I’M WITH THE BRAND

Marketing CSU in the modern world

by Beth Lipscomb

When you see a Colorado State University expert interviewed on TV or a booth at a community event that draws you in to learn more about CSU, you are observing the results of the work of the Division of External Relations. Made up of experts in marketing, public relations, creative services, Web development, and more, these teams work together to keep the University and its work in front of the public while ensuring that the CSU brand is consistent and cohesive across all communications materials.

Elias Martinez, CSU’s first-ever creative director, says brand authenticity is key. “You can’t be what you’re not. You can’t promise something you’re not delivering. So a lot of what we’ve been doing lately is rediscovering just who CSU is – and then sharing those values and the best parts of ourselves. And the result is that we’re building and growing a community with others who find they share those values.”

That has meant exploring the principles the University was founded on back in 1870, and contextualizing that for today’s world, so communications of all kinds feel relevant and vibrant to current and future students, as well as alumni and staff. In the past three years, under Martinez’s leadership, Creative Services has taken on the challenge of evolving the brand by acting more like an internal, boutique marketing agency than a department within a division within a major research university.

“The current team includes people who specialize in photography, illustration, writing, and design,” explains Colleen Rodriguez, communication coordinator and assistant director of Creative Services, who manages client projects from start to finish. “So we can assign projects based, in part, on where individuals’ passions lie.”

Team members and clients collaborate to first determine communication objectives, and then make a plan to achieve them – just like any other agency. Cameron Nelson, one of 10 designers on the team, notes that this approach also allows more time for strategy. “We have our brand guidelines we have to stick to,” Nelson says, “but we have freedom to push things, too, and challenge the norms.”

Creating a voice

These teams have refined CSU’s brand voice as well. For marketing coordinator and copywriter Lindsay Connors, the goal is to convey the caring, personal feeling that people get from their interactions with CSU. She says there are many stories of students choosing CSU because of an everyday experience that made a big difference to them. “They sent an e-mail and got a response in 15 minutes,” Connors explains. “Or they talked with an admissions counselor and realized just how much that person actually cared about them.”

With just the right words and images stitched together, readers are getting a unified experience of the University, no matter who or where they are.

“The creative team has been an integral part of what we’re trying to accomplish throughout External Relations,” says Tom Milligan, vice president for External Relations. “We are the group on campus that is charged with connecting the University to the people it hopes to serve, influence, and engage. To do that effectively, we have to use up-to-date, innovative communication strategies throughout our organization. And by helping us build a strong, clear, and compelling brand, Creative Services has played an important role in the success not just of External Relations but of Colorado State University as a whole.”

Award-winning communications

The CSU External Relations team’s outstanding work has garnered a variety of industry awards in recent years.

2015 Webby Award

The Social Media team earned an “online Oscar” for a Reddit Ask Me Anything with animal sciences Professor Temple Grandin – the most popular science AMA ever. 

PRSA logo

2016 Colorado PR Team of the Year

The Colorado chapter of Public Relations Society of America acknowledged CSU’s PR team for innovation and creativity while achieving outstanding results on behalf of the University.

PRSA’s Colorado PR Team of the Year

UCDA logo

2016 UCDA Judge’s Choice Award

Creative Services was chosen as best in-house design team in the 2016 University and College Designers Association Design Competition. 

CASE Circle of Excellence Awards Program logo

CASE 2016 Grand Gold Award

Creative Services and University Advancement earned this award for the campaign strategy behind State Your Purpose: The Campaign for Colorado State University. It was just one of six CASE awards for CSU’s communication and fundraising efforts last year.

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