Category : Community engagement

Recruiting prospective students via phone calls, e-mails, virtual events and webinars can only go on for so long. Inevitably, they come to meet your school in real life.  

If you’re lucky, this first meeting takes place in the intimate setting of your campus. But for many higher ed. institutions, a first point of contact with a prospective student happens at a university or college fair – an environment where your school is flanked by competitors, all of you competing for students’ attention and engagement. So, how do you stand out from the crowd?  

York University found themselves asking this question as they prepared for the 2022 Ontario Universities’ Fair (OUF), the largest in-person recruitment event the school would attend since the onset of the COVID pandemic. 

What they said: Distinguish York University as a top-choice destination for future post-secondary students.  

Following the reveal of a new brand for the institution, York University engaged ED. to lead and collaborate on developing a new design concept for a large trade show exhibit. For many students, the exhibit would be their first in-person interaction with the university, providing a much different experience from the digital engagements with YorkU they had become accustomed to in the two years prior.   

Although the engagement was a straightforward design job, the booth designs would play an essential role in recruitment for the school. The exhibit needed to be visually impactful to capture the attention and attract students to the space. This would provide YorkU with the opportunity to interact, engage and inch prospects closer to considering the school as a top choice. 

In addition to making a major visual impact, the design concept had several non-negotiables. It needed to be creative but brand-aligned, convey authenticity using original photography (read: real students), complement recruitment materials and must communicate ‘one York University’ while simultaneously differentiating the three campuses and ten unique faculties. 

What we heard: Be creative, while colouring inside the lines.  

To create a major visual impact, we needed to be creative, but our creativity was limited to working within a specific set of boundaries – including, the physical limitations of the exhibit itself, and our footprint within the event space. Be creative by thinking inside the box. But we were up for the challenge.  

As a starting point for our creative exploration, we concentrated on the non-negotiables. We considered the project holistically, looking at the colour, typography, photography, and design elements carefully to ensure all components worked together to achieve the goal of being as creative as possible (staying ‘within the box’) while being brand-aligned. 

In exploring ways to tackle a creative solution with so many guardrails, we realized: we could colour inside the lines. 


York University’s updated colour palette relies on the colour ‘York Red’ as a prominent element to boldly represent the York brand. So, to incorporate a creative flair we combined York Red with the faculty accent colour palette throughout the exhibit, to emphasize and differentiate each of the faculties and campuses.  

Concept work – floor plan

This was a bold departure from YorkU ‘s previous exhibits, which had used York Red almost exclusively. These complimentary colors would serve as a means to accent the faculties and campuses and were also incorporated as a wayfinding tool to help students fully experience and better navigate the entire YorkU exhibit space.  

Concept work – 3D exhibition mockup

We used typography to give structure and hierarchy to the messaging, we positioned faculty and campus names at the top of panel layouts to ensure prominence and visibility from a distance.   

A long term view on student photography

For photography, we used actual YorkU students and recommended capturing them in natural environments, for dynamic action shots of students to authentically convey the YorkU student experience. Knowing that trends in fashion change rapidly, we made fashion suggestions so that students’ outfits appeared timeless. We wanted YorkU’s investment in the exhibit to be able to be used in subsequent years.  

And we were adamant about referring to YorkU’s brand guidelines to ensure the photographs would align with the university’s visual aesthetic. This meant recruiting and photographing several sets of students for the various faculty and campus scenes to ensure diversity. We captured 100+ images per location and worked closely with the YorkU team on-site, which helped ED. narrow down the photography selections more efficiently.   

The new brand also led us to leverage YorkU’s “Window of Positive Change” design element. Following the guidelines, we positioned the subject (photographs of students) always with a view outward, inside the window frames throughout the designs.  

Concept work – faculty signage

We presented YorkU with multiple design options, providing them with the flexibility to choose an alternative option they may not have considered.  

Once a design was selected, we worked collaboratively with YorkU’s art director and team to the final approved version, incorporating several check-ins along the way as we made refinements. As with all of our higher ed. engagements, it was crucial for ED. to earn buy-in from the YorkU design team, as they worked very closely with the brand on a daily basis. 


Hyperlapse filmed by Stephen Livingston, Division of Students, York University

In October 2022, York University kicked-off their recruitment efforts with a new exhibit design at the 2022 Ontario Universities’ Fair. Photos of the exhibit space shared on social media (even making an appearance on students’ TikToks) showed that engagement and booth traffic was at an all-time high. Every section of the YorkU space was crowded with students in conversation with YorkU representatives. 

T-shirts designed for York University booth exhibitors

“It was so exciting to see It come to life after all of the collaboration and work this year. Multiple stakeholders from the York community and other colleagues (from event organizers to other institutions) commented on how great the booth looked. The photography was so dynamic and meaningful, and the accent colours were one of my favourite parts. Many of the students from the photoshoots were there, and it was incredibly special to see the pride they took – and to connect their stories to the booth imagery.” – Andrea Graham, Manager, Marketing and Engagement, York University 

All our expectations were surpassed with the execution of the booth.

