Public Relations Awards

Three Ways to Enrich Your Brand Through Celebration, From a PR Awards Winner

Posted by Liz Dean on Mon, Sep 10, 2012 @ 01:28 PM

The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA, received the Stevie® Award for Best Communications or PR Campaign of the Year–Community Relations in the PR awards and communications awards categories of the 2011 Stevie Awards for Women in Business, the world's premier awards for women executives, entrepreneurs, and the organizations they run. (The final entry deadline for the 2012 Stevie Awards for Women in Business is quickly approaching on September 28; request your entry kit today.) Here we look at how the university enhanced its brand through a Centennial Celebration.

Dr. Martha SaundersAs the ninth president of The University of Southern Mississippi, Dr. Martha Saunders saw its 2010 centennial anniversary as an ideal opportunity to enhance its brand, reinforce relationships with key publics, and celebrate a rich past while turning the focus to its future.

With an overall goal of increased engagement among target audiences through “telling our story,” the university employed integrated strategies successfully to create awareness of its strengths, raise its national profile, and increase private giving, alumni membership, and enrollment.

Despite the tough economic climate, the Centennial campaign rallied the spirit of the university community and positioned the Southern Miss brand for the next level of national prominence.

Dr. Saunders attended the 2011 Stevie Awards for Women in Business awards dinner in New York last November, and commented:  “I was thrilled to win the Stevie Award, primarily because it put me in the company of some pretty amazing women.  The awards ceremony was first-rate.   I met people from all over the world who had flown in for the event.  It was, in a word, humbling. Universities aren't often considered for business awards, so this was a great validation of the hard work of my talented staff.”

Dr. Saunders and her team identified the following measurable objectives for the campaign:

1. Create awareness of the history and rich traditions of the university among target audience members by December 2010 as measured by pre-and post-Centennial surveys.

2. Increase national media coverage of the university by 20% as of December 2010.

3. Increase website traffic by 20% by December 2010.

4. Increase membership in the Alumni Association to 20,000 by December 2010.

5. Generate donations of $1,000,000 for the Centennial Scholarship by December 2010.

6. Increase freshman enrollment by 6% from fall 2007 to fall 2010.

An overall budget of $477,000 came from university support ($312,000), corporate sponsorships ($135,000) and the Southern Miss Alumni Association ($30,000).

Campaign tactics included the development of a visual brand, a logo, and a website. Other campaign initiatives included:

  1. Special Events
    Numerous special events were organized, including “Renée Fleming—The Voice of the Century,” a concert with the Southern Miss Symphony Orchestra.  Other events included Founders’ Day/Centennial Celebration Day; The Big Event (a community service day); the Centennial Commencement Celebration; the Centennial Arts Gala; Affinity Group Reunions; a Centennial Homecoming; and a Centennial Lecture featuring Madeleine Albright.

    Additional events included a Centennial Exhibit in the city library; a Centennial Museum in the university library; the 100 Alumni Museum of Art Exhibit; a Centennial Sculpture Celebration; and the Centennial Gateway (a brick-and-mortar giving opportunity).  Further initiatives included a Centennial Scholarship Endowment Fund and an Alumni Centennial Membership Campaign.

    Publications included The Talon (the alumni magazine) Centennial edition; Centennial Drawl, a handbook of the university’s history and traditions; and a Centennial history book, authored by a noteworthy historian.

  1. Advertising:
    The Centennial Gold Ad Campaign included Black and Gold banners on campuses; Black and Gold banners along city highways; advertising in targeted national publications; billboard campaigns in selected cities; “The Southern Miss Story” presidential tour; and the “I Belong” Campaign.

  1. Promotional Items:
    These included Centennial Birthday Cards, a Centennial Coke bottle; Centennial pins, stickers, and medallions (for 2010 graduates); coloring books; and cups/can holders.

Exceeding Expectations
The program exceeded all objectives: Awareness of the university’s history and rich traditions showed positive change in all categories over pre-Centennial benchmarks. National media coverage increased more than 800% (from 13 national hits in 2007-8 to 122 in 2009-10). Website traffic increased 107% by December 2010. Alumni Association membership grew to 21,088 (1,088 more than the 20,000 goal). Centennial Scholarship donations totaled $3.9 million in December of 2010 ($2.9 million more than the $1 million goal). Freshmen enrollment increased by 14%, exceeding the goal of 6%.

About Dr. Martha Saunders:
Dr. Martha D. Saunders served as the ninth president of The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, from 2007 to 2012.  She was the first woman to hold that position.  She continues to serve the university as Distinguished Professor of Communication and Founding Co-Director of the Evelyn Gandy Center for Women in Leadership. Her philosophy of education follows three simple guiding principles: know your students; connect them to bigger things; and set a good example.

Dr. Saunders' experience in the field of communication has led to numerous publications on crisis communication and public relations, widely anthologized published speeches, and national awards.

About The University of Southern Mississippi:
Founded in 1910, The University of Southern Mississippi is a comprehensive doctoral and research-driven university with a proud history and an eye on the future. In just 100 years, Southern Miss has grown from a small teachers' college into a premier research university with a national reputation for excellence in both academics and athletics.  For more information go to:

Tags: communications awards, PR awards, stevie awards for women in business, Best communications or PR campaign of the year, The University of Southern Mississippi, Martha Saunders