University of Manitoba Trailblazer

Long Term Success (BRONZE)

Client Credits: The University of Manitoba
John Kearsey, Vice President (External), University of Manitoba
Leah Janzen, Associate Vice President, Outreach and Engagement, University of Manitoba
John Danakas, Executive Director, Marketing Communications Office, University of Manitoba
Erik Athavale, Director, Client Relations, Marketing Communications Office, University of Manitoba
Deanna Fair, Marketing Coordinator, Marketing Communications Office, University of Manitoba
Lindsey Wiebe, Marketing Coordinator, Marketing Communications Office, University of Manitoba

Agency Credits: McKim Communications Group
Peter George, President and CEO, McKim
Audra Lesosky, VP Accounts and Strategic Services, McKim
Ron Sawchuk, VP Creative, McKim
Brent Morrisseau, Creative Director, McKim
Lisagh King, Director of Creative Services, McKim
Tracy Flett, Account Director, McKim
Koen Reynaert, Media Director, McKim
Tamara Bodi, Director of Public Relations and Social Media, McKim
Andrea Baryliuk, Account Manager, McKim
Carey Pradinuk, Associate Creative Director, McKim
Tom Boresky, Graphic Designer, McKim
Orville Laoag, Graphic Designer, McKim
Lauren Williamson, Graphic Designer, McKim
Tess Vincent, Graphic Designer, McKim
Caitlin Popoff, Graphic Designer, McKim
Gary Gobeil, Production Manager, McKim
Chris Werstiuk, Director, Digital and Interactive Media, McKim


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):March 2011 - March 2014
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: March 2011
Base Period as a Benchmark: 2010

a) Overall Assessment

Where you are shapes who you are.

Manitoba is cold. It’s flat. It’s remote.

That’s what we found when we asked prospective post secondary students and parents from across the country (and even some in the province).

None of these perceptions are untrue: Manitoba is a place with a challenging climate, an environment that challenges those who live here – in ways you’d expect, but also in ways you wouldn’t. It challenges Manitobans to adapt, to innovate, and to invent. It challenges them to grow, to create, and to make something out of nothing.

The University of Manitoba is a wellspring of discovery, creativity and innovation in its home province. It is a catalyst for the Manitoba economy, and is an international leader and advocate in fields vital to the continued prosperity and diversification of our economy, including climate change and infectious disease research.

However, the University of Manitoba was not regarded as a destination post secondary institution to prospective students across Canada, and with enrolment plateaued it was no longer on the radar of many students within Manitoba. The University needed to elevate their profile across the post secondary landscape and reposition themselves as the destination university to students within the prairie region and abroad.

In addition to the perception challenges, the University’s messaging was fragmented. Each of the 24 faculties and departments were working on their own with independent brands and marketing budgets. This resulted in a disparate approach to marketing the University to its various audiences.

Working with Public Affairs, it was time to bring these individual departments together and ‘plug into’ a communication strategy that could tell University’s story through a singular voice. 

This presented a unique opportunity to conduct a strategic positioning exercise to determine what real estate the University of Manitoba could exclusively own in the post-secondary landscape, and how it could be leveraged to align all institutional marketing efforts through one distinct brand.

Today, the powerful and transformational force that carved out a unique culture in a remote location is embodied in the University of Manitoba, the intellectual birthplace of many successful entrepreneurs, leaders, educators and artists who are celebrated around the world.

The University of Manitoba inspires its students, its faculty, and its community to reject the expected, to defy convention, to carve new paths. The University provides a transformational student experience that fuels a pioneering spirit, and instills the drive to create.

At the University of Manitoba, we are Rebels, Pioneers, Creators, Adventurers, Trailblazers, Innovators, Challengers, Mavericks, Trendsetters, and Visionaries.

b) Resulting Business Objectives

McKim sought to develop a unique and authentic brand position for the institution that would:


  • Make the University of Manitoba the post-secondary institution of choice in Manitoba by outpacing enrolment growth of competing post-secondary institutions in the region.


  • Coalesce internal stakeholders behind a shared vision for the university.


  • Align the university’s various communications activities under a unified identity that works across its diverse audience segments and geographic markets with resonance and conviction.


c) Annual Media Budget
$100,000 - $200,000

d) Geographic Area
National, primarily Manitoba

a) Analysis and Insight

Research told us that there are key decision factors for undergraduate students looking at selecting a university or college [Footnote 1]. Based on their top answers (mean score on a 7-point scale), the following five key decision factors were determined to be the most important, in this order, for this audience.

  • Academic
  • Outcome
  • Campus
  • Financial
  • Nurturing

We knew that the University of Manitoba could deliver tangibly on all these aspects and was competitive, but this did not lead us to any unique propositions on which to build a campaign.

We were still looking for that one unique insight about the University of Manitoba we could land on that was true, unique, would resonate with the target audiences, and could be used as a platform to build an appealing brand proposition. Using these five key decision factors as a means of comparison for regional and national competitors, we identified the core decision factors that other similar institutions were using in their external communications - as a means of evaluating the market in which our messages will appear, and the unique-ness of the message we developed.

