Season 5 - Episode 526
In this episode of Baylor Connections, Jason Cook shares a “State of the Baylor Brand” report. Cook, Vice President of Marketing and Communications and Chief Marketing Officer, examines the impact of R1 research recognition, Give Light, new facilities, students and more on Baylor's national perception and interest in the University.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith. And today we are talking the Baylor brand. We'll have a state of the brand report with Jason Cook, vice president for marketing and communications, and Baylor's chief marketing officer. We got a lot of exciting things to talk about, Jason, from Baylor reaching R1 status in the last year, to new facilities, to great interest in Baylor among the students incoming, a lot of things we can talk about over the next 23 minutes or so. Thanks for joining us today.
Jason Cook:Oh, you bet, Derek. Thanks for the opportunity. It is such a great time for Baylor.
Derek Smith:It is. A lot of things and factors. We're thinking about questions. There's a lot of good things, we won't get to talk about a lot because there's just so many exciting things to mention. So here's the first question. So this was a state of the brand report, if you were actually tasked by President Livingstone to, let's just say, go into Waco Hall and do a state of the brand report to the Baylor family, how would you open it? Or what would be the topics that you would start off with?
Jason Cook:Well, I'll tell you what, I would be much more excited about doing the state of the brand report now than when I was first hired in December 2016. It's just amazing, Derek, how far this institution has advanced over the past five, five and a half years, and where we've gone over that time. And so if you look, there's some big buckets that I think that you have to look at, that's really driving the success and the visibility of the Baylor brand. One, academically. You mentioned it in the question about Baylor achieving R1 status, research one status, where we're now recognized as one of the top research institutions in the country, while maintaining our Christian identity, which is extremely important to us. So, that's one bucket. You look at athletics, just the championship caliber teams that we're putting on the courts and on the fields, and the championships that we're winning. And that quintessential moment in the Big 12 Championship game, the goal line stand, or winning the Sugar Bowl over an SEC opponent. Those kinds of things are, are just really huge for us. Reaching a $1.1 billion fundraising campaign. When a lot of people said, there's no way that it would be possible. And look, we've eclipsed that, and we're continuing to move forward. And then just the incredible interest that we're seeing from prospective students from around the country. This coming fall class, we're probably going to be right at 50% out of state. And so, that's really testament that Baylor has reached this point where we are a national brand, and it's something for us to be proud of in fling our green and gold.
Derek Smith:If we talked to a bunch of people, they'd have probably a decent idea, definition of brand, but you'd probably find some different definitions from people. When you define a brand, what are you talking about?
Jason Cook:Well, I always go back to a quote by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. And he said, "Your brand is what other people say about you when you are not in the room." Now, obviously we want to go and portray Baylor in a certain way and hit our distinctiveness in our strengths. But ultimately, our brand is in the hands of the Baylor family, of prospective students, or people in the Waco community across the country. They're the ones who really dictate who, and what our brand is. So, that's the first component. When you look at what is a brand. The second thing is something I always say, that brands are built by series of moments over time. Brands are built by series of moments over time. So if you look at Baylor, found in 1845, we have 177 year old brand. And so what we're looking at, is how do we actually look to make impressions and influence the brand? Can't do it all at once, but a consistent conscientious effort to really get what those perceptions are and align what we think our brand is.
Derek Smith:Well. So Jason, Baylor had everything from ads, to social media, to events, is our effort to shape the brand or to tell the brand's story. How do you measure, how do you monitor and get a accurate portrayal of what other people are thinking or saying?
Jason Cook:Yeah, really good question. And I think that ultimately, the proof's in the pudding, so to speak. You look at the incredible interests that we're seeing amongst prospective students and fundraising, and the academic profile continues to rise. So that's what our true key performance indicators are as an institution. But I probably do more research here at Baylor than I've done throughout my career. And so there's a couple of individual things that we look at. We do longitudinal research with perspective students and their parents, through a national firm called SimpsonScarborough. We do national polling on a regular basis through a company called Morning Consult, which does a lot of really big polls. If you watch the news, sometimes you'll see these Morning Consult polls that come out, we have an extensive social media listening team, and then tools as part of that. And then, really our missions teams. We do a lot of surveys, focus groups, and things of that nature. So you pull all that information together, and you really get a good indicator of the health or the strength of the Baylor brand.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Jason Cook, vice president for marketing and communications. And Jason, the past year especially, after coming out of the depths of the pandemic, you've been able to travel more. It's not all just research in the office. You get to talk to people more, and go different places. What are some moments that have stood out to you over the past year, whether in Waco or elsewhere in the country, just getting to visit with the Baylor family and share with what's going on with them?
