GW pays $700,000 for ball, ad buys

by Asha Omelian

Correction appended

The University will spend almost $700,000 to throw an inaugural ball, dress up Union Station with GW billboards for D.C. visitors and advertise during a television broadcast of the parade.

The expenditures total about $10,000 less than GW shelled out on the extravagant ball and much-hyped float in 2009, though Vice President for External Relations Lorraine Voles said the University tried to curb spending this year while still using the event to push its brand.

The University will pay about $600,000 for this year's ball, about $40,000 more than it spent in 2009 in today's dollars. GW recouped two-thirds of 2009's ball costs from ticket sales.

“I was trying to cut some corners here and there, but if people pay $100 for a ticket, they want a nice experience, and they’ll have that. We’re not going to recoup 100 percent but a significant part of that cost,” she said. “The University will absorb the costs of the activity within the regular budget.”

The University did not design a float for the inaugural parade this year, a project that cost $134,000 in 2009. Instead, it’s taking a “different strategy,” Voles said, focusing on the marketing momentum built up from the fall unveiling of its rebranding campaign.

GW will broadcast a 30-second spot on "cable and major TV networks around inauguration," University spokeswoman Candace Smith said. It also filled the halls of Union Station with a dozen lighted billboards that chronicle the success of students who are veterans or interested in environmental policy. It also paid for billboards in the Metro last fall after officially launching GW’s new look.

“We think there are these really special things about our university that people don’t necessarily know. These stories haven’t been highlighted over the years,” Voles said.

Neither Smith nor Voles would disclose the costs of the advertising campaign, but Voles said the total costs of inauguration-related activities would not quite reach the 2009 amount.

Administrators have also pumped out an elaborate social media contest as an expense-free way of generating student excitement, keeping its name buzzing and instilling GW pride during throughout inaugural weekend.

Students who give GW shoutouts in their tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos or Instagram posts can win a MacBook Air, an iPad or an iPad mini.

Social media guru Jon Hussey, who tagged onto the University’s online strategy team in August, said the challenge can help prospective students connect to GW.

“Really, social media is about building community, and the byproduct of that is prospective students have an easy way of getting a real sense of the GW community,” Hussey said.

He added that the University will also launch a social media campaign around Commencement, held on the National Mall.

Voles said it was not just appealing to potential students in its advertising campaign, but shooting for more exposure overall as a university in the nation's capital.

“There are so many audiences. We know we can’t be all things for all people, but for the inaugural activities at large, we hope there’s something for everyone. We want new visitors coming to D.C. to get a picture for GW and spark their interest,” says Voles.

GW is the only Beltway school with major inauguration plans.

Instead of scheduling a ball or inauguration-related activities, Georgetown University will launch its Martin Luther King, Jr. Week celebration with community service days and local awards. American University will have a similar celebration and plans to host a inauguration champagne brunch Jan. 23.

University of Maryland-College Park will send its marching band to the inaugural parade, but is without big plans because its students will not yet be back on campus. George Mason University will host a free on-campus dance party Jan. 25 but has no plans to advertise the school in the areas surrounding inaugural festivities.

Cory Weinberg and Brianna Gurciullo contributed to this report.

This article was updated Jan. 17, 2012 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the University will launch a social media challenge around Commencement. Rather than a challenge, the University will launch a social media campaign to connect with graduating students.

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