The new Sanford-funded Build Dakota vo-tech scholarship program includes some gravy for Lawrence & Schiller. Out of $25 million from T. Denny Sanford and $25 million from the Governor's Future Fund, the state will spend 0.5%*, $250,000, on marketing the scholarships and the jobs they target.

Now hold on: the state is going to offer free vo-tech programs to 300 students a year for the first five years, then 50 more a year. That's free education. Free pretty much markets itself. The reps from Southeast, Lake Area, Mitchell, and Western Dakota don't need a TV campaign; they just keep doing their high school visits and add one line to their pitch: "By the way, it's free." Boom—marketing done!

We won't need to market the jobs any more than the scholarships. Those first 300 scholarshipped vo-tech graduates will be required to work in South Dakota for three years or pay back the money. They won't need an ad campaign to point them to their required payback.

Maybe the marketing budget is just a gift to the state's favored ad agency Lawrence & Schiller, a Christmas congratulations for their great work on the safe-driving campaign. Now what can we do to get Mitchell Tech on The Daily Show?

First draft, Sanford Build Dakota Vo-Tech Scholarship ad

First draft, Sanford Build Dakota Vo-Tech Scholarship ad (Background from Mitchell Tech website; text by Madville Times Marketing Division)

P.S.: The South Dakota Department of Education already lists the Build Dakota vo-tech scholarship on its website. I'll bet that marketing didn't cost $250,000.

*Correction 16:09 CST: The original version of the story mistakenly listed the marketing budget as 2% of the planned $50 million. I regret the error and will remind my next math class to always check their work.


The GOP spin machine is trying really hard to scare Republicans away from investing $100 million in South Dakota roads by calling "the single largest tax increase in state history." Pat Powers tries to lower expectations and deter support by claiming the proposal from the interim Highway Needs and Financing Committee is dead on arrival.

Powers had better get in line with his corporate overlords, who are lining up behind road investment. For the past year, a variety of industry lobbying groups have been building a "Roads Are Vital" campaign to make taxes sound fun. Who's on the team supporting a ten-cent gasoline tax hike? The Chamber of Commerce, the general contractors, the truckers association, the cement and asphalt groups (yes, there is a Dakota Asphalt Pavement Association—they initiate new members by tarring and feathering), county commissioners, co-ops, Big Ag, engineers, AAA, the auto-dealers....

The Roads Are Vital Coalition is out tweeting and marketing its pitch, saying, among other things, that the current dip in gasoline prices presents the perfect opportunity to raise the gasoline tax. And while they don't have Governor Daugaard full-throatedly singing their song, they don't have him killing the roads proposal, which he could do with a word if he wanted.

Dead on arrival? I don't think so. The Roads Are Vital Coalition poses a powerful, big money threat to Republicans' commitment to their campaign-trail slogans. Add to that pressure the glaring reality of our crumbling roads and bridges, and we just might see the 2015 Legislature fill some potholes.


Kevin Woster thinks Rick Weiland's new 15-second ads hit the mark. "In 15 seconds, Rick Weiland engages in ways that many much-longer political ads don’t," says Woster. "He’s having fun. Getting his message acrosss. Quickly."

Weiland takes an apt swipe at Mike Rounds's big-money beholdenness:

"The bad part about not having huge corporate donors is that I can only afford this fifteen-second commercial for U.S. Senate. The good part, unlike my opponent, I won't be working for them when I get there." Heck yeah!

Rick then peels off for more of his ongoing tour of the state:

Big campaign money is a great advantage; Weiland is doing his best to turn cash into a liability for Rounds.


Deadwood makes the New York Times... for being confused:

This old Western town of gunfights and gambling is going through an identity crisis.

...“It feels more modern, a little bit more Vegas style,” said Russell Lehmbeck, 43, a tourist from Wyoming who complained that Deadwood seemed confused about what it wanted to be. “It used to feel like I could get on a horse and ride down the road and no one would say a thing” [Steven Yaccino, "As Gold and Gambling Lose Their Luster, Deadwood Seeks a Spark," New York Times, 2014.07.10].

As we discussed in February, this identity crisis is motivated in part by the decline of gambling. It's not the smoking ban draining Deadwood's casinos; it's competition from 48 states that have legalized gambling in some form. Deadwood thus continues its civic conversations about how to retool its downtown and its community brand.

I still say build the outdoor-recreation brand. Get more hikers, bikers (the pedal kind), climbers, and skiers. Pitch the natural beauty that surrounds Deadwood... and make sure Wharf and the other miners don't take away any more of the mountaintops on which Deadwood should base its brand.


Don't call Stan, robots:

So are you with Stan? Will a candidate lose more votes than he gains by cluttering our voicemails with automated messages?


The South Dakota Board of Regents meet this week in Vermillion. Among the fun on the Regents' agenda are informal budget hearings for FY 2016. Each campus will pitch its budget priorities for next year.

Dakota State University would like to get a quarter million to create a Retention Center, $130K for a new computer science doctoral prof, $100K for Title IX compliance, $40K for out-state distance ed authorizations... and $125,000 for marketing.

On page 48 of the FY2016 informal budget hearings agenda packet, DSU tells the Regents that a spring 2014 marketing study finds the following terms figuring prominently in public perception of my hometown's campus:

  • technology
  • innovative
  • computers
  • jobs focused
  • small school
  • nerds
  • affordable
  • niche
  • small town
  • personal
  • average athletics
  • lower tier than other state schools.

Dear readers, and especially students, alumni, faculty, and campus neighbors, I invite you to identify which of those terms does not fit the Dakota State University you know and love.

