by DARCY SPICER
An email from university president Troy Paino was sent to all students on Oct 1 regarding a new project to rebrand the university. According to Paino, UMW has decided to team with the Atlanta-based company Mindpower to meet this goal. According to Mindpower’s website, they are “a full-service marketing and branding agency that specializes in bringing brands and campaigns powerfully to life.”
“Mary Washington’s current brand platform is solid, but insufficient,” said Lisa Bowling, vice president of University Relations, “It is based on things we know are true about Mary Washington: exceptional faculty; dedicated staff; personalized attention for students; an inclusive, caring community; academic rigor; and students who have the talent and agency to change the world. These are things we are proud of, but they’re also characteristics claimed by virtually every other school.”
Paino expressed his optimism towards the benefits he believes the project will bring to the school.
“This branding effort is one of the most strategic and visible endeavors of my presidency. We are planning ahead for a time when higher education will be even more susceptible to external forces and internal challenges, by strengthening our reputation and focus. As other schools face dire circumstances, we want Mary Washington to be in a position of certainty. The commitment we are making is a testament to our belief in UMW and its people,” said Paino.
Although the administration is confident in the positive effects of rebranding, some students are concerned that it will detract from the value of UMW’s current brand.
“I believe our current brand is an in-state university with a small student body that’s far easier to adjust to than the massive state schools. I think the university’s competitive tuition rates and intimate environment are what help embody this brand and are a massive positive,” said Garret O’Donnell, sophomore philosophy major. “Rebranding that could have a negative impact on the way the school is perceived if they stray away from what makes UMW special.”
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” said Quinn Lipetz, sophomore and economics major, of the rebranding. “I see our current brand as a small, close-knit community with strong values, including honor, service, inclusivity and learning.”
Paino said that the university chose to work with Mindpower for a few reasons.
“What particularly stood out about Mindpower was three things: where it draws inspiration, how it hones in on a unique voice, and its willingness to be bold,” said Paino.
He was also impressed by the relationships Mindpower was able to sustain with their clientele. “Mindpower survived as the agency of record through three presidents and over more than two decades. It says something powerful about them,” said Paino.
When it comes to how students feel about the rebranding project, some students are less than excited about the idea.
“I imagine that rebranding will be expensive, so it seems impractical given that the school is already running into problems fixing some of its current projects,” said Lipetz.
It is not only the price and practicality that concerns Lipetz. “I believe the school needs to focus on improving some things on campus such as more dining options and residence hall conditions. I think that this will make current students feel better about the school and support its current brand,” said Lipetz.
Despite some students concerns, the administration has expressed their desire to proceed as a unit, making sure that everyone has a chance to give input on this new endeavor.
“Ultimately a brand has to be adopted throughout an organization to be effective. Of course, no brand will be universally embraced. If everyone agrees on a brand or its interpretation, it probably is so bland as to be ineffective,” said Bowling. “To me, success will take many forms over time: our campus community will feel heard and well represented, the process will validate how unique UMW is, we will continue to raise our sights and aspirations as a school, we will build our strength and reputation among key groups like prospective students and employees, alumni and parents will feel greater pride than ever, and donors will be inspired to support us.”
Mindpower will begin working with faculty and students to brainstorm ideas and hear input starting this month, beginning with an open forum for students at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct 22, in the Hurley Convergence Center Digital Auditorium. Mindpower will be on campus from Oct 22 to Oct 24, with the goal of interacting and better understanding the uniqueness of UMW.
According to Bowling, the next phase will be an online survey that will be sent out the week of Nov 10, which she encourages the community to complete.
“We also have scheduled conversations for numerous student interests, ranging from student government, honors program, athletics, arts and cultural programs, multicultural programs, to clubs and much more,” said Bowling. “It’s ambitious, maybe even audacious, but we wouldn’t undertake such a large and important multi-year effort if we weren’t ambitious for UMW.”