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Oregon State University Memorial Union: Promoting Community

Oregon State University’s Memorial Union has roots that go way back. Ground was broken on the building in 1926, and the cornerstone was laid in 1928, making it the oldest student union in Oregon. The building remained almost unchanged until 1960, when two wings were added to house a bookstore and dining commons. Memorial Union is proud of its history, but not content to rest on its laurels. One of the most recent changes—the addition of university digital signage from Visix—represents something of a revolution in terms of communication with students, faculty and staff.

Home to the OSU Bookstore, numerous university services, restaurants, a bowling alley and billiards hall, and restaurants, among other things, the Union draws a crowd every single day, making it the ideal spot to disseminate information. In fact, around a quarter of the university’s 22,000 students pass through the building every day.

Two main factors drove the decision to invest in digital signage—a desire to establish more effective communications with and among students, and the need to establish a more sustainable profile. The Union takes part in the national survey of student unions put together by the educational benchmarking authority EBI, and administrators noticed results from a couple of years showing a strong desire for a better ways to promote events on campus. “We did some focus groups and found students saying that the traditional way of putting up posters just wasn’t working,” explained Kent Sumner, assistant director of Memorial Union for marketing and assessment. At the same time, environmental concerns were increasingly coming to the fore, calling into question the heavy reliance of printing posters on paper.

Digital signage provided an answer to both of those issues. On the environmental front alone, Sumner said that a few years ago, promoting a single event on campus involved printing around 50 large posters and 300-400 flyers. The AxisTV digital signage software has allowed the Union to reduce that kind of paper use dramatically in the past two years.

The Union looked at a number of options before going with AxisTV. The fact that Axis is not tied in to national marketers and allows the owners to control all content appearing on the screens was a very important factor in the decision. Just as important was the system’s unique ability to integrate with the Union’s event management system. “Being able to have that EMS plug-in really pushed us towards AxisTV,” said Sumner, adding that they’ve been happy with the decision ever since.

The Union’s system comprises 8 46-inch LCD screens strategically placed throughout the building—near elevators on each floor, in the food service areas, in the coffee shop and at the central information desk. The screens are divided into three blocks, with around two-thirds of the space dedicated to promotional events and one-third showing what’s going on in terms of scheduling in the building any given day. A crawl runs across the bottom of the screens which is managed by the Daily Barometer, the university’s school newspaper.

The marketing department creates some of the content for the system, but other departments and student groups are free to submit content as well. “If Career Services is having a career day, they can send a slide; if Student Health is promoting safe sex or flu shots, we can put that up,” said Sumner. Motion graphic-based content has been especially successful at capturing students’ attention, according to Sumner, and video is something they hope to incorporate more of in the future.

The response to AxisTV has been overwhelmingly positive. “The system has been very well received; one thing we’ve really noticed is that a lot of other departments have started looking into adding screens to their areas, too,” said Sumner. “People have seen what we’re doing and are trying to copy it in one way or another.”

AxisTV is also proving itself in terms of return on investment. Sumner said the Union tracks some ROI data for promotions on the screens. Administrators run promos of campus products, such as a special at food services, on the screens, in the newspaper and with flyers, tracking sales with each method. “The promos on the screens have shown very good numbers all the time—it beats out the newspaper and flyers,” said Sumner.

All in all, AxisTV has done the job it was selected to do even better than expected, according to Sumner. While the reduction in paper and the ability to reach more people more effectively were assumed from the outset, Sumner said the sheer amount of time they system saves people has been an added bonus. “We hadn’t really factored in how much time it took to physically go to the EMS system, download it, format it onto a sheet of paper, print that out and post it throughout the building, then pull that down and start again the next day,” Sumner explained. Now that labor-intensive system has been eliminated. “Because of the integration between AxisTV and the EMS, it’s all automatic—no person, no paper and no time wasted,” said Sumner.