DSU wants to spend $125,000 to erase many of those terms from the collective consciousness and replace them with "desired perceptions":

We have crafted desired perceptions based on who we are and what we help students accomplish. These perceptions will differ from the perceptions people have of us now. They are:

  • technology infusion
  • small in a good way
  • affordable
  • personal
  • innovative
  • computers
  • strong athletics
  • diversity of programs
  • jobs focused
  • elite school

To accomplish this transformation in perception, and therefore, reality, we need to increase our marketing efforts [South Dakota Board of Regents, "FY16 Informal Budget Hearings," agenda item 24, June 11–12, 2014, downloaded 2014.06.07].

Don't just think technology; think technology infusion. Don't think our athletics are average; think they are strong. Don't think we are a niche school; think we have a diversity of programs.

And for Pete's sake, don't think about what DSU really is; think about what we want you to think it is, because that new thinking will replace reality.

You know, for as long as I've been publishing the Madville Times, I've thought about what sort of marketing I could use to improve public perceptions of this blog. When I receive criticism that my writing isn't that great or my documentation is weak or my comment section conversations aren't intelligent or inviting, I wonder what I could do to address that criticism. I could take out ads on Google and Facebook and in the local papers saying, "Madville Times: Great writing! Great documentation! Great conversation!"

Or I could just write better. I could research better. I could moderate comments better, step in more when commenters are being jerks, and more actively guide the conversation toward civil, constructive ends.

In other words, I can talk about value, or I can add value.

DSU wants to spend $125,000 of student money to talk about value. The Board of Regents will talk Wednesday and Thursday about the value of that talk.

p.s.: In a sure sign DSU doesn't grasp its mission and market, notice that the desired terms list erases nerds while trying to amp up public perception of its athletic prowess. Come on, DSU! Jam the culture! Reject the jockocracy! Embrace the nerds whom you will help in their righteous march toward world domination!


Armchair media critic time! Democratic candidate for Governor Joe Lowe has released a television ad for the last week of the primary:

My questions for you, dear readers:

  1. Does the ad work for you? Will it work for South Dakota Democratic voters?
  2. How about that right hand, pointing at us three times: solid, forceful, executive gesture, or subtle code for right-wing tendencies?
  3. Will the Susan Wismer campaign release a counter ad, or are they confident of victory that they'll save their cash for the general?



Jason Ravnsborg offers a new campaign ad that misfires on every cylinder possible:

The first half of the ad plays the gloomy, minor-key music of doom usually reserved to play over grainy black-and-white images of one's opponents. The martial Marvel Studios superhero-fight drums kick in halfway through, but the ad still ends on the grim strains.

The voiceover is a standard anonymous movie-trailer baritone, not a South Dakotan we know (at least he doesn't sound French), and not the candidate himself. It's a positive ad talking all about Ravnsborg's quals, but the voice sounds more like what we hear when a candidate wants to badmouth other candidates but not have it in his own voice.

The voiceover opens intoning that "you've probably been hearing about Jason Ravnsborg." This is a specious marketing ploy, creating the false impression that there's all sorts of buzz about the last-place candidate. It says to the 90% of viewers who respond to the name with puzzlement, "What? You haven't heard of Jason Ravnsborg? All the cool kids have; what's your problem?"

The voiceover calls Ravnsborg "the fresh face." "The" is inaccurate; Annette Bosworth and Clayton Walker are at least as politically fresh-faced as Ravnsborg. "Fresh face" is Bosworthian code for "I have no experience, so I need some adjectives to make that sound like a good thing."

The voiceover repeats text on the screen, which is a sure sign of PowerPoint-itis, the disorder that leads millions of Americans to think that the proper use of visual aids is to treat your video like a giant notecard with the text of your speech. It also signals that the candidate can't afford to hire an ad team to shoot quality video of real South Dakotans, so instead you just make a PowerPoint with still photos and random digital transitions.

The voiceover says Ravnsborg is "uniquely qualified." "Uniquely" seems a gross overstretch when comparing oneself to people who have campaigned and fundraised before, who have served as legislators and governor, and who have been involved in local and state politics prior to this Senate campaign.

The ad shouts that Ravnsborg is the "ONLY attorney running for the U.S. Senate seat" (all caps in original). Ravnsborg emphasizes a professional credential that makes four out of five voters cringe. Oops.

The biggest cheese grater in Ravnsborg ad is this insulting lie:

Jason Ravnsborg is the ONLY U.S. Senate candidate with relevant military experience.

Now let's be clear: I'm not terribly fond of all the military chest-thumping that inserts itself into our politics. Saying, "I'm a soldier and you're not" does not automatically lead to the conclusion that "I'm a better candidate/patriot/human being than you." Good patriots serve their country in many ways without ever touching a uniform or a gun. Elevating soldiers to a special class instills a martial spirit that can be unhealthy for a peaceful nation. Dulce et decorum est....

But if a candidate is going to claim military service as a résumé booster, then he has to allow every candidate with that experience to stake that claim. Ravnsborg is an Army Reservist with experience in transportation and intelligence. Ravnsborg's opponent Rep. Stace Nelson served in the Marines as a military policeman and criminal investigator. Ravnsborg has a Bronze Star. Nelson has busted-up legs and back from getting run over by a criminal he was trying to apprehend. Both are soldiers. Both get to play the military card.

We can argue about whether either man's military experiences would make him a better Senator. But if Jason is going to put up pictures of his medal and his uniform and say, "I'm a soldier, yaaay!" he doesn't get to say, "My opponent's a solider, boooo!" or, worse, as this ad does, "That Marine over there wasn't really a soldier." That tactic is inconsistency at best, and an insulting lie at the worst.

Ravnsborg's ad fails on many levels. It is cheap and unsuccessful marketing based on sleight-of-mouth rebranding of a thin résumé and a mendacious insult to a fellow veteran.


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