The University of Rhode Island tells stories. Not fairy tales, just genuine, authentic stories told with a consistent, conversational voice—stories about unique members of the University and their work.
From research that confirms that eating slowly reduces caloric intake, to a student who fulfills his mother’s dream that he would teach children in Fiji, URI is the place where people are doing work that has a meaningful impact in Rhode Island, across the nation, and around the world.
“Through various media, the University is telling these and other stories in ways that are faithful to the brand and faithful to the faculty, students, alumni and others who represent it,” said Division of University Advancement Vice President Robert M. Beagle. “Our communications are setting an expectation for the University experience.”
“We are using stories that convey the University’s unique niche in a competitive marketplace,” said Department of Communications and Marketing Director Linda A. Acciardo, who leads the branding effort with Beagle. “URI offers students a small, beautiful campus; an intimate environment; a safe, friendly place; and a place where big ideas are fostered; where global thinking happens across disciplines; and where innovation is a part of what we do and what we aspire to do.”
The University’s 2008 student viewbook was the first publication to be branded. Eight months after receiving the booklet, 67 percent of admitted students who attended Welcome Day and remembered it, said it had made a strong impact on their decision to apply to URI. At the same time, 54 percent of adult stakeholders who were surveyed about the viewbook said it improved their opinion of the University.
A traditional advertising campaign with billboards and television spots introduced the University in targeted markets in the Northeast, that are key recruitment areas where a large number of alumni live. Thirty- and 60-second spots have been broadcast during prime times on major network and cable channels as well as on sports networks, NESN and YES.
According to Dean of Admission Cynthia Bonn, an admission counselor asked a group of visitors why they had come to Kingston, and one parent replied that URI wasn’t on the family’s list of schools until they saw one of the new billboards on the Long Island Expressway. Intrigued, they added URI to their list of schools to visit.
“Last year we certainly saw an increase in applications from the geographic areas that were targeted through the advertising campaigns, and visits to the admission home page more than doubled after the advertising and rebranding,” said Bonn. While she says she can’t attribute it entirely to the brand, there is an estimated 20 percent increase in applications for enrollment next fall.
In the first month of the launch of URI’s rebranded home page, uri.edu, there were more than 750,000 visits. The University has built an online presence and community. We are now posting, tweeting, and uploading videos directly for thousands of our alumni, students, prospective students, parents, and friends through daily updates on Facebook (facebook.com/universityofri) Twitter (twitter.com/urinews), and YouTube (youtube.com/universityofri).
Since January 2009, more than 8,600 fans joined URI’s Facebook and frequently post or comment on news and information that we’ve shared. From April to July 2009, we saw a 1,500 percent increase in the number of fans—the largest increase shown by any school our size in the country and the third greatest increase of all schools nationwide in that time period. And URI now tweets messages daily to about 1,300 followers, including members of the media and other universities.
URI’s YouTube channel includes more than 113 videos in addition to the more highly produced videos included in the carousel on the URI home page. As of February 2010, there were about 53,000 views of YouTube videos. The top three videos were ”Rhody Retires,” which promoted the unveiling of URI’s new mascot; “URI Sailing Club: The Collegiate Keelboat World Cup,” the video that included action footage from before and during the race; and “Stumble Detection in Prosthetic Limbs,” the video that showed research to improve the walk-ability of prosthetics.
Last fall, URILive! began providing streaming video of University events, including the fall Honors Colloquium where the online audience often outnumbered the real one by 300 to 400 viewers.
The brand has also touched the University’s public programming offerings inspiring the well-attended alumni Big Thinkers Series, the annual Honors Colloquium, Commencement, and other major public events.
“A key goal for this entire branding effort was to increase the awareness among prospective students and their parents by drawing them to the University in new and exciting ways. We also wanted to build pride among our alumni and community members. Overwhelming anecdotal evidence and some early survey results lead us to believe that we are beginning to define our distinctiveness and strengthen perceptions in the marketplace,” Acciardo said. ”We are starting the second year of our five-year effort to increase University awareness, support, loyalty, and advocacy.”
”Our newest Big Thinker, President David M. Dooley, has embraced our brand and its objectives. President Dooley’s ideas and his plans are unquestionably congruent with our brand message,” said Beagle. “He also believes in the power of branding and active marketing and in fact has become one of our biggest advocates.”
By Jhodi Redlich ’81