Andrea Graham, Manager – Marketing and Engagement, York University

Change is scary, and colleges and universities are often deeply rooted in tradition: so much so that even a small change to a logo could meet significant resistance. But post-secondary brands developed decades ago need to progress to meet new student, alumni, and community expectations – and the needs of new platforms through which schools are connecting these with audiences. As the digital world continues to evolve, higher ed. brands need to keep up. 

A complete brand overhaul may not be required to make your brand more suitable for digital environments. But even a deceptively simple update requires time and consultation to be embraced and adopted. 

What they said: We need to improve how Queen’s is represented in a digital-first environment. 

Queen’s is an established, well-recognized brand, but because its visual identity has remained relatively unchanged for decades, visual elements became outdated and were no longer suitable for digital applications. 

At the same time, as Queen’s is a decentralized institution, the brand was being interpreted and communicated differently across faculties, schools, departments, and units.  

In some instances, our audiences are finding it challenging to understand how ‘Queen’s’ fits together.
Excerpt, from Queen’s University description of required services

Queen’s recognized the need to update their visual identity for online environments, and this set us in motion. Our solution needed to reflect what Queen’s stands for today – while respecting the strong brand equity they have built.   

Not only did the framework need to be suitable for digital applications, but it had to lend itself to consistency and accessibility in sharing the Queen’s story – including their commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and Indigenization. To achieve this, users of the Queen’s brand would need tangible tools to share with their university-community to encourage and ease adoption of the new brand architecture.   

Brand video, produced by ED.

What we saw: The Queen’s story needs to be authentic for key stakeholders to buy-in.  

When it comes to visual identity and design work, there’s a tendency to approach the work purely through a creative lens, but at ED we refuse to skip the strategic groundwork. Even understanding that this was a visual exercise, a comprehensive brand platform was necessary to provide a rationale for any suggested changes – however minor.   

Because our work would serve as a foundation for other Queen’s initiatives, we knew the brand platform – including narrative devices – needed to be authentic, as this was essential for the university-community to buy-in.  


Our process began with discovery, including research and consultation to dive deep into the ethos of Queen’s. We reviewed an environmental scan and learned about Queen’s initial vision for the consultation. We closely referenced the President’s Strategic Vision, to ensure our expression of Queen’s aligned with leadership’s vision. We designed a research process to engage stakeholders which included one-on-one interviews and group sessions, and developed the surveys, discussion guides and other tools needed. To keep us on the right track, we collaborated with the Queen’s team throughout the entire process. 

ED made recommendations on the composition of the groups and led and moderated all interviews and group sessions. We talked to people from various stakeholder groups, the very people that make Queen’s “Queen’s”, and we got a sense of their perceptions, feedback and insights. As new topics emerged from these conversations, we proposed additional consultations including a dedicated session with BIPOC members to ensure full community participation.  

After the discovery phase, we crafted the Queen’s brand platform and presented it to a number of key stakeholder groups, refining the platform along the way based on feedback received. We worked with each group to ensure the brand narrative genuinely reflected the unique perspective of key stakeholders, while also representing the university as a whole. Nothing creates a sense of joined purpose within a higher ed. community like a powerful brand platform that truly feels authentic to all, and resonant on an individual level.  

As part of the brand platform work, we crafted a guiding brand idea to distill what exactly sets Queen’s apart and this served as inspiration for our design team’s creative exploration. This brand idea, captured by the notion of individual success as a result of collective effort, would serve as a touchstone for our creative exploration.  

Design process. 

ED’s design team started by conducting an exhaustive audit of existing Queen’s brand assets across faculties, departments, units, and programs. Our team analyzed hundreds of assets they compiled onto a Miro board to get a big-picture view of Queen’s visual brand. We looked for inconsistencies and worked closely with the brand team to uncover which elements or Queen’s sub-brands were to remain untouched and the pain points we were to address – with a specific focus on digital applications of the Queen’s brand. 

Miro board used for ideation and collaboration with the Queen’s University Internal Branding Team

We leveraged the existing brand equity by retaining the tricolours as Queen’s primary colour palette. The palette was foundational and had served as Queen’s core brand colours for decades but was applied inconsistently, so we suggested simplifying the use of colour. We collaborated with the Queen’s brand team to ideate secondary and tertiary colour palettes to provide more flexibility for brand users. And certain colours were intentionally chosen to reflect Queen’s historical architecture, such as the limestone on their buildings. We anchored these complementing colours with the tricolour – melding tradition and modernity.

Developed in partnership with the Queen’s University internal branding team
Developed in partnership with the Queen’s University internal branding team

We made recommendations on photography approach to ensure images representing the university reflected diversity. We recommended simplifying the Queen’s crest – the main symbol in its logo, and further suggested evolving the logo by reserving the Palatino font for Queen’s wordmark alone. We proposed complementary typography options to give brand users more range and the ability to express a variety of tones in type within the brand standards. And collaboratively with the Queen’s brand team, we determined the ideal suite of fonts that would ensure accessibility and legibility in a digital environment.

