York branding campaign set the standard for others

Here we are at the height of the university recruitment season – the anxiety! the excitement! – in which the nation’s postsecondary institutions aim to lure the best and the brightest students in the land, wrote Jenifer Wells in The Globe and Mail April 17. You would think that universities would be hard at work marketing themselves. And they are – if you count that sea of glossy brochures featuring shiny-faced young people and ivy-covered buildings.

"The Americans call it ‘Three and a Tree’," says Richard Fisher, chief marketing officer at York University, by which he means the improbable grouping of three students standing under a tree, grinning their heads off. The trouble with such bumpf is that it doesn’t actually mean anything. "Essentially, what they’re saying is our education is about students and buildings," Fisher adds. "Well, we all have students and buildings, so what’s next?"

Fisher spent 20 or so years in ad land – he left TBWA Chiat Day Toronto seven years ago – so he brings the relevant bona fides to the conversation. Here’s what he sees: "The fact is that universities haven’t gotten to grips yet with what brand advertising means. What universities do is market programs – business, engineering. What they commonly fail to do is differentiate themselves."

It’s true. I’m looking through a deck of advertisements sent to me by Noel O’Dea, the president of Target Marketing & Communications Inc. in St. John’s, Nfld. Given O’Dea’s fondness for the phrase ‘differentiate or die,’ you can imagine that he doesn’t think much of what’s out there. (Interestingly, an ad for York is a rare standout in the group.)

Target’s work for Brock University may be the most distinctive campaign launched by a Canadian university since York unveiled its award-winning branding initiative five years ago. Created by the doug agency, that campaign, which still anchors York’s marketing work, plays on the idea of exploring one topic from more than one angle. Example: a damaged student locker has the word "Loser" spray painted upon it. "A physicist sees applied force. An educator sees systemic failure. A psychologist sees acute suffering." That campaign was awarded the gold medal for best university advertising in North America by the US-based Council for Advancement and Support of Education, wrote the Globe.

Tax harmonization scheme spells housing disaster, says Schulich prof

The recently announced harmonization of the GST and PST in Ontario is about to wreak havoc on the housing industry, one of the pillars of that province’s economy, wrote the National Post April 17 in a story that included comments by York’s James McKellar, director of the Real Property Development Program at the Schulich School of Business. It is a textbook case of poor government policy that will distort the province’s housing market over the long term, with a particularly devastating impact on the building industry.

The unintended short-term consequence is the likely delay or even cancellation of some "shovel-ready" housing projects that are in the pre-sale stage. This does not bode well for labour markets and particularly a construction industry that, according to Statistics Canada, is already suffering among the highest job losses of any industry in the country.

Ontario cities can all but forget the drive for new inner-city family housing after July 1, 2010. And the province can forget its sustainability and "green" initiatives as well as its intensification targets when it comes to new higher-density housing. Builders will gravitate to projects that fall below the $400,000 threshold or jump to the luxury end where the sales tax bite will not be a disincentive to would-be buyers.

Ontario’s homebuilders have delivered quality product at a cost that has ranked for decades among the lowest in the Western world. But if the government refuses to move from its current position, the long-term unintended consequences on the performance and efficiency of our housing markets will be significant and long lasting.

Tax harmonization is being sold on the grounds that it will benefit the Ontario economy at large. In the case of housing, it will do the exact opposite. The crippling new tax regime, announced in the midst of what may be the largest economic contraction since the Great Depression, will undermine one of the essential foundations of a strong economy – housing choices at affordable prices.

York strike’s ripple effect

It is clear that York University is going to have to do some ‘reassuring’ if they do not want their enrolment numbers to decline within the next few years, wrote high school student Samantha Consiglio in the Burlington Post March 8 in a guest column about the recent strike at York. As a Grade 11 student who is currently considering my options for university, I have still kept York on my list of ‘possible schools’, but I am only one out of the thousands who are currently making the same decision, said Consiglio.

York student prepares for Dances in the Park

Dances in the Park, a local version of Dusk Dances, is preparing for its first event in Tecumseh Park, wrote The Chatham Daily News April 17. The event is scheduled for July 16 to 18, beginning at 7pm each night. The lineup of choreographers, who will recruit their own dancers for their presentations at Dances in the Park, includes Emily Kennedy, an award-winning dancer and choreographer, currently enrolled in the BA dance program at York University.

York critic likes veteran artist’s latest work

Renowned as one of Canada’s pre-eminent artists, Otto Donald Rogers’ current pieces – in paint, mixed media and an exciting return to steel – achieve a rare beauty, wrote the Belleville Intelligencer April 17 in a story about an upcoming exhibit.

“He is doing the best work of his life, a magnificent summa to 53 years of painting,” observes Ken Carpenter, professor emeritus in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and president of the Canadian branch of the International Association of Art Critics. Rogers has said that, for him, “the purpose of art is to elevate the human soul,” adds Carpenter. “He is constantly challenging himself, and is always uniquely himself. His aims are the highest. Perhaps that is why these most recent works seem not just beautiful and moving, but also wise.”

Manulife agrees to ‘say on pay’

Manulife Financial said it would "provide shareholders with a non-binding" vote on executive compensation, starting next year, wrote the National Post April 17. The move marks the capitulation of the last holdout among the country’s largest financial institutions to investor demands for formal input into the size of payouts to executives.

Edward Waitzer, Jarislowsky Dimma Mooney Chair in Corporate Governance in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and the Schulich School of Business, said: “It is hard to argue against say on pay. The interesting question now is what the effects are going to be and whether it is going to make a difference.”

Bullying work resonates

Nearly 20 years ago, I was asked by a publisher to write a book for parents about bullying, wrote Kim Zarzour in yorkregion.com April 16. As an education reporter and one-time victim of bullying myself, it was an intriguing project. The book was a bit of a voice in the wilderness. Aside from some pioneering research in Norway and Britain, and promising work coming out of York University, no one was really talking much about bullying. It was still just considered part of growing up. But much has happened since then. More research has uncovered just how serious the after-effects are – on both bullies and victims.

On air

  • Ashwin Joshi, marketing professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the impact of a YouTube video showing two employees contaminating food at a brand name pizzeria, on Toronto’s 680News Radio April 16.