We turned to more research to understand current perceptions nationally. The core insight we gleaned from this research is that the image of the University of Manitoba is inextricably linked with their perceptions of the province itself: cold, remote, flat. And while the academic reputation was positive, it was far outweighed by these three inarguable ideas in our target audience’s head. 

And so we asked, "cold, remote, flat how do we fight that?" The University of Manitoba - It’s remote. It’s cold. And it’s in Manitoba. We knew that somewhere in that lay our unique proposition. Instead of fighting these perceptions, we decided to turn it around and own them in a positive way. We realized that we are who we are and where we are does differentiate us, but not in a bad way.  It has shaped who we are as Manitobans.  

That was our insight: The challenges presented by our location has created a unique, powerful and resilient culture.

b) Communication Strategy

The key consumer insight that we took from this, which fed into the strategy, and the creative brief is based on a regional insight to:

Position our location as a point of strength rather than a barrier to be overcome.

We advised the university to capitalize on Manitoba’s challenging environment – where the hardy thrive and draw strength from the province’s rebellious origins that nurture our independent streak. Our brand platform was built on the core idea that ‘where you are shapes who you are.’  

This insight resulted in a compelling brand premise that celebrates the challenges of living in Manitoba and the transformative power of the university. The brand’s overarching theme was inspired by the university’s international expertise in the challenging fields of arctic climate change research, human rights, and infectious disease research – and the attributes that empowered its students, faculty, staff and community to thrive in Manitoba’s environment of extremes.

Footnote 1 - Academia Group 2008 UCAS University & College Applicant Study

a) Media Used


**Airport pillar wraps

 McKim invented pillar wraps at the Winnipeg Airport for its client, Manitoba Lotteries Corporation. We utilized the high impact execution for the University of Manitoba’s 2012/3 positioning campaign to reach local and national influencers and supporters who, media research reveals, travel frequently.

Power Words on bathroom mirrors

 Decals throughout the University of Manitoba campus projected power words onto students’ bodies when they looked at themselves in the mirror, inviting them to define who they really are and to become brand ambassadors.

b) Creative Discussion

Engrained in a culture that has thrived in a challenging environment, McKim sought to position the University of Manitoba’s location as an unequivocal advantage. Our campaign was as much about creating awareness of the offering and attracting others to explore it, as it was about building a brand and establishing a reputation for the University of Manitoba.

Embracing who we are, and where we are: Our campaign aims to tell an authentic, honest, earnest story in support of our brand attributes and our brand story. We aimed to do this by striking an emotional chord through compelling narrative and imagery, and by telling uniquely ownable stories about the University of Manitoba. 

Manitoba shapes the people we are: We celebrate the personalities and values of those the University of Manitoba has attracted and produced.

Through research we identified Brand Power Words that defined the personality types that embody a new and distinctly ownable brand for the University of Manitoba. This list of key words describes the kind of person that succeeds in Manitoba, and more importantly, is drawn here.

Through one unified brand, the campaign tells the story of how the University of Manitoba harnesses the potential that the province’s challenging landscape to create the elite trailblazers, visionaries, innovators, creators, mavericks, defenders, explorers, pioneers, challengers, adventurers and rebels who grow to shape our world. 




National Phase one: I am a Trailblazer

Our first expression of the brand was through a national campaign that juxtaposed evocative images of young children with statements of empowerment, set against quintessential Manitoba panoramas. The university’s story is told through insights and from the perspective of children who represent pure potential. 

National Phase two: the professor’s inner child

The concept springboards from the initial expression that incorporated children, to the professors telling their stories to a national audience from the perspective of their child selves. The campaign call to action is to visit an online fulfillment piece where the story of each professor is expanded upon and linked to relevant stories about significant University of Manitoba accomplishments in key areas of study.

Local student recruitment

Focusing on the power words through which McKim defined the University of Manitoba brand – the agency expanded the campaign to student recruitment. The creative conveyed the transformative student experience through unique executions that tangibly demonstrate that journey. Campaign timing aligned with when students were making their initial and final plans for post-secondary education.

c) Media Discussion

The existing university marketing landscape is rife with stock pictures of students, researchers, campus shots, and captions about specific areas of focus. The University of Manitoba’s positioning is designed to appeal to bold, confident, and strong individuals, so preference was given to those media that could:

  • be used in a compelling or revolutionary way to create significant impact? 
  • embody the message of transformation? 
  • and/or infer a global relevance.


By engaging audiences through innovative media executions that complemented a distinct visual presentation and messaging approach, the University of Manitoba could distinguish itself as offering a unique experience that challenges its members to stand apart from the ordinary.

Media emphasis was placed on raising the university’s profile among national influencers, as well as increasing the university’s success in local recruitment. International students were reached primarily through outreach and direct marketing efforts.


