Category : Recruitment campaign development

Split between Thunder Bay and a smaller Orillia campus, Lakehead University combines high-quality post-secondary programs with the beauty of Ontario’s lakes and forests. Despite high awareness, it was not a first-choice university for many Ontario students. Lakehead engaged ED Marketing in late 2022 with an immediate goal of increasing enrolment for the impending enrolment deadline. Afterwards, we continued working with Lakehead across the entire application cycle to increase applications and enrolment rates each year. 

What they said: People have a misconception about our school quality. 

Lakehead was facing a difficult challenge. Research indicated that students and their parents were ruling out the university based on the perceived quality of education. 85 per cent of grade 12 students in Ontario were familiar with Lakehead, but few truly understood the high-quality experience it offered, especially when compared to larger institutions. 

The data showed that Lakehead delivered a high-quality education, resulting in positive outcomes for its students. Lakehead was considered one of Canada’s top 10 undergraduate universities by Macleans and is ranked favourably by Times Higher Education. Both campuses offer small class sizes, top-of-the-line facilities and high-calibre, hands-on training. After finishing their degree, Lakehead graduates were hired more frequently than the provincial average. 

In other words, students were dismissing the university based on incorrect perceptions of the school. 

What we saw: Plenty of proof to engage prospects digitally. 

Lakehead was already positioning itself as a top school suited for “exceptional and unconventional” learners, but applicants needed to know exactly what made it better. Feedback from Lakehead’s past marketing efforts supported this finding and indicated that respondents preferred practical messaging, including statistics. 

Research also showed that those who chose not to apply or enrol at Lakehead commonly cited opinions about the university’s reputation, program quality and the campuses’ distance from home as deciding factors. We knew Lakehead had the evidence needed to overcome two of these misconceptions; the third was something we could turn into a challenge and invitation. 


The driving force behind this multi-phase campaign was strategic audience targeting and digital deployment, delivering proof points to those they appealed to most. We would continue to position Lakehead as a place for the independent and adventurous, but that aspirational message would be backed by concrete facts. 

Our team distilled pages of research into a core group of insights, messaging themes and media placements.  

Using this data, we crafted personas that reflected Lakehead’s two largest audiences. The university’s primary audience was high school and mature students, those who were looking to start their post-secondary journey or finish an undergraduate degree somewhere new. The secondary audience was parents, who often influence the post-secondary decisions of their high-school-aged children.  

The data showed that audiences’ geographical location had the greatest impact on their perception of Lakehead. We identified and grouped audience commonalties across Ontario. We then tailored messaging and creative to meet the differing needs of audiences in these geographic regions. 

  • Messaging aimed at Southern Ontario students and parents addressed their unique distance objections. Executions positioned Lakehead students as the adventurous and independent few, brave and resourceful enough to live on their own and learn hands-on, surrounded by nature. Parents were also reminded that Lakehead’s Orillia campus was only 90 minutes outside of the Greater Toronto Area and both Orillia and Thunder Bay were safe, tight-knit communities. 
  • For audiences in Northern Ontario, especially those in Thunder Bay, messaging focused on disproving misconceptions about academic quality. This involved leveraging Lakehead’s high-quality facilities and impressive student-success stats, including a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio and the fact that over 97 per cent of graduates were hired within two years. 

Separate ads and targeting approaches were also created for audiences with interest in specific undergraduate programs like Psychology or Business. Parents and prospective students that visited the webpage for one of these flagship programs were then retargeted and served ads featuring program-specific imagery and proof points. 

Research also showed that each of Lakehead’s audiences engaged platforms differently. Unlike their parents, many younger audiences didn’t click on ads for more information. This indicated they needed more information in-platform before choosing to visit Lakehead’s website organically. To address this, ads for high school and mature students were primarily served with placements that allowed Lakehead to tell a full story; including TikTok, YouTube Shorts and Meta (including Facebook/Instagram) carousels; and on sites or apps frequented by young students; like Quizlet and Merriam-Webster. 

Digital execution.

Creative executions combined images and videos of real students and classrooms with the point-of-view style often used in destination marketing. This creative approach allowed audiences to see themselves or others like them (or their children) confidently succeeding at Lakehead. 

Meta carousel ad.
Meta ad.
Meta ad (Thunder Bay audiences).

Marketing on TikTok.

