University of San Diego Comprehensive Institutional Marketing Plan

This multi-year marketing initiative is designed to secure greater public awareness and understanding of USD as a 21st century, contemporary Catholic university.


Following the approval of our Envisioning 2024 Strategic Plan by the Board of Trustees, University Communications initiated a process for developing a comprehensive institutional marketing plan to communicate the University of San Diego mission and vision in an engaging and memorable fashion.

This important work of clarifying and highlighting what makes USD both distinct and meaningful is more important than ever before.  Colleges and universities are getting more competitive in attracting good students, and our efforts are not going to get any easier with shifting demographics and rising tuition costs.  Economic pressures have resulted in some liberal arts schools and traditional study programs being cut across the country, and we need to ensure that our beloved USD will continue to be successful even amidst cultural and technological changes. To continue to attract the best and brightest students and faculty, we need to articulate points of distinction for USD and our schools.  We need to help the local, national, and international community understand why they should invest in USD – as students, alumni, employers and philanthropists.  We cannot take for granted that the great work we do and the sense of community we offer is well-known or understood beyond our campus.

This multi-year marketing initiative is designed to secure greater public awareness and understanding of USD as a 21st century, contemporary Catholic university. The plan also includes an assessment of how best to increase collaboration and coordination of messaging and outreach among Admissions, Media Relations, Marketing and Strategic Partnerships, Alumni Relations, Parent Relations, Athletics, and our very important academic programs among our professional schools and the College of Arts and Sciences.

The Institutional Marketing Plan supports all the goals of the Envisioning 2024 strategic plan, and aligns particularly well with Goal 5: Amplifying Local & Global Engagement and Reputation.  Our efforts will incorporate Envisioning 2024 strategic plan themes and language in all promotional materials and communication platforms.

The Process: Cross-Collaboration

The first step in the process of developing a comprehensive institutional marketing plan was to assemble a seven-person Core Team drawing from faculty, administrators and alumni responsible for delivering on the plan, budget and agency partner(s) recommendations. This process also included the marketing and communications representatives from across the schools, college, and representatives from graduate and undergraduate admissions, career development, athletics and other key departments. 

The Core Team completed on-campus agency presentations during 2017 and recommended splitting the work between two agencies: BrandingBusiness (BB) for research-brand-strategy development and 160over90 for creative development and execution. 

Branding Business, headquartered in Irvine, CA., specializes in data-informed brand strategy, development and engagement. Clients include both universities and businesses such as UC Irvine, Brandman University, Elsevier, and AMN Healthcare. 

160over90, headquartered in Philadelphia with a local office in Los Angeles, has collaborated with more than 30 faith-based and public colleges and universities, including UCLA, Texas A&M, Creighton, Villanova and Notre Dame. Clients in the consumer space include Nike, American Eagle Outfitters, Under Armour, and professional sports teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts. 

Research and Discovery Phase

BrandingBusiness, in collaboration with USD’s Institutional Research and Planning department, has been conducting survey research, focus groups and phone interviews, collecting diverse perspectives from our key audiences — from high school counselors, prospective students and principals, to employers, Catholic parishes, alumni, parents, and donors.  In May, we are also reaching out to faculty, staff and administrators, students, and emerging leaders among our alumni.

This valuable information, coupled with existing data the university has already collected in support of the many ongoing initiatives tied to our Envisioning 2024 strategic plan, will help us to determine what resonates most with our audiences as we set the building blocks of an updated USD brand that appeals on both rational and emotional levels.

The Brand Council

Also during this phase, we established a Brand Council, representing cross-functional leaders within key areas of USD, as well as alumni and trustees who will represent the university throughout the brand development process and make recommendations for final internal decisions.  Brand Council members are:

  • Sandra Stangl, President, Restoration Hardware; USD Trustee
  • Jamey Power ’85, former J.D. Power executive; USD Trustee; Leading Change Campaign Chair
  • Cindy Basso ’89, Esq., Basso Law; USD Trustee
  • Lynn Hijar ’98, ’06, President and CEO, iBiz247
  • Hugh Ellis, Professor of Biology; Faculty Senate Chair
  • Kenny Bates, Associate Professor of Marketing, School of Business
  • Susannah Stern, Professor, Communication studies, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Mitch Malachowski, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry (NCAA Faculty Rep)
  • Gary Adamson, Exec-in-Res and Professor, IESI (Pres & Chief Experience Officer, Starizon Studio)
  • Stephen Pultz, AVP of Enrollment Management
  • Marcy Lanoue, Director of Torero Athletics Marketing
  • Coreen Petti, AVP of Advancement Marketing
  • Peter Marlow, AVP of University Communications
  • Bret Chavarria, Associated Students Communications VP (student representative)

Ex Officio members:

  • President Harris
  • Donald R. Knauss, USD Board Chair
  • Andrew Allen, VP of Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Initiatives 

Next Steps

Our next major milestone will be to present our completed research results to the Brand Council on May 18. In mid-June, we will present to the Brand Council our recommended brand positioning and messaging. We will then share this information with our Trustee Subcommittee that will be shifting its focus from the Leading Change campaign to Envisioning 2024.

Final brand positioning and messaging will transition to our creative agency, 160over90, who will initiate a six-week creative development process for our visual blueprint. This will culminate in an eight-week build process to create market-ready products for promotion.

Please click here to download an overview presentation on this important initiative, or view the slides below.