Two local advertising executives knew all about Florida Gulf Coast University long before a nation full of college basketball fans became acquainted with the school last week.
During a 72-hour period during the first week of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, FGCU bounced into the national consciousness as the Cinderella story of this year’s March Madness. The FGCU men’s basketball team became the first No. 15 seed ever to advance to the Sweet 16. The school based in Fort Myers Beach plays the University of Florida tonight in North Texas.
But back in 2007, when Jeff Morris and Mark LeClerc were hired by FGCU, the Eagles were simply a small commuter school trying to make the jump from NCAA Division II to Division I status.
Morris and LeClerc, who at the time had their own Fountain Square ad agency, had carved out a niche in the college sports arena. Their firm, known as Foundry, had inked deals with the University of Georgia, Miami of Ohio and Kent State, to name a few. Local sports marketer Ray Compton had helped introduce Morris and LeClerc to schools like FGCU that were in need of marketing help.
The duo, now working as creative directors at Borshoff, one of the city’s largest advertising and public relations firms, fashioned a five-figure ad campaign for the Eagles with the theme “Step Up.”
“Back then, not even many people in Florida were familiar with the school,” Morris said. “Our whole objective at that time was just to get some brand awareness in the immediate Fort Myers and Naples area.”
Morris and LeClerc designed print, online and radio ads--as well as posters, banners and other materials--to help promote the men’s and women’s basketball teams and to help them sell tickets. They also helped promote the school’s baseball team.
The ads had a decidedly workman-like look and feel.
“We wanted a gritty look,” Morris said. “We wanted the campaign to emphasize that this [jump to Division I] was going to take a lot of blood, sweat and tears. We wanted people to know that this was going to be a work in progress.”
But there was another message the campaign was designed to convey.
“The message was, 'We’re not just moving up to Division I, we’re here to compete and to win,'” Morris said. “And they’ve been able to do that.”
Though the local duo hasn’t worked for the school since FGCU moved its marketing in-house in 2008, Morris said he and LeClerc still “feel like honorary alumni.”
“What they’ve been able to accomplish in such a short period of time is absolutely amazing,” Morris said. “As cheesy as it sounds, we feel like part of the team. Florida Gulf Coast is a great story. And it’s pretty neat to think—even if in a small way—that we were a part of the start of telling that story.”