According to data, TikTok was one of the most-used platforms for Lakehead’s Gen-Z high school audience and indexed even higher with applicants who reported Lakehead as their first-choice school. ED’s competitor analysis showed that a number of Ontario’s largest educational institutions were also active on the platform. The Lakehead team was open and excited to further incorporate the platform into their marketing strategy.   

Our first phase of TikTok creative leveraged Lakehead’s extensive library of video footage to show classroom learning, campus life and unique landscapes while offering concrete reasons for Lakehead’s strong reputation. 

In our second phase of TikTok creative, ED collaborated directly with Lakehead’s marketing team and a student ambassador. Informed by our recommendations and popular TikTok trends, the student ambassador recorded footage which we then edited into a top-performing ad that looked and sounded like organic TikTok content.  

ED’s team knew that campaign evaluation needed to include more than surface-level stats like clicks, especially when building and tracking interest for the next recruitment season. We consulted with Lakehead to identify high-value website actions, like downloading the viewbook or booking a campus tour, that indicated users would likely submit an application later. Creative executions were then tailored to encourage these actions, which were tracked and used to build a retargeting audience for more personalized messaging. 

Meta carousel ads.


ED’s engagement with Lakehead immediately produced powerful results, increasing enrolment confirmations by more than 8 per cent in early 2023. Our “For the…” campaign continued to elevate messaging and improve engagement while complementing Lakehead’s existing brand language of “Far from Ordinary.” 

8.9% increase in confirmations in 2023. 

Mid-campaign results and additional insights informed new high-performing executions in preparation for the 2024 application deadline. By the end of 2023, audiences had spent 23 per cent more time on the Lakehead website and had significantly higher engagement with meaningful sections of the website. This included up to 97 times more visits to high-value webpages

23% increase in time on site. 

12 x more visits to ‘admission’ pages. 

97 x more visits to ‘apply’ pages.  

By strategically creating and managing high-quality, in-feed ads that fit the platform and users’ expectations, we improved reach and engagement. This was especially true among younger audiences, with Lakehead’s content reaching more than 70 per cent of Ontario grade 11 and 12 students every week on Meta. 

71% of Ontario grade 11 and 12 students reached an average of 2.9 times/week (Meta). 

Our student-ambassador TikTok ad was a powerful example of this, earning an exceptionally high click-through rate and a featured spot on TikTok Creative Center’s list of top-performing ads.  

Click-through rate = top 16% (TikTok’s higher-ed ads). 

Through this multi-media campaign, ED created a flexible framework that was effective across mediums and informational streams yet instantly recognizable as Lakehead’s brand. It also allowed creative executions to effectively leverage Lakehead’s extensive library of media in the future. 

The pandemic drove universities and colleges to rethink teaching and learning environments, causing many to pivot to emergency remote instruction. While COVID-19 has led to positive changes in higher education, such as permanent technological enhancements, it also led to never-before-seen drops in student enrolments.  

When it comes to student recruitment in a post-COVID world, can post-secondary institutions continue to rely on their traditional tried-and-true methods of recruitment?  

The University of Manitoba, facing declining enrolments and the aftermath of a faculty strike, decided to engage ED to collaborate on a fresh approach to finding, attracting, and enrolling students. 

What they said: We need to reclaim our position as a first-choice institution.  

In the past, the University of Manitoba’s strong reputation and proximity made it instinctively the preferred choice for locals seeking post-secondary education. The university also successfully drew in many out-of-province and international students due to its diverse program offerings and affordability.  

Then, on the heels of the pandemic, the 2021 Faculty Association strike hit. This negatively impacted the university’s image and reputation, and likely contributed to unprecedented enrolment declines. With remote learning extending longer than anticipated (disappointing students eager to return to an on-campus experience), the strike further amplified an already unfavorable perception of the school. 

In response, the university planned for a fall recruitment campaign to reposition itself, increase awareness of its program offerings, and ultimately inspire prospective students to apply and enrol for the upcoming term. 

While the university had developed the foundational elements of the campaign, they needed an agency to develop a comprehensive strategy (including guidance on specific tactics and deployment), and to execute the campaign to reach the ambitious recruitment goals the university had established. 

What we heard: The solution is digital. 

ED consulted with the university on its vision for a fall recruitment campaign. We discussed target audiences and the complexities of targeting multiple diverse audiences, the three-phase approach the university wanted to implement, including distinct calls-to-action and metrics to measure success.

