TAMPA — After 18 years as president of the University of South Florida, Judy Genshaft has perfected her role as a walking billboard for the school. She’s become known throughout the state for her green-and-gold dress suits, glittering lapel pins, bracelets and earrings sporting the athletics department’s signature "Bull U," and even purses made of footballs and basketballs emblazoned with USF’s logo.
But even Genshaft agreed that the university’s branding needed a new look. And when she saw what her staff designed she couldn’t help but introduce it to the campus during her annual fall address Wednesday.
During a high-energy video, USF’s new academic logo was revealed: a lime green bull reminiscent of the golden brahman that first symbolized the university when it opened in 1960. But this new branding effort is also about defining USF’s story to the world, Genshaft said.
The new motto: We share one goal. We transform lives. United, we shape the future.
The new rallying cry: Be Bullish.
"Don’t you love it?" a grinning Genshaft asked before a packed auditorium of mostly faculty and staff at Marshall Student Center.
"We’re not bound by tradition," she said. "Everything we have achieved we have earned, and it is up to us to determine what this new era will bring. At USF we shape our own future and there are no limitations."
With the USF System’s three universities setting sights on merging accreditations under one umbrella by 2020, now was the perfect time to find a new way to introduce the school as a "preeminent institution," said Joe Hice, USF’s new marketing director and the creative mind behind the University of Florida’s "Gator Nation" re-branding campaign.
Genshaft won’t have to give up her "Bull U" baubles anytime soon. Hice’s team decided to keep the school’s athletics logo as-is, but warned it should be used only by that sector of the university.
That means giving up homemade variations created by colleges and clubs throughout the years — like the Bull U wearing a stethoscope for the Internal Medicine department, or the Bull U flanked by big-mouthed bass used by USF’s fishing club.
The new academic logo won’t roll out across campus until homecoming week, which starts Oct. 14. It replaces the green-and-gold box of serif text that currently adorns business cards and street signs throughout the university’s campuses. The new script is airy and modern, with open spaces in some of the letters meant to symbolize the university’s expanding and diverse community, Hice said.
His team spent about a year gathering feedback on their ideas before birthing USF’s new bull, which pulls together elements of the bronze bull statues on all three campuses. Its "optimistic, upward-angled head" mirrors the bull statue at USF St. Petersburg. The curved tail comes from the bull at USF Sarasota-Manatee. And its "regal stance" hails from the Tampa campus, from one of the bulls prancing down the large fountain outside Marshall Student Center, Hice said.
The three-pronged star burst on the animal’s torso was taken from the university’s seal and represents the three campuses.
"Despite all the success USF has seen over the past few years, our reputation hasn’t really caught up," Hice said. "That’s what were hoping to do with the campaign is create that emotional connection you have to have to make people pay attention to our story."
USF’s marketing challenge is reflected in its national rankings, including the one from U.S. News and World Report, which hasn’t improved the university’s standings in nearly 14 years. Hice said that’s because a university’s "reputation" makes up a large portion of those scores, and USF has done little to market itself beyond the Tampa Bay area.
USF’s last major marketing campaign was launched nearly 12 years ago, when the iconic "Bull U" was introduced as a new sports mascot. It has never before attempted an advertising campaign focused on academics, Hice said.
Even now, in an academic year when USF enrolled more than 47,000 students, the marketing staff had to round up when they reported that only 1 percent of about 2,000 surveyed adults and 14 percent of high school students from across the nation were even vaguely aware of the University of South Florida, Hice said.
In her address, Genshaft assured staff that will soon change. She highlighted some key milestones.
After 30 years of applying to the Phi Beta Kappa national honor society, USF was awarded its own chapter in August.
In the same month, the USF System welcomed a freshman class with an average high school GPA of 4.09 and SAT score of 1283 — the highest in the university’s history.
First-year medical students surpassed both the university’s records for highest average scores on the Medical College Admission Test and the scores of incoming students’ at every other university in the state, Genshaft said.
USF also has increased research expenditures to more than $560 million, and earlier this year became one of only three public universities in the nation founded after 1950 to raise more than $1 billion in private donations.
A fresh, energetic look will help USF enter a new era as Florida’s first metropolitan "preeminent" university, Genshaft said. And, if all goes according to plan, it will help the school attract the students and faculty it needs to keep that hard-won title.
"Now, more than ever before," she said, "it is time for us to share our story the right way — with one clear brand."
Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.