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College launches identity campaign

Katie Kohler and Liz Harter | Friday, October 5, 2007

On the heels of two national rankings – by US News & World Report and the Princeton Review – Saint Mary’s is taking steps to break into national collegiate surveys by launching the “She’s Saint Mary’s” campaign, a continuation of last year’s identity initiative, College officials said.

The identity initiative is an ongoing process to better understand the image the College must present to gain the attention of prospective students and parents. The initiative was part of College President Carol Ann Mooney’s inaugural platform to make Saint Mary’s a nationally known institution.

“What this [campaign] goes back to is the grand idea of the identity initiative and understanding what our key audience knows about the College and their perceptions of it,” said Karen McDonald, the acting vice president of integrated marketing communications.

“The identity initiative was the first phase and ‘She’s Saint Mary’s’ is a way to present ourselves to our external audience. … It is how we will correctly communicate our strengths and weaknesses.”

The new tagline, “She’s Saint Mary’s,” is now present on all College publications, ads, banners and Web pages.

The campaign was co-chaired by Vice President for College Relations Shari Rodriguez and Vice President for Enrollment Management Dan Meyer.

“We really were looking at our messages and they were all authentic, but they were all so different,” Rodriguez said. “It wasn’t the best practice for an institution like Saint Mary’s and we became convinced that a unified message would help students understand all that is Saint Mary’s.”

Throughout the search for a new brand, the College used market studies and surveys of alumnae, faculty and students to find out what Saint Mary’s means to them – the result was the two-word slogan.

“It really seemed to resonate in the broadest aspect of Saint Mary’s constituents,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody saw a way to connect.”

The brand features the personal stories of students and what their time at Saint Mary’s means to them.

“[The alumnae] love the stories and they love the fact that we’re telling stories about what students experience here,” Rodriguez said. “We’re focusing on the rigorous academic experience and the relationships students have with each other and with faculty. Those are things that they felt really strongly about as they look back on their experience.”

The implementation of the campaign was a continuous improvement, McDonald said, sparked by the desire to cater to the needs of the student body.

“The catalyst was the research,” she said. “Through a series of surveys and evaluations last year, we were able to pinpoint our strengths and weaknesses.

“Our strengths, we found, were academics. Our faculty is strong, we have small classes, strong career prep and some pretty amazing alumni. We found out that these were the things that are important to our prospects and we weren’t effectively communicating it before.”

The main issue was communicating the benefits of the College in an effective manner, McDonald said.

“We didn’t have an issue with the benefits,” she said. “Those have not changed. We just didn’t communicate them correctly. This is a campaign to bring these characteristics and quality to the forefront.”

The timing of the campaign is meant to attract the prospective applicant pool for the Class of 2012.

“This is a time when many young women are exploring colleges,” McDonald said. “The Web can be used as a key resource for high school students who haven’t had a chance to visit our campus yet.”

Brochures to recruit high school seniors were the first materials carrying the slogan, McDonald said. The brochures, known as “viewbooks,” were first distributed in July.

“They were important because they included information the prospects wanted to hear and know about the College,” McDonald said.

The new slogan and the designs have a “more contemporary and cleaner look,” McDonald said.

“We have already started using our new ads in the Notre Dame football programs and the South Bend Tribune,” she said. “They already reflect our new image.”

One of the most accessible changes, McDonald said, is the redesigning of the Web site, which officially re-launched Monday.

“The site is more than just the look,” she said. “There are also content changes that reflect the research we did to refine our image and meet the needs of the students.”

Director of Web and Interactive Communications Dan Miller said there are some pages still linked to old content.

Many of the pages that haven’t been updated are the department home pages, which are regulated by each department. Miller said departmental feedback has been positive, and he believes most administrators want to move their sites into the “new look.”

The new pages are being designed using the Drupal Web engine, a content management system.

“The [Drupal] system allows update of content from a Web browser rather than proprietary software,” Miller said, adding that the system broadens the spectrum of who can update pages and from where.

The campaign is far from over, although the next steps are slightly ambiguous.

“Our biggest next step is further refinement of the Web site that can work best for students,” McDonald said.

While the new tagline will be the prominent theme, it will not be absolute, McDonald said.

“We won’t see ‘She’s Saint Mary’s’ everywhere, but it will be the common thread. We are looking for consistency and constancy of our messaging,” she said. “Over time, things may change slightly, but we are trying to make sure we’re consistent.”

“We have some very engaged alumni and prospects that have noticed the changes and have had a positive response,” she said. “Internally, faculty and students are eager to see the future improvements.”

Although the campaign was just recently launched, increased efforts to increase enrollment and national status began early last year. This year marks the largest class at Saint Mary’s in 17 years at 481.

To further promote the new campaign, this week was dubbed “She’s Saint Mary’s” week with several activities aimed at familiarizing the students with the tagline. T-shirts, banner unveilings and a campus-wide “She’s Saint Mary’s” shirt day are among the series of events.

“We are trying to create some excitement on campus this week to give everyone a chance to be part of the campaign,” McDonald said.