Investing in the promotion of your brand
About 10 years ago, the athletic directors and presidents of the universities at Pepperdine gathered to brainstorm various ways they could upgrade the coverage of the school’s athletic accomplishments. Their conversation centered on the true purpose of the university’s athletic department, focusing on the three tenets that guide its mission statement. The first tenet is to further Pepperdine’s Christian mission. The private research university, which is affiliated with the Churches of Christ, has five schools, including Seaver College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Caruso School of Law, Graziadio Business School, Graduate School of Education and Psychology, and the School of Public Policy.
The second and third tenets of Pepperdine’s athletic department are that it graduates its student-athletes and it is there to win championships. Pepperdine University’s athletic prowess speaks for itself. The school has won five national championships in men’s volleyball, two in men’s golf and one in baseball, water polo, women’s soccer, and cross country and track.
“This is truly a special place,” says Roger C. Horne, Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications. “There are a lot of good teams here. That’s why we really wanted to upgrade what we were doing in the way of streaming. The goal was to deliver the highest level of broadcast that we could—something comparable to what you see on TV.”
Raising the level of Pepperdine’s web streaming was a win-win on two fronts. With the men’s basketball team making national TV appearances several times a year, the goal was to bring that same energy to the other sports for alumni and fans, especially for international student-athletes that had parents in their home countries. The other side was to promote the academic and cultural side of life at Pepperdine.
To pull it all together, the Pepperdine team needed a partner to help deliver on their vision. Turning to Game-on Entertainment, the Pepperdine team ended up using the Canon PTZ cameras, which provide the flexibility to capture different vantage points for different sports. Plus, an operator can remotely control the camera.
That is not only a major factor in today’s hybrid world, but Game-On can get the camera in tricky spots that don’t allow for a camera operator. “We ask our students to do a lot of today’s games and to be involved so that they can learn the back end of everything—that means having them run the cameras,” Horne says.
Morgan Davenport, Director of Digital Strategy and Creative Services for Game-On, says that by putting an emphasis on the athletic side of the university’s brand, Pepperdine has drawn incredible attention to campus and its students. “It is important to get all aspects of the brand on the same page, so personal outreach and promotions in the local setting are essential to the online marketing of the brand. On-foot promotion also increases the positive association with the brand.”
Staying on the front lines of the branding war
With social media being one of the biggest marketing tools for universities today, apps like Instagram and TikTok are on the front lines for recruitment and interest. Donna McLaren, Associate Vice President of Brand and Marketing Communications at Roberts Wesleyan University, says that promoting activities and experiences—especially socially—provides an opportunity to tell the university’s story.
And in today’s ever-competitive recruiting landscape, an integrated approach is needed. That includes a website, email marketing, digital advertising strategies, traditional advertising strategies and social media. “All these are spokes in the wheel telling the brand stories of the institution,” McLaren says. “At the center of this should be a memorable logo that tells the story visually of the legacy and pillars.”
That logo is the brand, which should be one with a university’s mission statement and promise it makes to its students. A strong brand shares what is important. At Roberts, it matters that students can experience a Christ-centered education for character, and throughout their time, they can learn how to be ready to lead and put into practice what they have learned.
“If that happens, they flourish and so do others around them,” McLaren says. “All of this combined benefits the students in the focused experience they receive. For example, customizing education. Roberts offers customized learning opportunities to meet the needs of diverse students as they seek to fulfill unique vocations and utilize God-given talents in productive lives of service.”
With the effort to brand comes the effort to measure what you do. McLaren and her team continually measure the successes of its students affected by promotional efforts—both external campaigns and internal efforts.
- Percent of students who receive a job offer before graduation
- Percent of employed graduates working in their fields of study
- Percent of graduates that attend graduate school
- Number of community service hours of students
- Students from outside the state
- Number of months for working professional to complete a degree
On a weekly basis, the Roberts Wesleyan team tracks its enrollment goals by measuring areas like persistence spring to fall, retention of fall cohort, new student visits (year-over-year event attendance, year-over-year in-person and virtual visits), percent of students who have visited, inquiries, applications, deposits, social media performance (reach, reactions/comments/shares and post clicks) and number of news stories.
Another critical element is the brand and marketing guideline, which McLaren says is an important tool in the toolbox. Together, the various departments work to enhance the image of the Rochester, New York, university through integrated marketing communications strategies and tactics. “Whether your communications are created centrally or decentrally, it is important for the look, feel and messaging to be aligned.”
For example, it recently launched a new market position of “New York’s leading university for character development” to ensure it shares that message consistently. It currently is in the process of developing a new campaign, which launches this fall, that includes brand messaging and visual concept development.
McLaren recalls a customized educational program the university promoted recently that speaks to the importance of strategic branding campaigns. While working at a school for students with disabilities, a woman found her passion for education that compelled her to earn her teaching degree. After researching programs she could do while working, the woman discovered Roberts Wesleyan University’s Pathway to Teaching program.
Throughout her years in the program, she tirelessly studied while maintaining a full-time job and growing her family. Just before Christmas 2021, she suffered a severe and sudden stroke in the final semester of her program. Her graduation was delayed until Roberts Wesleyan helped her via its Pathway to Teaching program. By customizing a path for her, the woman eventually walked across the stage this past May.
Today, driven by her passion to learn and still learning to adjust to her traumatic brain injury, the woman started the Master of Strategic Leadership program at Roberts. The accomplishment is one McLaren says speaks to the heart of why today’s universities need to share the stories about the programs and people behind their brands.
“There is alignment with the mission as well as the promises of the university,” McLaren says. “A strong brand shares with their audiences what is important.”