Developed in partnership with the Queen’s University internal branding team
Developed in partnership with the Queen’s University internal branding team

ED presented these and other recommendations to the Queen’s brand team and like the rest of the engagement, it was entirely a collaborative process. We made refinements based on the brand team’s feedback, as they had insight on how their stakeholders may respond and what in-house design capabilities they had. Along with modernizing the Queen’s visual identity for digital platforms, the overarching goal was ensuring that the end result was user-friendly. After all, the brand users at Queen’s would be the ones implementing the brand, and the project could not succeed without their adoption.

Developed in partnership with the Queen’s University internal branding team


After an extensive consultation process and working in partnership with the Queen’s brand team to craft the renewed brand architecture framework, we presented it to eight executive and senior-level stakeholder groups, and we were able to build consensus. 

Queen’s renewed brand architecture framework was ownable, and provided a cleaner and more user-friendly digital presence. And Brand users were provided with the tools needed such as the Brand Central website and visual identity guide to ensure it could be easily implemented. 

Developed in partnership with the Queen’s University internal branding team
Developed in partnership with the Queen’s University internal branding team

The stars rarely align to allow a post-secondary institution to develop their strategic plan, their marketing, and their fundraising platforms simultaneously – and cohesively. But ED was presented with this rare opportunity with then-named Red River College (RRC). 

Given our position on integrating branding and strategic planning, we embraced the challenge as a chance to prove our thesis – that these two foundational initiatives benefit most from being aligned.

What they told us: Our full value to the market isn’t understood.

Early consultation performed by the college revealed that industry partners and other key market stakeholders didn’t know that RRC was designated a polytechnic institution – the only one of its kind in Manitoba, and one of only 13 such institutions across the country. 

Polytechnics are distinguished by the range of credentials offered, applied research, and industry-driven course design and delivery. But while annual reputation surveys showed that RRC was better regarded for producing job-ready graduates and working closer with industry (compared to the province’s universities), industry leaders and students were unaware of the college’s designation as a polytechnic – and the value that such an institution offers.

Our solution for RRC needed to express that value in a way that was clear and compelling, as it would be applied to three initiatives: 

  • Theming to guide the college’s new strategic plan – the foundation of which was being developed concurrently by a specialist consultant.
  • Creative direction for a new campaign for reputation building and recruitment – which would be executed by the college’s internal marketing team.
  • Narrative for the college’s case for fundraising support – to be drafted by ED.

What we saw: We need to build understanding for what a ‘polytechnic’ is.

Since the strategic planning initiative had started when ED was engaged, we began by reviewing the consultation that had already taken place. We worked closely with the strategic planning consultant to understand their data and feedback, and designed a compressed interview guide that focused on a refined list of stakeholders and a refined set of questions. This ensured we would gather new information, while avoiding ‘consultation fatigue’ with interviewees.

From the consultant’s data and our follow-on interviews, we learned that stakeholders were excited about RRC being better-known as a polytechnic institution. But they were skeptical that Manitobans would be familiar with that term, much less the associated benefits. ED recommended the college conduct market research to validate that notion, and the results were clear: ‘polytechnic’ was not a well-understood term in Manitoba. Further, in our interviews, even some RRC faculty and staff admitted they had trouble describing the distinction.

To effectively leverage this unique market positioning for RRC, we needed to educate the public about what a polytechnic is – and why it matters. 


ED’s work was intended to provide a foundation for other initiatives, so we began by crafting a brand narrative. 

The narrative provided language that focused on the distinctive nature of a polytechnic institution in the post-secondary landscape, and the benefits such an institution delivers for students, industry, and the province. It described a proactive, nimble and responsive institution; working shoulder-to-shoulder with industry; and preparing students for emerging market demands. This forward focus provided the basis for our narrative’s theme line: In front of what’s ahead.

Armed with a narrative and theme line, we focused our attention on supporting, directing or developing the college’s three key initiatives.

Marketing campaign

We focused on providing creative direction to the college’s internal marketing team with regards to how our narrative and theme line could be applied to marketing materials. We developed a suite of look and feel and messaging materials for reference and guidance, which inspired their creative execution. 

Concept creative
Concept creative
Concept creative

In consultation with ED, the college launched a campaign to help inform the market of the value and uniqueness of a polytechnic. Through online and broadcast media, the campaign’s video assets draw directly from the ED-developed brand theme line and narrative.

Video produced by Red River College Polytechnic

We also advised on the college’s proposed adjustment to its visual identity – introducing the notion of RRC as a polytechnic without alienating legacy audiences. Together, we introduced two new applications for the RRC identity: a formal adaptation “Red River College Polytechnic”, and a more colloquial “RRC Polytech”.

Identity created by Red River College Polytechnic

Strategic plan

By involving the college’s strategic planning consultant in our development, we ensured that our language aligned with the operational priorities the consultant was proposing. As a result, the theme line “In Front of What’s Ahead” was used as the title for the college’s strategic plan. The college President also used the full narrative to frame the plan to stakeholders in an introductory video.

Video produced by Red River College Polytechnic

Case for support

Similarly, the narrative’s language described a desired end-state for fundraising – with your support, we will stay in front of what’s ahead. The narrative effectively framed the college’s commitments, and again the theme line was employed as the title for the case for support for donors.

Video produced by Red River College Polytechnic


The persuasiveness of the case language helped RRC Polytech raised 25% of their total fundraising goal within the first five months of their philanthropic campaign. This positions them to achieve – and potentially exceed – that total goal within their three-year campaign timeline.

