Category : Managing institutional reputation

They say a brand is what a brand does, but what if your audience doesn’t fully grasp exactly what your brand does?   

Name no longer reflecting the impact your institution makes or what it embodies? Colours no longer manifesting the true spirit of your school? Communication not clearly articulating your institution’s value proposition? Then, something’s got to change.

That’s what Olds College was facing – a brand that didn’t represent what it actually is: a leader in agricultural education, and a catalyst to producing talent and research for Canada’s agricultural industry. 

What they said: We need a new corporate identity and brand framework to clearly articulate the college’s value proposition and promise.  

Olds College, an agriculture-focused higher ed. institution in Olds, Alberta, struggled with recruiting right-fit students, faculty and industry partnerships. The culprit? Its brand perception. Olds College was being misinterpreted as a college for farmers (and eventually their children) to study, with a regional focus on rural Alberta. Today, Olds College has become a leader in agriculture technology, leading the way in solving real-world problems in farming, food and land. 

Brand Video – Olds College of Agriculture & Technology

Olds College desired a rebrand for the college – a new name, visual identity and a comprehensive brand framework to reflect what they bring to the market today. This shift in positioning would allow for Olds College to broaden its appeal beyond local students to students from urban areas in the province and those interested in studying or researching agriculture technology within the context of a growing industry, nationally. 

Demand for these programs is growing but options are limited. There isn’t one institution that is top-of-mind for ag. tech programs in the country. Olds College saw this as a window of opportunity to make Olds College (or, insert new name here) synonymous with agriculture technology. And it goes beyond higher ed. Olds College boldly wanted to lead the shift in perceptions of the agriculture industry (it’s not all farmers in overalls doing the heavy lifting) and accelerate the adoption towards where agriculture is headed – innovative technology and practices that will make farming better.  

What we heard: The Olds College community needs to have a voice in the outcome. 

Olds College internally floated around naming options but it was important to them that all Olds College stakeholders were given a voice in the outcome. So, to validate their initial direction they required an objective third party (enter ED.) to provide a valuable role in talking with their community.  

We conducted extensive community consultation with both internal and external stakeholders to better understand perceptions of the Olds College brand, and to evaluate support for a name change for the college.   

As an engrained institution with a rich history, Olds College expected at least some resistance to changing the institution’s name. But through ED’s consultative discovery process, we demonstrated that Olds College stakeholders were very open to the change.  

ED’s consultation process also uncovered there was a difference in perceptions and experiences of Olds College between current students, faculty and staff compared to alumni and long-standing board members. Those with the more historic perspective of Olds College were surprised to hear of the innovative, globally relevant technological breakthroughs happening at their college. They were now ‘caught up’ with present-day Olds College and became even stronger advocates for the college. It was also revealed that stakeholders felt the existing logo did not match the associations and perceptions of the Olds College of today.  

Previous logo


After comprehensive stakeholder consultations, our team conducted an evaluation of competitors in the market. This review was intended to ensure the Olds College corporate identity and logo development would be distinct from competitors. 

Concurrently, we developed a strategy and recommendations on name selection. After some exploration, and in consideration of stakeholder feedback in discovery, we recommended adding a qualifier to the college name – Olds College of Agriculture and Technology. This validated the college’s initial direction at the outset of the engagement. And this recommendation reflected the community support for change evident in consultation, without forgoing the college’s history.  

Selecting the name was just (a big) half of the engagement. We needed to provide support to socialize the idea with new marketing assets, guidelines and a detailed roll-out plan. We developed a brand platform strategy for Olds College, which included an articulation of a brand essence and voice informed by insights gleamed from the discovery process. This was used for inspiration in ideating designs and execution of a new brand and corporate identity (including a new logo). 

For the logo, as most post-secondary institutions tend to be change-averse, we presented options using Olds College primary colour palette with maroon and gold. We went further in our exploration and presented an alternative option which was a much larger departure from their existing logo. Expecting the college to default to one of the options with colours more tethered to their past and a more subtle change from the current logo (like most tend to do), they unexpectedly selected the bold choice. This reinforced what we learned during our discovery – that this is a college truly ready for change.  

