October 6, 2010

Management School Looks to Rebrand Itself as “Johnson”

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On September 23, the S. C. Johnson Graduate School of Management unveiled its new logo, part of a larger effort to “rebrand” the school as simply “Johnson” or “Johnson at Cornell University.” Johnson School officials want to make the name more recognizable to prospective students and the public.

“We really wanted to emphasize the ‘Johnson’ and begin to strengthen the name as its own individual brand,” Associate Dean of Marketing Randy Allen said in a statement.

The new logo has been simplified to include only the banner “Johnson” over the slightly smaller words “Cornell University.”

School officials hope the simplification to emphasize “Johnson” will help create a distinctive and memorable identity, which is one of the main goals of the overall rebranding campaign. A stronger identity for the school will result in a larger applicant pool, better faculty recruiting and superior job marketability for recent graduates, according to Assistant Director of Marketing Sandra Paniccia.

Rebranding efforts come after what Paniccia described as a period of soul-searching for the school. She said the school is seen by some as lacking the coherent identity of other Cornell institutions.

Paniccia said the main goal was to maintain competitiveness with other top programs, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

She said members of the management school asked themselves, “Who are we and what do we do best?”

The answer to this question, Paniccia said, was that the Johnson School is best at producing leaders.

“People say that we’re not known for anything, but we’re known for creating a leader, the type of leader who, because of all the teamwork in a small collaborative environment … can harness the power of a team better than any student from any other school,” she said.

The “support statement” — outlining the main principles and identity of the school — issued as part of the rebranding emphasizes this tendency.

Research for the logo and the rest of the project encompassed the opinions and perceptions of a wide array of subjects, from current and prospective students to professors to students who were accepted to the school but chose not to attend.

Both Paniccia and Allen emphasized that despite the cultivation of a unique identity, the management school is not trying to distance itself from the University as a whole.

“This move is not in any way to sever ties with Cornell, of which we are a proud part, but to begin to give the school a stronger identity and pop,” Allen said.

“Cornell is our pillar; it makes us stronger,” Paniccia said, noting that the opportunity for management students to take classes in other Cornell schools gives the Johnson a “unique selling point.”

Response to the new presentation of the school has been mixed, and it has drawn some alumni criticism, including from blogger Matthew Nagowski ‘05.

“Aside from the unfortunate use of the phrase ‘stronger pop’ with the word ‘Johnson’ and the fact that the new, capitalized logo is simply ugly, there’s the larger problem that the the new branding initiative, by subjugating the University under the business school, goes against Skorton’s vision of ‘One Cornell’,” Nagowski wrote on alumni blog metaezra.com, of which he is editor.

Nagowski also criticized the logo design on the grounds that it violates the University’s posted guidelines, which prohibit the use of words with all capital letters and dictate that the University name should not be smaller than any other name.

However, Mike Powers, director of periodicals for University communications, said that a new “revised” set of guidelines will be issued in the next few weeks. He declined to comment on the details of the new rules but said the Johnson logo would not be in violation.

Paniccia said that she felt a dialogue about the update to the school’s image was “healthy” and expressed confidence that most people would eventually come to embrace it. “You can’t expect 100 percent of people to like this idea, but it’s not some kind of whim,” she stated. “Change is hard, but if you don’t update, you’re going to fall behind.”

Original Author: Eliza LaJoie