Five Questions with Mark Courtney of NYU

Athletics recently collaborated with the NYU admissions team to design and build the Meet NYU website, a content platform aimed at prospective students. To celebrate the site’s launch in August of 2019, the university’s admissions department hosted the Meet NYU Storytelling Summit, bringing together “educators, writers, designers, media-makers, and creative talent from across the University” to explore how the NYU story is told. One of those talented creatives was Mark Courtney, Senior Director of Creative & Brand Experience at NYU, speaking on the subject of brand ambassadorship.


Mark’s thoughts on the vital role of employees as brand storytellers really resonated with our team, so we decided to ask him five questions about the role of brand and storytelling at a prestigious global academic institution.


1. How did you become the Senior Director of Creative & Brand Experience team at NYU?


I owned and was the creative director of a design and branding firm in New York City for 17 years. When the financial crisis happened in 2008-09, our client work, which was primarily luxury mixed-use resort property work, declined. I used this as an opportunity to reevaluate my career, and decided to look for large complicated organizations that were starting to pay more attention to branding. NYU popped up on my radar, and I applied to the position of NYU’s first Visual Identity Director. NYU never had a Director of Visual Identity, so I became their first, and helped roll out standards and guidelines for the visual identity globally. This later morphed into my current position as Senior Director of Creative and Brand Experience.


2. Could you tell us about any branding initiatives you’re currently excited about at NYU?


My role at the University has expanded to include consulting with central administration units to think about better ways to build brand equity through experiential opportunities like our Human Resources onboarding process. Every employee is a potential brand ambassador and should be armed with the basic information about our university along with the notion that they are part of our overarching mission as a university—no matter where they work within the university. I’m also actively involved with capital improvement projects like 370 Jay Street in Brooklyn and 181 Mercer in Manhattan, where we’re building a new NYU mixed-use building. Design and branding sits at the table of these types of projects so we can make sure branding cues are considered so our students feel connected within our decentralized and unconventional urban setting.

3. NYU positions itself as “Home to Earth’s Boldest.” How is this manifested in NYU’s approach to brand and storytelling?


We take on the personality of the city. To be heard in NYC or at NYU you need to have a voice and be willing to put yourself out there to get heard. Bold, independent, and motivated students thrive in this environment. We need to be honest about that.


4. How is branding an academic institution different from branding a company?


It’s not. Brand is the sum total of everything we do. Same as a company. What’s different, is that academic institutions were slow to realize this. For example, I couldn’t say the word brand for the first five years I was here. It was a bad word. “We are not Coke. We are an institution for higher learning”. That’s finally changed.


5. Could you offer any words of wisdom to other creatives working on behalf of human-centric global organizations?


With an organization this big and complex, you soon realize that it doesn’t happen overnight. You might lose a few battles, but it’s about winning the war. You win through a steady, consistent, and dogged approach. Over time, you see the change. You also need to meet with individuals across the organization and convert them one meeting at a time. We live this every day, but most don’t consider it, and it needs a conversation.


Explore the Meet NYU site here

Stay tuned for a full Meet NYU case study coming soon