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dmi: 2018 Design Value Award Winner
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dmi:Design Value Award Winner




CUNY– The Greatest Urban University in the World

Siegelvision + City University of New York (CUNY)


For 170 years, The City University of New York’s colleges have been fulfilling their state-mandated mission to be a vehicle of upward social mobility for the city’s disadvantaged, educating generation after generation of New Yorkers and new Americans, lifting them into the middle-class and beyond.

Over time, the University had grown into a network of 24 schools with complicated organizational structures that work in silos and in competition with each other. Interaction between communications departments rarely, or never happened. A rebranding and communications initiative was critically important to define CUNY’s role and value to the city, build a unified coherent organizational identity and frame the CUNY story in clear emotional terms.

Siegelvision began the project with a thorough brand audit and extensive qualitative and quantitative research. More than 75 stakeholders were interviewed, including presidents, leadership staff, trustees and outside influencers. They analyzed CUNY communications, including advertising, editorial, and marketing. They also reviewed organizations strategic documents and admission research. Critically, the firm conducted validation research to ensure they were generating support from the audiences they were talking to. After their findings and concepts were presented to leadership staff and decision makers, they held brand workshops with trustees, college presidents, and the marketing and communications departments of all colleges to guide them in the execution and implementation of the new brand.

Getting all stakeholders involved and coordinating between departments and bureaucratic structures would turn out to be the biggest challenge that had to be overcome. Prior to the launch of the program, the individual colleges had developed their own identity programs and did their best to downplay, if not completely exclude, any connection to the University in their communications. But that changed after the results of the rebranding proved its value. It created a record-setting 11% jump in applications, a 27% increase in the likelihood to recommend CUNY among the general public, a 35% increase in alumni association with the university, and 67% of all audiences expressed a heightened interest in a CUNY school after the exposure to the new CUNY brand.

The importance of the effort should not be underestimated. CUNY’s mission is to provide equal access to higher education for all NYC citizens and support the upward mobility for the disadvantaged. The University system propelled almost six times more low-income students into the middle class and beyond than all eight Ivy League campuses, plus Duke, M.I.T., Stanford, and Chicago combined. In fact, CUNY is one of the most effective vehicles for upward social mobility in America.

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