Our digital marketing team thoroughly conducted research and analysis, delving into digital trends, audience insights, and challenges with specific target groups. Trends such as rising consumer privacy expectations surrounding high school students, behaviour preferences towards in-feed content consumption and short-form video all informed the recommended approach.  

We leaned into the motivations and behaviours of our primary target audience: digitally native Gen Z’s who expect and prefer to apply and enrol online. We considered the university’s goals, many of which encouraged prospects to take immediate action online, such as clicking through to a landing page to learn more or clicking the apply button.  

Although the university planned for a digital-first approach with a broad audience, including international targeting to this year’s campaign, we also weighed their desired timeline and budget constraints. Our strategic recommendation was to launch a fully digital locally focused campaign, which would be a first for the university. Once the U of M agreed to our recommendation, the onus was on ED to deliver. 


Using the university’s framework as a starting point, and leveraging insights gathered during the discovery process, we applied a focus to each phase of the campaign: 

  • Phase 1: Brand building and creating intent 
  • Phase 2: Consideration and capturing intent  
  • Phase 3: Nurture and support  

Example of a Message Sequence Chart

We then devised a mix of educate (content marketing) and activate (website traffic focused paid ads) goals for each phase. Next, we focused on crafting effective message sequences as this was central to moving our audiences through the customer journey from awareness to seriously considering to apply and beyond. With the messaging finalized, our creative team developed a wide range of over 230 creative assets to prevent ad fatigue. We pushed out information and ads across several platforms: Meta, TikTok and Google to create multiple brand touchpoints, customizing the content per platform and audience.  

Example Meta Educate Ad for Parents
Example Google Display Activate Ad for Parents

Once the campaign launched, we actively monitored and maintained the campaign, for this was not a “set it and forget it” approach. Daily, we checked reach, frequency, ad placements, spend, comments and reactions, KPIs, and analytics data to assess campaign performance. We made necessary adjustments to ensure we did everything possible for ads to perform above the university’s goals and expectations. 

We successfully executed phases 1 and 2 of the campaign and put the university in a position where they could effectively implement the final phase of the campaign internally. 

Example TikTok Educate Ad for Students
Example Meta Educate Ad for Students
Example Meta Activate Ad for Students


Given time and budget constraints, ED’s strategic recommendation was for the university to boldly move forward with a fully digital recruitment campaign. The outcome? We’ll let the numbers speak for themselves. 

Picture it: It’s early 2020, and you can’t wait to strategize and plan your recruitment efforts for the coming year. You start imagining all the possibilities for your Viewbook, an essential piece in every post-secondary institution’s recruitment toolkit. What should the cover look like? What inspirational message will the president share this year?  

But wait a minute.  

Here comes a global pandemic. The next question you likely asked was, how are we going to get our shiny new Viewbooks into the hands of students when we all have to stay home? 

This was the challenge McMaster University brought to ED. as it struggled with school closures and the cancellation of in-person recruitment events (thanks COVID).   

What they said: Our Viewbook is essential to recruitment. Regardless of the pandemic, we need a way to get them in front of students.  

Viewbooks are practically the bread and butter of recruitment efforts. They raise awareness and educate student prospects about everything a university or college has to offer. Not to mention, they also play a role in capturing leads. 

No wonder most schools had processes for ideating, creating and distributing Viewbooks down to a fine science. That was, until the pandemic hit. 

Like many other higher ed. institutions, McMaster distributed their Viewbook in person and digitally as a PDF (by request). But, with the cancellation of in-person events and the chance that the Ontario Universities’ Fair (a major recruitment opportunity for universities) would be nixed, McMaster needed a solution that would still allow them to get the Viewbook to students and achieve those important lead gen. opportunities.

Our insight: A novel approach to a traditional medium

With restrictions in place, the university could not capture the leads it used to get from recruiters who would visit schools. ED. knew that digital distribution was key to the approach. But we wanted to do better than simply making a PDF version of the Viewbook and posting it to McMaster’s website.

For all its numerous benefits, Viewbooks had become a status quo product in the industry. This was an opportunity to turn McMaster’s Viewbook into a unique piece that would feel new to students.

As a starting point, we looked at different distribution options and its equally important cousin, lead generation. In years gone by, recruiters had been distributing McMaster Viewbooks in person and manually capturing prospect information with pen and paper (yup, old school).

