Featured / September 8, 2014

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a (PLU) Sign

By Sandy Deneau Dunham
In today’s crazily competitive college market, you either go big or go home. This fall, Pacific Lutheran University is going bigger than ever—in every sense of the word.

Over the next year, PLU stories, people—and school colors!—are taking over 140 billboards throughout the Puget Sound area, including two high-profile ones in Seattle’s sports zone and two entire cars of one light-rail train.

They’re all part of a new outdoor campaign designed to spread the word about PLU—a few impactful words at a time, and just in time for the university’s 125th anniversary.

“One thing I’ve heard over and over since I arrived at PLU is that we’re ‘a best-kept secret,’” said Donna Gibbs, PLU Vice President for Marketing and Communications. “We’re doing this first and foremost to raise our visibility in our own backyard and beyond, from north of Seattle to south of Olympia.”

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The wide-reaching campaign takes a multilayered, environmentally conscious—and money-saving—approach:

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  • 112 fully recyclable “Eco Poster” billboards on major secondary arterial roads showcase a public-service message inspired by the powerful My Language/My Choice word-responsibility campaign created by the Diversity Center and featuring students, staff and faculty members;
  • 28 other Eco Posters—along with the two, bigger, sports-zone “freeway” billboards (at Fourth and Holgate, and at the Spokane Street exit to the West Seattle Bridge near Safeco and CenturyLink fields)—share PLU “Six Word Stories,” most of which were generated by the PLU community; and
  • a Sound Transit Link light-rail train “wrapped” in Lute colors features two of the most popular Six Word Stories submitted—and they just happen to tie in very nicely to train travel: “Arrived a canvas. Left a masterpiece,” and “Arrived with dreams. Left with passions.” The Lute train travels daily (5 a.m.- 2 a.m.) from Sea-Tac Airport to the downtown Seattle core, stopping at 12 stations along the way.

All together, PLU’s presence is going to be pretty hard to miss—which is precisely the point.

“The good news-bad news is that the Seattle/Tacoma metro area remains one of the most congested in the nation,” Gibbs said. “Our average commute time is 27.6 minutes, and 81 percent of the population drives to work. What’s the good news in that? It’s a large captive audience, and outdoor advertising is the one form of media you can’t turn off.”

The Six Word Stories billboards are up through the end of October, then again in April and May, along secondary arterial roads in neighborhoods near PLU’s primary recruiting high schools.

View Billboard Locations

Click to read each Six Word Story.

Six Word Stories, you might know, is a hugely popular (and almost perfectly self-explanatory) online and social-media concept that takes its cue from novelist Ernest Hemingway, who, according to literary legend, once was challenged to write a short story in only six words. The super-concise stories are sometimes poignant, sometimes comical, sometimes both—and addictively entertaining to read and to write.

During a two-week period, 125 Lutes submitted their own PLU Six Word Stories for consideration via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and the PLU website.

The 112 My Language/My Choice public-service billboards will be up all year, concentrated in Pierce County. This particular arrangement turned into quite a deal for PLU.

“We were able to greatly expand our initial investment by working with Clear Channel to develop this public-service message campaign, which increases our reach with a free value of $392,000 and underscores our mission to be of service to our neighbors and our communities,” Gibbs said.

Together, it’s one big package of big messages with big potential.

“We hope these campaigns will increase prospective student inquiries and remind our alums and donors that continuing to support this place is one of the best investments they can make,” Gibbs said. “Bottom line, I hope that we never again have to say that PLU is a best-kept secret!”

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Sandy Deneau Dunham has worked as a reporter, a copy editor and an editor and team leader for The Phoenix Gazette, The (Tacoma) News Tribune and The Seattle Times, and as Communications Manager for Town Hall Seattle. She graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has volunteered at the Washington Soldiers Home & Colony (and maintained the website since 2009.

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