Reaching Beyond Canada: Rebranding University Of Western Ontario To Western University

Sandra King Webster, ABC, M.PR candidate - May 2015, Associate Manager at London Life Insurance Company
University branding has become more common as a result of the increased national and international competition for faculty and students. Through the framework of institutional theory, this study looks at how organizations reposition their brand image to attract more faculty and students, and gain greater international status. Institutional theory is difficult to define as "there is no central set of standard variables, nor is it associated with a standard set of research methodology" (Tolbert and Zucker, 1999 p. 169). However, institutional theory is both a process and an outcome. As a process, institutional theory involves isomorphism which is a constraining process that makes one organization resemble another.
Using a case-study approach, this research applies content analysis to the strategic plans of one such university, Western University, from 2007 and 2014. This research also applies the same content analysis approach from the 2014 Strategic Mandate Agreement between the Government of Ontario and three large universities (Western University, University of Waterloo and University of Toronto).
By using institutional theory as a framework to understand how organizations start to resemble each other through isomorphic change, this study analyzes whether coercive isomorphism from political influence and the problem of legitimacy; mimetic isomorphism from standard responses to uncertainty; and normative isomorphism, associated with professionalization, has influenced Western changing its branding.
Based on Canadian media coverage (Globe and Mail, Huffington Post, Maclean's), the University of Western Ontario was called Western by many people and the reference to Ontario was limited in fulfilling strategic plans of attracting international students and painted Western as more of a regional university as opposed to one of international status. This study explores these issues by investigating the impact of isomorphism on university planning. This research may be used to show how other universities could use Western University as a benchmark for repositioning universities for a competitive advantage through branding.
Through the content analysis, many of the categories discussed within Western's corporate strategic plans from 2007 and 2014 showed the evolution of the branding change initiative. The link between strategic plans in building the approach to reposition the university to an international status is evident and shows that there is a relationship/evolution between the two areas.
The influence of power is seen through the coercive forces due to the required need for funding and appears to have influenced the focus on international status. As noted in the literature review, there is constant competition for universities to search for a unique definition of who they are, what they offer and how to differentiate themselves to attract students, faculty and funding. As well, the powers of coercive and mimetic forces are also shown to influence the rebranding to become more international in scope and more competitive at an international level.
Through careful assessment of Western's 2007 and 2014 strategic plans, this research demonstrates how Western is in the process of repositioning itself from regional to international university. This study also shows how Western's approach could be adapted by public relations practitioners at other universities.
  • Mester, Iian (2012) Western name change a hot topic among students and alumni. Huffington Post on Jan. 27, 2012, retrieved on Jan. 13, 2015 from
  • Rogers, K., (2012). UWO rebrands to a familiar name: Western. The Globe and Mail, published Thursday January, 26, 2012 retrieved on January 13, 2015 from
  • Tolbert, P. S., & Zucker, L. G. (1999). The institutionalization of institutional theory. Studying Organization. Theory & Method. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, 169-184.
  • Well's, P., (2012). That's Western University to you. Why they got rid of the University of Western Ontario. Maclean's, published Thursday January 26, 2012 retrieved on Jan. 13, 2015 from

Sandra King Webster, ABC
Candidate for Master of Public Relations, Mount Saint Vincent University
Associate Manager of London Life Insurance Company

Sandra King Webster works at London Life along with a creative group of marketing communication professionals. Her varied communications background includes strategic planning, change management, product launches, consumer behaviour, and community relations. She taught at Fanshawe College in the Corporate Communications and Public Relations program for 15 years and has run her own PR business, worked in not-for-profit, healthcare, and an advertising agency.

Sandra's a member of International Association of Business Communications and has held advanced volunteer roles from chapter president to a board member of Canada East Region. She continues to volunteer as a judge of local and national award programs.

Sandra holds her Bachelor of Public Relations and is in the final stages of earning her Master of Public Relations, all from Mount Saint Vincent University.