COLUMBIA — On an October afternoon in a third-floor classroom in Stephens College's Walter Hall, staff members for the student-run marketing firm Creative Ink examined potential logo designs for Columbia Regional Airport.
The women looked over neat rows of sketches in creative director Bree Martino's sketchbook — pointing to their favorites, nixing versions with less potential and discussing design elements they hope to incorporate into their final product.
Creative Ink is working on a branding makeover for the airport. The firm will provide the airport with a new tagline and logo, as well as a style guide and brand identity sheet to help airport staff maintain a cohesive image in advertising materials they create themselves.
The city's decision to partner with the firm stems from a desire to update the airport's image, drum up excitement about the airport's future and incorporate the Columbia community into its renovations, which will include a new terminal and an extended runway, said Steven Sapp, public information specialist for the city of Columbia.
"There are a lot of exciting things going on at the airport right now," Sapp said. "We're making a lot of improvements to our current facility. We're preparing to expand, and we have big goals for the future."
The city's primary goal, Sapp said, is to have 40 percent of mid-Missouri air travel conducted through Columbia Regional Airport by 2020. The Missouri Department of Transportation estimates that the airport now fields about 13 percent of regional air traffic.
"Our job as we work on the re-branding is to help the airport reach that goal by emphasizing the things it offers that other airports in Missouri can't offer — friendliness, free parking, a personal touch," Creative Ink firm director Michelle Niewald said. "If this is successful, the city of Columbia and Boone County in general will see significant economic growth over the next few years."
The airport's expansion is projected to cost about $30 million, Sapp said, and it represents a potential $80 million source of revenue for the city. City government is still in the process of exploring funding options for the project, which include municipal bonds and income from the Boone County hotel/motel bed tax.
"Asking people to fund a $30 million expansion is a big request, and we know that," Sapp said. "Hopefully the work done by Creative Ink will help us communicate the enormous potential of this project to the average citizen."
Niewald's role in the airport project has included drafting potential taglines and researching the branding strategies of other airports in the Midwest to understand which strategies are most successful.
"It's my job to figure out what works and what doesn't, so hopefully we can take what we learn from looking at similar businesses and incorporate it into our project," she said.
'Women empower each other'
About 12 women work at Creative Ink. Each staff member divides her time among classes, outside activities and work on multiple projects for the firm.
Martino said she has taken a leading role in shaping the visual style of the airport project.
"I usually will log eight to 10 hours a week in the office, but that doesn’t do the commitment justice," Martino said. "With all the time we spend emailing and making phone calls, it’s probably closer to 20. At least.”
Neither Niewald nor Martino began her college career expecting to be involved in advertising.
Martino, a Florida native, came to Stephens as an interior design major, but she said she found interior design limiting. When she changed her major to graphic design, she said, she was given the freedom to use her creative skills without being held back by technical or financial factors.
"I knew right away that this program was where I was meant to be," she said.
Niewald came from St. Louis with plans to pursue a career in dance therapy. Halfway through her freshman year, she realized she was not as engaged with her program as she had hoped to be and made the switch to marketing.
"I was so much happier and so much more motivated to succeed almost instantly," she said. "Marketing is a scary field to go into, but that's what's exciting about it. I've tried things I never thought I would."
Niewald said the all-female staff at Creative Ink is able to work well together.
"I've heard the phrase 'Girls compete with each other, but women empower each other,'" Niewald said. "Advertising is a competitive field. I know that for a fact. Because we at Creative Ink are all women, I feel that we are able to empower each other and give each other a different point of view. We’re kind to one another while still getting our point across."
Creative Ink hopes to have its initial concepts for the airport re-branding fleshed out and ready to share with airport staff by Tuesday, Niewald said. The final product will be unveiled in early 2014.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.