Like many higher ed. institutions, our project timeline was tight. ED bought into our critical path, and made their process fit our needs.
David Petis, Executive Director, Red River College Polytechnic

Over its lifespan, the University of Manitoba’s Trailblazer brand expression was recognized by industry peers, emulated by competing institutions, and embraced by faculties and stakeholders within the university. But as the campaign evolved, so too did the university. And, following more than a seven-year run with the award-winning brand positioning, the university turned to ED to imagine its next creative platform.

What they told us: We’re perfectly positioned to make a global impact on issues that matter.

Discovery: Identifying key insights.

To ensure that this far-reaching initiative could be effectively managed, ED worked closely with the university’s Marketing Communications Office to establish a project roadmap, outlining an 18-month work plan from discovery and consultation, through to the first stage of implementation. The roadmap took into account the potential for a refresh of the university’s visual identity, which was an anticipated but unconfirmed deliverable at the outset of the process.

7,000+ community members consulted

ED designed a stakeholder consultation program that would go on to reach approximately 7,000 community members. A series of online surveys were deployed by the university to existing mailing lists and promoted through internal communications; several small and large group discussion sessions were held to gain qualitative insights into the university from variety of perspectives. These sessions (moderated by ED) took place in a number of Manitoba communities, and in several urban markets across Canada with a high concentration of ex-pat U of M alumni. The process took 11 months to complete, with the majority of the consultation concentrated in the final three-month period.

Following the consultation, ED presented our findings and key insights to the university’s Brand Advisory Council, a 25+ person working group with administrative, academic, alumni, and student representation. We distilled the findings into nine key insights that would inform the strategic and creative exploration.

Strategy: Elevating opportunities to differentiate.

In a broad consultative process, not all insights lend themselves to the creative brand expression. So, following the advisory council’s review, ED’s team critically evaluated which of the key insights from discovery held the most potential to inspire an authentic creative platform. And of the nine, three became our focus:

  • Signature areas of research: These include exceptional and globally renowned work on climate change, global population health, infectious diseases, and human rights.
  • A pivotal role in reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples: Acknowledging the institution’s strategic commitments, and its location – a city with Canada’s largest urban concentration of Indigenous Peoples.
  • An undisputed record of leadership: Both in-province, where professional fields disproportionately rely on U of M grads; to boasting the largest number of Rhodes Scholars of any Western Canadian university.

Considered together, these three insights led us to a strategic premise – that the areas on which the University of Manitoba leads are among those that matter most to Canadians. 

We validated this premise through a range of external research that showed leadership development, reconciliation, climate change, diseases, and human rights were the leading, or among the leading, concerns for the majority of Canadians. This external research also indicated a global perspective that Canada does, or should, be a leader in these areas. This presented an opportunity to leverage Canada’s global identity into the U of M’s brand – and a sector scan confirmed that no other Canadian university was positioning itself on the country’s quintessential reputation.

What we saw: A Canadian university leading on global issues – the world’s northern light.

This led our creative team to explore how to express this notion of Canadian idealism – a nation renowned for being on the right side of the pursuit with respect to the world’s most important issues. In our exploration, we discussed a natural phenomenon that is often associated with Canada, and especially with the north-most part of the province the University of Manitoba calls home.

The aurora borealis are a spectacle that attracts people from across the world to northern Manitoba; and in many Indigenous cultures, they hold a spiritual significance. We used the northern lights as a symbol to inspire our exploration – that the work being done at a university in the middle of North America was attracting attention from, and serving as a beacon for a global academic and research audience.

The northern lights themselves are a result of the collision of particles in the earth’s atmosphere – a process that directly inspired our creative interpretation for the brand expression for the University of Manitoba. The university’s leadership in these areas of global and national importance were the result of a collision of ideas, perspectives, cultures, and individuals. We reflected this impact in a burst graphic that used the university’s updated colour palette to create a striking device for visual storytelling – one that was evocative of the hues evident in the northern lights.

In messaging, we set out to connect with audiences on a personal level. We developed a convention that centres on what any individual – a student, and alumna, a professor – brings to the university, and what their contribution can result in when it collides with the ideas and ideals of others. The branded approach is anchored by an institutional tagline that links each individual to the U of M’s catalytic influence on issues of global significance: What inspires you can change everything.

The first campaign: Celebrating a Nobel Prize recipient.

ED was given an incredible opportunity to launch the new creative approach to the world, when Dr. James Peebles (professor emeritus at Harvard University and a U of M alumnus) became the first university’s first Nobel Laureate. Working closely with the university, we deployed a congratulatory campaign that included a national print insertion, and an airport installation at the James Richardson International Airport. 

The main headline referenced the results of Peeble’s career-long curiosity with the cosmos: Fascination unravels mysteries. And, as Manitoba’s university, it was fitting that the university’s new brand was unveiled in celebration of one of the province’s own.


The first iteration of the newly-developed brand platform for the University of Manitoba was unveiled in tandem with a broader communications initiative, to congratulate Nobel Laureate James Peebles. The integrated campaign, featuring the look and feel developed by ED, was recognized with a Circle of Excellence Award by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education – District VIII.

