By Ben Forrest | Sept. 22, 2023Print | PDF
The Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University is known across Canada and around the world as an incubator of future business leaders — and Laurier student work, developed in-house as part of their studies, provides lasting value to blue-chip institutions.
A case in point: The iconic Laurier Golden Hawks logo. This unifying symbol of student identity and school pride — and a major revenue generator — is rooted in a brand strategy developed by marketing students in Laurier’s Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) program.
With Homecoming 2023 in full swing, we spoke with retired Laurier Athletics director Peter Baxter and marketing professor Alan Quarry of Quarry Communications, to learn how it all came together.
As Laurier kicker Brian Devlin lined up his game-winning field goal in the dying seconds of the 2005 Vanier Cup national football championship, thousands of eyes scanned his gleaming purple helmet and the distinctive Golden Hawks logo on its left side.
Television cameras zoomed in on Devlin while he prepared for the kick, framing their shots chest-up. At times the helmet and its sharp, swooping, almost calligraphic Golden Hawks logo, dominated the screen.
This was arguably the most prominent university championship game of the year, broadcast into living rooms across the country — and an ideal showcase for the recent Golden Hawks rebrand.
“That [championship] really helped the brand,” said Peter Baxter, who initiated the rebrand shortly after he became director of Laurier Athletics in 1998. Baxter retired from that role in 2022 and is succeeded by current athletics director Kate McCrae Bristol.
“All the teams supported one another, and that brand was the tie. In my career we had 75 OUA championships and 14 national championships … they were all wearing that Hawk.”
Baxter decided shortly after he arrived on campus the Golden Hawks needed a new, cohesive look. There were at least three different logos adorning Laurier playing fields and apparel at the time, and none of them seemed to hit all the right notes.
As Baxter and former Lazaridis School marketing professor Alan Quarry recall, a cross-town rival’s mascot would drag a rubber chicken along the sidelines at football games, trolling Laurier players and fans for the gaudy “chicken hawk” logo painted at mid-field.
“It wasn't great,” said Quarry, who continues to run the Quarry Communications marketing agency. “And we couldn't argue, because right out in the middle of the field there was a [logo] that looked like a dead chicken.”
Quarry had been thinking independently about the need for a rebrand when Baxter approached him about the project. He had also been looking for a final assignment for his fourth-year marketing students that would be lasting and meaningful.
Baxter and Quarry met to define the parameters of the project. One of their key goals was to ensure the new logo was inclusive, and something all students could champion as an emblem of school pride.
They also wanted the new logo to be powerful, bold, aggressive and dignified, evoking the fearsome status predator-hawks enjoy in the wild. Baxter passed along a few other existing hawk athletic logos for inspiration, and Quarry set his students loose on the task.
Over the course of several months, about 60 Lazaridis Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) candidates carefully crafted a text-based strategy that would guide the rebrand. Then, they asked the late Douglas Ratchford, a renowned graphic artist and partner in Quarry Communications, to bring their brand principles to life.
Ratchford, an honorary Laurier alumnus (2000), was known at the time as Waterloo region’s “dean” of graphic design; his creations adorned corporate and municipal flags across the community. He drafted several options for the students, who presented them to a panel of judges.
The winning design was an immediate hit. Its simplicity made it both striking and distinctive, with an elegance and sophistication that eschewed the cartoonish qualities of other athletic logos from that era.
It was also assertive, sturdy and strong — qualities that reflected the on-field reputation Laurier varsity teams have had for decades.
“They always punched way above their weight,” said Alan Quarry. “You always have a brand, whether you know you have one or not.”
When the new Golden Hawks logo debuted in 2000, the university community embraced it. The rebrand attracted jersey and merchandise partnerships with Adidas and later Nike, and it sold well among students, alumni and casual fans.
“Our brand ended up being number one in Canada for Adidas in terms of sales,” said Baxter. “That's how strong it was.”
These kinds of athletics partnerships also provided funding that enabled Laurier varsity teams to thrive.
“That logo, that concept, hit a home run,” said Quarry. “You don't often hit home runs developing logos, but it meant enough to enough people.”
This rare, lasting success was also a reflection of the exceptional quality of students and faculty at Laurier’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics.
“What's always impressed me about Laurier students is their community, their sense of place,” said Quarry. “My class in that particular year, were not going to be happy if they didn't really get into this project and give it all, because it was about the school.”
“If the strategy is really good, really focused, really smart, then the design leaps off of that, and that's what happened,” he added. “Our business students are incredible.”
As students arrive on campus for Homecoming this year — likely including players and fans of that 2005 Vanier Cup football team — the Golden Hawk remains central to student identity. It continues to unite students under an inclusive banner, just as Baxter hoped it would.
“Laurier students see the Golden Hawk as a symbol of the school,” he said. “When I was renewing contracts with Adidas or Nike … they didn't want to lose the contract … and that leverage came with the whole strategy from the very beginning.
“Very bright students from the business school, a great team, and a wonderful artist … they are all tremendously talented.”
“Today’s Laurier student-athletes are fiercely proud to be Golden Hawks,” added Kate McCrae Bristol, current Director, Athletics and Recreation. “The logo means a great deal to those of us who have worn it.
“The Golden Hawk is a symbol of strength and tenacity, reflecting the dedication and commitment to excellence our athletes bring to everything they do. It also projects those qualities to our overall student body, alumni, colleagues, fans and rivals.
“As we've reopened the newly renovated Alumni Field this year, it’s important to remember we are all Golden Hawks. This logo has endured because it unites us; it’s an identity we’re all proud to stand behind.”