The Strange Advertising Deal No One At UH Wants To Talk About

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The University of Houston's Communication Department has taken bold, groundbreaking steps to preserve the study of journalism for future generations.

It just depends on how you define "journalism."

The Daily Cougar, the student newspaper, recently inked a sweet deal with a local company called Inverted Advertising, which was founded by two UH alums. The company provides technology whereby holographic images are projected onto the floor of a building, providing ad space in allegedly "high-traffic" areas.

No one Hair Balls spoke with at the University - including a signer of the contract - were able to tell us exactly how Inverted Advertising and UH got together to strike this deal. Which is a shame, because we like to give credit where credit is due.

But at some point, someone said (or signaled via semaphore or plumes of smoke - we don't know, because no one will tell us) it would be a terrific idea to get Daily Cougar ad reps to sell the ad space. Oh, and pay for the technology, too. Theoretically, this would bring in more revenue to fuel the paper's fine reporting. All the Cougar had to do was pay $1,200 a month to Inverted Advertising, and it could keep any ad revenue greater than that.

The idea of making an ad department start off each month with a $1,200 deficit might seem counterintuitive to some, but the trick is, you've gotta think outside the box. See, this kind of pioneering is lost on those rubes at, say, Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism or Columbia University - all they can seem to do is find "jobs" at "major-market media outlets" for their students. And all the University of Missouri can do to enhance the country's oldest journalism school is to build a $30 million media research and education institute. Hair Balls can't help but snicker at such trivial gestures.

But this deal with Inverted Advertising was a hit with Dick Cigler, director of Student Publications. Or at least that's what David Small at the University's Career Center told us. Cigler was apparently still too busy hyperventilating over how much he liked this idea that he declined to comment.

But Elwyn Lee, Vice President of Student Affairs, assured us that this is totally awesome. Hair Balls said it was certainly exciting, which is why we wanted to tell this amazing story from the starting point. Like, did Inverted Advertising approach the University, or vice versa? ((We left a voicemail for one of Inverted Advertising's founders, so we'll update this when we hear back).

"I'm sure they approached people in...[Student Publications], initially," Lee said. "But I don't think that's really important." He suggested we talk to Cigler to find out this brainchild's genesis.

When we tried to explain that the beginning was probably where the University asked Inverted Advertising who their other clients were - or even if the company had clients -- and chit-chatted with them, and then put out a request for proposal to find out whether Inverted Advertising offered the biggest bang for the buck (you know - what fancy business-school types call "due diligence") and the part where everyone at the Cougar jumped up and hugged each other when they heard the news that, yes, they would actually be doing this, Lee just chuckled at such a goofy line of questioning: "I don't understand why that's important, if the ultimate result is something good."

D'oh! Well, there you have it: Hair Balls completely forgot that the ends always justify the means.

But the one thing we can tell you is: it's really working out so far. Small told us that, while the most recent sales figures show that the Cougar actually lost $130 last month, other months have been profitable.

When we ran that by Advertising Manager Delores Crawford, she said that wasn't true. But she didn't want to tell us what the real numbers were, because "I don't think the University of Houston wants everybody talking to the media. So have you talked to Dick Cigler?"

God! If only Cigler weren't so goddamn jubilant about this thing, then he'd actually be able to tell us how awesome it is.

But the important thing is this: the University of Houston wants to preserve journalistic excellence. And folks like Small, Lee and Crawford want to preserve it so much that they want to lead by example. And the best way to show your journalism students that you really value the free-flow of communication and want them to become the best truth-seekers they can be is by continually referring the most basic, fundamental questions to other people, thereby not releasing any information at all, even if it's public. That's learning. That's leading.

-- Craig Malisow

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