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CWI $370,000 ad blitz: Beach balls, baked goods and high-priced consultants

CWI $370,000 ad blitz: Beach balls, baked goods and high-priced consultants

Dustin Hurst
December 2, 2016
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December 2, 2016

The College of Western Idaho spent thousands of dollars on baked goods, beach balls, pizza and high-priced consultants as part of a $370,000 marketing blitz.

Records delivered to IdahoReporter.com Thursday reveal how CWI spent student fee dollars from the school’s strategic reserve fund to build the growing college’s brand in the Treasure Valley.

CWI trustees authorized the six-figure spend at it’s March 15, 2016 meeting. That came as school trustees simultaneously prepared a $255-million bond proposal for the

November general election ballot. Of that, $180 million would have funded campus construction and expansion plans, the remaining $75 million would have covered interest on the bond.

Voters ultimately rejected the bond, despite CWI’s expensive efforts to convince them to support the plan.

The university’s spending records details many of the usual staples of an aggressive marketing campaign: several radio and TV ad buys, signage, and local event sponsorships.

The budget for the marketing blitz included $65,000 for a project manager,  $30,000 for signage, nearly $20,000 for events, $50,000 for strategic advertising, and $40,000 for television and radio ads.

Click here to see the full list of payments.

The school blew the top off its TV and radio spending, exceeding that line item by more than $74,000. Of that, CWI paid Boise-based KTVB $18,000 to buy ad time during the 2016 Summer Olympics. The school paid for ad space with Cable One, Cumulus Broadcasting, Boise State Public Radio, KTRV Channel 12, and for billboard with Lamar Advertising, among several others.

And what student fee-funded campaign would be complete without consultants?

CWI spent more than $10,000 on consulting work with Red Sky Public Relations, a top Boise strategy and communications firm. According the contract between the school and the firm, Red Sky provided message training workshops and strategic communication support. That support didn’t come cheap; the contract allowed Red Sky to bill at $145 per hour.

According to school records, Red Sky’s largest single expense was $8,688 to fund “executive speakers.”

The spending documents also reveal some less common marketing expenses.

In three different transactions, the school spent a combined $7,200 on food items. A July expense, $2,812, funded a “light breakfast.” Another expense of the same amount funded “refreshments/baked goods” at an August event in Boise.

The food bill didn’t stop there.

CWI spent more than $600 on Domino’s Pizza in October and a combined $330 at Port of Subs for two lunch events.

Every good marketing blitz needs swag. CWI checked that box by spending $354 on 250 beach balls and $577 on “CWI education shirts.”

The college also sought to put its brand in front of Idahoans at a number of popular events. CWI spent $8,000 to sponsor a summer basketball tournament, $1,662 for the St. Luke’s FitOne Healthy Living Expo, $1,500 for Alive after Five, and $3,250 for the Caldwell Night Rodeo.

The school also sponsored the the Nampa Recreation District’s summer showing of “Finding Nemo” -- at a cost of $1,700.

Mark Browning, the school’s new marketing vice president, told IdahoReporter.com last month the campaign was aimed at recruiting new students for the spring semester and building public awareness to aid the school’s accreditation process.

A deeper look tells a different story.

Though Browning denied the school used the $370,000 to electioneer on behalf of the self-serving university bond measure, however, at the school trustees’ March 7 meeting, the trustees deemed the marketing campaign “a priority” that needed to be done to meet the deadline for posting a bond on the November 2016 election ballot.

Below are the minutes from that trustee’s meeting. (The story continues after the image.)


CWI spent $31,000 on a full-size mailer that landed in every Treasure Valley mailbox just days before the election. Despite Browning’s assertion that CWI sought to raise awareness and recruit new students, the mailer said nothing about the school’s programs, schedules or registration process.

Instead, the links on the flier directed recipients to a website where they could learn more about the proposed bond.

Though more than 50 percent of voters supported the bond, the measure failed because it did not clear the two-thirds voter-support threshold that Idaho law requires for approval.

CWI officials are looking at their next steps, which may include finding business partners to fund its campus construction and expansion plan, or re-working the bond measure to offer a tax hike that is more palatable to voters.

Note: The original version of the article said taxpayer money covered the marketing campaign’s costs. This version has been updated for accuracy. IR regrets the error.

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