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Released November 11, 2003

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BRANDING CAMPAIGN UNIFIES SOUTHERN MISS

HATTIESBURG - Image is everything. It certainly has become very important to The University of Southern Mississippi. "We have risen to the ranks of a world-class institution, and everything we do and everything we produce should present that world-class image," said university President Dr. Shelby Thames.

In 1997, a study initiated by the university concluded that its image was undefined and fractured because each college and department used its own logos and marks. "We had more than 35 different logos university-wide," said Lisa Mader, director of Marketing and Public Relations. "We were struggling with too many identities, which created a lack of one, strong university identity."

Working from the 1997 study with the GodwinGroup, a public relations firm from Jackson, the university began in fall 2002 to define its image and to establish a strong and recognizable "brand." GodwinGroup worked with faculty, staff, students, and alumni to evaluate the university's interests and to determine what the university means to its many stakeholders.

The first order of business was to firmly establish the university's official name and preferred name. The official name is The University of Southern Mississippi, while the preferred name is Southern Miss.

"With the national and international recognition this university is receiving, its name is very important," said Danny Mitchell, president and CEO of GodwinGroup.

The acronym "USM" is not the official or preferred name for the university. Outside the state of Mississippi, "USM" is poorly recognized and is not consistently affiliated with the university.

Solidifying proper reference to the university was the first step in establishing the university's brand. The next was determining if the university's logo and seal represented the university's forward mission.

GodwinGroup evaluated every aspect of the university and its competitors. Finding the university seal and logo "timeless, strong and classic," GodwinGroup recommended only small changes. The seal, which features the 1910 dome building surrounded by the words "The University of Southern Mississippi," is used on academic materials and by organizations connected academically to the university.

To establish a strong, unified brand, The University of Southern Mississippi also began phasing out more than 30 campus, college and program logos and marks. "Only through this consistency will the university be able to establish the brand of The University of Southern Mississippi to people both nationally and internationally," said Mitchell.

The official university seal and logo were not the only areas to receive a new look. Southern Miss Athletics also faced many of the same consistency and reference issues the academic side faced.

As a result, a new eagle head logo designed by Southern Miss alumnus Rodney Richardson was released on Jan. 29, 2003. The new eagle head is "truly our own and provides us with a distinctive look," said Richard Giannini, Southern Miss athletic director.

"The new Golden Eagles logo is to be used on all athletic uniforms, publications, and merchandise," said Gene Fitts, licensing specialist with the Department of Marketing and Public Relations. "This mark is special to our athletic auxiliaries, which are supported by funding from sales of this merchandise."

Along with the release of a new eagle head logo, the university unveiled a unified color scheme. For the first time in university history, there is one gold color university-wide rather than one for academics and one for athletics. One official university-wide color scheme enables a more consistent and definitive view of the university. "When fans, businesses and automobiles are decked out in the official gold and black colors, they become more readily identifiable with The University of Southern Mississippi and the Southern Miss family," said Fitts.

To familiarize the public with the university's two distinct logos, Southern Miss placed light pole banners throughout the Hattiesburg and Gulf Park campuses. The banners are also located on the light poles on Highway 90 that run in front of the Gulf Park Campus. "The banners make quite a statement," said Jared Loftus, SGA president. "The bright colors and bold logos really grab your attention. People visiting Hattiesburg and Long Beach certainly know about The University of Southern Mississippi."

The decision to maintain a consistent, high-quality image mandated a disciplined approach in the way The University of Southern Mississippi was represented in every aspect. The next step was to develop graphic guidelines that address how to uphold the desired image and recognition through correspondence, Web sites, brochures and signage. "Graphic standards are one of the most important and basic aspects of our university's image," said Mader.

Along with the graphic standards, university officials unveiled the university's brand identity in September during the annual meeting of faculty and staff. The brand identity establishes the heritage of the university along with establishing what it as an institution believes and values, what it promises to provide its stakeholders, and what it stands for today and aspires to be in the future. "Our brand identity helps shape every decision we make at Southern Miss," said Mader. "It should be the guiding force for what we do, what we say, and how we say it."

"Now that our brand identity has been established, and basic guidelines have been outlined, we are moving forward with additional image builders," said Mader. "We have created image ads and billboard ads that are eye-catching and a bit edgier than a typical ad for higher education."

Five new billboard advertisements promoting the university have been placed in various spots in and around Hattiesburg. One of the double-sided billboards, which features two of the new ads - is located on West Fourth Street near the Longleaf Trace Gateway. Colored with a gold background, one side shows a young man looking through a magnifying glass, his eye enlarged, with a slogan beneath that reads, "Keep an Eye on the Future."

The other three locations are on Highway 98 by Lowe's, Highway 49 North near the Inn on the Hill, and on Weathersby Road near Turtle Creek Mall. The billboard near Lowe's shows a young man looking through his joined L-shaped fingers, with the slogan, "Think Outside the Box."

Billboards will soon be visible along the Gulf Coast. Seven billboards will carry the new look throughout the coastal counties of South Mississippi.

Some of the billboard spaces were donated and some were purchased by the university. Norman Beasley, general manager of Lamar Outdoor, said his company donated some spaces because it wanted to give something back to the community. Impressed with the look of the ads, Beasley said, "I think they look fantastic."

"In fact," he said, "I hope my salespeople, when they call customers, will use them as an example of the kind of artwork that can be done to really capture people's attention."

Terry Lacy of Copy Cats Printing designed the ads that will stay up for 12 months. "I've never been asked to design billboards before," said Lacy. "I worked with them to highlight elements of the brand identity they worked on, and everyone seems to be pleased with the outcome."

"We will continue to look for opportunities to build our university's image," said Mader. "Image impacts everything we do, including university recruitment, retention, future donations, enrollment, and alumni participation - just to name a few. Branding and image building will continue to be a major focus for The University of Southern Mississippi as we grow and adjust to the ever-changing role of higher education."

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/nov03/branding03.htm
April 20, 2004 4:48 PM

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