From Yale University to the University of Southern California, live mascots and their handlers all joined together to attend the 2022 Collegiate Live Mascot Conference. The University of Indianapolis was able to co-host the event with Butler University on Aug. 3 and 4, according to WTHR. According to Marketing Manager of Butler and Butler Blue’s handler Evan Krauss, this event allowed 15 schools across the country who have live animals as their mascots to attend. The last conference, which was also the first, was held in 2018 at the University of Colorado.
Krauss said the conference only applied to schools who have live mascots and their handlers, as well as anyone who had a part in the live mascots branding program at their school. However, not all 58 programs nationwide who have live mascots were able to attend.
“… About half the schools who attended this year also attended the last one, so we were able to see a lot of new faces which was really cool. It was an opportunity for us,” Krauss said.
With the live mascot program being re-introduced recently at the University of Indianapolis, this conference was a good opportunity to learn new things, according to Marketing and Communication manager and Grady’s handler Coran Sigman. There are about five schools who have mascots who are Greyhounds, but Grady is the only live mascot that exists so far.
“[Butler] offered to host it in Indianapolis when it was time for it to come up again and then COVID[-19] hit, so they haven’t been able to have it in the last three years,” Sigman said. “So at that point, the university didn’t have Grady yet, and so when we developed a program, I reached out to the Butler Blue’s program and said, ‘We would love to co-host this if the conference is coming to Indy.’”
The conference had five different sessions, ranging from merchandising to working with other parts of the campus. Furthermore, the Indianapolis Colts mascot Blue was also there to talk through how live mascots and costume mascots can work together to help one another, Sigman said.
“… Blue [came] and talk[ed] about how our live animals can work with a costume counterpart and how we can bring personality and branding and all of these things to animals that can’t talk; they don’t really have a physical voice but we can apply emotions and personality and branding to them,” Sigman said.
During the two-day event, the handlers gained information that will help them learn to build an audience on social media and translate that to in-person events as well, Krauss said. This information was able to help the people in attendance because not everyone has the job of being the handler of a live mascot for a college or university.
“It was a way for us to give a baseline and then more detailed things, such as social media, how to make sure you’re engaging with that audience and then how you can turn that voice on social media into making sure that you are there for your students in that same voice and to make sure that voice matches up together,” Krauss said. “So that when your students are interacting with your dog in person, it makes it feel like they are still dealing with the same dog they are talking with online throughout the week.”
One thing that validated Sigman at the conference was that other people can relate to their live mascots having an impact on the campus community. She said that one of the best things she has experienced with Grady is when students come up and hug him because they had a bad day or even that they miss their dog at home.
“… They just had a bad day, anything, and they see him and it brightens their day, that’s why we are here,” Sigman said. “That’s the special additive that he can give to campus that we don’t have without him…. Social media is great and programs do it very well, but what it boils down to is how can we be there for our campus communities and I feel like I was validated and searching for that from this conference.”
The marketing department left the conference with many ideas. Sigman said that since there were 15 schools in attendance, Grady was given more opportunities to engage with other live mascots and grow his relationships with not only the other mascots, but the students at UIndy as well.
“Now we can really dive into bringing in big players across campus, so Student Affairs, athletics, academics, bring them into one room and say, ‘How can Grady be the proof,’ kind of back to that one statement of, ‘Our brand is our promise’ but the student experience is the proof. How can Grady help really bring that proof to life and provide the best student experience for our students?” Sigman said.