With the name, logo and brand platform work completed, we moved to create a complete brand package that included designs for a roster of marketing materials and standards manual to guide Olds College in seamlessly executing the new brand. These tools were applied to specific marketing materials, including a redesign of the Olds College home page, and a launch video to introduce the new corporate identity and logo. 

An exemplary client/agency relationship that weathered a leadership change 

During the discovery process, the Olds College president resigned. Without a vocal leader championing the engagement, progress could have come to a standstill. But ED. and the Olds College brand team stepped into this role. Together we advocated and reinforced the need and desire of the Olds College community for the rebrand, as the college transitioned to a new president. 

As we look back on the process, we were thrilled with the collaboration between ED. and the Olds College brand team. We received feedback on work in progress and were open to each other’s input. The Olds College brand team was very supportive in providing us with direct access (which can be rare) to their internal team members, allowing us to work directly and more effectively with designers and others who would be implementing the brand. There was a high level of trust on both sides, and a mutual understanding that the recommendations we put forward would always be in their best interest.  


The new corporate identity and logo were launched publicly at the Olds College back-to-school staff BBQ celebration in August 2022, with media, industry partners, and local political representatives in attendance. The event allowed the college to introduce the new identity to new and returning students at the beginning of the fall academic term, and to prospective students via 2023 application materials.   

The brand strategy and the resulting corporate identity and logo were unanimously embraced by the leadership, who participated in consultation. The response from the broader college community was also overwhelmingly supportive.  

Our new brand captures what we have grown to be as an applied research institution. It’s rooted in who we’ve always been — and continue to be — a leader in agricultural advancement.
Blayne Meek, Director, Marketing & Communications

“The brand consultation underscored that agriculture is how we started; it is essential to who we are today and how we make our mark,” said Blayne Meek, Director, Marketing & Communications “And it’s our future because it’s our single greatest opportunity to shape the world in meaningful ways. Our new brand captures what we have grown to be as an applied research institution. It’s rooted in who we’ve always been — and continue to be — a leader in agricultural advancement.”  

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

There is strength in numbers. And while the 13 members of Polytechnics Canada may seem like a relatively small number of institutions, together they provide a formidable offering in the nation’s higher ed. landscape.

What they lacked was a unifying voice: a message that could be shared consistently across all of their markets, benefiting each of their members locally while also building credibility for the association nationally. Through the strength of our work with one of their members, Polytechnics Canada chose ED to bring that message to the masses.

What they told us: We need to amplify our members’ voices.

Polytechnics Canada is a non-profit organization that represents and advocates on behalf of its members. Among its mandates, it’s charged with building credibility and awareness for polytechnic institutions – institutions that offer a unique blend of integrated work and learning opportunities, applied research, and industry-driven programming.

The strategy for deployment was the association would invest in the development of a creative platform for the campaign, and in the creation of templated online and offline marketing tools. Those materials would be made available to all members, and it would be each members’ choice to run the campaign in their own catchment markets. To encourage uptake, the creative platform needed to be:

  • compelling enough that members would invest in running the campaign in their respective markets, and
  • creatively agnostic to avoid confusion or conflict with individual members’ other marketing efforts.

What we saw: Polytechnics are intentional about education.

Finding a common ground for a message and campaign that all 13 members would buy into started by examining the offering – and what makes polytechnics unique in the higher education landscape. The common ground we identified was that the polytechnic model is grounded in a culture of intent.

The main driver for polytechnic institutions is to solve real and specific challenges. They design programs to address actual industry and market gaps – gaps that industries often identify to a partner polytechnic institution. They train students using the precise and current equipment they’ll find on the job– improving students’ job readiness, and reducing onboarding needs for employers. Their research focus is on solving problems that make a real-world impact for companies and economies – rather than seeking theoretical answers.

This led ED to two dimensions that inspired our creative approach: the intention behind the polytechnic offering, and the application of the research they do, and both what and how polytechnic institutions teach.


The combination of intention and application led us directly to a theme line that doubled as a value proposition for Canada’s polytechnic institutions: Purpose, Applied. Each member institution agreed that this language captured the unique dimension of polytechnic institutions when compared to either universities, or trade colleges.  