Jason Cook:A couple of these seminal moments that come to mind is one, we had an alumni event in Atlanta for the Baylor family at the College Football Hall of Fame. And that was the first time I'd gotten to go to the College Football Hall of Fame. And you walk in, you see the Baylor helmet on this wall of helmets. It was a really neat environment. But that moment where we announced that Baylor had reached the $1.1 billion campaign goal through the Give Light campaign. And we shot confetti streamers all throughout the College Football Hall of Fame. Wound up making confetti angels at the end and things of that nature. That's just one of those moments is like, this is something that the entire Baylor family should be proud of. The second one that comes to mind is we had to Give Light event in Nashville in early April, I believe, where we had a songwriter's round table. So these are some of our Baylor alums who are writing music for some folks who are at the pinnacle of country music. And I'm a huge country music fan, all of a sudden, and to hear them, but it really speaks to the impact of that Baylor has in so many areas, walks of life. And so I look at the accomplishments, I look at the venues that we're at, the cities we are, we look at the people, and all that added up to me as, Baylor's making an impact. Not only here in Waco and Texas, but across the country.
Derek Smith:Well, Jason, let's talk about some snapshots from the last year. And you mentioned one, so let's start with that first, with reaching 1.1 billion, and more than that, in the Give Light campaign. First of all, what does that communicate about where Baylor is that we we could set a bold goal, which I think is a theme, we set a bold goal, we exceed that bold goal. What does that say about us?
Jason Cook:It's hard to put what that impact is. And it's a big number, how do you make that real so to speak? But there's a couple things that really jump to mind is, one, there's tangible things that you could look at. And the investments that we're making in the infrastructure around our campus, here in the Waco community, really signals that there's a strong commitment within the Baylor family, for Baylor to shine their light brightly across the country and around the world. So that's a tangible manifestation of the support that we have as an institution, but also the momentum that we have as well. So, that's the first thing that really jumps to mind. The second thing is so much of the Give Light campaign is money that we'll never see. In other words, it's going to the endowment, which really makes an investment of the future of the institution. And so that's going to look at our longevity into the future, but that endowment also allows us to hire higher levels of faculty. It allows us to bring greater amounts of scholarships and financial aid to students as well. So we tend to focus on buildings because that's what we could see, but really this Give Light campaign is having a transformational long lasting impact for Baylor university.
Derek Smith:I know we've heard people talk about... President Livingstone has talked about growing the endowment and that's happened through this. You mentioned the long term aspect, what's most important to the university? And you see the short term, but also are keeping that long term approach through this.
Jason Cook:I think that it's something that consistency. And then you look at a faculty person, we've hired a lot of endowed chairs.
Derek Smith:Got a few more coming to announce soon.
Jason Cook:Yeah. So a really exciting time. People want to come to Baylor. But they see that endowment, as a sign of commitment, as a sign of longevity, and to support their research and not have to worry about how they're going to fund grad students, or how they're going to fund posts to help them. It's really a commitment that Baylor's making in the world of research, but also growing as an institution as well.
Derek Smith:Jason, you mentioned the tangible aspects of it. We're going to soon be seeing the Foster Pavilion starting to rise. The Hurd Welcome Center, almost looks like it could open any day as it moving so quickly on the other side of I35. What is that gateway going to mean to Baylor, just for people, maybe they never even stepped foot on campus, but they see it as they're hiding on 35?
