Mississippi Community and Junior Colleges

Overview

Funding of two-year colleges in the State of Mississippi was stumbling and support from legislators was on the wane when the Mississippi leadership group asked Interact to develop a statewide brand for the two-year college system and a messaging plan targeting legislators. Their goal was broader statewide support and what they called “mid-level funding,” a funding approach that allows community college funding levels to “float” between high school and university levels.

Research-Based Branding

Interact implemented its branding research protocol, which involved conducting 10 focus groups all over the state as as well as a series of interviews with the legislators who had been “less than supportive” if not downright hostile. Solid quantitative data was gathered and analyzed… and then, Hurrican Katrina hit. Priorities changed overnight and Interact went back into the field, at no cost to Mississippi, to conduct new focus groups and interviews and gather new data. This was done solely so that the brand and messaging plan would be right for the new reality.

Interact then tested a variety of brand statements through a statewide quantitative survey, and created “Mississippi Values” – a brand that builds on the state’s Bible-belt presence as well as its tradition of Southern hospitality.

Interact then created a statewide messaging campaign that used mass media but also depended heavily on local communities carrying the message of education being a Mississippi Value. While we wanted a wide scope and presence for the campaign, we had to be careful not to raise the specter of government spending. For that reason, the campaign mixed grassroots support with local stories and a modest statewide media buy. In addition, the print and digital campaign was done in two-color, which created a starker and more emotional campaign even while saving money. Sometimes less really IS more.

Interact also created a presidential playbook and talking points so that each college president would be on point with their message and consistent with their colleagues.

Results

At the end of the campaign, the legislature approved the concept of mid-level funding, even while enrollment at two-year schools (prior to the recession) was in a strong growth mode that had not been seen for many years.