For the look and feel of the creative, we looked at the marketing suites for all Polytechnic Canada member institutions. While some used either red or blue in their marketing, none did so in combination. These colours created a visual voice that felt unique to the association, while avoiding confusion with any other marketing a member might have in the market at the same time. 

Each member would have the opportunity to opt into and deploy the campaign in their own markets. This led us to create a suite of assets that could be adapted for a variety of online and offline applications. In our conceptual creative, we created a library of messages and images – images that depicted a range of programs that were common to most, if not all members. While members were able to use this library as-is, we also provided the associations’ members with guidelines for adapting the creative to feature their own photography, while adhering to the campaign’s overall look and feel. 

Finally, the authorship of the campaign was designed from the onset as a co-branded effort. Advertisements were authored by Polytechnics Canada and the local polytechnic institution, depending where in Canada those ads would be seen. This strategic approach to placement positioned the campaign as a value-add to members, and provided further incentive for them to adopt and invest in the platform in their respective markets. 

A national coming-out.

As part of the campaign launch, ED consulted with Polytechnics Canada on their placement of a print ad in the annual Macleans University Rankings edition. This vaunted edition of the magazine is normally where the country’s universities jockey for position, reputation and bragging rights.

Polytechnics Canada’s ad flew in the face of that tradition. Rather than competing within the fray of universities, the association set their schools distinctly apart. The ad proudly declares that the magazine wouldn’t list any of the polytechnic institutions that make up the association’s membership – but that their collective impact on Canada’s future is undeniable.

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: 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: Develop a standalone identity within a higher ed. brand architecture.

Developing a branded look for a professional school or an adjacent initiative within a higher education institution are familiar tasks. But our engagement with the Robson Hall Faculty of Law (University of Manitoba) involved a higher degree of complexity. 

As with other named entities within colleges and universities, there is equity in the Robson Hall name, especially for law students, alumni, and peer institutions. And because the faculty would be doing direct outreach for students and talent who were specifically attracted to the study of the law, there was merit for a dedicated visual platform tailored to the faculty’s key audiences.

But both the naming convention and graphic approach needed to be balanced with the overarching visual identity of the University of Manitoba (U of M) proper. And midway through our engagement, the branded look for the U of M changed based on the Trailblazer campaign – and on the strength of that evolution, Robson Hall wanted its identity to keep in step.

So, while the desire to stand apart was pervasive, the degree to which Robson Hall would deviate from the institutional communications evolved over our engagement.

An opportunity to prove the sub brand model for a recently-rebranded institution.

This also represented an incredible opportunity to prove the Trailblazer institutional brand model. Robson Hall was among the first faculties to embrace the university’s new institutional brand, and to request its own voice within that broader platform. It was ED’s opportunity to prove the adaptability of the new brand expression – and in doing so, encourage more buy-in at the faculty and department level.

The solution: Interpret and elevate the unique aspects of the faculty.

Visual identity

To ensure that a new brand identity would be supported by faculty stakeholders, we designed and led a consultation program that included in person discussions and email/online surveys to students, faculty, researchers and alumni. Their feedback was reflected to a brand committee and the faculty Dean for further input.

Based on the research, several differentiating factors emerged for Robson Hall: the unprecedented level of access to the law community, the diversity of faculty and the student body, and their commitment to innovation.

One key factor that informed our creative, however, was the notion of learning not just the theory of law, but also the practical skills required to be a lawyer, and helping students ‘think like a lawyer’. This was reinforced by Robson Hall’s ability to offer students more direct and applicable hands-on experience and access to the legal community in Manitoba. This was reflected in the accounts of articling students and recent alumni, who told us they had been working on cases with a higher degree of responsibility than their counterparts in other markets. Consultation participants said that this resulted in a higher proportion of job-ready lawyers emerging from the faculty.

What does it look like to ‘think like a lawyer?’

The notion of ‘think like a lawyer,’ and the context that respondents provided to support it, directly influenced our approach to a visual identity system. It evoked ideas of looking at ideas from different perspectives, and drawing on a number of different sources – precedents and comparable situations – to form a clear judgment. We were moved by how seeking out multiple ideas resulted in a multi-faceted view on any given case or judgment.

