Changing the name of your college or university can stretch 5-10 years. Name change isn’t the answer to declining enrollments, but it could signal a new strategic direction, or an expansion of the audiences you serve, or a clarification of your mission; or it could be all three.
Here are some pearls of wisdom gleaned from experience and a step-by-step process on how to rollout a new name.
Preparing for Change
- Get input from the institution’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, cabinet and board members.
- Prepare and present the alternative names and a final recommendation. Present a thoughtful rationale for your choice to the cabinet, board members and campus community to get their support.
- Create a microsite which explains the strategic underpinnings of the name change and the new institutional direction.
- Create a website FAQ page that answers common questions that may be posed by different stakeholders. Answer a range of questions, from the very broad ones like “Why did you change the name?”, to philosophical ones such as “Does this change our mission and vision?”, and to practical ones like “Can I request a new diploma/certificate with the new name?” Here is a good example of an FAQ page.
The Silent Phase
- Check with The US Patent and Trademark Office to ensure the name is not taken by another institution and can be claimed by you.
- Secure a new .edu domain. Also secure the .com, .org and .net domains to prevent future domain squatters from tarnishing your brand. Prepare web server 301 redirects to activate the day the name change is released. Prepare the web servers to accept both the old and new domain names.
- Configure email servers to create aliases from old email addresses to the new ones.
- Secure social media handles for popular channels such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and others.
- Create a new brand identity guide.
- Consider DBA (doing business as) in state filings, bank accounts, etc.
- Notify the post office.
- Notify the IPEDs (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) office of the Department of Education for a new FICE (Federal Interagency Committee on Education) code.
The Public Phase
- Update the logo on the website. Globally replace all references of the old name to the new one in the website header, footer and body copy.
- Update the logo/name on all active landing pages and ad campaigns.
- Activate 301 redirects from the old domain to the new one for both the website and landing pages.
- Update print materials including letterheads, business cards, memo templates, recruitment materials, class schedules, course related materials, parking and shuttle maps, computer and financial reports, invoices, bills, and other forms.
- Update patches for safety officers, grounds crew and maintenance employees.
- Update identification cards, parking tags, license plates, name tags, and podium name plates.
- Send announcements to high schools, other institutions of higher education, college guides, libraries, the Higher Education Directory, accrediting agencies, athletic conferences, suppliers, vendors, and contractors; businesses where the university places or desires to place graduates; and professional organizations of which the university is a member.
- Send press releases out to media organizations informing them of key developments and events related to the name change.
- Consider holding a “Midnight Madness” celebration on the night of the name change. Invite all living past presidents and board members, key alumni, donors, student representatives, state officials, and the board of governors to participate. Publicly recognize all private donors who funded the name-change activities.
- Ask university representatives to deliver a series of presentations to various civic groups explaining the name change and why it was important.
- Consider leaving intact some items on display across campus with the old name of school such as facility dedication plaques, engraved benches, and bronze seals.
- Ensure that Google searches for your old name surface the name change web page.
- Notify off-campus organizations that link to the university’s Web pages to change their hyperlinks to reflect the new name and domain.
- Monitor your site analytics monthly to determine the half-life of your old name. Expect your old name to surface for approximately 5-7 years if not longer.
Abraham Lincoln once said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” The success of renaming a school, too, depends on the preparation work done upfront.