Jason Cook:Well, it's two permanent billboards. That's just some of my billboard budget that I could take back because you're going to hit that. They did such a great job with McLane Stadium. You're coming from Dallas, entering Waco on I35. And you hit that overpass that's still there, it hasn't been torn down with all the construction. And the way McLane Stadium sets, it's like, "Oh my gosh, what a great welcoming presence," that that once you enter Waco, this is Baylor's town. And so, then you're going to hit a couple of other overpasses and on the left, you're going to have the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center, and on the right have the Foster Pavilion, these are two substantial welcoming centers to our community. And so I think it's going to be really impactful and really exciting to see that this is the home of Baylor university. And we don't mess around here. We're making significant advancements.
Derek Smith:I don't know if cool is official marketing term you use when you're doing your market research, but it's going to look cool.
Jason Cook:I think so. And if you look at the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center, just the ideas that you have these four light towers that are going to illuminate at night through the ceiling, the roof of that building, and it has ties to the four columns at Independence. So it's a modern interpretation of what our history is, as part of that. So it's going to have a really big cool factor and we can't wait to show it off.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Jason Cook, vice president for marketing and communications and chief marketing officers. So, certainly surpassing the Give Light goal has been one big moment of the year. Who would've thought that right around that same time we would reach R1 earlier than we thought. Baylor, research one university with very high research activity. President Livingstone really set that course when she was inaugurated in 2017, building on work that had been done by people to move towards that. So, R1, I have to ask you this first though, how did you, President Livingstone, how did everyone find out when we hit R1?
Jason Cook:I really hate to admit this, to be honest with you, Derek, but we were in the middle of a president's council meeting, and we typically do in-person meetings on Mondays, and virtual meetings on Thursdays. And this just happened to be one of those virtual meetings. And so I guess I was not paying attention in the president's council meeting as I should. And so I was scrolling through Twitter feeds, and I've got a search stream for Baylor. And all of a sudden, I see some people start talking about Baylor reaching R1 status on my Twitter feed. And it was someone from TCU talking with someone from the University of Tennessee or something like that. And I was like, "Well, what's going on here?" And so all of a sudden, I pause the meeting. I said, "Guys, I think we may have just reached R1 status." And everybody said, "What's going on here?" And sure enough, we start researching, and you get Google out. And we sure enough found that we had. But it was an exciting moment. One of these things that sometimes that the best surprises are the ones you don't expect. And it was just one of those moments. Of course, President Livingstone will never let me live down that I was not listening or participating in the meeting, but "Hey, if I hadn't, we may have not have known Derek."
Derek Smith:That's true. We might never have found out, right?
Jason Cook:You're right.
Derek Smith:Well Carnegie, what every three years, is when they released this. And based on the projections, we knew we were going to get there, but we didn't think it would necessarily be in 2021. And so it's not like they have a big announcement day. It just trickled out.
Jason Cook:No, you're exactly right. They just posted the update on the website. You don't know when it's going to happen, or whatever. And so, I think sometimes the Carnegie Foundation may need some PR help on trying to make a big deal, but gosh, what an exciting time for the institution. And it was a weird time. It came out at the end of December, but the opportunity we had this spring to celebrate that moment with our faculty and staff. And you're right. It, this is something that didn't just happen when President Livingstone came on board, or Jason Cook, or Kevin Chambliss, or Nancy Brickhouse, or provost, it's really the culmination of decades of movement and investments that have been made. And we've just been blessed to be here in leadership roles when it happened.
Derek Smith:Well, it's exciting to see. And we saw a lot, as you said, faculty and students, and even alumni celebrating. What does this mean? How should people, in their minds, picture what this means to Baylor from a reputational standpoint, whether it's among other universities, or even just saying, "I'm a Baylor grad."
Jason Cook:Yeah, it's a really good question. I mean, we like the buzzword, "Hey, we're now R1," but the question, what does it mean? There's a couple of components to it, Derek. One, it really communicates that Baylor's in the club. And when I say in the club, amongst the top academic institutions, the top research institutions are around the country. And yet, we have quickly moved from a small, regional, faith-based institution, to really a national Christian research institution in a short period of time. So that, it's just a validation. Like you remember in back in the day, Good Housekeeping did their seals of approval?
