Mar 112014
Brand Training

Claire, Ram and Hulda – singing from the brand prayerbook.

If you don’t exercise it, you lose it. This month, we are taking the next step in helping communicators across campus exercise their brand muscle. We are conducting our first ever full-day brand workshop. Unlike other workshops in the past, this one has been developed into a daylong course with alternate sessions of theory and hands-on application. All thanks to Kathleen Valerio (she runs CalPact), Diane Presler (our engaging trainer from Academy X), Hulda Nelson and Laurie Frasier (our kicka** brand design team) and yours truly. With exciting case studies and projects like the launch of a new School, we expect participants to leave at the end of the day with their brand muscle totally exercised.  Who needs endorphins when you have brandorphins!

The first two workshops are planned for March 18 and May 20.  Register at the UC Learning Center on (Search for “Berkeley Brand Design Guidelines”)

Feb 282014


branded leafletIt’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. As part of the brand patrol (it’s like the neighborhood patrol, only we’re color coordinated!), my beat is to cover neighboring cafés where campus groups put up posters and flyers (no, really). On my visits, I usually come across at least one or two pieces designed with the correct logo, font, graphic elements, sometimes even the right tone of voice. That gives me a feeling of accomplishment, a sense that the labors of the last twelve months are finally bearing fruit (we launched the brand training workshops in Feb 2013), a tentative hope that (holding my breath) the tipping point may well be upon us. People seem to agree. We continue to get email and social media praise from our community (you guys rock!) and have even won accolades nationally. Our branding case study won the Silver award at CASE (national) and the Gold award at CASE (western region). While all this acclaim is welcome, the biggest thrill I get is when I walk into a meeting and see the right branded PowerPoint template on the screen. Of course, those who know me understand that I would take a café over a meeting room any day. A recent visit to the Free Speech Movement cafe unearthed this simple gem pictured alongside. Time to count my blessings!

May 012013
Brand Training Workshop

Claire Holmes, Ram Kapoor, Hulda Nelson from the Office of Communications & Public Affairs leading 25 brand training workshops, each one with inspired participants!

A year ago, we began to talk about creating a communications platform for UC Berkeley that would be all encompassing, authentic, relevant, forward thinking, and inspirational.

We talked with hundreds of people across the campus to get their thougths and ideas.  Slightly overwhelmed but with a firm resolve, we preserved and steadily worked to find a way through the myriad of opinions and ideas to uncover a simple concept that encapsulated the essence of Berkeley.

At times it seemed elusive, impossible, overwhelming, and unattainable.  Yet the idea that we could find a way to align our communications in a creative and inspiring way kept calling us.  The challenge of taking something as complex as UC Berkeley and orienting a messaging strategy and platform to something simple was the challenge of our careers.

And then, with the help of a creative team of people who were just as persistent as we were, we thought we found it.  Still, you don’t know if something really works until it rolls out and the community responds….

We have heard from at least 140 of the participants of our brand workshops and come June 13, we hope to hear from the rest of you too. What’s working? What’s not? Where do you feel supported? Let down? No need to spare our feelings. We’ve got titanium-coated skin in all the brand colors. Feel free to add your comments to this post.

“Positioning and platform, you guys nailed it!”

“I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants. I’ve often thought I need tools, or classes, or a degree in journalism – or something. This workshop gave me a lot of the tools that I know I’ve needed. Thanks!”

“A toolkit – a strategic direction to increase synergy across the campus.”

“ is wealth of resources!”

“I may not embrace every element, but I’m excited to get started!”

“The group exercises with the Creative Brief were useful.”

“I liked the interactive and experiential aspects of the session.”

“The story of the process – from perception study to today.”

“As you move forward, possibly have more examples of integration with other departments.”

“Applicable, small session, individual attention”

“Provided practical tools and lots of background for usage in my organization based on strong ideas”

“Liked the visual communication examples of how to apply the guidelines.”

