Marketing Jesuit Universities

February 24, 2017

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How can a Jesuit university like Seattle U remain true to its identity when marketing itself without alienating non-Catholics? This was one of the questions taken up at a recent panel discussion on “The Jesuit Brand: Perspectives on the Marketing of Jesuit Universities.”

Teaming up to sponsor the Feb. 17 event, which attracted a full crowd in Casey Commons, were Albers Arrupe Alumni, Marketing Communications, the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture, and the Center for Jesuit Education.

The discussion was led by Matt Issaac, associate professor of marketing, Francesca Lukjanowicz, director of university marketing, and Nicky Santos, S.J., a marketing professor from Marquette University. Jessica Ludescher Imanaka, associate professor of marketing and philosophy, served as moderator.

The topic generated a rich and spirited conversation. In fact, the panelists did not get very far into their presentation before numerous audience members were chiming in with questions or observations.

While some of the discussion touched on the differing perceptions many have of the words “Catholic” and “Jesuit,” most of the time was spent exploring how explicitly a university should be marketing itself as Jesuit.

Some believed Jesuit universities should be clear in identifying themselves as such. “The Jesuit brand has equity,” Father Santos, S.J., said, later adding, “(You should) be who you are.”

Others pointed out that a sizable swath of the general public, including prospective students, are not familiar with what it means to be Jesuit. In these instances, some asserted that marketing should be utilized as a tool to educate and raise awareness. Others countered that, given the reality of limited marketing funds, universities must stick to what resonates with the intended audience.

It was further pointed out that many of the elements that are part and parcel of a Jesuit education—such as social justice, educating the whole person and others—do resonate with prospective students and can be effective in marketing Seattle U in an authentic way.

And as a member of the audience noted, while many of SU’s students might not be all that familiar with the university’s Jesuit ethos when they enroll, many of them develop, in time, an enduring appreciation for the mission and identity of the school.

Clearly there was a lot of interest in the topic and passion for how the university should be presenting itself.