Jason Cook:R1 status, we've got the R1 seal of approval there. It means that we're going to be able to attract a higher level of faculty to come and to teach our students, to grow our research portfolio. That is a designation. We're already seeing that in a lot of our faculty openings, and then also our administrative appointments for deans. It's just people who, where Baylor would not have been on their radar before, now we are. So that's a really significant point. And I think more broadly, the idea that Baylor now has a seat at the table, with a lot of conversations that take place within higher education, because our academic profile is different now. So we are looking at some of the biggest issues facing higher education. And for the first time in a lot of instances, Baylor's invited to participate that conversations. And that's so rich that we have an opportunity, as a Christian institution, to speak our faith and values into some of these issues of great importance.
Derek Smith:Jason, you mentioned our faculty through their research and relationships will have a seat at the table in conversations, as we've talked about some of the big problems, whether it's hunger, the environment, health, any number of things. President Livingstone and her role is also seems like having a lot of leadership opportunities in higher education, and college athletics. What is the impact of her work nationally on our brand and our influence?
Jason Cook:Well, it's really amazing how her profile has risen along with that, of the institution as well. And you look at the role that she's playing with the NCAA, for example. She, she was on the initial constitution committee. Then she gets appointed to the transformation committee. And now she's appointed to the new board of governors, where it used to be like 33, 34 people. Now she's one of nine people. Who are really, this is the board of the NCAA. She's the vice chair of the Big 12 Conference. She'll be the president or the chair next year. She's the incoming chair of the American Council on Education, things of that nature. So through her, Baylor has a significant voice in these national organizations that are dictating the future of college athletics and higher education, but also dealing with these transformative times as well. So I think that people look at her for different reasons. I think first and foremost, she's a dynamic leader. Her background is in organizational dynamic. So I'm always fearful that we're just in a big academic experiment with her a lot of times. But her ability to lead and generate vision and get consensus with people. And then obviously, her role as a student athlete. And then she's been at both faith-based institutions and then public institutions as well. So she brings so many different perspectives into all kinds of conversations that she's being sought after. And then with her in these roles, obviously Baylor's going along with her.
Derek Smith:You mentioned that there's so much change taking place, whether it's in college athletics, certainly, but really just higher education and anything that has a business tint to it in any way, there's a lot of change taking place. So you mentioned her impact, but where does Baylor stand in the middle of that? What does it mean to have her involved in that change? But then also, how do you feel like Baylor is positioned in this environment of change?
Jason Cook:It's always good to be inside the room rather than outside the room. And I think because of some of the things that happen at our institution previously, a lot of times we were left out of those conversations. Well, now we're at a point where we can have influence, and not just influence from academic credentials, for example, or our presence in research, or the incredible work that our alumni do. But it does provide us an opportunity to speak to who we are as a Christian institution with strong historic Baptist principles, which just hasn't changed. That's one of our distinctiveness, as an institution. And it allows us to bring all the entire Baylor story to bear in so many conversations.
Derek Smith:I know we're covering a lot of different areas as we move on, but you mentioned these distinctives. As you interact with students who are now part of Gen Z, you think about, it's scary to think how young the students were recruiting are now. it makes me feel very old. when you talk to them or their parents, when admissions does, what do you learn about what aspects of the Baylor brand mean to them?
Jason Cook:Well, I call it the Baylor formula at the end of the day. And really it's based on the research that we talked about earlier in our conversation, Derek. And there's four components to that. First and foremost, and this always bears out in the research. It's the combination of our Christian faith, Christian focus as an institution, plus academic excellence, plus our midsize, we're not too big. It's like three little bears. We're not too big, but we're not too small. We're just right for so many students and their parents. And then add that, that we compete in big time college athletics. It's those four components that really add together, that give us a unique position in the marketplace. And people are attracted to it. This past year, for this fall class coming in. We had a record 51,000 applications, right? An all time record, 51,000 applications. And it's about up over 5,000 from last year. So just a significant interest. And I think, yes, it's because our success, but it's really that we have a distinct place in the marketplace. And I think that we've talked about before that how do we stand out in the sea of sameness of colleges and universities? That's it, that's our formula. And it's been really successful for us.
