at recruiting a kid out of high school, by the time they hit sophomore or junior year, they’ve already made a list of the schools they’re interested in. In Alabama, you’re probably looking at either one or both of the flagships,” said Steve Kappler, executive director of consulting for STAMATS, an organization devoted to college and university marketing. “The more that Jacksonville State can do to market themselves to be on that short list, the more opportunity they have.”
Like many public universities, JSU is currently renewing its focus on marketing. With the help of an alumnus who is a former marketing professional, the university is staffing what it hopes will become a Department of Marketing/Communications that will combine all of the university’s promotional resources to present a unified image for JSU.
“Effective institutions have those common themes, and they are wiser users of their limited resources,” said JSU President William Meehan.
A unified institutional image will also bring in more resources, said Tim Garner, a JSU alum who has been working as a marketing advisor to the university for the past year and a half. “We have to provide our product in a finished piece so that people want to open up their purses,” Garner said.
Fundraising is more important than ever, because JSU has to share its state funding with an increasing number of schools, said Joe Serviss, the university’s vice president for institutional advancement. In the 1960s, JSU got the funding for about 45 to 50 percent of its operating expenses from the state, while today it only gets about 34 percent, Serviss said.