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University's marketing chief takes job in D.C.

After a year on the job as Southern Oregon University's first associate vice president for marketing and public relations, Barbara Porter is returning to Washington, D.C.

Porter left SOU on Monday to take a job developing a crisis communication training program for government agencies at George Washington Medical Center at George Washington University.

Porter had been assistant vice president for media, marketing and communication at the medical center before being hired at SOU.

"I will truly miss the wonderful community in Oregon and SOU," Porter said Wednesday. "I feel like we accomplished a lot in terms of refining our recruitment message and designing new materials to accomplish our admission goals.

"SOU is a wonderful school with a strong new president and a committed faculty. The key is to keep telling the stories and talking about the excellent teaching and community involvement. That will turn things around. There is a strong plan in place that I hope will make a difference."

SOU officials said Porter had set up a marketing strategy focused on recruiting and retaining students at the cash-strapped school. That marketing approach will be continued by her assistant, Lynn Green, who has stepped in as interim marketing and public relations director.

"We're all very sorry to lose her," said Jacqueline Schad, vice president for institutional advancement, which oversees marketing. "She's done a wonderful job and had redesigned our Web site and recruitment material and re-honed our message."

Porter was given "an incredible offer, one she couldn't refuse" and had to make the jump quickly to retain benefits and seniority with her former employer, Green said.

George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute lists Porter as a senior fellow, noting, "She honed her crisis communications skills for such events as the World Bank/IMF meetings, NATO Summit (and) the events of 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks."

SOU will leave Porter's job open for several months to a year, both to save money in a severe budget crunch and to wait until the current reorganization is in place and understood, said Schad. SOU President Mary Cullinan announced $4 million worth of cuts on Monday.

The post pays $75,000 to $100,000.

The marketing strategy developed under Porter included advertisements on teen-friendly radio and in school newspapers and personal contact with potential students. Porter's plan included follow-up e-mails and calls with high school seniors and potential community college transfers, especially in Northern California, the Sacramento area, the Portland-Willamette Valley region and the Rogue Valley, Schad said.

As part of a program called "Raider Reach Out," donors, board members and graduates are volunteering to contact potential students or to speak about SOU at the high schools they themselves graduated from. The strategy is being expanded, so SOU will be sending news releases to hometown newspapers about individual students' success stories, said Green.

Green said the university hopes its marketing efforts will gain 100 new students by next fall, but "the real question is: Is 5,000 the number of students where SOU can deliver the best service? Do we want to stay a smaller university and keep the quality?"

Before Porter left, she and her department wrote a strategic plan that called for national media outreach for the criminology, environmental science and theater programs, getting faculty successes in the trade publications and improving SOU's listing in U.S. News and World Report's Best Colleges report.

The department is asking for an increase in the marketing budget, yet to be ruled on, said Green.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.