by RYAN GORHAM
UMW’s rebranding effort will cost nearly half a million dollars.
“The estimate for agency services is $455,000 for [Atlanta-based marketing and branding agency MindPower’s] work over two years,” said Malcolm Holmes, director of University Marketing. “This includes research, brand strategy development, creative development to support recruitment and agency consultation. It also incorporates expenses that are typically incurred annually, including photography, video production, advertising concepts and execution, a portion of UMW’s yearly media buy, and other general expenses of marketing.”
According to University President Troy Paino, the effort has been financed through private donations and not UMW’s budget.
“The contract is with the UMW Foundation and not the University,” he said.
Last semester, Paino sent an email to all students regarding the project to rebrand UMW. The University partnered with MindPower, which according to their website, “specializes in bringing brands and campaigns powerfully to life.”
A survey was sent out to the UMW community the week of Nov. 10 so MindPower could access the internal and public perception of the university and figure out how to change its identity as a college.
According to Holmes, the survey had a 24 percent response rate with 1,074 current students completing it.
“Students participated during the qualitative and quantitative research phases in very high numbers,” said Paino. “MindPower was very impressed in the level of student engagement in this process. Concepts will be tested with both internal and external audiences. Students will be offered an opportunity for further input.”
When asked about if the results of the survey had led to any major decisions by MindPower, Paino said that there have been no conclusions yet.
“They have completed their extensive research of both internal and external audiences to get a better sense of UMW’s distinctive qualities, as well as both internal and public perception of our strengths and weaknesses…The next step in the process will be the development of a brand strategy,”
At a Feb. 21 Board of Visitors meeting, MindPower presented its research, but no actions were taken. The Board was happy with the depth and scope of the research, according to Paino.
Students were asked about UMW’s current brand identity and some of the main aspects of the university that they thought was done well was its community and position as a small, liberal arts school that has effective schools and programs.
“I think the university does a pretty good job of branding themselves for what they are: a small, liberal arts school that has many different options for academics and student life. The current branding initiative updates should, however, have a focus of diversifying the school, especially when it comes to gender and race,” said Megan Riley, a sophomore historic preservation major.
“Mary Washington does an excellent job representing minorities and different types of people.” said freshman Madison McCallum. “Collectively as a community, we definitely support each other and take care of one another.”
“It’s a small school so it’s not too known, but when it comes to the education program and the College of Business, many people have heard about it,” said Shannon Gaskins, junior sociology major. “Many people in Virginia hear about it when they are applying to college.”
Students were also asked about current aspects of the university’s brand that could be improved. They commented on how unique majors and minors offered by the university should be emphasized because they are not offered by other institutions.
“One thing that they are starting to emphasize more and should continue to emphasize are our unique majors and minors, such as historic preservation and the GIS certificate,” said Riley. “These aren’t offered at many places, let alone at a small school, so they’re interesting draws.”
Students also believe that the school’s sports teams are a frequently overlooked part of UMW’s brand.
“The sports teams here should be emphasized more because we actually have a wide variety of teams and I feel as though not all of them get the credit they deserve,” said Gaskins.
Despite some student concerns about some parts of the university’s identity not being recognized, Paino is confident that the rebranding will allow UMW to remain a competitor in the education market for years to come and recognizes that the university will need to spread awareness about the school and establish a solid brand identity for the future.
“UMW operates in a very competitive higher education market that will only get more competitive over the next decade. The biggest finding from the research is that far too many people know little to nothing about UMW’s excellent academics and distinctive qualities.” said Paino. “The phrase ‘hidden gem’ has been used too often to describe Mary Washington. Those who know us or have experienced us have a very favorable view of UMW, but we need to do a better job telling our story. By increasing awareness, we hope to strengthen our position in the market and put us in a stronger financial position as we face significant demographic shifts over the next 10 years.”