“Practical and useful. Informative. Knowledgeable speakers.”

“Great presentation – variety (video, PowerPoint, exercises)”

“Liked the Q&A, and just talking through ideas.”

“I think that it will be helpful in the future to have more examples open for critique; and to hear about the challenges overcome by departments as they transition.”

“Public Affairs & the University have given me so many resources to use immediately and they are so well thought out. The planning was incredible – so impressive! Thank you! The book and websites are so exciting!”

“I was inspired by the possibilities of refocusing our messaging.”

“Relatively low key. No hard sell or big hype.”

“Concrete tools like the gallery, colors, font family.”

“Best training presentation I have attended in my five years at Cal. Thanks!”

“Nice to have a small group – also nice to know we have a resource in Public Affairs.”

“Liked the interactive way of rolling out the guidelines (as opposed to just sending out the guidelines.)”

“Very welcoming and earnest in desire to help.”

“The platform made sense to me. I understand better how to use reach further.”

“Engagement, exercises, optimistic!”

“I’ve seen this many times but it was still worth it!”

“Applicable to all departments on campus, including those that are non-academic.”

“Compelling, clear, inspiring.”

“Interactive exercises at the end, videos, Cal Day website and other examples of the brand in action.”

“More workshops! How about once a month? Sharing designs, how-to’s for photo shoots and short videos.”

Bouquets? Brickbats? Feel free to comment and continue the conversation.  

Jun 042012
Claire Holmes

Claire Holmes (Peg Skorpinski photo)

It’s true! I gravitate to brands that understand my needs and meet them, time after time. I am an evangelist and student of others’ great work. So, when I arrived here four years ago, I blabbed about a number of brands I admired and wanted to use as illustrations of how good work happens. It took only a few meetings for me to experience the whispers and rolling of eyes that took place each time I uttered the “B” word. It somehow offended and alienated audiences.

I set out to understand why and discovered that to many people at Berkeley, the B word had come to mean a veneer-of-fake-stuff-that-trivializes-the-real-meaning-of-our-mission. When they heard the word brand, they saw trite phrases, tag lines and logo designs. A sentiment that was epitomized by the spray-painted phrase on the Thanks to Berkeley wall near Dwinelle back in 2008 that read, “We are not a brand.”

B for bummer, I thought, because to me, a B is so much more. Our B is all about the experience of Berkeley—the butterflies in the stomach when the band plays at a football game, when we bask in global adulation at winning yet another Nobel Prize, or when a student overcomes incredible obstacles to cross the stage at graduation. A brand to me is about the gut and emotion, not just about typeface, color, logo, type treatment, or tag line.

The fact is, whether we like the B word or not, Berkeley has a very strong B. Both at a personal level—the “complex, messy, chaotic, exciting, vibrant” emotion you feel for the university as a student, faculty member, staff or visitor (ref: a recent perception study my department conducted)—and at the international level, where it has consistently appeared in the Global Top 5 lists.

That, to me, is what B is all about, and that is what I am striving to convey in the current set of positioning and messaging work undertaken by my department. We want to capture the authentic, emotional voice, words, tone, and images that express what is uniquely Berkeley to the world. We have an opportunity to embrace and reflect our highest aspirations and truest selves in a more cohesive way. Simply said, we have a chance to “own” our B.

I hereby promise that, whatever happens, our B will not be a synthetic cover or a commercial endeavor. It will be as unique as each one of you is. It will help differentiate us from our competitors and yet be flexible enough so there is room for personal creative expression and allows us to embrace the diversity of experiences and passion and inspires us all.

I am very excited about meeting so many colleagues and talking about this and a number of other topics at our upcoming conference on June 14. I invite you to share your thoughts here and now about what excites you about working here. What emotion does Berkeley conjure for you, and how do you experience our B?

I look forward to hearing what is likely to be a variety of opinions about this effort. I would expect nothing less from Berkeley.