By Darren Johnson
We’ve been getting various statements from the powers-that-be at the State University of New York and elsewhere about the unfolding drama at Utica’s SUNY campus. Its over-the-top leader, Alain Kaloyeros, 60, resigned yesterday, as he is embroiled in a federal corruption probe of state officials.
And poor Utica, a small, depressed city far upstate, which has lost about half of its population since 1960 after virtually all manufacturing left the area, again is left in the lurch, victim to yet another (alleged) Albany carpetbagger, promising them a new deal.
Kaloyeros swooped in with his Ferrari and PR people and rebranded the campus a couple of years ago, changing the name from SUNY IT to SUNY Poly, and had giant posters of him and Gov. Andrew Cuomo framed and erected on campus.
The poor, entrenched staff there probably didn’t know what had hit them, and, after Kaloyeros’s arrest, perhaps some of them rejoiced like the inhabitants of Oz after the house had fallen on their Wicked Witch.
In any case, I have no expertise in employee morale, but I do have a lot of expertise in college branding (which can help change morale). I’ve seen campus name changes fail and succeed and have created whole campaigns around a college name change.
In this case, I think SUNY Poly should go back to its old name, SUNY IT.
Foremost, there are thousands of alumni whose diplomas say SUNY IT on them. Second, the Poly name is tied to a huge corruption scandal that’s only going to get messier. Third, the name has only been in play for a couple of years and hasn’t really stuck. Fourth, it’s kind of stupid, as in Poly “wants a cracker.”
Going back to an old name will mean that old signs will have to be dusted off and erected again. The domain name will have to be reset. Sports uniforms will need a re-do. The campus bookstore will have to do a closeout sale of its Poly merch. Likely the college will have to do an ad campaign to announce their name change. Maybe they can use a retro style of advertising to tell everyone that old is new again.
But there really isn’t much choice. Going back to the SUNY IT name will be the path of least resistance and will remind the public that the college existed before Kaloyeros — and maybe the run of SUNY Poly was just some bad dream.
The Utica campus slowly, quietly, under the radar, built the SUNY IT brand over several decades — and then everything changed. The new brand is irreparably tarnished, but the old brand is still there, waiting to be dusted off.
Why not do it right now? That’s my free advice.
Darren Johnson is a public relations instructor and owner of Campus News, a newspaper that hits 2-year colleges exclusively.