Piedmont University

Be a Lion. Not a Number.



During the fall of 2022, Piedmont University was in the midst of change. Long-time president Dr. James Mellichamp was retiring and like other private institutions across the United States, graduation rates continued to decline from continued impact of the pandemic.

Following Dr. Mellichamp’s retirement, a search for a new president began. And, in December of 2022, Piedmont University named Marshall Criser, former chancellor of the University System of Florida, as its next president. President Criser brought significant acumen to the position as Florida’s university system was ranked number 1 in the nation during his tenure in the role. Prior to serving as chancellor, Criser served for a number of years as president of AT&T Florida.

In this role, Criser’s focus for Piedmont, much like it was during his tenure in the University System of Florida, is to drive student success – increasing graduation rates and seeing students find success after their college graduation. With a renewed focus, Piedmont’s marketing efforts needed to feel refreshed and reflect the new President’s focus on students and their future success.




Piedmont University Music direct mail 2021



Over the past two years, Forum had assisted Piedmont in developing campaign messaging related to the “Piedmont Promise” – a campaign and messaging developed by the prior administration – with messaging that was driven by the University’s logo. We called the campaign “Reach Your Peak” and a sample of that creative is provided here (and its origination can be read about here).  The campaign was successful, however the messaging was no longer in line with the vision for the university. In addition, we were presented new budgetary challenges and a post-pandemic environment with declines in graduation rates, a shift in federal aid application return dates, and in the state of Georgia, renewed support at the state level for public institutions through scholarship. There was a lot to consider!

Forum’s creative team went back to the drawing board and reviewed some of the creative messaging used in prior campaigns (which we really liked!) and revitalized messaging from a pandemic era campaign developed by our team. With input from Piedmont and the genius of Forum’s creative team, the “Be a Lion. Not a Number.” campaign was born.


First, we went back to the archives and pulled from a campaign ran during the pandemic called “Don’t Be a Number. Be a Lion.” The idea was simple, clean and we leaned into Piedmont’s “brights” palette, but in a very minimalistic way. Second, thanks to input from Piedmont’s marketing team, we changed the messaging and decided to start from a positive point of view – “Be a Lion. Not a Number.” While the change was subtle, it was cleaner and put a positive spin on a good idea.

Next, we needed to tighten our reach and do more with less in actual advertising spend. To do so, it would take something new and eye-catching. Instead of leaning into Piedmont’s traditional color palette, our creative team leaned heavily into what we call the “Brights” palette – a set of tertiary colors that were vivid and alive. Forum’s team also utilized Piedmont’s athletic mark in a more prominent way – a trend seem around the country where an institution of higher education’s athletic marks were used for academic purposes. Combining these styles made the campaign more eye-catching and stand out from some of the more “drab” or institutional style campaigns done by most institutions.

Piedmont Social ads

Piedmont Be a Lion. Not a Number. undergraduate postcard

piedmont banners

Piedmont TikTok sample

From a messaging perspective, our focus was solely on the student. All creative elements focused on individual and real Piedmont students for each ad. For our video content, rather than scripted messaging or sit-down style interviews, we brought in the “green screen” and did individual interviews with students from strategic programs and simply asked them what it meant to be a Piedmont Lion. Our initial creative direction was to use the best of these for our ads – however – our video partner AJ Parker had the brilliant idea of allowing students to be truly “authentic” and leaving in some of the outtakes so the individual student and their actual personalities could shine through.

marketing mix modeling sample



Moving beyond creative, Forum’s advertising plan was heavily influenced by data collected from prior campaigns. Forum’s digital team reviewed all of the prior years’ campaigns and completed a Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM) exercise to determine next steps for this campaign. The team found that direct mail and Google PPC were the two primary marketing channels that influenced application volume. For that reason, this year’s campaign would utilize the video ads to drive awareness and focus spends heavily on direct mail and Google PPC.

Mid-campaign, a new MMM further emphasized the importance of Google Ads and direct mail – so much so that budgets shifted to further emphasize those channels in an attempt to further increase application volume.



While many times the goal is to drive more traffic – the goal this year was to focus on application counts, retention and engagement.

The campaign is still live so final numbers in terms of applications will be reported once complete, but engagement is up nearly 9% year over year and all signs point to another successful campaign for Piedmont University.