The challenge: Aligning a K-12 summer program with an established higher education brand.

For more than 40 years, the University of Manitoba’s Mini U (or Mini University) program has provided unique access to the university environment for young people ages 4-16. The program runs over the summer months and offers a number of active and athletic programs using university facilities. 

As one part of the institution’s community engagement commitment, Mini U acclimates young people to the campus, and can help foster their affinity for the university once they’re ready to start their post secondary journey. Therefore, the Mini U organizers were eager to leverage the university’s new campaign and distinctive look into their programming and promotional materials.

This new look, based on the Trailblazer campaign creative, featured young people as a metaphorical device. But its approach had much more gravitas than is appropriate to attract young people to attend a summer camp style program. Further, Mini U wanted to use a proposed new approach for multiple years, managing and adapting the platform in-house. Our task was to show the flexibility of the institutional brand for this unique audience and expression; and equip the Mini U team to carry this dedicated iteration forward.

The solution: An injection of youthful energy within the visual lexicon.

We developed a new visual mark for the program – building off of the colloquial familiarity of the ‘Mini U’ name. The mark was set in a more youthful typeface, and used tones from the institution’s secondary colour palette to ensure alignment with the university’s graphic standards.

Combined with a complementing graphic device, this mark was set against the sepia toned photography approach that was a signature for the broader institutional campaign.

The colour of the photography approach wasn’t the only way we set the look and feel apart. The Trailblazer brand featured its subjects standing firmly in place. By contrast, the Mini U photographic approach was deliberately active – and fun – to convey the enjoyment that young participants could expect. In some applications, such as the program brochure, assets from both creative platforms co-existed seamlessly.

Once on site, real world applications like wearables leaned fully into the secondary colour palette, using various colours to easily identify camp participants from staff – a useful feature for program attendees (and parents) who may not be familiar with the campus.


By successfully updating the Mini U look and feel, and working closely with their in-house team, we were able to position the university to use the new visual platform for multiple years, evolving the call to action along the way.

In subsequent campaigns, the internal team evolved our initial direction. Their adaptation embraces the device that made our Trailblazer campaign effective – namely, a juxtaposition of a bold statement with an unexpected portrait of a child. 

“This summer, I’m going to university.”

Armed with this understanding, Mini U flipped the convention – combining an expected image and a surprising contrasting headline, “This summer, I’m going to university.” – demonstrating that ED provided them with the tools to effectively evolve this foundational campaign over several iterations.

The challenge: Make the journey part of the experience.

Churchill (Manitoba), located on the coast of the Hudson Bay, is known worldwide as a tourism destination, where travellers can find themselves inches away from polar bears, beluga whales, and other arctic wildlife – all under the canopy of the northern lights.

Less known, but just as impressive, is the important research being conducted at centres based in Churchill, that benefits the global scientific community’s understanding of the arctic ecosystem, and our planet’s climate.

Because the town of Churchill is relatively remote, for some time travellers could only arrive by plane, as train service had been suspended for several years. But as railway service prepared to re-open, partners working and researching in the region joined with Via Rail to rebrand the train ride and promote passenger travel.

And for those choosing the railway, the ride can take up to 40 hours en route to their final destination. The University of Manitoba, leading a consortium of partners, engaged ED to engage this a captive audience of tourists and visitors, and educate them about the important research being done in the area, and its impact on better understanding our world.

The solution: Immerse travellers in the destination prior to arrival.

Naming the adventure.

ED’s first task was to explore naming conventions for the branded experience. The name Expedition Churchill: A Gateway to Arctic Research was selected from a number of options, elevating the trip northward from a leisurely ride to a voyage with purpose – a notion that’s evident in the research being done in the Hudson Bay region. The accompanying visual identity for Expedition Churchill used a compass motif, pointed north.

Interactive publication.

The anchor of the branded experience was an interactive publication (for iOS and Android devices), featuring a description of the work being done in the region. Working with project’s lead author, ED collected the text content and video/photography assets, and collaborated on bringing several infographics to life through animation.

We laid these out in an e-book format, which was made available for download prior to boarding the train. The immersive content served to enhance visitors’ understanding of the depth and impact of the work being performed in Churchill in advance of their arrival. And providing that depth of content prior to the 1,700km ride allowed visitors to begin their Churchill experience before they arrived.

Experiential media.

The interactive publication was promoted at train stations through interactive kiosks (which were also located at other educational and tourism destinations in the province). The publication was available for preview by touchscreen, which allowed travellers to sample the book and encouraged downloads prior to departure.

(First photo courtesy of Heather Hinam)

Arriving at the track, travellers were greeted by a wrapped train car promoting the Expedition Churchill experience. And once on board, they found an entire dining car interior wrapped – from table top to ceiling – in images from the Hudson Bay.

(First photo courtesy of Heather Hinam, third photo courtesy of Thomas Fricke)

The Expedition Churchill train car was unveiled – and the interactive publication app was made available for download – at a launch event at Union Station in Winnipeg. The Mayor of Churchill, the President of the University of Manitoba were among the speakers at the event, which attracted media from all regional print and TV outlets.

