Saint Joseph’s University

Our research helped Saint Joseph’s soar higher while staying true to its core values

Well-known in the Philadelphia area for its active community and commitment to service and social justice, Saint Joseph’s University has been a beacon of Jesuit education for over 100 years. In the early 2000s, enrollment in local Catholic high schools, the biggest pool of prospects, began to decline, and it became imperative that Saint Joseph’s reach beyond their region in recruiting. Saint Joseph’s partnered with SimpsonScarborough in an effort to strengthen their brand and differentiate themselves in the crowded Philadelphia higher ed market.

The first step was research that would serve as the foundation to the brand and positioning. We began by conducting in-depth interviews with local business leaders to discern their perceptions of Saint Joseph’s compared with their Philadelphia competitors. The consensus: They respected the school’s emphasis on moral and character development, but many surveyed were not as aware of the academic quality and successful careers associated with a Saint Joseph’s education. In addition, other more well-known institutions were more highly regarded in terms of the quality of academics and career preparedness.

Further assessment of all institutional stakeholders was needed and our team developed a comprehensive research plan to build on the initial findings. We conducted comprehensive surveys with prospective students (from Philadelphia and elsewhere) and their parents, current students, faculty, staff, and alumni to gain insights about the school’s image and reputation, strengths and weaknesses, and how it compared to neighboring institutions. In-depth interviews with prospective graduate students gave us a qualitative understanding of the perceptions of Saint Joseph’s for the adult student market.

The findings revealed a general lack of awareness of the enormous growth and innovation Saint Joseph’s had achieved over the last two decades. Students, faculty and alumni cited Saint Joseph’s emphasis on character development and the school’s culture of service as positives, however these factors didn’t resonate with prospective students or their parents, who were looking for real-world experience and high rates of job placement and graduate school acceptance. External audiences perceived a lower academic quality compared to many local competitors despite internal audiences assessing it at a higher level.

With the results from this research in hand, we delved deeper with the campus community. All groups cited practical elements – high job placement and grad school acceptance rates, strength of academic programs – as qualities to be touted. But a majority of faculty, current students and alumni also thought Saint Joseph’s Jesuit tradition made it a different and recognizable.

We worked with leaders in Marketing Communications and Donor Relations, Development and Alumni Relations, and senior faculty to develop brand positioning that distilled their Jesuit heritage in a manner that was understood and compelling both internally and externally. It’s based on “the Magis,” a principle extolled by the founder of the Jesuit order, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, that embodies the spirit of self-reflection and always striving to do more.

The brand positioning became the foundation for the University’s largest-scale integrated marketing effort that encompassed a brand campaign, recruitment materials, and social media strategy. In the year after the brand launch, Saint Joseph’s saw a jump in campus visits and applications that correlated with the enrollment of the second-largest freshman class in its history. The following year, traffic on the admissions website doubled, and social media engagement was also up, leading to a 17% increase in prospects and – a school record – a 10% boost in undergraduate applications.

Since the launch, Saint Joseph’s has partnered with SimpsonScarborough to conduct a benchmarking study to track its image and perception as well as determine the overall effectiveness of the campaign. Results show increased awareness of Saint Joseph’s and strong recognition of the Magis campaign. Prospective students from both the Philadelphia-area and outside the city are more familiar with Saint Joseph’s. And about two-thirds of prospective undergrads are aware of the Magis, marking a significant uptick compared to SJU’s previous campaign and demonstrating the strength and enduring nature of the brand.

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Images by Saint Joseph’s University Office of Marketing Communications