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Columbia Debuts New Branding Campaign

Columbia Business School has launched a new branding campaign

Columbia Business School has launched a new branding campaign

When Columbia Business School began reaching out to stakeholders for a new branding campaign, one phrase seemed to catch fire.

“At the Very Center of Business” not only seemed to resonate with hundreds of students, alumni, faculty and recruiters. They believed the tagline perfectly captured the very essence of the school and its location in New York City. “It came directly from the research,” says Iris Henries, associate dean of marketing and communications. “As we talked to all the stakeholders, that was a consistent theme that came up.”

So today (Oct. 31), Columbia made the phrase an integral part of a new and ambitious branding initiative, replacing its unofficial tagline “Theory to Practice.” Adds Henries, who led the effort, “This positioning helps to amplify that story and sets us apart from our peers. You can come up with something that rolls off the tongue and is pleasing to the ear but if it is not authentic and credible than all you come up with is a catchy phrase. What we have here we can say is really authentic. Out stakeholders feel this expresses who we are.”


To support the initiative, Columbia unveiled a new two-minute video that will serve as the cornerstone of its narrative moving forward. The video, titled “The Center,” brings viewers into Columbia’s classrooms and into the heart of New York City as well, with images of the subway, New York taxis, and the gleaming city skyline. The video takes viewers through the school’s key characteristics and attributes that distinguish Columbia as a global leader  in management education.

Columbia thus becomes the latest prestige business school to launch a full-fledged branding effort. Little more than two weeks ago, the University of Rochester’s Simon School came out with a new campaign with the tagline “Toughen Up.” 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.

Columbia’s effort comes at a time when the school is gathering significant momentum. In the past year, MBA applications have climbed 6.6% and its acceptance rate has fallen to just 18.1% from 20.8% a year earlier (See The B-School Class of 2015 — By The Numbers). The school has also raised massive amounts of money in recent years, including $500 million toward the $600 million cost for the school’s new Manhattanville campus which is not expected to open until early 2018. Since becoming dean of the business school in July of 2004, Glenn Hubbard has raised an extraordinary $770 million, making him one of the most successful academic fundraisers in history.


Columbia said there are four “pillars” to its branding campaign. They are:

  • KNOWLEDGE: An Unrivaled Culture of Academic Excellence. Columbia Business School’s approach to thought leadership is constantly informed in real time by the global business environment. Groundbreaking research from the School’s faculty influences business practices in every sector while the transformative, 21st-century curriculum develops leaders who can create opportunity in any environment.
  • ACCESS: Unmatched Exposure to the Pulse of Business, Both Inside and Outside the Classroom. As the top Ivy League business school immersed in New York City, Columbia Business School provides its students with direct access to countless businesses and business leaders, both inside and outside the classroom, allowing them to take lessons learned in class and see them applied directly in the real world.
  • COMMUNITY: A Diverse, Engaged, and Entrepreneurial Community. High achievers are drawn to the School’s reputation and unique position at the global center of business, where a diverse, entrepreneurial-minded community of students, faculty members, staff, and alumni share an open exchange of ideas and perspectives. Combine this range of voices with an alumni network of more than 40,000 graduates and you have an expansive community that fosters creativity, invites entrepreneurial thinking, and opens doors to opportunity.
  • IMPACT: An Immediate and Lasting Impact on the Business World. The thought leadership of the School’s faculty and staff, combined with the accomplishments of its distinguished alumni and position in the center of global business, means that the School’s efforts have an immediate and measurable impact on the forces shaping business each and every day.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.