The cost of branding Kent State


President Beverly Warren holds up a copy of The Kent Stater in the George Urban Board of Trustees Conference Room on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. She told the board about the signing of an agreement with Vietnam’s Hanoi University for a partnership that happened on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2015.

Megan Hornyak and Jimmy Miller

The university officially signed a $2.3 million dollar contract Wednesday to help propel the vision President Beverly Warren and the Board of Trustees have for Kent State.

The board approved paying a $2.3 million, three-year contract Wednesday to a branding firm in an effort to encourage student retention and future recruitment for the university.

The contract is part of the branding campaign that started last fall, which combines results from Warren’s “Listening Tour,” input from the Strategic Visioning Advisory Committee (SVAC) and the conceptual designs from the firm itself, 160over90.

The spending for this enterprise will come from the general fund, which includes state funding, tuition and any carryover of the previous year, university spokesman Eric Mansfield said. He also said this spending will cover all eight regional campuses’ costs for the branding campaign, which means each campus will have approximately $100,000 to spend.

“Branding is sometimes a thought to be just an ad campaign, a tagline, and it’s more than that. To me, branding is just telling our story better, using really powerful language to tell our story, and I think that’s what 160over90 brings to us,” Warren said in an interview prior to the board meeting Wednesday. “What you get from an agency like 160over90 is really a more national lens in what they’ve seen across the country, so they bring that national perspective.”

160over90 representative Sig Ross agreed with a similar sentiment and said, “Don’t think of this process as an ad campaign.”

“(This process takes) a lot of refinement,” board member Michael Solomon said. “(We’ve) got to build a marketing campaign that works for the university. Whether it’s signage on campus or messaging in the way we’re communicating with people we’re recruiting, kids we’re recruiting, families we’re recruiting, and those who are attending, we have to get the messaging right just within that circle because that’s the least expensive and most important group we’ll ever reach in the market.”

Some board members expressed concern over the execution of the project. Others, including Stephen Perry, wondered if the university couldn’t just used old initiatives. But another 160over90 representative, Maggie Insogna, assured members that old initiatives can be used in these new designs.

The new design phrases were displayed, including, “Future should prepare for you,” which was a flip from the traditional phrase, “Be prepared for the future” and “Breaking the mold means shaping the world.”

Why Branding is Important for KSU

One of the reasons Kent State needs help from 160over90 is that research shows that will be fewer students from Ohio in the future, making it more vital to reach a national audience, Mansfield said. Mansfield also said another goal of the campaign is to raise the stature of Kent State by encouraging research investment in an attempt to make Kent State a better public research institution.

The Beginning of the Branding Process

The branding campaign was initiated by Warren and the 160over90 branding firm, who is also responsible for helping brand other universities like Michigan State, UCLA and Temple University.

The branding process began with Warren’s “Listening Tour” in the Fall 2014, when she sought to discover “the heart of Kent State.”

The university then hired the 160over90 agency and the company presented at the trustees meeting on March 11 to facilitate improving Kent State’s image on a national level.

While 160over90 focused on making Kent State’s vision a national brand and conducted research, the Strategic Visioning Advisory Committee (SVAC) members helped facilitate this process by analyzing submitted emails and tweets from the student body to validate student opinions. The committee includes 15 current faculty members and 12 faculty members on the working committee.  

With the help of the SVAC, Warren wrote on her president’s messages webpage that more than 1,200 individuals provided feedback through various outlets, such as personalized interviews, emails, tweets using #BeBoldKSU and a survey found at [email protected].

In June, the board announced the bridge campaign and unveiled transitional designs for the branding campaign before the major relaunch this winter.

Some of the new designs included a conceptual piece and a chart showing words that described Kent State as inclusive, driven, insightful, bright and purposeful. These concepts were contrived from phases the agency called rationale, mood boards, brand art and proofs of concept.

Some of the brand art concepts that were centered on incoming freshmen were created for the bridge campaign and were presented at this meeting. This includes the possible phrase “Seeing is Believing, Believing is Seeing 2020,” implying the use of the 20/20 vision metaphor with the year of graduation.

Other designs centered on billboards that might read, “Where are you headed?” and digital banners asking, “Where do you want to be?”

160over90 has goals to reach markets like New York and Detroit, but Warren wants to be an even bigger national brand. In January, the goal is to launch a larger campaign that reaches not only Chicago, Detroit and New York and beyond.

Input is Still Welcome

Kent State students, faculty and staff can provide feedback in creating a shared vision by emailing [email protected] or by completing the form at

Megan Hornyak is an administration reporter for The Kent Stater and Jimmy Miller is a senior editor. Contact them at [email protected]. and [email protected]