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Graphics Spread School Spirit

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From making a positive impact on students to attracting support from local business, there’s no shortage of value in building a strong brand for your school.  According to HMC Architects, a healthcare, education, and civic architecture firm in Ontario, California, establishing a consistent brand can help with identity and reflect the values your school stands for in hallways and throughout school grounds.

Karl Costello is the former athletic director at Niles North High School. Before retiring in 2013, Karl’s time as an athletic director, coach and educator spanned over 35 years.  Recently he shared thoughts on trends, opportunities for entrepreneurial-minded schools and the value of graphics as part of larger brand efforts. Among the benefits he discusses include:

  • Encourage School Spirit
  • Attract the local business community
  • Boost awareness in the neighborhood

Why do you think graphics are important to an overall school brand? 

“Positive messaging is critical in school hallways and around campus. It’s advanced thinking to put this type of messaging on graphics,” he says. “Collateral and graphics make it real. There’s a lot of value in spreading a positive message.” When determining your brand message, rally colleagues, focus efforts and put a plan into action.

Graphics Spread School Spirit 2 Karl Costello On on School Brand

“It is so important to have consistency – some schools have 50 different logos. Viking heads… ! Wolf heads … !” The key takeaway? Streamline it if possible. “20 different clubs with 20 different logos doesn’t work,” says Karl.

Share Classroom Lessons Throughout Your Halls

Share Classroom Lessons Throughout Your Halls

Where do you start?

Similar to a business ironing out core messaging, Karl stresses getting your templates together. Is a goal to promote positive messaging? Great! Brainstorm, determine what you are communicating and commit it to a document that can be shared.

Graphics Spread School Spirit 3 We Are Warriors Image

School Spirit Front and Center


“It’s not enough to want to share a positive message. You need to develop templates that share the message and get everyone of the same page,” says Karl. What are core values educators share? What’s your school mission statement? Think about what you want to communicate, plan it and implement.  “Graphics are great way to reinforce school spirit and positive messaging, “but again, you need to have one brand – and the messaging follows.”

Graphics Spread School Spirit 4 Karl Costello Two

What are some challenges the right mix of branding can address?

“I’ve been retired five years and stay in touch with former colleagues – the one reality is they need money. Budget cuts are a reality. Too few districts are aggressively exploring revenue opportunities. And using signage to attracts local businesses is one way.” Graphics and branding for local schools can be, and for some schools already, a very real revenue generator.

“This type of thinking does exist in schools,” says Karl. “We approached companies that we did business with, pitched ideas and asked for sponsorship dollars in exchange for signage or presence on the building.”


Savvy schools could think about selling sponsorship or naming rights to a stadium.  “Have you seen the Baron of Barrington? That did not happen by accident!” Karl mentions there is intention with larger objectives in place. “It’s a larger part of their brand and getting people in the community thinking about the school.”


Graphics Spread School Spirit 5 Wall Graphics at Leyden High School

Create Templates With Core Messaging

Attracting local sponsors and contributions still has a ton of opportunity to be tapped.

“Sponsorship is a fertile market,” says Karl. Who is your internal champion? “You need people, and yes this can be your athletic director, educator or anyone at the school with an entrepreneurial sense. Usually schools have great locations and visibility in the community. This can be leveraged.”

Karl notes mentions Barrington High School’s recent investment in a state-of-the-art pro scoreboard – and it’s being used to generate revenue.  “Start at first base, get the brand together, and everything follows to create revenue that can go back into school investment.” Consider how this can impact purchasing items such as uniforms and equipment. It is not money raised in a vacuum: there is real opportunity to support your budget. While branding can have a direct impact on campus and hallways, can graphics send a positive message to the larger community/surrounding neighborhoods?

Schaumburg High School Window Graphics

“It’s a matter of community pride and engaging the business community. If you go to the grade school, or middle school or high school and facilities and campus is state of the art – those are the ones with where local businesses have a presence – on graphics, advertising and signage – that’s where they make the investment.”

Graphics Spread School Spirit 6 Copy of Karl Costello On School Brand Graphic Three


For any schools contemplating next steps or looking to build out a program, what are some suggestions for standing out?

“Get creative. Here’s an example. I was part of a team of educators trying to figure out how imaginative we could be to generate more revenue. Billboards are prohibited – BUT the back of the football stadium faces the Eden’s.” Think outside-the-box. Between different material options and evolving print capabilities, you can brand just about anywhere. “So, you can see HVAC, chiller plant, but you could of course see the back of the athletic fields and football stadium. To increase exposure for the Vikings, we put up signs that faced the football field.”


Put your marketing cap on and have a goal in mind. “Maybe there is an award named after the sponsorship – or an award that helps finance a school trip that gets promoted on signage. Either way there is so much opportunity for schools.”

Larger Community Impact

This creates brand awareness around the school but don’t discount visiting administrators or visiting athletes. “we received tons of positive feedback from visitors and opposing teams.”

Maine South Wilson Field Graphics

Share Accomplishments on Campus


The most important element in the end?

Campus branding provides an outlet to showcase school spirit and a sense of community.  Karl says “Signage provided opportunity to promote accomplishments and things students should be proud of.” For example, in the northwest corner of campus we had signage to share when we were state champions, communicate important dates, and changed out signs every few years.

How are you looking at the future of your school grounds and brand? Hope you will check in for our next article and interview with Joliet Junior College and the impact display graphics had made on their efforts.

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Jon Davis

Jon Davis is Cushing’s Marketing Manager. From blogging to online communications, Jon writes about client developments, environmental branding, and much more. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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