Leaning into this insight is what informed our approach. Knowing that McMaster’s process for capturing leads involved a lot of manual labour (and pen and paper) kept us up at night (figuratively, of course). Beyond pivoting fully to digital, ED knew this was an opportunity to improve processes by making them simpler and more efficient.


McMaster University microsite in 2021

Our recommendation included developing a personalized Viewbook tailored to each prospect. We recommended gating the Viewbook asset on a microsite we designed and developed, where prospects would fill out a form to answer questions such as graduation year and programs of interest.

ED.’s customized program would then generate personalized Viewbooks with a prospect’s name on the cover and pages with information specific to them. Access to personalized Viewbooks would be made available through instant download and email.

This approach allowed us to move the Viewbook distribution online (much needed during a pandemic) while preserving the opportunity to capture leads. Our data capture solution transferred the lead information directly to McMaster’s lead funnel in their customer relationship management (CRM), allowing for faster follow up than a high volume of emails in a recruiter’s inbox. This was a huge time saver that freed up staff for other projects.

We also suggested adding a drip campaign so McMaster could stay top of mind through continued engagement with leads via email.

Example of personalized McMaster Viewbook


We delivered.

After the new Viewbook concept went live, McMaster received a staggering number of leads (in the thousands!) in its first 60 days.  

ED. transformed what was an ordinary, analog Viewbook into a personalized, online lead-capture mechanism – all the while resolving distribution challenges presented by the pandemic and freeing up staff from the time-consuming task of data entry. The solution streamlined – and accelerated – the school’s lead gen. activity with little effort, and no pen and paper were required.

2021 McMaster University Viewbook

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

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: 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: Tapping into the student mindset.

As the University of Manitoba’s Trailblazer brand continued to evolve to feature professors and researchers, the institution’s recruitment campaign followed suit. High school students would first experience the brand via a social media contest. We aimed to reflect the excitement – and uncertainty – that comes with choosing a higher education institution.

After consulting with the university’s marketing officers (who work directly with recruitment officers), we learned that for high school students, the opportunity to chart their own path in post-secondary studies was a huge draw. After 12 years of mandated courses, and years of feeling misunderstood or mischaracterized for their ambivalence to ‘general studies,’ a university education offered them a chance to pursue their own interests and passions. 

The solution: Demonstrate the transformation.

To convey this we developed a creative approach that hinged on sharing a story of transformation. We imagined a ‘before’ and ‘after’ state for students to tap into some of their frustrations as they looked towards the end of their high school years, and their excitement as they looked forward to attending a university of their choice.

With simple and direct wordplay, we shared visual transformation stories that empathized with how they might be feeling:

  • People might see you as an instigator, who’s always pushing peoples’ buttons, but by bringing your defiant passion to the U of M you can define yourself as an innovator who doesn’t settle for status quo.
  • People might see you as a dreamer with your head in the clouds, so bring your dreams to the U of M and realize your visionary potential.
  • People might think you’re restless, impatient and unfocused, but we see that you’re a trailblazer, ready to go beyond the path that others have travelled.

In each creative iteration, the ‘before’ state was cast in colour. The ‘after’ state was displayed in the university’s new visual brand expression of a sepia-toned image on a Manitoba landscape – and anchored with a call to action that invited students to Define who you really are at the University of Manitoba.

To share the idea in awareness-based media (where you have a limited amount of time to grab attention and convey your idea), we selected media vehicles that allowed us to demonstrate a transformation. A lenticular poster was developed for movie theatres; a three-stage posting of outdoor boards showed the transition from before to after; and on an interactive landing page, a mouseover gesture erased the ‘before’ state, allowing users to reveal the ‘after’ state.

Current student execution.

On campus, we used a simple environmental application to engage with current students. Decals of the power words used in the campaign – TrailblazerVisionaryMaverickRebel, etc. – were posted on bathroom mirrors on campus. When standing in front of the mirror, students were emulating the creative approach that was used in the campaign in market. They were encouraged to take selfies and share them using the #umanitoba hashtag.


In its first three years, the original Trailblazer campaign evolved through several iterations – including a second phase for both the institutional reputation campaign and its recruitment adaptation. During that time, the university saw record levels of enrolment, and a surge in philanthropic support – leading to the Trailblazer campaign’s receipt of a prestigious CASSIES Award (now called Effie Awards) for Long-Term Success.