Derek Smith:Is it a benefit to you that, right? You and your wife, Leann, have a student at Baylor right now, and you are recruited... Right now you're talking to what? Gen Z students with Gen X parents. So how much of a benefit is that to you that you're a part of that? And what stands out about recruiting in this time?
Jason Cook:Well, my son is going to be a sophomore at Baylor, and I think most of the time I'm just rumor control for him. And the interesting thing is, and I'm about to age out as a parent, we've got millennial parents coming in now, but it has given me a very different perspective in terms of the entire recruitment experience that my son went through and where we are now. And I think that what we're seeing in a lot of societal changes that are happening is Gen Z has different viewpoints, perspectives and values than I do. And a lot of parents do as Gen X. And then when they're looking at college decisions, the prospective students, the Gen Zers are looking for one thing, and the parents are looking for another. So I think that our challenges, and this is why we do all this research, we look for areas of commonality. And then we look at this area, how does this fit into the Baylor formula that we just talked about? And then how do we get people who have maybe different wants, needs, and desires from a college education, to bring them together? And we've been very successful at doing it. And yes, I get a little boots on the ground research for my son from time to time.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Jason Cook, vice president for marketing and communications. And Jason, as we had on the final few minutes, let's talk athletics a little bit. We had Mack Rhoades on the show last week, looking back at the past year. And in the last week, we've seen some exciting news, Brett Yormark, as the commissioner of the Big 12. And of course, a time of a lot of change in the Big 12. You've been serving on the Big 12 brand positioning committee and worked on a new brand campaign. I know we're going to see the fruits of that in time, but what stood out to you about that process and where the conference that Baylor's a part of is heading?
Jason Cook:Well, I will tell you, what a year it's been, because it was this time last year where we were thinking the Big 12 was going to be gone. Where you had the announced departures of Texas and Oklahoma, they announced that they're going to move to the SEC. And in the Big 12 was looking, what are we going to do? And a period of 12 months, we've hired four new members in BYU, in Cincinnati, Central Florida, in Houston. And what we wanted to do is when you have such transformation happening, we wanted to see was the brand truly impacted? The Big 12. And then what's going to be the impact of these new schools coming in? So we done a lot of brand research, national brain research, looking at comparisons between the old and the new conference. How does that look? And, and frankly, we were very surprised, Derek. Yes, it did have an impact, but with the departure of Texas and OU in a couple of years, but it's not as great as what we thought it would be. And it was really exciting when we presented the results of the brand positioning to the presidents and chancellors and the athletic directors a couple of weeks ago, that we have a really exciting future ahead of us. And if you look at where our demographic markers are, our league is really resonating with 18 to 44 year olds. And you know what? Who likes 18 to 44 year olds? TV. And you know what the Big 12 faces in a couple years, new TV contract negotiation. So, we think that we're really well positioned from a demographic standpoint, from a geography perspective, adding the Mountain Time Zone in Florida, and then some great brands. BYU, I think their brand presence is probably just as big as Notre Dame. Then you look at Central Florida, probably a very fast growing young brand. I think that's they're going to bring a lot of excitement energy to the league. So really looking at how we position the conference once we get settled on the membership moving forward is going to be really important for us, but very exciting as well. So always tell Dr. Livingstone that's my other duties as assigned, but given I've had some prior career experience in college athletics, it's been a really a great process to go through.
Derek Smith:When I got here, I mean, and even not too long ago, the Big 12 was basically what? Probably a couple hundred miles to either side of 35. Now it's nationals you said. Obviously it's exciting to see from a fan's standpoint, but to the people making the decision of the future, what does it mean? What are the benefits of being in Florida? And like you say, the national brand like BYU, Cincinnati, et cetera?