(First image courtesy of Global News, third image courtesy of Heather Hinam)


Thanks to the strong media presence at the launch, and the published stories being shared more than 2,000 times through social media, the Expedition Churchilll announcement reached an estimated audience of almost 436,000 people, nationwide.

Meanwhile, the interactive publication has received 5-star reviews from users on both app marketplaces, with comments praising its design, easy navigation, and educational content.

★★★★★ Great app. Very informative, beautiful design, and easy to navigate. Would recommend to anyone going to northern Manitoba.
User review, Google Play Store

The challenge: Commemorating individual donations, while leveraging their collective impact.

When the University of Manitoba (U of M) launched its Front and Centre campaign, it set a fundraising goal of $500 million – the largest appeal of this kind in the history of the province. Before broadening the ask to a public audience, the university followed a best-practice strategy by first approaching donors who were in a position to make substantial gifts. 

Celebrating the now, encouraging the next.

With gifts in the millions being entrusted to the university, and the key strategic pillars of its campaign in place, a welcome challenge emerged. Gratitude and recognition was warranted for each transformative gift; but these financial milestones were also an opportunity to encourage more philanthropic support. This called for a balance between celebrating the ‘now’ donation, while encouraging the ‘next’ donation.

The solution: Reflect each gift as singular, not a series.

Donor stewardship involves a multi-step relationship, and the recognition of a gift is among the final steps in a process that can take months or years to culminate. So, a templated approach to gift recognition would not work for two reasons.

  • There are too many variables involved for a one-size-fits-all approach, such as the nature and direction of the gift, the donor’s comfort level with the recognition, and particulars like naming recognition and the creation of new institutions.
  • Treating each mindfully-negotiated gift as an also-ran would undermine its significance, and signal indifference to donors.

For each gift announcement, ED worked closely with the U of M’s marketing and donor relations teams to learn about donor motivations, specific projects and initiatives supported by the gift, and intended or anticipated outcomes from their giving. Each recognition story was developed to appropriately commemorate that individual gift.

To ensure that each discrete announcement lent to the momentum of the larger campaign, the agency sought ways to tether the ads. Obvious design solutions included the inclusion of a campaign logo and graphic approach. But we also assigned a dedicated author and editor to the announcements, someone who was responsible for maintaining consistency in the storytelling approach. 

Given the intended audience – wealthy and philanthropically-minded industry, business and community leaders – local and national print publications were the media of choice. The advertisements provided a strong external complement to the university’s engagement through email and alumni news and magazine outreach.

What resulted from these seemingly-sporadic ad placements was a breadcrumb trail of progress for the campaign. With each transformational gift, the campaign sent a signal to the community that the university’s vision was being embraced and supported by influential alumni. In turn, each gift announced an implicit endorsement of the U of M as an institution worthy of philanthropic support, and one capable of delivering on its vision.

(All event photos courtesy of University of Manitoba/UM Today)


Donor recognition efforts, combined with cause- and project-specific fundraising campaigns, helped the University of Manitoba build awareness and endorsement for the Front and Centre Campaign.

The university concluded the campaign having exceeded its $500 million goal by more than 25% – to a total of $626.2 million raised for the university’s various strategic initiatives.

The Trailblazer brand has changed how we think about ourselves, how we speak about ourselves, and most importantly, how we act. It’s challenged us to go beyond the expected and has made a huge contribution to our success.
John Kearsey, Fmr. VP External, University of Manitoba

The challenge: Prioritizing one pillar of a multi-pronged capital campaign appeal.

The University of Manitoba’s Front and Centre campaign was an ambitious initiative: its $500 million goal represented the largest philanthropic appeal in the province’s history. The fundraising goal was intended to support five strategic pillars – each of which were comprised of multiple related components.

One of these five pillars was financial support for graduate students. Of the 15 leading research intensive universities in Canada, the University of Manitoba offered the lowest level of financial support – a key incentive to attracting and retaining graduate students. In order to be more competitive with other institutions in Canada and worldwide, a transformative investment was required.

Graduate students are the engine that powers a university’s research, and they become key leaders and influencers in our knowledge economy. Our task was to make it clear to potential donors that supporting grad students isn’t just good for the university: it’s a direct way of making a difference on issues that are important to all of us.

The solution: Improve the understanding of what grad students do, and their impact on the world.

Our campaign coincided with the U of M’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition – a regional chapter of a nationwide competition where graduate students present their research to a panel of peers and community members in under 180 seconds. This time limit forces the participants to make their complex work accessible to a broad audience, without compromising the importance and application of their theories.

We used the 3MT event as a launchpad for a campaign that showcased the innovative work being done by graduate students. Following the event, we arrange for one-on-one video interviews with each to discuss their research in their own words (and with less of a time constraint). The sit-down format allowed us to discuss the work, and each students’ motivations, in more depth.

On camera, we captured moving stories about the personal experiences and perspectives that motivated each grad student’s research. One student grew up in an earthquake-prone country, and was exploring new materials that would make buildings more resistant to natural disasters. Another recognized the rapid expansion of soybean production in Manitoba, and was proposing new solutions for the specific soil needs for this crop. Yet another drew on her travel experiences to examine how people’s interactions with nature – specifically polar bears – could motivate them to act in the interest of our planet’s climate. 

