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Alumni Stories

UC’S 30TH anniversary: Forging ahead without fear

This year, UC is celebrating our 30th anniversary as a university.

We've achieved a lot over the past 30 years – risen in world rankings, conducted breakthrough research, opened world-class learning, teaching and sporting facilities, and expanded our academic offerings.

All this has been possible because of the amazing people who make up the UC community.

Jamie Wilson was waiting to board a flight when the concept of an iconic brand logo for Canberra hit him like a bolt of lightning.

At this point, there had already been years of workshopping to develop a logo, one which would clearly identify the aspirational personality of the city.

As he glanced down at his boarding pass, Jamie wondered why Canberra didn’t have the same bold logo as other cities – and the brand CBR concept was born.

“I think it actually took months of sleepless nights to come up with the concept,” says Jamie, but when the right concept appeared, he knew at once.

“Growing up in Canberra, it was especially significant to me to get it right. I wanted a logo that represented the original Canberra plan, with its geometric shapes, as well as the city’s bold, brave and ambitious evolution.”

The logo received a mixed reception when it was launched, but Jamie wasn’t discouraged – he was used to being the underdog.

“I am not sure if we were ready for it at the time, but the enormity and pressure of delivering an important, high profile project like CBR, forced us to step up and give the project the best we had,” says Jamie.

“We knew that's what it deserved and what was needed. Timing is everything, and I believe it played a really important part in the success of the project.”

Jamie was just 27 at the time, and keen the show Canberra in a new light. He wanted his passion for the city to be expressed through the logo.

“Many people saw what Canberra did not have. We saw it for what it had to offer, as well as where it was heading,” he says.

“It was about positioning, in terms of where we want to go. And we could clearly see the vision of the Government, thought leaders, and those who live in Canberra.”

The city’s business community and Canberra’s sporting teams now proudly use the logo.

Jamie’s ability to see beyond the present is one of the main reasons for his incredible success.

“While we may have created the CBR movement, it was successful because the city embraced it. A brand is only as good as the people who own it, and Canberrans not only owned it, but turned it into the icon we now see everywhere,” says Jamie.

To fully understand Jamie’s psyche, it’s worth going back to his time at Marist College Canberra.

“I didn't like school and I was not good at it,” he says. “Marist was a great school, but I was just not academically strong. I grew up in a business environment and naturally had an interest in it, but never really considered pursuing it or exploring it. I never really did well learning about subjects that didn’t interest me, or with structure or deadlines – which is ironic, given I now operate in a deadline-driven world.”

Jamie says his late grandfather wanted him to go to university and he decided to follow his interests in sports and story-telling, and enrol in a Bachelor of Journalism degree. The University of Canberra felt like the most appropriate destination.

But he failed in his first major journalism assignment, and – coupled with a disagreement with his course convenor – Jamie decided to transfer to a Bachelor of Communication (Public Relations), six months into his first year at UC.

Jamie sees this as significant to where he is now.

“I can look back on this moment and say it was the defining factor in starting Coordinate. Had I not failed that assignment, I may have continued down a path that was not meant for me – and perhaps I would not have found the hunger and desire to start a business,” he says.

So in that eventful first year at UC, Jamie started writing, free of charge, for a local newspaper. He soon became its sports editor, enabling him to pursue his passions.

He then quickly moved into advertising, producing paid editorials.

At the same time, he was gaining the knowledge and experience through these roles for his next phase – starting a company to help other businesses grow.

That company was Coordinate, which is now Canberra’s leading advertising agency. It is responsible for many of the city’s iconic brands and logos, from sport to business entities.

But it wasn’t easy in those early days. In many aspects, there was a sense of just surviving.

“It was tough,” says Jamie. “I was 20 and inexperienced – but I made up for that with energy, hustle and resilience. I had to work really hard for every opportunity and made sure I over-delivered every time to drive referrals. It was a slog, but an invaluable experience.”

The Coordinate concept, with its full service capability structure from strategy to delivery, evolved from there.

“When I started, I wouldn't say I had a point of difference, which is quite the opposite to what we advise brands to craft. It was really about learning as much as I could, meeting as many people as I could and aiming for the stars.”

Upon graduating from UC, Jamie upped the ante, believing there was a void in Canberra’s advertising market with space for a younger, more agile, and commercially-focused marketing agency – one that inspired creative ideas and could execute these across every discipline.

In a multi-channel world, Jamie saw this as the opportunity to be different.

“Coordinate has always been an ambitious agency, and we've never been afraid to take risks and try something new. Whether that is embracing new technologies or pivoting our service model and offering to stay ahead, we have constantly refreshed. I believe this has been our strength.”

Jamie is passionate about developing iconic and timeless brands.

In addition to CBR, he spearheaded the market launch for Zango, Canberra’s newest property website; cultivated the evolution of The National Arboretum’s brand and positioning; and merged Cycling Australia, BMX Australia and Mountain Bike Australia under the new single national brand, AusCycling.

Jamie also co-created the CBR BRAVE, which secured top spot in the 2018 Australian Ice Hockey Championship, and was behind the bid to bring the GWS GIANTS to Canberra.

Jamie explains that a “brand is the total representation of a business – how it looks, sounds, feels, and the promise and experience it delivers.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges, which Jamie has responded to in his usual positive way: the pandemic has proven that you can work anywhere, he says.

Coordinate has opened an office in Sydney, keen to broaden its bold, brave, ambitious branding concept beyond Canberra.

As Jamie looks to the future, there is a reflective moment back to that first year at UC which laid the platform for his future. “It provided some valuable life lessons, especially about commitment, focus and discipline,” he says.

And these are the qualities that will always provide his platform, as Jamie fearlessly furthers his creative career.

Words by Tim Gavel, photo: supplied.

In this special 30th anniversary series, UnCover is sharing the inspiring stories of UC staff, students, and alumni.

Know someone with a great story? Send their details to stories@canberra.edu.au.

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