This summer the University embarked on an expansive rebranding effort that it hopes will go a long way in changing the perception of St. John’s both from within and outside the school’s gates.
Administrators said the wide-ranging changes that are beginning to appear on campus this fall – including a new logo, acronym and color scheme – are the result of a recent rebranding study that began over a year ago.
With the help of Virginia-based marketing research firm Simpson Scarborough, the University surveyed between 3,000 and 4,000 people about their perceptions of various aspects of the University from academics and “prestige” to athletics, according to Dr. Hallie Sammartino, vice president of marketing and communications.
“They asked basically key questions about perceptions around St. John’s and a lot of them focused on what do you think of St. John’s today, where do you think St. John’s should go,” Sammartino said in an interview this summer.
That discussion led to a complete overhaul of the University’s outward image.
Three new logos were designed, blue was re-added to the color scheme alongside red and white, and the 10-year-old acronym of “STJ” has reverted back to the more traditional “SJU” that many alumni are already accustomed to.
The new image for the University focuses on two concepts Sammartino referred to as “St. John’s today” and “St. John’s tomorrow.”
Today focuses on the five points of a supportive environment, diversity, Vincentian values, athletics and New York City while tomorrow focuses on academic prestige without attitude, the power of a global city and world campus, success and service, New York City’s team and the inclusion of the school’s alumni network.
Sammartino also said that the focus groups and surveys showed that the general public felt that St. John’s ranked third in the New York area, behind NYU and Columbia, but ahead of Fordham and others.
She said data showed that prospective students also thought highly of the school’s academic programs, but the feeling was different within the University’s actual community of faculty, staff and students.
“We were kind of like ‘What’s the problem here?’” she said. “People are coming to St. John’s thinking it’s a strong academic institution and [when] they get here they talk about diversity, they talk about athletics. One of the charges [of the rebranding] is that we want to raise our academic reputation.”
The news that the University would switch acronyms from STJ to SJU has been welcome to most, including an overwhelming amount of alumni.
The change to STJ occurred in 2003 when Saint Joseph’s University of Philadelphia registered the domain name sju.edu. that left St. John’s with what it saw as two options.
The first being stjohns.edu and the second being stj.edu. It ended up using the former, but held onto STJ. Now the University will return to the acronym used through all but the last 10 years of its 143-year history.
“When we asked people ‘what are you more comfortable with,” Sammartino said. “The alumni from 2002 back said, ‘It’s always been SJU why would it be anything else?’ It’s St. John’s University. We just thought about that and everyone felt that was where we needed to go.”
Sammartino said the change reflected the use of an acronym seen as more of the norm to most universities while citing the school’s history and tradition.
She said that when the idea was tested, people loved it and that with current students it “didn’t really seem to be a big deal.”
Another aspect of the reworked brand is including athletics within the school’s strategic plan. As detailed on the school’s website, “St. John’s today” includes a point on athletics and “St. John’s tomorrow” includes one on the school being New York City’s team – a phrase used by the basketball program for the past few years.
“Some people might fault you to put in athletics as one of your five brand stories, but it’s part of who we are and I think many good schools now realize that you can be smart and you can be good on the field or on the court,” Sammartino said. “It doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
That lack of exclusivity extends to rebranding of athletics as well.
The University sent out a survey days after announcing the changes in June asking faculty, staff, students and alumni about their preferences from logos to names.
The survey mostly focused on the difference between the Red Storm nickname and Johnnies – both of which have been used to describe the teams in recent years.
“If we’re going to [rebrand athletics], we need to do it right,” she said. “We can’t keep changing our name, we can’t keep changing our mascot.”
Sammartino thought that the Red Storm name and Johnny Thunderbird mascot – who had also been part of the survey – had “resonated strong” with some people, but not as much with others. She said a lot of people that were spoken to informally before the survey said they didn’t know who the mascot was.
“We really need to get our finger on the pulse on that,” she said.
The idea of rebranding athletics was thrown in after the process had begun for the University’s academic side, she said.
Because of that, there is limited possibility for changes this fall – even involving the current interlocking STJ athletics logo.
The men’s basketball team is wearing new Under Armour jerseys while on tour in Europe that feature red, white and blue.
The uniforms are exclusive for the trip and new jerseys will be unveiled for the regular season.
University spokeswoman Elizabeth Reilly said that the uniforms were not part of the official rebranding process for the University.
Events are planned in the fall to celebrate the changes, according to a statement from Sammartino sent to the University community this summer.
Sammartino said that the University tried to wrap up what makes St. John’s “different,” “stronger,” and “better.”
“It’s really highlighting the good things about St. John’s, the positive things and the things that we think can bring us great students and even better academic students,” she said.
Revised for print edition on August 28, 2013.