Oct 17, 2013, 11:04 AM EDT
During a visit to the University of Delaware near the end of September, Tim McDonnell sat down with two UD administrators, Stacey Bunting-Thompson and Kristy Fletcher, to talk about the school’s new branding initiative — Blue Hen State of Mind. Delaware announced the new athletics initiative over the summer, with a primary focus on state pride and interconnectivity for Blue Hens fans all across the nation and the the world. Bunting-Thompson, UD’s Associate Director of Athletics for External Relations and Fletcher, the Assistant Director of Athletics for Marketing & Promotions, played a large part in helping create and implement the project. Other highlights for the upcoming 2013-14 athletics season will include:
- Displaying the state patch of Delaware on all game uniforms for each of UD’s 21 intercollegiate teams
- Painting the outline of the state on the turf at the 50-yard line of Delaware Stadium
- An overall “Blue Hen State of Mind” theme for the season
- A new tradition of Delaware-born football players carrying the state flag onto the field during pregame festivities
TM – I don’t even know where to begin, seeing as it’s often hard for schools to try and standout while being unique, but how did Blue Hen State of Mind even start? I heard about it through a release and then on saw the hashtag on Twitter…
SBT – I’m from Delaware originally, so Delaware is a very unique place. Folks who are from here are very passionate about being from here. I liken it to folks who are from Texas, you always here about the pride from different areas. Everybody has their same level, but Delaware is certainly one that is extraordinarily special in that regard. Over this past year and several years back, it’s been a big commitment by the university, commitment by Delawareans to make sure that folks from Delaware feel that the university is supporting them and being truly the flagship. We’ve done a lot of Delaware pieces, we do a lot of outreach things, but over this past year as we’ve worked with Eric, (Director of Athletics, Eric Ziady) we wanted to continue to grow and really celebrate the state of Delaware.
TM – How did the state and its flag get incorporated into that concept?
SBT – Kristy (Fletcher) designed our original football mark for this year which incorporated the state of Delaware and that kind of got things rolling from there. It really does celebrate, recognize and champion our cause amongst our fans, patrons and alums because they like to see that and it gives them a little extra to be proud of. As we were developing that and as the tradition continued, the campaign came along with the use of the state in it and Eric wanted the state on jersey and the field. Then Kristy was in the process of planning for our overarching campaign for the next couple of years. The university did a couple years back “Dare To Be First” … we spent time with agency and it’s still in place and great, but we were asked to be a part of that umbrella in some capacity, but we didn’t think “Dare To Be First” was appropriate for the sports program. We were like ‘we cant put that on a poster’. At the time, we had Dare to be a Blue Hen, which then people were confused about the definition. So we had to define what Blue Hen was. Our external team developed that, might be on Wikipedia (jokingly laughed) but definitely not in Webster’s Dictionary. Fast forward a couple years, we wanted to come up with a new overarching branding for athletics and we once again came back to defining Blue Hen.
KF – Eric got on board in November and he was already starting the framework of celebrating the state of Delaware and who we are across the sports. With spring ball [spring football practice] that was our first opportunity to try and incorporate the logo at midfield and the state outline, and then from there I had proposed to Stacy the ‘Blue Hen State of Mind’ … Everyone knows the music.
TM – You mean like the Jay-Z and Alecia Keys song?
KF – Yes, everyone knows the New York State of Mind music song. And some people might think that’s where we ripped it off from, but really it’s two-fold. It’s having that Delaware, that Blue hen State of Mind with us being the quote-on-quote flagship university of the state. It’s also supposed to be a little edgy for the athletes to get in the mind-frame whether they’re on the field, in the classroom or out in the community. That they are in that Blue Hen State of Mind as it’s defined even before. So it’s just different. We’re still trying to get the same message across, but it’s a different way of challenging our coaches, athletes and community members to do so. The ‘Dare To Be A Blue Hen’ campaign just got a little stale after a couple of years. We just wanted to change things up a little and come up with something fresh, but still encompassing the overall celebration of the state and who we are.
TM – So, it’s not necessarily like you have to be a student to be able to say or use this? It’s more like a universal Delaware kind of thing?
SF – Correct, it’s donors, it’s fans, it’s coaches and athletes internally, but then it also trickles into the Blue Hen community. Whether you’re in California, or in another country or even on campus.
TM – So sports really do mean that much to people here?
