The Agency launches a creative entity and a ringtone that blasts KU nostalgia


The Agency, the School of Journalism’s student-run advertising and branding agency, launched a new entity this fall called Steam Whistle Creative.

Students threw a croquet tournament launch party on the Stauffer-Flint Hall lawn on Oct. 21, within a stone’s throw of the new group’s inspiration, the KU steam whistle.

Calling themselves “design daredevils” and “fearlessly creative,” students said Steam Whistle Creative was created to offer options for clients who might be looking for marketing and messaging campaigns that are a little less traditional and a little more edgy and unconventional.

"Steam Whistle Creative is our brand that's kind of quirky, kind of out there,” said J-School student Erica Hines, director of research and strategy at The Agency. “If we have a client who comes to us and doesn't really want a full-fledged campaign but maybe just wants a video or some social media content, Steam Whistle might take that over and kind of run that show.”

Hines said Steam Whistle also serves as a “creative hothaus” for J-School students who want a playground to try out their more innovative, off-the-wall ideas.

"It's really because we wanted to have one image of just a creative branch,” said J-School student Chris Palmquist, president of The Agency. “We wanted to have an outlet for the creative students and production people who they can do this ‘out-there’ stuff.”

Their first project was unveiled at the launch party: a ringtone of the KU steam whistle that can be downloaded from the iTunes store for $1.29 (instructions below). The students, inspired by the loud, forceful, not-to-be-ignored campus sounder, recognized the marketing and branding opportunity of the steam whistle that no one else had embraced, so they ran with it.

"It's mostly a fun thing,” Palmquist said. “It’s something we saw as a low-cost thing that we could put out there but really brand-able for Steam Whistle Creative and really cool for alumni because no one has really branded the steam whistle on campus. We wanted to stay KU but kind of get away from the classic Jayhawk imagery."

Palmquist said they are still working with Google Play, and hope to have the ringtone available there soon.

The students chose a croquet tournament as the theme for their launch party because they wanted to convey the spirit of their brand, something that is “an attention grabber.”

“We see doing this on the front lawn with something out there like a croquet party, and we wanted people to walk by and say ‘What is this?’” Palmquist said.

While getting Steam Whistle Creative off the ground, The Agency students were also working with KU’s Human Resources Management on a new marketing and branding campaign called People Fuel. The campaign raises awareness about the importance of a good human resources department at the university. The name “People Fuel” comes from the idea that HRM is the fuel needed to keep KU running smoothly.

"What we found out is that when people think of HR it's like they go there when they don’t get paid, or they think they are going to get fired,” Palmquist said. “It's usually nothing good. We wanted to show people that HR is actually the thing that keeps the university moving, and when it's moving well you don't notice them, but you should still appreciate them.”

“People Fuel” officially kicked off at the biometric screening sessions Sept. 12 with a coffee giveaway. On Oct. 31, KU faculty, staff and students were encouraged to come trick-or-treat with HRM and pick up “People Fuel” mugs and candy. HRM staff handed out the treats in the rotunda of Strong Hall.

Learn more about The Agency or Steam Whistle Creative

—Julie Adam