A class of University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media students participated in the rebranding process for a growing statewide news organization.
Mary Margaret White, marketing and branding manager for Mississippi Today, said her staff worked with the UM class while considering a brand rehaul. Both groups learned from each other.
“Working with the UM students helped solidify our decision to move forward with a full redesign of our logo, color scheme and home page,” she said. “We have a young, innovative team, and the original branding didn’t match the energy of our newsroom.
“We wanted something memorable that would give a nod to the legacy of traditional, in-depth reporting while recognizing that we are a new model for journalism in the way we approach, and disseminate, stories.”
White, who worked for eight years with the State of Mississippi for both the Mississippi Arts Commission and Visit Mississippi/Mississippi Development Authority, said the Mississippi Today homepage redesign now showcases more stories “above the fold” or “above the scroll” of your screen. It offers a nice balance between dynamic visuals and easy-to-access categories and sections, she said.
“The logo color is teal, which feels clean and modern,” White said. “Incorporating the talk box into the logo makes it clear that we are a digital outlet while inferring that our reporting is meant to drive conversation. The tagline ‘We report to you.’ encapsulates our nonprofit model while also making clear the public service mission for our newsroom.”
White, who is an advisory committee member for the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, said the MT leadership team offered a real-world experience for the UM class.
“We didn’t take the student suggestions at face value, but challenged the students with the same level of questioning and market-based research we put in front of the designers we engaged to create the new look,” she said. “Clients often want to know why you are not including certain elements in a redesign rather than hear about the creative process behind the work. I think the students learned that when making a pitch, come prepared to answer questions about what is not in your presentation rather than what is included.”
Lauchlin Fields, the Mississippi Today web editor, said the redesign better represents what MT is as a news organization.
“It creates a renewed energy and a more user-friendly interface that helps us engage with our readers and increase reader loyalty,” said Fields, who began her career as a journalist at The Vicksburg Post.
The UM students were led by Ann Day Becker, a School of Journalism and New Media integrated marketing communication professor. She said students in her fall 2017 IMC 455 Campaigns class offered input about the rebranding.
“Campaigns is the capstone class for the IMC degree program,” said Becker. “Students leverage all their learnings to develop integrated marketing plans for actual businesses and organizations. The class provides excellent real-world experience for the students, a fresh perspective on new marketing ideas and approaches for the ‘clients.’”
Becker, who holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s degree in business administration, both from Millsaps College, brings to the classroom more than a decade of experience in corporate communications for Entergy Corporation, a Fortune 500 company, and a decade as editor of Mississippi Magazine.
“A redesign of Mississippi Today’s website and banner was a hallmark of the recommendations of the students,” she said. “The class felt strongly that the original design did not accurately reflect the forward-thinking, contemporary approach to reporting and delivering digital news that Mississippi Today was taking.”
While some actual design suggestions were presented to Mississippi Today by student “agencies,” Becker said ultimately MT pursued their own professional redesign, addressing some of the issues and opportunities noted by the students.
“Once Mississippi Today had narrowed their design concepts to three, a subsequent class tested the designs by providing their input through a survey,” said Becker. “The students had the benefit of meeting with key principals at Mississippi Today, learning their points of view and understanding their audiences and objectives.”
Mississippi Today reporters Larrison Campbell and Adam Ganucheau in the press room of the state capitol with sign featuring the old Mississippi Today logo. Ganucheau is a UM School of Journalism and New Media graduate.
From there, students conducted their own research, including surveys, to help make recommendations for future improvements, including suggesting ways to engage millennials.
“The students worked in teams, providing a wide range of recommendations, including music concerts and in-person news forums conducted in places students already enjoy,” said Becker. “This idea of the forums capitalized on the basic marketing concept of meeting your audience where they are.”
While Mississippi Today has not yet pursued one “student agency’s” idea of sponsoring a live Bruno Mars concert in the Grove at UM, Becker said they are hosting regular events called “Newsroom from the Taproom” that provide lively discussions on current news topics in popular watering holes around the state.
“I really like the new logo and color palette because it is eye-catching, contemporary and serious without being stuffy,” Becker said. “It does not look like other news resources, so you know immediately when you see it in your inbox or elsewhere that it’s Mississippi Today.”
Becker said students appreciated being on the cutting edge of developing a new information resource for Mississippians that is designed and delivered digitally and is employing young talent to seek out the stories that matter most.
“The students were keenly aware of the issue of fake news and responded very positively to MT’s commitment to accuracy and in-depth reporting,” Becker said. “I am certain that their experience in consulting with Mississippi Today provided insight and experience beyond the classroom that is invaluable as they begin their careers.”
Emily Valentine, 23, was one of the students who participated. The Charlotte, North Carolina native majored in IMC with minors in business and Spanish and now lives in Charleston, South Carolina.
“As a graphic designer and someone who really values good design and a brand’s look/feel, it was very important to me to make sure Mississippi Today had an impact that resonated visually with their target audience,” she said. “Younger people respond better to well done graphics and photography and like to look for reasons to have a personal connection with a brand.”
Valentine said she led her team, creating graphics for print and digital channels and a custom booklet outlining their rebranding process and ideas that was distributed to the client during her presentation.
“It was really interesting to provide a more creative viewpoint to a client like this as well as inject some humor and put a spin on the idea of old school reporting in a digital world,” she said. “This project really cemented my love for establishing a brand and working on the creative, design side of this process. I learned a lot about presenting a concept to a client and how much I enjoy sharing and improving a brand or new ideas.”
White said Mississippi Today has already seen substantial growth in readership both direct to the site and via their social media channels.
“Several loyal readers have reached out asking for mugs, stickers and T-shirts with the new branding,” said White. “Moreover, the update has been a great moral boost to our team, all who feel proud of the way we are visually represented.”
This article was written by LaReeca Rucker. For more information about the School of Journalism and New Media’s programs, email firstname.lastname@example.org.