With more than 30 different visual presentations of the University of the Pacific's name in use, and at least that many different messages going to its many publics, the university was a prime candidate for a branding project. But how do you combine a collegial and scholarly university culture, with a penchant for getting things done deliberately and with consensus, with a high-concept marketing-behemoth project like branding?

With the help of partners from Boston and San Francisco, Pacific was able to bridge these two worlds in order to choose a new visual identity and agree on and adopt key messages about the university that appeal and apply to a wide variety of customers and stakeholders.

History of University of the Pacific

University of the Pacific is a private, independent California university with campuses in Stockton, Sacramento and San Francisco. The first university chartered in California, University of the Pacific was founded in 1861 by Methodist ministers. It was one of hundreds of other similar institutions started during that period that eventually foundered. But University of the Pacific survived and at times flourished, aided by an innovative and charismatic president who took advantage of newly available state funds for higher education.

Ups and downs highlight the history of this university, with innovative solutions to higher education coming on the brink of failure. The most recent threat occurred in the early 1990s, when the university was put on notice that its accreditation was in jeopardy. A new president and sound fiscal management have allowed the university to grow both its enrollment, now at an all-time high, and to update and expand its facilities. Four years ago, in 2001, it launched a seven-year, $200 million comprehensive capital campaign which has brought in more than $170 million. This target amount is almost triple the goal for the previous campaign, concluded in 1997.

The Competitive Environment

Though private, University of the Pacific competes directly with California's public universities in all areas: for students, philanthropic dollars and media coverage. Its location in the Central Valley of Northern California pits it against University of California Davis and Sacramento State University in Sacramento (45 miles to the north), and Universities of California at Berkeley, Santa Cruz and San Francisco, as well as San Francisco State University and San Jose State University (90 miles to the west). Moreover, more than 15 institutions of higher education have the word "Pacific" in their name. Therefore, the environment for the branding effort was a challenging one.

Internal Structure

University of the Pacific has eight schools and one liberal arts college. Two schools—a school of dentistry and a school of law—occupy their own campuses. The remaining schools are located on the Stockton campus.

Like many universities, Pacific did not have a formal marketing function or department until the late 1990s. As a result, schools and departments were used to doing their own marketing efforts and received no guidance from a central source. At one point, more than 30 different presentations of the university's name alone could be found on active marketing collateral.

The Project

In preparation for the public launch of the comprehensive campaign in spring of 2003, the university undertook a project to create an identity for itself that included a new logo or word mark and key messages. Sharon Hudson, Director of Marketing Communications, was appointed the project leader.

In her project proposal, Hudson named the following deliverables:

  • A positioning statement or statements for the university

  • Key messages that would help to unify the verbal presentation of the University

  • An image or mark that can be used by all schools and departments of the university to unify the visual presentation of the university

  • An Imaging and Key Messages Guide for all university publications

"It wasn't enough to just create a new logo," explains Hudson. "We needed to state what our key differentiating features were in language that was clear and suitable for a multitude of audiences."

Indeed, a brief review of publications before 2003 revealed that each department or even each individual was using unique language to describe the university, and the language that was used was so divergent that frequently they sounded as if they were describing different institutions. The decentralization of marketing was so pronounced that publications released at the school level often failed to include even the name of the university.

The Process

The identity project was divided into three steps: market research, graphic design and message development.

1. Market Research

Pacific partnered with Maguire Associates, a Boston-area market research firm specializing in higher education. The market research phase informed the other two steps and became a source of information for a variety of other purposes. The survey instrument was Web-based and was presented to all primary audiences, including alumni, current students, faculty and staff, news media and employers. Response rates ranged from a low of 2% (news media) to a high of 40% for faculty and staff. The average response rate was approximately 15%, which the university considered very good.

The research firm analyzed the data and came up with (1) four differentiating messages that all audiences agreed the university could say it is delivering on and (2) four messages that all audiences agreed the university should aspire to achieve. Those eight messages guided the remainder of the project.

2. Graphic Design

The graphic design partner, the San Francisco branch of internationally acclaimed Pentagram, delivered an initial array of 35 logos that fit within the parameters that were set: simplicity, flexibility and consistency with the university's image as reflected in the market research. This was narrowed down to three treatments, which were then presented in a variety of ways, such as in a business stationery system, on a four-color publication, in black and white, and on a Web site. From this expanded presentation, one image was chosen.

That image was developed into a comprehensive standards guide, complete with a primary color palette, font guidelines and graphic representations of "don'ts."

"The part of the standards guide that shows the things you shouldn't do with the new logo is invaluable," says Hudson. "It continues to expand every day as people show more and more creative ways to manipulate and push the new identity system."

3. Message Development

The messages developed in the market research were combined with other recent market research along with other university goals to create a presidential publication called Vision 2010. In this publication, the differentiating features that the university wants to develop and sell itself on are described and illustrated. This was the first such publication ever produced by the university, and it will likely be a document that is modified but not replaced in years to come.

"Vision 2010 was such a difficult publication to produce," notes Hudson, "because it really forced the president and other senior leaders to make tough decisions and determine real priorities."

Creating the Identity Project Steering Committee

To manage the project, Hudson gathered together a committee that represented the different stakeholders on campus. "Universities believe in doing things by committee, so I knew a committee had to be a very strong component of this project," says Hudson.

But this was no rubberstamp committee. Hudson not only recruited the committee members personally but also made sure that they were all convinced the project was necessary and viable. "I needed ambassadors for the project, and ultimately that is what the members of this committee were, and continue to be today," she says.

She also put them to work. The committee was divided into four groups: market research, graphic design, messaging, and internal communications. Each member was asked to join one of these groups. Each group met independently, with Hudson, to outline strategy and tactics and plan implementation for its portion. Members joined the area that most interested them, and because each subgroup had responsibilities at different phases of the 18-month project members could choose a group that best suited their schedules.

The committee essentially became co-project managers with Hudson. For example, members of the market research group organized focus groups, lined up lists, organized survey distribution and handled survey questions. The graphic design group spent half a day reviewing portfolios, and many participated in visits to the offices of the final three graphic design firms. The internal communication group launched and maintained a Web site, published a newsletter and conducted a Web-based solicitation of feedback from the university community on the final three potential logos.

Demonstrating Presidential Support

Internal buy-in, though, would have been impossible without the staunch support of the university's president. "Our president strongly supported this project," says Hudson. "He attended vendor presentations and was personally involved in key decisions."

Hudson remembers the decision to choose a graphic design firm. Although she wouldn't name names, she says that the president strongly supported one firm, whereas the committee wanted another firm.

"It was a little intimidating," says Hudson. "I had to go in to the president and essentially tell him we didn't agree with him. This isn't done often in this university's culture. Luckily, I had help. The associate provost for enrollment came with me, and in the end we convinced the president, too, that the other firm was a better choice for us. I did my homework though. I was well-prepared."

Once the standards guide was ready, the president issued a statement endorsing the new logo. His active participation in producing the Vision 2010 book demonstrated his commitment to a singular set of messages and the establishment of a university "voice."


The new identity was launched in the spring of 2003. As of the fall of 2005, the new logo is in use almost universally in all printed materials and on the Web. University officials and publications have adopted key message phrases that appear over and over in letters, speeches and other marketing materials. Although some disgruntled voices were heard initially, most of them have died down.

"The ambassadors did and are still doing their job," says Hudson. "They make sure that the university community doesn't forget that the project was not about a new logo—it was about presenting a unified presentation of our university to our many audiences."

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Abigail James is a marketing consultant and freelance writer for the financial services industry; she is based in Baltimore.