SBT – Yes. The fans and the university represent the state, we are the Blue Hens and it is a special state of mind for people who live here and who are fans of ours. To Kristy’s point, it really translates over to our athletes. It (the Blue Hen State of Mind) gives our athletes an edge-er feel. Some people wanted Blue Hen nation or were pushing for it. Well, that’s not what we’re celebrating. There are plenty of Blue Hens out there, there’s thousands of alums everywhere like everybody else. There’s a lot of folks who’ve gone that route and we were like ‘no, we’re unique, we are special. This is what makes it special. It’s having the state of mind.
KF – A lot of older folk referred to it as the “Delaware Way.” It’s kind of like well, if you’re doing it the Delaware way, then you’re in a Blue Hen State of mind. It’s just a fresher take.
TM – Hey, I’m from New Hampshire. One area code, I understand you both completely, ha, ha.
SBT – Everybody’s got there own thing I suppose. I can say this as a Delawarean, we are a quirky group.
TM – Since I’ve been working at the CAA, I’ve had to focus on nine separate members at once instead of one school or individual at a time. It seems like people come up with ways to try and separate themselves, whether that be uniforms, campaigns or sayings. I guess what I’m asking is, is there a sense of pride in terms of being able to come up with something like that? It’s a pretty unique concept overall. Did it turn into something even more useful than you originally anticipated?
KF – I think it’s more of not trying to set ourselves away from the CAA, but trying to still represent it at the same time. Jimmy Smith, our social media guy, he does a really nice job for us in terms of monitoring those that are misusing the hashtag to make sure.
TM – So the department or Jimmy will go and tweet ‘at’ people who are incorrectly using the hashtag?
KF – Yes, because other organizations will try to use it just to take advantage of our fan base and show up on our tag board, so Jimmy and his team do really good job with that. They’re just as passionate as our fans.
SBT – Everyone got the tee shirt in the athletic department, including student athletes. You couldn’t just go buy the shirt anywhere. In our mind it was like 600-plus mini billboards with our message on it. When we were doing the launch with the hashtags and logos. We knew that we had been successful with it when that hashtag showed up on some of the tweets from the party seen/incident we had on campus a couple weeks ago. I’m sure you heard on the news, we had a crazy part scene happen. Well, it was obviously unfortunate, but kids were using the hashtag “Blue Hen State of Mind”, that’s when we knew it was effective. Again, it wasn’t a great representation in that context, but for us it signified that our main stream student body was using it. We didn’t want it in that situation but they were actually using in the middle of that circumstance, of course we tried to take down those hashtags off our tag board A.S.A.P. …
KF – Now, other groups and organizations were still using the hashtag, so we were unsure if we wanted the content to include everyone or just athletes. We want the content to be athletic-driven, but we don’t want to discourage other areas or departments on campus to use the hashtag too. Yes, we’re all Blue Hens, but want it to be used appropriately.
TM – Talk about the very importance of social media now a day. It’s interesting, even at the CAA office, so much of my job involves social media or hashtags. How important has that medium become, because now even when schools play each other, you can still have the fans interacting or connecting through Twitter and hashtags. It’s almost like they connect even more now …
KF – We make a conscious effort to use other CAA schools’ handles for social media whether that be Facebook or Twitter just to make sure we are cross-promoting. Even if a JMU fan sees a release or tweet, they can still interact. Instead of writing Delaware versus JMU in volleyball, now we use the twitter handles. Then it trends not just for UD, but also for the other fellow CAA opponents and members too. It connects both schools even more. Our older campaigns did not have the social media components that it does now. Having it across all sports had helped. Everyone feels a part of it now.
SBT – There’s no doubt it’s the way to go now. You got to be with it. You can reach so many more people now as well.
SBT – It’s a big deal. We celebrate all of our student athletes, but we certainly like to highlight our Delaware student athletes. We did a mini documentary with six student-athletes last year alone and we video taped them in their home towns and so on and it was really cool. When we were in the test phase of this concept, we talked to a whole lot of different people. Coaches, student-athletes, asking if they got it, or what they thought it means.
KF – Colleagues from across the country, just for a completely different opinion or bias. Since we are so close to it …
SBT – We knew some of our own folks were biased, so between all of us we reached out to outsiders. We really vetted it through a number of channels with the idea that then when it was launched and rolled out to our student-athletes, hopefully they tell you they loved it and not ask, ‘what the heck are you talking about?’ ha ha.
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