What is Georgia State’s Identity?

There is only one Georgia State University.  No other institution shares its history, its campus footprint, its mission and vision, the members of its university community, or its relationships with others.

All of these elements—and more—compose Georgia State’s unique identity. Defining the university’s distinctive identity in a way that is clear, understandable, memorable and authentic is both important and challenging.

As a member of Georgia State’s family, you have a special role to play in helping students, elected officials, business leaders and others understand what makes this university uniquely important to them—and  also to our fellow citizens across the state and beyond.

Georgia State University, an enterprising public research university in the heart of Atlanta, is a national leader in graduating students from diverse backgrounds. The university provides its world-class faculty and more than 32,000 students with unsurpassed connections to the opportunities available in one of the 21st century’s great global cities.

There are six supporting concepts that further clarify the university’s distinctive identity, which is depicted in this diagram. A more detailed explanation of these key “message pillars,” along with stories and other examples that capture their meaning, can be seen by clicking on the related links. What makes Georgia State distinctive is its ability to:

The United States is home to thousands of universities and colleges and is home to about a third of all the world's higher education institutions.  America is home to about a third of all of the world’s colleges and universities. All of these universities are competing for students, world-class faculty and researchers, and funding from philanthropic and governmental entities. For Georgia State to be recognized and heard amid all of the other higher education voices requires a commitment to clear, concise and focused communications.

To help faculty, students and others make informed decisions—and to attract the attention and investment of individuals and organizations who might not otherwise consider Georgia State—it’s important that members of the university community communicate and operate in ways that consistently and transparently reflect the university’s unique mission, vision and position.

It’s always important to remember that individually and collectively our actions and the many ways in which we carry out the mission of the university build credibility for the university’s  identity.

In early 2010, Georgia State began work on parallel projects—strategic planning and branding identity—to build a stronger university.  Both of these projects drew on research gathered from 4,200 participants in nine key university constituency groups. This research reaffirmed the university's strategic plan’s direction and led to the creation of the university’s position statement and six supporting messages detailed on this site.

The research began with a review of existing data and communications, competitor strategies and internal perceptions of Georgia State’s distinctive advantages. These findings were then supplemented by in-person interviews conducted with members of the university community and key external audiences.

These interviews probed audience perceptions about the attributes and personality traits that make Georgia State “different and better than competitor institutions.” The identity findings were then used in quantitative research with the university’s most important internal and external stakeholders.

This research was then analyzed and synthesized by a group of communications and marketing experts across the university, led by Don Hale, vice president for public relations and marketing communications.  This committee consisted of:

  • Ken Bernhardt, the Regents Professor of Marketing Emeritus, J. Mack Robinson College of Business
  • Ann Claycombe, director of communications, College of Arts & Sciences; Staff Council
  • Pam Ellen, associate professor of marketing, J. Mack Robinson College of Business
  • Andrea Jones, assistant vice president of communications, public relations and marketing communications
  • Ellen Powell, director of branding and creative services, public relations and marketing communication
  • Tim Renick, vice provost and chief enrollment officer

This committee’s work resulted in the university’s position statement, which in aggregate reflects the six key messages.

Following a university-wide academic and administrative leadership review that concluded in mid-February 2013, an agreed-upon synopsis of what makes Georgia State University distinctive among its peer institutions emerged:

Positioning Statement
Georgia State University, an enterprising public research university in the heart of Atlanta, is a national leader in graduating students from diverse backgrounds. The university provides its world-class faculty and more than 32,000 students with unsurpassed connections to the opportunities available in one of the 21st century’s great global cities.

