Individual Ads: Minnesota State Colleges and Universities - Silver Medal

Category 39B: Individual Ads
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, “Sky High”

Contact: Linda Kohl, associate vice chancellor for public affairs, Wells Fargo Place, 30 Seventh St., East, Suite 350, St. Paul, MN 55101, Phone: (651) 296-9595, e-mail:

Overview: The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is the largest provider of public higher education in the state, with about 370,000 students enrolled within the system’s 25 community and technical colleges and seven state universities. Since 2000, state funding cuts have contributed to tuition increases of nearly 60 percent, but the system’s institutions are still a good value when compared to other higher education institutions in the state. Yet, the perception among some prospective students, and of some the state’s opinion and business leaders, is that tuition is sky high. The cause-and-effect relationship of state spending cuts and tuition increases was not well understood.

To address these concerns, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system developed and implemented a statewide broadcast television advertising campaign. To hold down production costs, mortar boards were used as an icon to symbolize higher education, and most of the graphics were computer generated. One of the spots, “Sky High,” directly addresses rising tuition costs, making the point that tuition at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is still within reach.

Planning and objectives: The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system’s 2006-2010 strategic plan includes goals to increase access and opportunity and maintain an affordable cost of attendance for Minnesota residents. This TV spot addresses those goals by raising awareness of rising tuition costs and the importance of keeping higher education within reach of Minnesota’s diverse population.

The ad campaign had four broad objectives:

  1. Heighten advocacy efforts for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system among the state’s top government officials, legislators, business leaders and key influencers.
  2. Support adequate state funding to avoid continued double-digit tuition increases.
  3. Raise awareness and appreciation of the system’s contributions to the state’s economic vitality throughout the state of Minnesota.
  4. Open the eyes of prospective students to the affordable education opportunities offered by the system that lead to good careers.

The campaign, which was developed with the help of an advertising agency, consisted of three 30-second spots that ran on cable and network stations throughout the state. Each spot had a very simple but compelling message. In the “Sky High” ad, the message was that even though college tuition has been rising, tuition at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is still within reach. The ad also featured the system’s logo and Web site address. The television advertising campaign was supplemented with public radio sponsorship messages, print advertising in selected newspapers and magazines, and animated Web banner ads on several media Web sites.

To assist in planning, a small committee consisting of public relations staff from a number of colleges and universities throughout the system was formed to provide advice and to react to proposals from the ad agency. The ad concepts and story boards also were shared with an internal cross-department Communications Team and the Advancement Committee of the Leadership Council, a group made up of the 32 college and university presidents and the chancellor’s senior staff.

The media was strategically planned to reach the target audiences. A flight of ads in spring 2006 coincided with the legislative session and was weighted toward the Twin Cities metropolitan area, where legislators were meeting at the Capitol. To reach business and opinion leaders, the ads were run during morning and evening newscasts. To avoid the clutter of campaign ads, the fall 2006 campaign began the day after the November election. Newspaper ads were run in the state’s major daily newspapers. Web advertising concentrated on top newspaper and television station Web sites.

Audience: The primary target audience is Minnesota legislators, particularly lawmakers who set higher education funding priorities, and those opinion and business leaders who influence them. A secondary audience is adults age 30 to 45 who influence their children’s choice of a college to attend.

Resources: The budget for the campaign was $400,000, including market research, creative strategy, commercial production and statewide media placement. More than half the budget was used for media placement. A Minnesota-based ad agency was retained for production and media placement of the three TV spots. The cost for the “Sky High” ad was approximately $115,000, more than half of which was for media placement. The ads will be running for two to three years, leveraging the initial production costs.

The ads were created with the help of an advertising agency but substantial staff work by Public Affairs staff in the system’s Office of the Chancellor also was required. Four staff members worked part time on the campaign.

Results: The campaign’s three 30-second ads ran on 26 cable and network television stations throughout the state in spring 2006. The spots had run 2,655 times by the end of June and had created 14.8 million gross impressions. The target audience of adults age 30 to 45 is estimated to have seen the ads an average of 5.5 times; an estimated 65.5 percent of Minnesota residents had seen the ads at least once.

In fall 2006, beginning November 8, the series of ads ran on 11 cable and network television stations in the Twin Cities metropolitan areas and in Winona and Marshall. By the end of December, the spots had run 644 times and had been seen by an estimated 55 percent of Minnesota residents. In addition, an online campaign of banner and skyscraper ads ran on six metro area media Web sites and generated 1.9 million impressions and 1,326 clicks to the system’s Web site. During 2006, the year the ads were running, average monthly visits to the system’s Web site increased 47 percent compared to 2005.

This was the system’s first major television ad campaign. Reaction from internal constituency groups, including faculty and students, was universally positive. The system’s relationship with legislators also seems to have been enhanced during the period that the ads were run. During the 2006 legislative session, legislators approved $191.4 million for building and remodeling projects on all 53 of the system’s campuses, close to a record for the system.