The awards program is squarely focused on results – participants must prove the effect their advertising has had on driving business objectives. The effectiveness of the University of Manitoba’s campaign was recognized alongside national brands like Westjet and Molson, and the win was the first for a Manitoba-based advertising agency in the awards’ multi-year history.

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: Encouraging students to connect with the institutional campaign.

After unveiling a new brand for its institutional reputation marketing, the University of Manitoba turned its attention to leveraging the Trailblazer positioning to recruit students. The Trailblazer brand was founded in the notion that Manitoba’s harsh winters and remote location fostered a specific character in those who chose to study and work at its university. Words like trailblazers, visionaries and rebels were used to portray the university’s community.

We knew students would be reluctant to accept labels that were applied to them. So, instead of painting students with a single brush, we invited them to define themselves within the campaign through a unique experiential opportunity.

The solution: Invite students to create branded content for a chance to see signature research up close.

The study of climate change in the Arctic, human rights, and infectious diseases (especially HIV/AIDS) are among the U of M’s signature research areas. And while the university enjoys national and global renown for work in these areas, students outside of these specific fields don’t have much exposure to them. Part of the reason for this was the work in these areas is often done in other parts of the world.

Because the university’s reputation campaign was so deeply rooted in its research pillars, it was important to get all students to regard these areas as a source of pride and affinity. We recognized this as a potential opportunity: let students witness the world-class innovation driven by their university, firsthand.

Using the Trailblazer motif, we developed a campaign that drove to an online contest. Students were invited to identify with the theme by using the portraits of young people in the campaign who self-declared themselves as trailblazers, discoverers, mavericks, etc. 

The call to action for the campaign drove to a contest page on the university’s Facebook account. Students were invited to upload a video of themselves using one of the campaign ‘power words’ to describe themselves, and explain why they chose that word. This challenged participants to ask themselves, ‘who can this university help me become?‘ as opposed to, ‘what can I study?‘ 

Weekly prizes were awarded to encourage ongoing submissions, with one student to win a grand prize – a choice of one of three University of Manitoba research-related trips abroad:

  • Travel to the Arctic with the university’s climate change research team
  • Visit to the United Nations in New York with human rights researchers at the university
  • See HIV/AIDS prevention work in India with the members of the university’s Centre for Global Public Health

Following the promotional period, the U of M invited students to an event on campus to screen the submitted video content (which was also shared through the university’s social channels), and to announce the contest winner. 

The grand prize winner selected the trip to the Arctic, citing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this part of the world – and living up to her self-identification as an Explorer.

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

A new value proposition for past graduates.

By 2014, ED’s award-winning “Trailblazer” campaign for the University of Manitoba had already evolved once, and had been adapted for recruitment purposes. After several successful years in market, there was a desire to adapt the campaign again to avoid fatigue, and to introduce U of M alumni in the creative approach.

The decision to feature alumni coincided with the launch of the silent phase of the university’s major capital campaign, Front and Centre. For its final iteration, “Trailblazer” needed to serve a dual purpose: maintain the momentum of awareness and reputation building, while setting the stage for a philanthropic appeal to the community – and especially alumni donors.

Focusing on alumni achievement in this third phase was an obvious win, but it presented a unique hurdle. The alumni who would be featured had all graduated prior to the “Trailblazer” campaign. Opinion research showed alumni perceptions had improved since the introduction of the campaign, but self-referencing as trailblazers, visionaries, rebels and innovators was relatively unfamiliar for an audience who were years-removed from their time at the university. 

What they told us: Alumni prove our institution’s worth.

We needed to demonstrate that our outstanding alumni have always exhibited the same spirit and resolve, long before the campaign existed. As graduates who had gone on to professional accomplishments, they had a unique asset to leverage into the campaign: experience.

Where previous iterations of the campaign focused on a spirit and character borne from Manitoba’s environment, the third phase shifted the focus to action. We celebrated alumni for what they’d achieved, and the resolve, tenacity and perseverance required to reach their goals. These attributes were the inspiration for our campaign’s collection of ‘power words’, and paired with alumni accomplishments in business, the arts, athletics, medicine, architecture – and more – these alumni stories served as proofpoints to the campaign’s claims.

What we saw: An opportunity to shift focus from inspiration to action.

Visually, the third phase continued the campaign’s ongoing evolution by introducing colour into what had been a black-and-white photographic approach. Alumni were featured in a full colour foreground, set against a muted black and white backdrop, drawing audience’s focus to the subject. Each alumnus was captured in a mise-en-scène, emphasizing action in the static layouts.

