Using Pacific University's Sesquicentennial to Drive Publicity
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Using Pacific University's Sesquicentennial to Drive Publicity

Pacific University — located in Forest Grove on the rural edge of the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area — retained Conkling Fiskum & McCormick to help focus the University’s public relations effort and also celebrate its 150th anniversary.

Paul Holmes


Pacific University — located in Forest Grove on the rural edge of the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area — retained Conkling Fiskum & McCormick (CFM) to help focus the University’s public relations effort and also celebrate its 150th anniversary. A private undergraduate and graduate institution of 1,500 students in 1999, Pacific University’s roots went back to 1849 when it was founded by some of the earliest Oregon Trail pioneers. As a result of a focused, integrated communications effort, the University achieved impressive growth in enrollment and endowment as well as bettering its position as a valuable community member.   


CFM analyzed existing market research, opinion surveys and enrollment data.  This included a review of a comprehensive study by USA Group Noel-Levitz.  Based on that review, CFM determined that:

  • Pacific University’s image was exceptionally strong.
  • But Pacific University had low name recognition.
  • And Pacific University was perceived as unaffordable.
  • The beautiful campus, located in a rural community, helped and hurt enrollment efforts.
  • The way Pacific University promoted its location wasn’t working. 


CFM engaged in a process of developing and testing programs and Web concepts through creative conferences with campus leadership, faculty, students and alumni.  A comprehensive marketing communications plan was developed.  Later, the plan was refocused exclusively on public affairs and media relations.  CFM proposed a plan to use the upcoming Sesquicentennial as a driver of public affairs activities and to help build the University’s capacity to carry out a robust public affairs program.  Program activities were designed to:

Improve public affairs department performance; 

Build legacies of improved programs and technical capabilities; 

Expand community pride in, and awareness of, Pacific University’s significant contributions; 

Focus public attention on Pacific's tradition of community engagement; and

Stress the economic value of a Pacific University degree.


Accomplishments during February 1999-June 2000:

A CFM-Pacific team met every two weeks as part of a continuous planning process.  

A special logo was used to create a consistent and stylish look. 

A Sesquicentennial Web page was added to Pacific’s home page. The special page was used to help the University experiment with e-commerce, recruitment and network building.

The Pacific Questions series, featuring old-fashioned town hall debates on key issues, was created and introduced to increase the University’s involvement in the community.

Other events were created and Sesquicentennial themes were incorporated into annual events.

A Pacific history book was produced and regular publications included 150th themes.

Mementos carried the 150th logo, including a special bottling of wine used at alumni and foundation events.

Alumni birthday parties were hosted by top administrators in a dozen U.S. cities.

A PowerPoint presentation was created for the University president, who gave the faculty a special preview of Sesquicentennial plans and the Web site. 


The number of news stories substantially increased and more precisely communicated the University’s key messages.  Almost 500 stories and calendar items appeared during the year. 

The University increased the number of contacts it made with corporate and alumni donors, yielding a $100,000 increase in Annual Fund contributions.

The number of public inquires about events and publications increased.

The University built a foundation for more consistent marketing communications. 

Most significantly, the University experienced a 15 percent full-time enrollment increase for 1999-2000 and 2000-2001.

The University administration endorsed and used a new set of key messages.  The messages repeatedly were woven into University communications and presidential comments. 
The Sesquicentennial Web site provided a test bed for the introduction of Web-based applications to improve campus operations. As a result, the University soon will add on-line course information and registration, automated applicant inquiry, application and response capabilities and the development of a robust alumni Web site offering information and networking services.

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