Case study

Communications strategy
& identity for Chicago Harris

The University of Chicago asked us to explore the brand position of the Harris School of Public Policy, then develop a new communications strategy to compete more effectively with a global perspective.

At our first meeting with faculty and staff, we asked a seemingly simple question:

How should we fill the blank in the following sentence?
If you want ________ , go to Harris.”

We weren’t being facetious or glib. Harris, located at The University of Chicago, is widely regarded as one of the best graduate policy schools in the world, in a class with much older institutions like Harvard’s Kennedy School and Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. But why exactly should someone choose Harris instead of those other top schools?

Getting the entire community on board with our vision was a critical part of our mission. We conducted 20 onsite interviews with leaders and faculty; 32 one-on-one phone interviews with students; and a focus group with eleven key external stakeholders. Leadership of both the University and the Harris School appeared energized by the level of detailed insights surfaced in our discovery process.

Our next step was to develop a position statement and a messaging platform to more clearly differentiate the Harris School from its competitors and crystallize the school’s unique benefits for various audiences. In preparation, we conducted additional research, including a full day of onsite staff interviews, a competitive messaging review, and a communications assets review.

Along the way, we recommended that UChicago formally adopt “Chicago Harris” as the preferred name for the school—not only to align with the school’s more famous sibling “Chicago Booth,” but also to compete more effectively with its primary competitors, each of whom were known by similar nicknames.

A key element of our communications strategy involved the creation of a system of quickly digestible, billboard-style alumni and faculty spotlights—concise, bold visuals designed to remind both prospects and stakeholders of the career paths and achievements available only to Chicago Harris grads.

Verbal and visual elements of our communications strategy underwent a market testing phase, including an online survey of 75 students and a focus group of stakeholders. Test results validated our strategy.

Just in time for a weeklong celebration of Chicago Harris’s 25th anniversary, we completed our engagement with event marketing support, a complete identity system, brand standards guides, a system of email templates, a suite of Word and PowerPoint templates for the staff, and a viewbook to attract prospective students and supporters. 

Messaging, student viewbook

Identity

Email design

Brand standards guides

Anniversary branding