Short, evocative lines echoed each participant’s unique story. Discover your voice, said the renowned opera singer from the Carnegie Hall stage. Find your focus, said the Olympic gold medalist before releasing a curling rock. Build your world, said the decorated architect as he obsessed over the details of a scale model. Each call-to-action line bridged the gap from alumni accomplishment to the campaign’s signature language with a simple, bold answer: Trailblazers, rebels and explorers “do”. 

Once again, national airport advertising was used to celebrate alumni, Canada-wide. Some alumni were selected based on their national profile (such as Olympian Jennifer Jones); others were selected based on their regional relevance (community activist Dr. Tito Daodu was featured in the Calgary airport, where she was completing her residency).

Extending into alumni engagement.

Even more than before, the campaign was repurposed for alumni engagement activity. Video stories were showcased at Homecoming reunion events, introducing speakers who were featured in the campaign. The “Trailblazers do” lexicon featured prominently at the university’s annual Distinguished Alumni Awards celebration. The phrase was used in the biographies for honorary degree recipients, celebrating their actions as evidence that they are ‘one of us’.

Repurposing for recruitment.

The campaign also lent itself to the local market, with a selection of alumni featured in digital and out-of-home advertising to drive recruitment. The diversity of study areas, coupled with the ‘local celebrity’ of alumni participants, appealed to prospective students with a new level of specificity.  

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

Building upon a strong foundation.

The city of Lethbridge is a college town. It is home to both Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge. In fact, the whole of southern Alberta is a hotspot for post-secondary education institutions, all competing for recruitment of students and talent.

Our goal was to distinguish Lethbridge College from the fray, elevating its profile and helping the college attract and retain students – and increase pride and affiliation – even within its saturated market.

We knew we could revamp the college’s reputation and help it better compete in a fierce marketplace. So we set off to Lethbridge to facilitate our exclusive and intensive Brandcamp™ workshop with the college’s internal team in several productive strategic sessions. Then following Brandcamp™, Lethbridge College engaged ED to help differentiate itself within its category. 

Showcasing the authentic Lethbridge College experience.

The college was eager to launch a recruitment campaign that would excite prospective students, so we collaborated with its team on a creative platform that would set them apart.

With its rolling hills (or “coulees”), Lethbridge is known for its stunning topography. Although this key distinguishing feature is undoubtedly significant and we heard as such during the branding process, it’s not enough to truly differentiate the college. In fact, the University of Lethbridge is literally built into the side of the main coulee that runs through the city.

Like almost any institution, Lethbridge College also promotes its strong school community as a key component of the student experience. It has a well-recognized athletics program that brings the entire college together in support of regular sporting events. And while it does have a tight-knit student community, this is something most colleges and universities also leverage.

As we continued to evaluate the college’s strengths and what makes it distinct, there was a simple truth we repeatedly heard that helped propel our creative platform: Lethbridge College prepares its students for the real world. More specifically, its programming is nimble and responsive to the immediate industry needs of southern Alberta. Students of Lethbridge College don’t just learn about becoming a chef, or a healthcare professional, or a mechanic — they get practical hands-on experience to equip them for life in the region.

The resulting creative platform conveys a college that is proud, bold and unapologetic about being an institution that isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty. It develops students who are grounded and driven by their passion to do more and to be better. 

We demonstrated how the creative platform could be applied across a variety of executions to show versatility and adaptability. The photographic approach shows Lethbridge College grads and students out in the real world, ready to take on whatever happens next. The headline ties to the powerful tagline — BE READY — and serves as a rallying cry and call to action. 


Two years after the introduction of this new institutional brand, Lethbridge College’s student population increased by 13%. This includes an incredible 59% growth in the overall international student population.

Following ED’s lead, Lethbridge College’s internal marketing team was able to flesh out the turn-key concept we developed and execute it across a variety of media, including out-of-home and online ads. It has also been applied to on-campus signage, promotional materials, the design of the website, and its annual viewbook. 

In February 2019, Lethbridge College received multiple communications awards from the Council for Advancement in Support of Education (CASE) District VIII.

Every college is about preparedness – but ED. Marketing made that common claim ownable, and helped infuse it into our marketing DNA.
Brian Freeman, Fmr. Manager, Marketing and Web Services, Lethbridge College
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