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Campus’ new image: More than tinsel?

Is the rebranding response to challenging times enough?
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By Matthew Pramas

Managing Editor

In an effort to attract prospective students to St. Michael’s College, the administration has begun  a rebranding campaign to change the face of the school and adopt a new approach to marketing.

The goal is to bring enrollment to a sustainable level that gives flexibility for future investment, said Director of Marketing and Communications Alex Bertoni. 

The marketplace has shifted over time, leaving private liberal arts colleges in need of adjustment and our college is no exception, Bertoni said.

“The prior brand and messaging was what we call ‘I like St. Mikes’. It was a time when a lot of popular media was talking about happiness quotients,” Bertoni said. The messaging emphasized a welcoming community in the hopes that prospective students felt comfortable here.

“All those things are true, but the market shifted over the course of time to where families are questioning the value of an education and what you get out of it, so that message was not working in the marketplace anymore,” Bertoni said. 

While some colleges rebrand to reflect institutional changes, Bertoni said that St. Michael’s rebranding is focussing more on marketing strategies that appeal to a population that is more conscious about return on investment. 

“We’re really still a liberal arts, Catholic, private residential college.We have a lot of great outcomes and things we can point to related to return on investment and we really need to highlight those,” Bertoni said. 

Along with a new marketing approach, there’s a “look” throughout the school’s new visuals, including a new coach bus with updated school graphics. “We’re in the process of revamping all our admission materials [and] we’re also going to be changing all the banners on campus in the next month or so and those will carry the new brand and the new message as well as some of the new graphics.”

In general, however, Bertoni said that things like the logo and the school’s primary colors are unchanged. 

The use of Founder’s cupola will be featured in some pieces.

 “There’s no question the whole college industry is facing some serious challenges,” said Business Administration and Accounting Professor Rob Letovsky.

 The challenge St. Michael’s faces is a positioning challenge, Letovsky said, explaining it as about where the school stands in the customer’s brain. “I get it, you don’t want to look like something you’re not and you don’t want to look like something that’s not relevant to young people, I get that, but the most important thing is positioning.”

As the vice chair of the Board of Trustees, Rev. Marcel Rainville, S.S.E. ‘67 has lived through many changed during his tenure at St. Michael’s, but expresses optimism about the future. He said that the Edmundites were involved during early stages of this rebranding stages. 

“We felt very satisfied with the articulation of what we thought were our values going forward and the incorporation of theose values into the branding process,” Marcel said.

For Letovsky, it’s not just about convincing the public about academics. Certain introductory courses, he said, can be found all across the country. It’s more about convincing people of the holistic value in a four-year, liberal arts degree from extracurricular programs to the Career Advancement and Alumni Center. “There are a lot of people out there, not just companies, [but] politicians, foundations questioning whether we’ve over emphasized four-year degrees,” Letovsky said.  

“It’s not like we have to make up stuff here. We’re doing a lot of the things that we should be doing, but we just have to package it together and we’re starting to do that,” Letovsky said.

The school is also attempting to adapt in a competitive marketplace. And those changes will be marketed, Bertoni said. 

“A new Center for the Environment is going to be launched soon and that’s a way to encapsulate all the things we do related to the environment and also to talk to students who are interested,” Bertoni said. New academic programs include health sciences, introduced last year and criminology, which was just approved.

For Bertoni, it’s also about spreading the school’s message through a new advertising campaign in key demographic regions, including Vermont, New Hampshire and most notably Boston. “That’s going to be a comprehensive ad campaign to drive students to visit campus for our fall events,” Bertoni said. The campaign will be launched within the coming weeks.

Here, new messages about leadership and exploration are communicated, with sayings such as “If not for Saint Michael’s” and the notion of doing well at the school, but also doing good for others.       

Letovsky said, “There must be a very tight connection between how you come across and what you are. It’s like greenwashing. If it’s true, it’s great. If it’s bullshit, people ultimately find out.”

Bertoni declined to share the cost of the rebranding effort, but with the time and money spent to evolve our school, will it be enough? “Time will tell,” Bertoni said.

“I think the school is doing a lot in terms of addressing a very difficult marketplace, but I think predictions of the demise of liberal arts education is premature.” 

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