West Virginia University students rebrand J school

NEW YORK: West Virginia University is taking a unique approach to rebranding its journalism school. Instead of hiring a firm, it had students compete and develop multi-faceted strategies.

NEW YORK: West Virginia University is taking a unique approach to rebranding its journalism school. Instead of hiring a firm, it had students compete and develop multi-faceted strategies.

During a three-hour meeting at Omnicom Group's New York offices on Monday, students presented the top three of 44 campaigns developed in classes to executives from marketing agencies Siegel+Gale, Maslansky + Partners, and Hall & Partners.

Tom Harrison, chairman of the Diversified Agency Services unit at Omnicom, hosted the presentations. The DAS group includes Omnicom's PR agencies such as Fleishman-Hillard, Ketchum, and Porter Novelli. Harrison is a West Virginia University graduate and chairman of the journalism school's visiting committee. Scott Widmeyer, CEO of Widmeyer Communications, and former DDB Chicago president Ray Gillette also attended the presentations.

Each campaign presented a new name for the university's Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism, a brand positioning and rationale, an integrated communications strategy, a creative brief, and at least 10 tactics to be executed in support of the new brand.

The impetus for the rebranding is that the university realized it needed to refresh the school's brand as the nature of the industry has changed, becoming increasingly digital. The university wanted to get across that it could prepare students not just to practice journalism, but to be active participants in its reinvention, according to the school's dean, Maryanne Reed.

Hall & Partners performed research to inform branding efforts in the fall of 2011. Those findings, as well as the students' own research, formed the basis for the three ideas outlined Monday.

“We'll see where things go, but I do think that [West Virginia University] has to move away from the term ‘journalism' and on to a new phrase, something more current,” Widmeyer said before the presentations.

He said it made sense that the university would take the word of its students into account as it rebrands, because they understand both the culture of the institution and the realities of the 21st Century communications market.

The university said before the presentations that it would likely use a combination of them for an initiative that is set to roll out in the fall of 2014 after other constituent groups and alumni weigh in. Next year is the journalism school's 75th anniversary.

Reed indicated that it is possible the school will hire an agency to ultimately implement the effort. Yet even if that happens, “we really have utilized the talent and expertise of our own people, and that makes me happy that the real heavy lifting was done by them,” she said.

Sarah Peacock, Dain McQuarrie, and Jenn Colodney were among the students who presented for agency executives.

“I think we succeeded in eliciting some surprise from some on the panel, giving them solutions or pieces of the solution that were refreshing and that speak well of the program,” Colodney said.

“The best outcome is that it will connect with students and they'll realize that this is the place to get the best education for whatever they want to pursue,” Peacock added.

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