Jordan Zimmerman's $10 million gift will remake, rename USF School of Mass Communications

USF alum and Trustee Jordan Zimmerman talks to an audience after the unveiling of a new logo at the University of South Florida in Tampa on Monday. Zimmerman donated $10 million to the School of Advertising and Mass Communications;  the university is renaming the school after him. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
USF alum and Trustee Jordan Zimmerman talks to an audience after the unveiling of a new logo at the University of South Florida in Tampa on Monday. Zimmerman donated $10 million to the School of Advertising and Mass Communications; the university is renaming the school after him. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published March 10, 2015

TAMPA — Jordan Zimmerman knows branding.

He helped craft the "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign of the 80s as an undergrad. When Madison Avenue wouldn't hire him, he built his own advertising agency. Zimmerman Advertising went on to craft famous brand campaigns for clients like Dunkin' Donuts ("America runs on Dunkin' ") and Papa John's Pizza ("Better ingredients. Better pizza.") He's also built his own personal brand as an industry innovator and executive-turned-philosopher.

Now the Zimmerman brand has become part of the University of South Florida landscape. He donated $10 million to USF, which in turn renamed the School of Mass Communications after him — and grafted his personal "Z" logo onto the building's brick facade.

"No new brand would be complete without a new logo," said USF President Judy Genshaft.

The ad executive, a 59-year-old father of six, beamed as the new Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications and its new 10- by 10-foot "Z" logo were unveiled during a ceremony Monday.

"This university gave me my start," said Zimmerman, who also sits on the USF Board of Trustees. "They inspired me. They educated me. They built my confidence."

• • •

In return, Zimmerman helped USF reshape its advertising curriculum. He donated $1.2 million a decade ago to help start the Zimmerman Advertising Program. Also known as ZAP, it's an honors-like program where advertising students live and work together while studying subjects like market research, media strategy and messaging.

But while advertising is ascending at USF, what of its journalism offerings?

In 2013, the university let its voluntary accreditation from the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications lapse after 37 years. USF also let go of the school's interim director, former Tampa Tribune publisher and president Gil Thelen.

Those decisions were made by Eric Eisenberg, the dean of USF's College of Arts and Sciences, and he stands by them now.

"If anything, I have been pleased to find that my decision at the time was the right decision," Eisenberg said. "We looked at it and we thought it was constraining our ability to be innovative in our curriculum."

USF is still reshaping its journalism offerings and Zimmerman's gift will help that effort, officials said, as well as benefit all of the 900 students in the school studying subjects like advertising, broadcasting and public relations.

Thelen, who taught his last journalism class in May 2014, said he's not surprised that advertising now has top billing atop the mass communications building.

"I saw it as almost inevitable with Jordan's interest and financial support for the university," he said. "When the school decided to withdraw its application for re-accreditation, that would seem to have paved the way for this significant reorientation of the mission of the school."

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Subscribe to our free Gradebook newsletter

We’ll break down the local and state education developments you need to know every Thursday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

But Thelen added that he's seen some of the proposed new journalism curriculum and has high hopes for it.

Samuel Bradley, interim director of the School of Mass Communications and director of the ZAP program, said Zimmerman's role is limited to that of a donor and an advisor to the university. USF's advertising curriculum is ultimately drafted and shaped by professors, Bradley said, and he added that Zimmerman will have no input in the new journalism courses.

"We won't have any interference there," Bradley said. "What trustee Zimmerman is interested in is in giving us the resources to build a state-of-the-art program. He's certainly not dictating to us. But he is giving us his input."

USF's president said she doesn't see anything wrong with the big green "Z" on the side of the building. Genshaft said it's not the same as a company buying the naming rights to a sports facility.

"I have never thought of it in that way because we know the individual is so passionate about education and this is his school," she said, adding: "It's his personal brand (and) we're very proud of his success as an alum."

• • •

Zimmerman's $10 million gift is the largest in the history of USF's College of Arts and Sciences. It's also the latest in a recent series of large donations to USF:

• In 2011, Frank and Carol Morsani donated $20 million to help build a new medical school. The new building will now be built in downtown Tampa on an acre donated last year by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. The land is estimated to be worth up to $12 million.

• Retired entrepreneur Kate Tiedemann donated $10 million to USF St. Petersburg in September. Now the Kate Tiedemann College of Business is named after her.

• In October, Les and Pam Muma donated a record $25 million to the recently renamed Muma College of Business on the Tampa campus.

• Last month retired Raymond James Financial executive Lynn Pippenger donated $10 million to USF. The Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy was renamed for her.

Zimmerman makes it a point to advise USF on how to keep the ZAP curriculum as current and as relevant to the advertising industry as possible. He wants his donation to help USF build the premier advertising school in the nation.

"I want to welcome our students and tell them, 'This is for you,' " he said. "There is no better way to spend $10 million than at the university that gave you your start."

Contact Jamal Thalji at or (813) 226‑3404. Follow @jthalji on Twitter.