Dr Dai Llemmer

August 24, 2007

I have received a voicemail message from the vice-chancellor of a well-known grey-brick university in the heart of Dickens country. "We're rebranding!" he shouts. "Whole bloody lot! I want a new name, new logo and new image by Friday. New academics, too, with a bit of luck. Can you help? Sheila, is this thing working? And where are those biscuits?"

Dr Dai Llemmer writes:

A typically challenging request from one of our more charismatic vice chancellors. I'll see what I can do.

Renaming an institution is always risky, but it can have very beneficial results.

The first thing to consider is whether you want to go for the functional approach - "The University of Shropshire: Oswestry Bypass" (which helps people to find you) - or the more romantic version, say, "Shropshire Falstaff University", which can boost overseas recruitment, especially among the less geographically well-informed.

Choosing the name of a historical figure who has an association with the town, or a potential benefactor, is another strategy you might consider, although obviously there have been some mistakes over the years. On reflection, East London Ripper University and Archer College, Oxford, were unfortunate choices, as was the Regional University of North Tyneside, for other reasons.

There is also the option of following the low-cost airlines and naming a geographically challenged university after the nearest place that people might actually want to go to: think of Derbyshire Peaklands College, Ilkeston, or Lindisfarne University at Clay Cross, for example.

The important thing is to mould the name, location and corporate image into an attractive, harmonious whole. Logos are important here, and photogenic animals can be an attractive addition to any crest; but again try to avoid the obvious pitfalls. Although owls are always good, they may need to be livened up a bit for the modern consumer - perhaps with a set of sunglasses, an iPod or surfboard (if you happen to be on the coast). Sheep, on the other hand, are never sensible choices, however intelligent their faces; likewise, members of the cow or ostrich families, vultures or any seabird that might be thought to resemble a booby.

And be careful with fish and aquatic mammals (remember Cowes College's ill fated "Learning with a Porpoise" campaign, which got the vice-chancellor his nickname of "slippery when wet"?). As for mottos, Latin used to be fashionable but is now best avoided unless you have something that speaks directly to the mission statement ("fundementa in sedibus" , perhaps?).

It is far better to choose something in the vernacular that might attract the punters ("Live Pole-Dancing", "Every Hour Is Happy Hour" or "Closing-down Sale" are popular).

The general idea is to choose a symbol that counteracts any adverse associations the institution may have picked up over the years. It depends how bad it has been, of course, but in your case I suggest that a giant inflatable Mother Teresa embracing the late Queen Mother is the minimum you might consider for the campus gates? As for the biscuits, I can only hope they turn up by Friday.

Dai Llemmer is part- time head of crisis management at a research-indifferent university in the South Yorkshire commute-to-work zone.

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