Universities look to future in IPFW rebranding

February 26, 2017 GMT

There was a time when shortening the name “Community Action of Northeast Indiana” to simply “CANI” seemed like a good idea.

Lots of people were involved in that rebranding more than a decade ago. Maybe too many. The public remained unclear what the agency was about, said Steve Hoffman, president and CEO of the poverty-fighting agency. So, the effort restarted three years ago and the result was “Brightpoint – For a Brighter Future.”

Businesses, agencies and schools often rebrand. Huntington, Trine, Saint Francis and Manchester universities tweaked or changed names in the last decade or two.

As Purdue University pursues a new name for its Fort Wayne campus more than 50 years after “IPFW” was cemented in the local lexicon, Hoffman understands the emotions surrounding a name change.

“You want to include people,” he said. “But at some point you’re going too far, and you’re really going to muck up the process.”

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Such is the challenge at IPFW, where the new name is expected to be revealed this spring. Purdue and Indiana University will end their Fort Wayne association in 2018 to become two separate schools on campus. The Purdue institution will remain a comprehensive university while the IU school will focus on health sciences programs.

Ultimately, IU and Purdue trustees will choose new names for their local schools.

A week-long online survey that ended Thursday sought community input for the Purdue campus, with Purdue University Northeast and Purdue University Fort Wayne listed as possibilities.

Don’t expect any surprises from IU.

“Indiana University has other academic medical/health sciences centers across the state, so the naming convention will be similar to those locations,” spokeswoman Margie Smith-Simmons said in an email response.

Compelling, engaging, with an eye to the past and future is what rebranding experts and those who have been through it suggest.

For IPFW, the new name needs to honor its history, “but when the realignment starts on July 1, 2018, the organization will fundamentally be different. So, we also need to be just as mindful to look forward,” said Jack Patton, executive director of marketing communications at IPFW. “Even though IU may be on campus here, we’re just looking at a new operating model that will affect what we present to the community.”

After a name is chosen, there are the practical ­changes. Updates will need to be made to banners and signs, stationery and other printed materials the school distributes. Three large IPFW signs are located near entrances on main roads leading to the school. There also are highway directional signs to consider. About 60 light poles with banners and “way-finding” signs on campus will need to change, Patton said.

The rebranding will address online social media sites and IPFW websites. As part of the process, administrators are evaluating the school’s triangular logo.

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“One of the things we’ve studied already is our logo history, or what our identity has looked like from the time that we were created in ’64 til now, and we’ve had a handful of changes,” Patton said. The logo has changed nine to 10 times, with some changes more drastic than others. “So, looking back we have been evolving all the while.”

IPFW officials declined to release the estimated budget for the rebranding because it is likely to change, said spokeswoman Kimberly Wagner.

Hoffman estimated that materials, new signage and a public campaign that included bus huts and billboards when Brightpoint was introduced cost about $50,000, paid with grant money. Brightpoint provides assistance to 35,000 people in 12 counties.

“There’s an enormous number of documents that have your old name in it. Heck, we’re still finding documents,” he said. “I hope I never have to do this again.”

John Paff, a partner at Nichols Co., a Fort Wayne marketing firm hired to handle the Brightpoint rebranding, said CANI was seen by some as a government agency or political movement rather than a private nonprofit. The name change “helped them to reassert their identity as being that point in a person’s life where they transition toward financial independence and self-sufficiency.”

For IPFW, where two of the state’s largest universities are in charge, Paff recommends coherence.

“That is to say it must truly identify with who they are and be a real reflection of their brand,” he said. “And so in as much as they will be regional campuses of state institutions, that coherence needs to be reflected in the name.”

Paff said he was executive director for communication and executive assistant to the president at Huntington College when it became Huntington University in 2005. That change reflected growth in graduate programs, he said, but came with emotions and questions about what it would mean for the future of the institution.

“It’s a change that worked out really well,” Paff said.

Tri-State University made a major shift in 2008 when it was renamed Trine University after donors Ralph and Sheri Trine. The new name came after two or three years of discussion, said school President Earl Brooks.

Administrators took some flack for the decision. But while recognizing significant donors, they also wanted to get away from the notion that Tri-State was solely a regional school, Brooks said. “State” in the name also suggested the private university was one of Indiana’s public institutions, he added.

The new name and a transition to a residential campus changed recruiting. Once thought of as regional, recruiting now is widespread, with students coming from 36 states and 15 countries, Brooks said.

With that background, Brooks contemplates the IPFW replacement names being floated: Purdue Northeast and Purdue Fort Wayne. “They know their business better than I do,” he said. “But for us, getting away from a geographic name was very, very important.”

rshawgo@jg.net