Toughen Up! A New B-School Message


The new website launched at 3 a.m. on Sunday

The new website launched at 3 a.m. on Sunday


When the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business showed its new branding campaign to alumni groups, the reaction was unanimously positive. “They practically stood up and said, ‘That is it. That is exactly who we are. I was toughened up at Simon,'” recalls Keir Meisner, the school’s executive director of marketing and communications.

So today (Oct. 14), Simon joined the ranks of business schools with a new branding campaign to raise eyebrows and get attention. In the past two years, both the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management also have weighed in with major brand campaigns in an increasingly competitive business school marketplace (see below). Wharton crowdsourced it’s new tagline last year, “Knowledge for Action,” while Kellogg embraced “Think Bravely” two years ago.

Rochester’s Simon Business School, which it will now call itself as part of the new branding, felt the campaign would help it get on the radar of more applicants and recruiters. In the early 2000s, the school routinely ranked among the top 30 schools in BusinessWeek’s biennial rankings. But Simon was ranked 50th on last year’s BusinessWeek list. The school is ranked 37th in the U.S. on Poets&Quants’ composite listing of the top five most influential rankings, up two spots from 30 in 2011.

Simon’s new look is the result of interviews with some 100 students, among others, and a review of other business school branding initiatives. The school began the branding project in late April of this year, working with a local branding consultant, Moon Brand. “It was an intense effort by everyone to get it done so quickly,” says Meisner, a Cornell MBA who has been at Simon for the past two and one-half years after a career in marketing at both Johnson & Johnson and Bausch & Lomb.


“In our past, we had a tagline we walked away from: ‘Where Thinkers Became Leaders,’ adds Meisner. “When we realized we needed something else, we really looked inside and started asking lots of questions of students, alumni, recruiters and faculty. We asked, ‘What makes us unique?’ There was a core element that stood out and it was how well prepared our students were for the marketplace. We knew we had to communicate that out to the world because we had not done a good job of doing that of late.”

Business school marketing messaging

Business school marketing messaging

A review of existing branding campaigns by Simon was ultimately unsatisfying, says Meisner. “We realized the marketplace was not differentiating itself anywhere. If you shuffle all of the tag lines used by most of the top business schools and step back, you really can’t say who is who. They are all pretty much saying the same things.”

The school was just starting the hard work on the project around commencement when CNBC’s Lawrence Kudlow and Doug Petno, CEO of commercial banking at J.P. Morgan, gave remarks to the graduating class. “What they were saying was that success was the benefit of all the hard work you put in,” recalls Meisner. “They told our graduates you are going to have to do everything you can and then more because business is an incredibly different environment. You have to toughen up, and when you do that you will become a global business leader. You will change the world. It will be done by the preparation you do here.”

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