Buying the brand

Jay Benedict | Collegio Reporter

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Every time a Pittsburg State student dons an article of clothing bearing the beloved split-face logo, he or she unknowingly becomes an ambassador for the university.  There is also a strict process ensuring that the university is represented well.



Before any design seen on a T-shirt, jacket, or koozie makes it on to the shelves, the vendor wanting to sell it must pass a series of legal and design checks.  Chris Kelly, associate vice president for marketing and communications, says the process recently became easier and more streamlined.  Less than a year ago, Pitt State transferred its licensing duties to an external agency called Strategic Marketing Affiliates.

“All the legal and design approval used to be done in-house.  Now, SMA makes sure the vendor is legal and insured,” Kelly said. “We make sure the designs meet Pitt State’s standards.”

After a company receives approval to use Pitt State’s likeness and pays the $100 annual licensing fee, it is given a brand identity standards manual, developed jointly by Marketing and Communications and Athletics.  The booklet informs the vendor of the acceptable fonts, logos, and the exact colors.  Pitt’s font is Goudy Old Style and the colors are PMS 186 for the red, PMS 116 for the gold, and black.  According to Kelly, the split-face can’t be stretched or imposed into another shape.  The booklet lays out the guidelines, but there are still some cases when the committee needs to meet to approve certain designs.

“Sometimes groups want to change the colors for a St. Patrick’s Day shirt or something, so we have to meet and decide if we want our split-face in green,” said Dan Wilkes, associate athletic director for marketing and communications.

Kelly says that rarely happens.  SMA and the manual cover most issues that may come up.  Wilkes says his office still reviews every piece of PSU gear before it makes it to the shelves of local retailers or online.  The vendor sends the design to SMA where it’s checked for legal issues.  It is then forwarded to Kelly, where he checks the colors, images and spelling.

“We get a lot of designs that have the Pittsburg spelled with an H, so even though they have the booklet, we have to double check,” Kelly said.

Companies can approach Pitt State with any product they wish, and Kelly says he hasn’t vetoed anything yet.  He has approved everything from pens, pins, pendants, and even the camouflage Under Armour shirts in the bookstore.

“Using SMA helps us reach more vendors nationally,” Kelly said. “We’ve even been approached about products like hot tub covers, tents, and even a vinyl garage door cover.”

Kelly says the switch to SMA has been beneficial to the Pitt State brand.  Before, local companies were the main producers of Gorilla products.  Now, being partnered with SMA gives Pitt State more exposure to potential vendors.  Currently, there are 131 companies that are licensed and Kelly has approved more than 850 designs for them.

Besides the $100 annual fee, each vendor pays the university an 8.5 percent royalty fee.  According to Athletic Director Jim Johnson, this should translate into a large increase from previous years when licensing was done internally.  Since Pitt State has been with SMA for less than a year, annual financial statements are not available, and the funds have not yet been allocated.

“Pitt State is a unique brand. Vendors appreciate that, so we’re attracting a lot of them,” Jones said.  “And when we know what we have, those funds will be used to further promote the university.”

The partnership with SMA has simplified the licensing process for the university.  It has attracted more companies to the school and increased revenues.  Most importantly, it has given Pitt State fans a bigger and better arsenal of gear to represent the Gorillas with.

“Our collaboration with local vendors has always been great,” Kelly said. “But now with more exposure, the competition is fiercer and everyone has to step up their game, and we are seeing some of the most creative representations of the Gorillas yet.”


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