Jason Cook:Right. It does bring some, some additional population centers within the Big 12 footprint, which is extremely important. That's what TV is looking at, is what's your presence, what the audience that you bring to the table. But I do think it's exciting for our Baylor family, we have a great alumni base in Denver, for example, well, now we're going to be making trips to BYU, for example, which is going to be in their geographic region. Yeah., we have a lot of alums in Florida. So now, we're all going to be able to go to Disney World, when we go to road trips to Central Florida. But that's one thing that really is good, that we're going to be able to showcase our institution in new places. And not only when we travel, but when their fans come here to Waco, into a Baylor, and sit at the new Foster Pavilion or go to McLane Stadium, we have a lot to show off. So that's really going to be exciting for us. So I really think that population, and then the ability to hit some different time zones, is going to allow us to really grow the Big 12 brand for what was for so long, as you mentioned, was a regional conference in the middle of the country, we're going to be able to push or expand our elbows a little bit, and nudge some people out.
Derek Smith:Well, Jason, we also amidst all that, we'll be welcoming them about a year from now. We'll be getting ready for a season with them and a new commissioner coming in this year, leading that transition, Brett Yormark, you had a chance to meet him last week and get to talk to him a little bit. So tell us about him. what stands out to you? A former CEO of the Brooklyn Nets, Rock Nation, Jay-Z gets the headlines, but he said a lot of things.
Jason Cook:I think my first impression was just, wow. And he is known for big ideas and big deals. I mean, in the sports industry. And people may not know his name, but people definitely know what he's done. And of course, working with Rock Nation, he's really brought forth this intersection of sports and entertainment together. And it's a really unique position for him to be in. And you look at what he did with Barclays Arena. He moved the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn, which was a huge move. Built this huge, a wonderful basketball arena, $400 million naming rights for that arena, as the Barclays Arena. And the significance that he has personally taken, where it's Barclays Arena is now the home of college basketball in New York. He has stolen that from a story to arena of Madison Square Gardens. So that's the big picture thinker that he is. And then ultimately, he's got a lot of notches in his belt. He worked with NASCAR, he signed the largest sports sponsorship agreement ever was, $750 million between NASCAR in Nextel Sprint, at that time. Was just a groundbreaking agreement at that time. So, again, you may not know the name, but you've definitely seen what he's done in the impact that he's made. And yes, it was an out of the box hire for the Big 12, but with four new members coming in, and you've got TV contract negotiations coming up, this really disruptive period in college athletics. It was time for us to think a little bit differently, and to be there with the presidents, and chancellors informed him that he was going to be the next commissioner to the Big 12, and to see their excitement, and his excitement. I think the future for the Big 12 is incredibly bright.
Derek Smith:That's excited looking forward to getting to know him and seeing what's ahead in the years ahead, as we visit with Jason Cook. And Jason, as we close down, as we talk about sports here. We also know football's right around the corner. And with that, a new institutional spot now. Without giving too much away, I know there's been some filming taking place, some work behind the scenes. What can you tell us about, what's a sneak preview of what we should be looking for when football starts?
Jason Cook:Well, Derek, I had mentioned earlier, our goal is to stand out in the sea of sameness. And when I talk about that, the higher education is so competitive. And unfortunately everybody wants to be like everyone else. Well, when that happens, you lose your distinctiveness. And so what we want to do is make sure that we stand out as a sea of sameness, whether it's the Baylor formula, but then also how we market and how we do things as well. So we worked with Apollo LTD to write a song, specifically for Baylor. And we got news, a couple of days ago, that it's going to be released on August 26th by their label. It's actually going to be on their record coming out. Well, we don't have records anymore. On their stream coming out. But the neat component to that, it's going to have an accompany music video, that Apollo LTD shot here in Waco, here on the Baylor campus. And so it's a opportunity for us to bring some traditional music video elements, traditional commercials, use of user generated content. And it's just going to be a new approach that we've not seen in higher education before. And I can be more excited about it. So that's all I'm going to tell you about it.
Derek Smith:Well, that's a good preview. Well, look, we don't even have to just wait until football starts. We can go to YouTube for the music video, or iTunes for the song, a lot of ways to take part. We'll look forward to that. Well, Jason, a lot of exciting things to talk about, and we've covered a lot of them here and there's going to be more ahead, but thanks for taking the time today to visit.
Jason Cook:You bet. Thanks for the opportunity, Derick, and Sic 'em Bears.
Derek Smith:Sic 'em Bears. State of the brand summer, 2022, with Jason Cook, vice president of marketing and communications, and Baylor's chief marketing officer. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder that you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.