Each participant interview was edited into a one-minute video that could be used to support online and email fundraising appeals. The collection of videos was housed on a fulfillment page on the fundraising campaign website, which linked to the university’s news feed and other videos of each student’s 3MT presentations.

The interviews were also adapted for advertising purposes, with edits created for preroll and interstitial video ads that were targeted to donor audiences.

A print, digital and out-of-home campaign also shared these stories, and drove audiences to the fulfillment site to discover more about these students’ innovative work, and to encourage donations to support similar innovation in Manitoba.


Support for graduate students was one of five pillars under the university’s $500 million philanthropic appeal. Over the course of the campaign, we helped promote several appeals, and to recognize donor support as a means of encouraging campaign momentum. 

When the university concluded its campaign, it had raised $626.2 million – exceeding their unprecedented and ambitious fundraising goal by more than 25%.

The Trailblazer brand has changed how we think about ourselves, how we speak about ourselves, and most importantly, how we act. It’s challenged us to go beyond the expected and has made a huge contribution to our success.
John Kearsey, Fmr. VP External, University of Manitoba

Working with in-house marketing teams.

Like other large and complex institutions, many colleges and universities employ an in-house marketing team to address the frequent and ongoing communications needs of the institution. We developed Brandcamp™ specifically to fill important gaps in this arrangement.

Brandcamp™ was created under our parent company, McKim. It is a one- or two-day branding intensive workshop designed to mentor and invigorate in-house marketing teams. With each engagement, a facilitator leads a series of workshop discussions and activities designed to help internal marketing teams discover or rediscover the brand they manage every day. 

Brandcamp™ was how we met Lethbridge College. They already had an internal team modelled after an advertising agency, with graphic and digital designers, copywriters, and client service reps who managed various Faculty and administrative portfolios within the college. Lethbridge College engaged us to kickstart an internal rebranding initiative – an endeavour their team was excited to take on, but hadn’t led before.

What they told us: Point us in the right direction.

Over the course of two days, we led an immersive session that challenged the Lethbridge College team to think critically about their positioning, their competitors, their students, and their unique role. 

Prior to the session, participants were asked to research competing institutions, and to think critically about their marketing claims. We explored personality and tone through the use of archetypes. We leveraged research and insight to develop audience personas that helped humanize target audiences. And we thought about the messages and media that best addressed their needs.

Finally, we brought these seemingly disparate aspects together using a series of tools. Working in teams, colleagues explored functional and emotional benefits, core offerings, brand characteristics and audience insights – all in an effort to distil a brand essence and potential positioning, and compare each teams’ work to see where it aligned, and where it deviated.

What we saw: Preparation runs through it all.

Our deliverable was to develop a draft narrative for Lethbridge College based on its team’s work. The narrative would be used as a jumping off point for the college to refine (or rewrite) as appropriate as the team worked post-session to explore and identify the college’s new brand.

While reviewing the participants’ work, we saw that the notion of preparation and responsiveness was a recurring trend. From law enforcement to auto technicians to culinary arts, the college’s role is to prepare students to enter the region’s workforce – and adapt the teaching and learnings as the needs of the region change.

Making a common claim ownable.

But ‘preparation’ is a common refrain for similar colleges. To stand apart, we needed to express the idea uniquely. So, we drew inspiration from excerpts from the workshop exercises:

  • Participants described an audience persona as driving a used pickup truck and drinking black coffee. This led us to use plain-spoken language in our narrative.
  • A competitive analysis pointed to a university that leveraged the sunshine and bright prairie skies in their brand expression. We contrasted this with embracing the earth, and encouraged Lethbridge College to be ‘grounded’ in its communications.
  • One of the unique natural attributes of the region is its coulees – the deep ravines etched across the landscape. We leveraged that imagery into messaging that referenced ‘digging deep’ and ‘making an impression.
  • The narrative developed by ED capped off with a simple, plain spoken call to action for Lethbridge College community: Be Ready

We presented a recap of the session, and our recommended narrative, to session participants and select college leadership via videoconference. The narrative was unanimously embraced and presented to the Office of the President within days. Today, it’s a cornerstone of the college’s award-winning brand expression.


In the months that followed Brandcamp™, we worked collaboratively with the Lethbridge College team to build off of this foundational work. From this two-day workshop, we helped this group build and execute a brand expression and marketing campaign that would help unify the campus community, set it apart in its competitive set, and earn it multiple awards at CASE District VIII. Read more about our work with Lethbridge College, here

Internal applications.

This foundational exercise, and the resulting narrative, has helped Lethbridge College unify communications across platforms. In addition to the marketing campaign, the Lethbridge College fundraising campaign – Ready to Rise – is clearly tethered to the institutional brand, resulting in a cohesive message across multiple institutional channels.

Lethbridge College capital campaign

The value of a brand narrative as a marketing building block has come into full effect during the COVID-19 pandemic, where Lethbridge College’s crisis messaging to students has helped anchor their communications. The ‘Be Ready’ messaging that came about during Brandcamp™ sent a signal of confidence to students that shows that even during challenging circumstances, the college welcomes their questions and anticipates their needs.