We reflected that inspiration in a graphic pattern that was composed of multiplying layers of blue, a colour that denotes balance and trust. The foundational shade of blue was selected from the institution’s secondary palette, which provided alignment with the overarching graphic standards. As each layer overlapped, the hues would get get darker, and facets appeared in the pattern. The angular nature of the pattern used sharp lines to denote the precision required to consider and render a judgement, even in the face of many (sometimes conflicting) viewpoints.

While the visual identity for Robson Hall was in progress, ED was engaged by the University of Manitoba to develop an institutional brand – which would result in the Trailblazer campaign. With these two initiatives dovetailing, and with individual Faculties embracing the new institutional brand, Robson Hall became one of the first Faculties to adopt the brand, and adapt it to their individual marketing needs.

The institutional brand was built off of a foundational, research-driven brand idea: Where you are shapes who you are. This idea was inextricable from the insights that led to Robson Hall’s identity, in particular the feedback we received about how the faculty’s access to the legal community in Manitoba was unrivalled nationwide. We leveraged the theme of vision – one of the ‘power words’ from the institutional campaign, and a muse for our visual identity exploration – into a recruitment call to action for Robson Hall: Pursue your vision.

We worked with the faculty to identify several current students who represented the diversity of the faculty – another of the differentiating factors that emerged in our discovery exercise. The photography was applied to various materials, including Robson Hall’s website, and display materials that were used at faculty events and recruitment fairs.

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

The challenge: Developing a faculty brand within a university brand.

Professional faculties within a higher education environment have unique challenges for marketing and positioning. Because they speak to a specific subset of students – those wanting to be doctors, dentists, pharmacists, etc. – they often warrant a marketing and creative platform apart from the university ‘mothership.’ The degree to which that creative platform deviates from the institution ranges widely from institution to institution.

There were additional wrinkles to consider for the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba. First, the university had recently undergone an academic restructuring initiative, which resulted in the consolidation of a number of faculties in an effort to reduce administrative redundancies. One of the faculties that emerged was the Faculty of Health Sciences: an amalgamation of the former Faculties – now Colleges – of Dentistry (and the School of Dental Hygiene), Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Rehabilitation Sciences. 

Faculty leaders regarded the visual identity initiative as an opportunity to convey a unified faculty, rather than a segmented one – what designers sometimes refer to as a ‘branded house’ (rather than a ‘house of brands’) approach.

Second, as with many professional schools, the Faculty of Health Sciences and its College of Medicine had recently received a transformational gift – resulting in the naming of these two entities within the interdisciplinary faculty. We knew that naming opportunities for other colleges within the faculty were also in negotiation, and needed to account for that possibility in our approach.

A visual identity for this faculty needed to provide a distinct look and feel for students; a unified look and feel for the newly-formed faculty; a tether to the University of Manitoba graphic standards; and an appropriate amount of distinction and flexibility for naming recognition.

The solution: Finding flexibility inside a set of graphic standards. 

Our exploration began by referencing the university’s crest, which provided a strong foundational link to the parent brand. The contours of the crest led to the development of a new shield for the faculty, which we set in a complementary blue to align with the university’s brown and gold colour palette. (Our use of a complementary colour would resurface when we would later revisit the visual identity for the university.)

To provide distinction within the interdisciplinary faculty, each college was also assigned its own colour – all derived from the university’s secondary palette – to ensure they were compatible with both the faculty blue and the institution’s primary palette.

The faculty and college shields are paired with a simple bar graphic device, lending a minimalistic professionalism to the applicable materials. This approach facilitated the consistent application of the visual approach for the faculty’s in-house design team who would be responsible for the development of marketing materials for all five colleges.

Typography provided the new visual identity further distinction from the overarching brand, while linking to the university’s graphic standards. By assigning a specific text weight of the Knockout typeface, the faculty and its colleges use a distinctive headline approach that still feels aligned with the institution.

To ensure a balance of flexibility and consistency in application, the visual identity was applied to numerous sample applications: from style sheets for an alumni magazine, to e-reader brochures, to email templates. Illustrating an array of applications provided the faculty (and its colleges) with a unique visual voice for each of their specific audiences, while working within the standards of the institution.

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.

Load More