Founded in 1819. Marketer of the Year 2017.

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For 200 years, UVA has been an iconic public institution and pacesetter for higher education in America. This past November, just three years into a partnership with 160over90, they were recognized for their accomplishments in higher education marketing, taking home Marketer of Year honors at the American Marketing Association’s annual conference in Atlanta. Winning in the “Team” category, this award carried the special significance of being selected by one’s peers with the first ever crowd-sourced vote.

From the concept and layout of the Academical Village, to the emphasis on Honor, virtue and student self-governance—Thomas Jefferson designed UVA’s experience to be one that calls on each person in the community to play a larger role, creates interaction and collaborations across disciplines, and cultivates its own brand of leadership and self-confidence.

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It began as an experiment with classes of a few undergraduate students, and today it extends to an extraordinary network of researchers, teachers, civic and industry leaders, athletes and healthcare professionals whose brand of entrepreneurial thinking and public leadership continues to serve as a model within the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world.

 

The Assignment

The University engaged 160over90 in 2014 to develop an overarching brand narrative to tell the UVA story, especially to internal audiences, donors, and influencers in the Commonwealth of Virginia and beyond. While the University had held its position as a Top 3 public (U.S. News) and had a tremendous amount of success behind it, its brand narrative was stagnant and leaned heavily on its past.

“How do you make a university founded by Thomas Jefferson seem fresh and modern? You take the reins and own the brand’s story,” says Carol Keese, Associate Vice President of Marketing at UVA.

To remain competitive and drive progress for its third century, UVA needed a strategic platform that could accurately capture its narrative and highlight what makes it special, different, and important.

Among its strategic goals and objectives were successful recruitment of high-profile faculty, increased yield and quality of incoming students, increased corporate and global partnerships, heightened public perception and reputation, and increased philanthropic giving and support.

 

The UVA Story

With the Bicentennial approaching, we knew we needed a strong narrative that could bend and flex enough to tell the whole UVA story in ways that felt authentic and compelling.

Spanning 10 schools and the college, a thriving academic medical center, advancement operations, and a nationally-renowned Division I athletics program, UVA’s brand narrative needed to be successfully and systematically implemented across the entire institution. With 200 years of tradition, a decentralized communications structure, and three failed attempts prior, many said it couldn’t be done.

We started by engaging the community, reaching out to leaders, students, faculty, and staff from every area to develop the core ideas on which the brand would be based.

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“There’s an aura here. Rooted in our novel approach to education. A storied tradition of minds illimitable, free to run at full speed. Where the commitment to honor and the responsibility of self-governance take hold, and stir something inside. A desire to rise up and pursue any challenge. To greet failure with a smile and a strengthened resolve. To harness our collective knowledge. And undauntedly explode forth to advance society. That’s our aura. It permeates Grounds and all who set foot upon it. And its uncontrollable energy fills and connects us to a bigger purpose—the endless pursuit of better.”

Then we got to work.

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Measuring Success

As a result of this concerted effort, UVA has already begun to see meaningful successes in a number of key areas. These include: 1,600+ brand communicators actively using the brand site and resources to help tell their stories creatively and cohesively, with 20,000+ assets downloaded in the first 20 months alone; representation of all major schools and units: Law, Business, Engineering, Education, Health System, Bicentennial, Advancement, Admission, Athletics, and more; statistically significant increase in public perception of the University in past three years; and 2017 AMA Higher Ed Marketing Team of the Year.

In addition, together we aided the Office of Admission on recruitment efforts that resulted in the most competitive admission cycle on record in 2016-17. Undergraduate applications rose 13.6%, the mean SAT Score rose 3.1%, first-generation student enrollment rose 13.75%, and Pell Grant recipients rose by 18.8%.



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