“Shine forth, Brown and Gold.”

When the University of Manitoba, a long-time client, engaged ED to update its marketing brand positioning, a logo update wasn’t on the mandated list of deliverables. The in-use logo was less than 20 years old – young by any university standards. But, through consultation with more than 7,000 employees, students, faculty members and alumni across the province and country, two questions kept coming up: will you update the logo? And, will you change school’s colours, the brown and gold?

Anecdotally, most were in support of a change to the official colours. While brown and gold were long-entrenched (there’s even a song dedicated to the school’s colours that dates back to 1939), many told us the colours were drab and unexciting. However, this kind of focus group feedback needs to be taken with spoonfuls of salt. Change is difficult in post-secondary education, and needs to be approached with a clear rationale.

What they told us: Our symbols don’t reflect who we are today.

The case for updating the visual identity emerged organically as consultation participants took a closer look at the symbols in the existing logo. They said they felt the crown was a clear reference to Canada’s colonial history – which was inconsistent with the university’s prioritization of Indigenous student success and its commitment to reconciliation. The book symbol in the logo was also cited as out-of-step with the modern university – some inferred it as a religious text, while others felt learning was no longer restricted to textbooks.

And so, our direction on this evolving project was made clear: explore an update that modernized the visual identity for the university, and expressed what the U of M stands for today – especially with respect to its commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada. To this end, our design team immersed itself in a university-led course on Indigenous design principles, which would strongly inform our exploration.

What we saw: A path less travelled.

Prior to creative exploration, we gathered feedback from more than 7,000 university community members: in group discussions, online surveys, and one-on-one conversations. In each intercept, participants had a chance to tell us what they felt the university stood for, and what parts of its history and future were critical to its identity as a higher education institution. These conversations weren’t based in the context of the logo itself, which allowed for richer responses from those who fed back.

After years of embracing an award-winning brand expression founded in the idea ‘where you are shapes who you are’, it was no surprise that the resilience and resourcefulness of Manitobans featured prominently in the conversations. So too did the sentiment that the bison is still a strong symbol of collective spirit and has importance in many Indigenous cultures. The prairie horizon was also referenced – though participants noticed that the topography of Manitoba varies widely from region to region. Finally, the natural wonder of the northern lights was also referenced as a phenomenon strongly associated with the province.

A less overt theme of ‘opportunity’ also emerged and served as a visual cue. Participants spoke of the University of Manitoba – among the top 15 research universities in the country – as a place where people exceed expectations and can achieve and accomplish as much as graduates from better-known institutions. This inspired a notion of breaking limits and boundaries – a notion we implemented in the container of the graphic solution.

The updated University of Manitoba ‘crest.’

While the silhouette of the revised visual identity was crest-shaped, the new graphic was not contained in a heraldic shield – one of many attributes of the new symbol that would appear familiar but break with tradition. The visual identity was instead a collection of shapes, with negative space between them, creating a sense of openness in the logo mark. The most prominent of these areas runs through the centre of the symbol as a path that – by virtue of having no border – feels unrestrained.

On this path, in a deeper-toned U of M brown, is the bison – the embraced symbol of the province and its university. Unlike the previous iteration, this new bison is active, moving forward and upwards on this limitless path to indicate its ability to endure a challenge.

Under the bison’s hooves is the gold and brown prairie soil, itself presented on a slight incline to reference the varied topography of the province. Within these fields of colour, and literally grounded in the logo itself, is a flame – the national symbol for reconciliation. Its inclusion is a strong message of how deeply engrained the commitment to reconciliation is for the university.

Perhaps the most dramatic evolution is featured above the bison – with a secondary colour palette of blue to complement the traditional brown and gold. The blue tones are evocative of the sky, but its shapes also make reference to the aurora borealis. Further inspiration was drawn from the pages of a book, combined with the flowing nature of how knowledge transfers, whether through electronic signals or traditional storytelling. And finally, the blue colours and the flame symbol were noted as references to females as ‘water keepers’ and males as ‘fire keepers’ in some traditional Indigenous teachings.

The forms within the new mark lent themselves to a graphic system to flank the logo – using the colours and shapes to contain or multiply over photography to form powerful backdrops for visual storytelling. Standards for application of the new identity were established and incorporated into a graphic standards manual for use by the university’s in-house marketing team, and partner agencies and entities.


Despite having some self-identified skeptics at the outset of the project (not an atypical situation when rebranding a higher education institution), the visual identity was unanimously embraced by the brand’s working committee. Several participants in the process agreed to appear in a testimonial video to announce the new identity, and provided a full-throated endorsements of both the consultation process, and the resulting product.

The video was released online, and the visual identity was launched on social media channels – a bold move on behalf of the university because typically, the most vocal online feedback tends to skew negative. Despite this risk, the discourse online was supportive, with community members expressing an appreciation for both the rationale for the initiative, and the creative solution.

To have a brand that really encompasses all of our strengths is not easy to do … it gives us an opportunity to tell a new story, and one that we haven’t told before.
Dayna Spiring, Brand Advisory Council Co-Chair, University of Manitoba
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