Key Messages of the Positioning Statement

  • Guiding Students to Success
    Georgia State has a university-wide commitment to student advising and attention to student progress to graduation. The university is nationally recognized as a leader in creating innovative approaches that foster the success of students from all academic, socio-economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. By making student success the highest priority of the university, Georgia State changes lives and contributes to the economic, social and cultural vitality of the state, nation and world.
  • Connecting to Atlanta and Cities Around the World
    The university’s location provides students and faculty with wide-ranging opportunities to connect with the city’s business, government, nonprofit and cultural communities. On a campus without boundaries, students expand their view of the world, find doors open to internships and opportunities just a few blocks from campus and develop professional skills and relationships that enhance post-graduation success. In Atlanta, faculty members are at the nexus of an urban laboratory, enabling them to draw creative inspiration and address critical societal issues locally and in cities around the world.
  • Leading the Commitment to Diversity
    Georgia State is among the most diverse universities in the nation. The university is committed to providing students from all backgrounds the opportunity to better themselves through higher education. Georgia State is a recognized leader in graduating students from diverse socio-economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. In a campus community that celebrates diversity of thought and background, students, faculty and staff expand their understanding of the world and learn from the perspectives of people from all cultures.
  • Embracing Discovery and Creativity That Improve Our World
    Georgia State is a community of faculty members who are engaged in pioneering research and creative achievement, and successfully engage students in these activities. Through a commitment to interdisciplinary research and collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship, aided by Atlanta’s global connections, Georgia State’s faculty improves the quality of life and builds economic strength in Atlanta and beyond. The faculty’s creative and artistic achievements have an enduring cultural impact locally, nationally and globally. Georgia State’s commitment to addressing the problems, issues and opportunities common to the world’s cities make it a valuable cultural and economic asset to Atlanta. And its location in the heart of Atlanta, a fast-growing metropolitan area with more than five million people and more than a dozen headquarters of Fortune 500 companies, promotes synergies and partnerships unavailable at most other research universities.
  • Extending Connections Across the Globe
    Georgia State’s location in one of the great global cities of the 21st century and its proximity to the world’s busiest airport provide unique advantages that enable the university to build international connections for its faculty, students and alumni. These connections open pathways for important research and creative collaborations, cultivate global knowledge and understanding, and enhance opportunities for strategic international partnerships. Faculty and students work with civic, business and policy leaders from across the globe to achieve solutions to complex problems that challenge cities worldwide. The university is committed to building upon its heritage of solutions-oriented urban research, and has set its sights on working closely with partners in emerging markets through international initiatives.
  • Fostering an Enterprising Culture
    From its founding a century ago, Georgia State has been home to people pursuing opportunities to elevate their lives through education. Students from all walks of life have come to the university, some overcoming major obstacles to earn their degrees. The university is dedicated to offering programs to students’ educational needs. Students, faculty and alumni together have created an enterprising campus personality and culture based on ambition, hard work, dedication and perseverance.

Strengthening the awareness of and appreciation for Georgia State’s distinctive identity requires incorporating as many of the key messages that compose the university’s position statement, as appropriate, in every communications channel.

These communications channels run the gamut—from printed materials and audio-visual programs to the university’s web site, advertising, presentations and speeches, media relations, special events and other activities.

Communicating the university’s distinctive identity is not designed or intended to be limiting. Georgia State is a large and complex set of units, each with varying target audiences, messages, strengths and differentiators. Please feel free to share examples and tell your stories in your own words, but aligned as much as possible with at least one of the key messages that support the overall position statement.

The positioning statement and key messages will allow more vigorous and productive communication that supports all of Georgia State, while at the same time establishing common threads that can be reinforced in unit communications to maximize the impact of Georgia State’s distinctive position. You are encouraged to align with the university’s position as appropriate to your unit-level goals and the university’s overall strategic plan.

While creative concepts and communication tactics can be refreshed frequently, the university’s distinctive identity is enduring—though it will undoubtedly mature over time, just as our own personal “identity” is typically refined and sculpted as we age.

It bears repeating that while the university’s public relations and marketing communication team is responsible for the strategic communications positioning of the university, all members of the Georgia State community are responsible for:

  • Understanding the promise of Georgia State’s identity, why it’s important and what it means to them;
  • Living up to the university’s promises in their daily activities;
  • Reinforcing Georgia State’s distinctiveness in every interaction and communication with key audiences; and
  • Making strategic operational decisions and ensuring that appropriate tactics and activities reinforce the university’s distinctive position.

When considering appropriate communications channels and options, please first consider your audience and its expectations and needs—and tailor your engagement with that group appropriately.

No matter the audience, there is always an opportunity to positively shape perceptions and awareness of Georgia State, along with its unique role and impact on Atlanta and beyond.  And don’t forget the ongoing chances you have to share what you do at the university, and to talk about all the interesting things happening at Georgia State with your neighbors or even your fellow commuters.

It’s important that as each of us has these opportunities, we talk about Georgia State’s distinctive position. This is because over time, with repetition of its unique aspects, people and organizations will begin to shape a more cohesive and consistent understanding of what Georgia State stands for and how it is distinctive from other colleges and universities.

To plan your communications, we encourage you to first study the position statement and key messages.  Then, think of the messages as a bit of a “checklist” as you prepare to share Georgia State’s unique position orally, verbally and visually.  The more key messages your story supports, the stronger the story and the greater the support for the university’s distinctive position.

For instance, let’s say you want to talk about how many internships students in your college or school pursue across the Atlanta metropolitan area in a year.  Perhaps you’ve noticed that the number of student internships is growing every year because Atlanta employers value the interaction they have with Georgia State students.  And maybe your college or school actively reaches out to new employers to influence them to create more internships for your socioeconomically and ethnically diverse students.

What message pillar(s) does this example support?

Depending on how that story is communicated, it could support at least two of the key messages—providing students with unparalleled access to Atlanta and reflecting the university’s diverse student body.

If the story also involves students with scholarships, who then graduate and begin careers with multinational companies or even move outside the U.S., that story also could support the university’s commitment to student success and its global connections.

To become more familiar with this communications approach, we have archived a number of popular Georgia State feature stories, print materials and visual examples along with a communications and identity toolkit. We hope these items will give you a better sense of capturing  the strategic thinking and tactical implementation required to effectively communicate the university’s distinctive position.