Print and online news

Marketing efforts targeted national influencers, including: alumni of the University of Manitoba; current and prospective university donors; academic and research peers at other national post-secondary institutions; members of government; owners, managers and professionals (OMPs).


Out of home and Online

Marketing efforts targeted prospective students (15-17) and current students (18-24) in Manitoba and their influencers (parents, teachers, peers). Emphasis was placed on Winnipeg and Brandon.


a) Sales/Share Results


  • In 2012, enrolment grew by 2.9 per cent, breaking the overall student body record set in 2005, while International student enrolment increased 21.4 per cent to its highest level ever. This comes on the heels of the 2011 academic year, which saw a 1.5 per cent increase in overall enrolment. [Footnote 1]
  • Over the course of the campaign enrolment goals have been exceeded and as of Fall 2013 the University’s student body is close to capacity.

Enrolment by year [Footnote 2]

  • Fall 2013: 29,759 (2.0% - 3rd consecutive year of record enrolment)
  • Fall 2012: 29,181 (2.6% - 2nd consecutive year of record enrolment)
  • Fall 2011: 28,430 (2.4% - new/record enrolment)

*Trailblazers Campaign Debuts*

  • Fall 2010: 27,751 (1.0%)
  • Fall 2009: 27,476 (4.7%)
  • Fall 2008: 26,238 (-2.1%)
  • Fall 2007: 26,814 (-.04%)
  • Fall 2006: 26,931



17596_U_of_M_enrolment rates


Organizational alignment

The brand position has been fully embraced by the President of the university and serves as the inspirational platform through which the institution’s strategic vision is expressed. Internal stakeholders have recognized the value of aligning all university communications behind a single resonant voice. Numerous administrative departments – as wide ranging as recruitment, alumni and philanthropy – have already integrated the brand theme into their communications materials.


b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

Footnote 1:

Footnote 2:

a) General Discussion

  • The new advertising campaign played a significant role in record-breaking student enrolment rates, however there are likely many interconnected factors that contributed to the University’s increased numbers.  Direct and in-person recruitment efforts and other collateral pieces, such as the Viewbook, all of which were updated with the new brand concept, also contributed to the University’s success.
  • This advertising approach has incited a new trend among universities by positioning themselves as a transformative educational experience.
  • Fundraising - The university saw a four million dollar increase in donations during the first 12 months of the campaign, as compared to the previous 12 month period.
  • Aspirational - The bold imagery and statements, combined with high-impact media executions have built emotional connections with all target audiences. The campaign has sparked conversation about the university that crosses both geographic and audience lines, and resonating with students, alumni, international philanthropists and community leaders.
  • Praise - The University of Manitoba has received local and national recognition praising how its unique and bold voice cuts through the post-secondary messaging landscape. In addition to unprecedented levels of alumni identification with the University of Manitoba brand, it has been featured in Marketing Magazine, the Winnipeg Free Press, among others. Even the Governor General of Canada has referenced the language and powerful associations of the brand.?? 


Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Awards

The highly competitive and prestigious CASE Awards recognize institutional excellence in marketing and communications. The District VIII awards are highly prized by all post-secondary institutions across the Western Canadian provinces and territories, as well as the states in the Pacific Northwest.

  • In 2013, the University of Manitoba won nine CASE awards, including two grand golds and the prestigious 2013 Virginia Carter Smith Grand Crystal Award – CASE’s highest honour – for the year’s most outstanding communications program.

  • In 2012, when the University took home eight CASE District VIII Communication Awards, John Kearsey, the university’s VP of External Relations, underscored the value of the awards to the university by saying:

“To win eight sends a message that we'll be benchmarked against other universities internationally. This is big stuff for us.”

Additional Recognition

  • Four Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education (CCAE) Prix D’Excellence awards – including a gold for Best Use of Social Media

  • Two Signature Awards for advertising excellence in the Manitoba market, including Complete Campaign.

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels:


The chart below displays an increase in media expenditures immediately following the initial launch of the Trailblazer campaign. The unprecedented level of investment reflects the University’s enthusiasm for the compelling creative concept, and the groundswell of internal support for the story it tells. 

U of M Media Spending by calendar year


Tuition fees saw slight annual increases throughout the campaign. [Footnote 1]


Distribution Changes:

Advertising for this campaign was focused on the University of Manitoba's traditional recruitment markets.

Unusual Promotional Activity:

Not applicable.

Other Potential Causes:

The chart below represents the full time student enrolment rates of post secondary institutions in the Manitoba region each year. These numbers are based on undergraduate enrolment numbers from the University of Winnipeg [Footnote 2] and the University of Manitoba [Footnote 3], and full-time certificate, diploma, advanced diploma and degree programs at Red River College [Footnote 4].


*NOTE - Official numbers for Red River College 2013 year have not yet been released, however stated to be overall inline with the previous year's numbers.

[Footnote 1]

[Footnote 2]

[Footnote 3]

[Footnote 4]