Fort Lewis College embraces mighty peaks

Latest marketing uses Durango’s surroundings to attract students

Fort Lewis College’s newest marketing strategy focuses on its location, something educators have been hesitant about doing in the past because it might detract from the college’s primary focus of education. Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Fort Lewis College’s newest marketing strategy focuses on its location, something educators have been hesitant about doing in the past because it might detract from the college’s primary focus of education.

It’s difficult to go anywhere on Fort Lewis College’s campus and not notice the mountains rising up in every direction. And now, rather than playing down that scenery in its marketing efforts, the college is embracing it.

FLC’s newest advertising materials put a prime focus on snow-drenched peaks, hiking trails through alpine forests and the campus’ picturesque view of the La Plata Mountains.

This is the first year the college has tried to take advantage of its location “in the best sense of the word,” said Dene Thomas, FLC’s president. The goal is a more holistic marketing scheme that promotes FLC’s liberal-arts education but also highlights all there is to see and do beyond the classroom walls.

“Look at what we have here,” Thomas said. “Why not promote where we are for people who can benefit from that?”

One advertising booklet features the cycling opportunities at the college, and another mailer shows students doing fieldwork in the mountains near the Colorado Trail. The college also got access to a mailing list of ski lovers, so it sent out promotional material showing a skier plowing through powder with the slogan “Where can you free your mind and free your heel?” The answer, of course, is Fort Lewis College.

Through the years, the college has swung from one extreme to the other, said Mitch Davis, the college’s spokesman. A while ago, FLC was very location-focused, then more recently, marketing materials didn’t mention location. There was a worry that the surrounding environmental amenities would be a distraction from the educational experience.

Now, the college has realized it doesn’t need to focus on one or the other.

“I said, ‘can’t you have both?’” Thomas said.

Her favorite new slogan by FLC promotes the college as “a breathtaking liberal arts education” because it emphasizes the natural beauty of the environment, Thomas said.

With state funding for higher education in decline, there is “absolutely” increased importance put on marketing efforts, said Carol Smith, associate vice president for enrollment management, which oversees the marketing department.

“You have to make your way in the market,” she said. Higher enrollment equals more money.

The college dedicates about $200,000 each year to marketing.

Its biggest place-based marketing strategy is the college’s presence in the new downtown Welcome Center.

Fort Lewis rented space at the center to advertise to prospective students, connect with alumni and sell concert tickets.

The college markets to tourists based on a simple premise: “If you like the location, check out the education you can get here,” Smith said.

Numbers from Memorial Day weekend were encouraging, Thomas said. The college made six connections with prospective students and 26 connections with alumni.

The return on investment is easy to trace for an initiative such as the Welcome Center, which is key when budgets all over the college are scrutinized, Smith said.

“In tight fiscal circumstances we have to prove what we’re doing is advancing the college’s objectives,” she said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com