The Power of A Brand

by Patricia Fitzgerald

We’re pretty crazy about our clients — none more so than the University of Michigan-Flint. Since 2015, we’ve had the pleasure of working with UM-Flint on their university brand and student recruitment materials. In that time, we’ve gotten to know UM-Flint’s students, staff and faculty — and they are truly remarkable.

We’re proud of the work we’ve done together over past few years. But we’re ever prouder of what this resilient, tenacious, and close-knit campus community has accomplished and continues to achieve — even in the face of some serious challenges. Now we’re thrilled to share with you the latest fruits of our collaborative labor.

A community in crisis

Chance are, when see the name “Flint” you instantly think “water.” When the water issues hit the community of Flint — and the headlines — UM-Flint felt the impact as well. In response to concerns about the safety of Flint’s water, application and enrollment numbers dipped dramatically. The university, like the city, found itself struggling to combat negative misperceptions compounded by mounting misinformation in the public purview.

And like the community of Flint, UM-Flint did not back down from this challenge. Long before the water crisis dominated national news, the university had already began taking action across campus to ensure the safety of its water and students. This included replacing aging pipes and water faucets, installing water filters, and regularly testing water quality to make sure stringent federal standards were being met.

Beyond the campus, the university took quick action to help address the crisis in the larger community it calls home. Here’s just some of what they did, and continue to do:

  • Faculty began holding free educational courses on water safety open to all members of the local community.
  • UM-Flint nursing students started offering free lead screenings to families and children.
  • Computer science students worked alongside faculty mentors to develop a free Google app that helps Flint residents find clean water sources.
  • The university’s early childhood development center launched a no-cost preschool staffed by UM-Flint student teachers for Flint families impacted by the water crisis. For many of the attending children, this is their first school experience.
  • Geology students worked alongside their professors to map Flint’s entire water infrastructure and identify aging pipes for replacement. Together, they presented their findings to a panel at the White House in Washington D.C.
  • Hundreds of UM-Flint students have volunteered thousands of hours to distribute free water filters to local residents, and continue to do so.

What's the real story?

These are just a few examples of how UM-Flint’s students, faculty, staff, and residents have joined forces to confront and resolve a crisis that threatens the city they love. The story of the water crisis has dominated the headlines. But the story of Flint goes far beyond water. We wanted to make sure people were hearing about a university and a community coming together to confront a challenge, define its own destiny, and achieve great things.

The best way to get these stories out there, above the din of negative headlines? Through branding.

We knew that we had a powerful story to tell, about the resiliency and resourcefulness of a community and the university deeply entwined with it. Now began the task of shaping and sharing that story. We began by devoting several months to discovery: interviewing key internal stakeholders as well as testing our brand messaging and creative with multiple focus groups comprised of high school seniors, community college students, parents, and graduate students.

We also started collecting stories of students, staff and faculty who are putting their knowledge, talents, passions, and ideas to good work in the local community as well as the world beyond.

We heard the story of an art professor and his students transforming urban landscapes by painting murals on the walls next to local schools, businesses, and senior centers. We talked to aspiring entrepreneurial business students about their plan to launch a cycling and skateboard shop for Flint residents to encourage outdoor activity.

We spoke with a dance major and former high school valedictorian born and raised in Flint about her dream to open studios in her hometown so that at-risk youth could have a place to dance and thrive. We listened to chemistry students who love sharing their knowledge with local middle- and high-schoolers whose faces light up during science experiments. We heard from engineering students who volunteer with Flint’s Boys & Girls club to teach robotics to kids. So many stories. So how should we tell them?

Behind the brand

Using what we gleaned from our interviews and focus-group testing, we went to work refining the university’s brand. We call it: YOU TO THE POWER OF M.

YOU TO THE POWER OF M recognizes the talents, experiences and passions that UM-Flint’s diverse students bring with them. It speaks to the rare opportunities students at UM-Flint have to build on those qualities. It proudly acknowledges that UM-Flint is part of the highly respected University of Michigan tradition, but with its own unique perspective, contributions, and upstart personality.

YOU TO THE POWER OF M honors the remarkable tenacity and spirit of a community that rises to any challenge. It invites students to be part of this community, and to use their Michigan education as a force for good. It calls on students to learn boldly — to solve problems with courage, compassion, and creativity. It represents the power of the individual to make a meaningful and immediate impact.

Through YOU TO THE POWER OF M, we share the stories of UM-Flint students, faculty, and staff who are collaborating, creating, building, making, doing, challenging perceptions, and demolishing barriers. We’re showing students not just in classrooms but in labs, in the field, and in the community — partnering with local businesses, leaders, and organizations to craft working solutions to complex, real-world challenges.

We are proud to tell these remarkable stories of a remarkable campus community. And we’re proud to share with you a sampling of YOU TO THE POWER OF M, in action. The work you see here exemplifies the power of collaboration between a university committed to making the world a better place, and a creative team that is just happy to be a part of this endeavor. We thank the University of Michigan-Flint for entrusting us with their brand, and can’t wait to see the results.

We must also take a moment to thank those who partnered with us to bring this brand to fruition: UM-Flint Chancellor Dr. Sue Borrego; the fantastic team at University Relations led by Marjory Raymer and Melissa Brown; market research gurus Tamee Gunnel and Jolene Campbell from 1M2Es; and higher education strategy expert Julie Peterson of Peterson Rudgers Group.


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