When the Rev. Michael Garanzini took over as president of Loyola University Chicago in summer 2001, enrollment was down, operating deficits led to endowment raids, and a contentious relationship between faculty and Garanzini's predecessor had created a generally woeful atmosphere that made its way into public perception and seriously threatened the school.
Garanzini turned things around in less than five years and then launched an ad and PR campaign to change negative perceptions.
For the first time in Loyola's 137-year history, an integrated communications team was formed.
"Our campaign was designed to let the city know who we are and what we stand for in sharper and clearer terms," Garanzini says. "A fully integrated marketing plan was necessary to give us the most visibility."
An image ad campaign called "Loyola Values" was supported by PR efforts to refresh the brand, raise its profile, and position Loyola as contemporary.
"We wanted to tell the turnaround story, affirm the missions, and help entice stakeholders to support the brand and feel proud about the university," says Maeve Kiley, communications director.
The three-person PR team would rely heavily on media relations. In fact, a March 2006 seven-page Chicago Tribune Magazine article about the turnaround and Garanzini was the campaign's launch pad. With readership potential approaching 4 million, the story would help engage additional media and build on public interest.
Local media outlets were primary targets. The tagline "It's cooler by the Lake" played off a common catchphrase and was leveraged in pitching local TV weatherpeople, who loved it and ran with it.
"We looked vertically and horizontally," says Kiley. "It's not just a higher-education story. It's the weatherman story, religious-based stories, and [ad] campaign reviews."
A letter was sent to 120,000 alumni, alerting them to the Tribune story and campaign launch. Street teams of undergraduate and graduate students (many of whom are studying advertising, PR, and marketing) delivered media kits and distributed buttons and magnets throughout the city.
Internal interest was driven by a preview of the ads, newsletters, flyers, and an advertising contest.
Along with the Tribune coverage, campaign hits included WBBM-TV, WGN-TV, and WMAQ-TV; WXRT-FM; and the Chicago Sun-Times and RedEye.
More than 350 people participated in the internal ad contest.
The campaign is believed to have contributed to record applications and undergraduate enrollment, as well as a record year of donations.
Also, Graduate School of Business student applications for fall 2006 and spring 2007 increased 16% over the previous year.
The ad campaign and PR support will continue. "Father Garanzini will never just sit back and be finished," Kiley says. "He's constantly looking at how we can improve, and we'll support from a PR standpoint."
PR team: Loyola University Chicago
Campaign: Loyola Values
Duration: March 26, 2006-ongoing
Budget: Less than $500,000 (research, creative, ad, and PR)
This campaign started off on the right foot with the formation of an integrated communications team. That enabled a clear focus on promoting Loyola's values, but in a fun way, with catchy, attention-grabbing materials.
Also key was emphasizing that it wasn't just a higher-education story. Pitching local weatherpeople with the "It's cooler by the Lake" tagline helped reach a unique audience.
Using students for the street teams was not only resourceful, but it also gave future communications pros firsthand experience and created spokespeople within the student body.
Now that Loyola's image has been elevated, it may do well to boost Garanzini's profile.