Deluxe Black Business Spotlight: MSR refreshes brand for next generation

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One of the most noteworthy stories of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder’s 87-year history never made it to print, but it did inspire founder Cecil E. Newman to start not one, but two newspapers in Minneapolis and St. Paul. After leaving Kansas City as a 17-year-old Pullman porter, Newman ventured North to escape racism, only to find the same discrimination in Minnesota. 

“My grandfather thought he would have more opportunity here, but once he got to Minnesota and went to a restaurant, he was served a burger laced with salt,” said third-generation MSR Publisher Tracey Williams-Dillard. 

Over the years, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) has continued its legacy as a trusted voice to Black communities across the state, covering human interest stories from a Black perspective. And while revenues of newspapers nationwide have plummeted over the last 15 years, Tracey has successfully steered her grandfather’s business into the digital era. 

Looking to the future, however, Tracey knows appealing to younger readers will be vital to securing the MSR’s longevity. “Trying to get the old-school to come into the new-school is a challenge,” she said.

Timing of rethinking the newspaper’s brand strategy couldn’t be more perfect, as the MSR was one of six Black-owned businesses selected to be featured in Season 6 of the Small Business Revolution—an Emmy-nominated series by Deluxe designed to help small businesses overcome marketing, finance and operational challenges. 

Energizing the brand 

From the beginning, the design team at Deluxe wanted to honor the legacy of the MSR but modernize it a bit more to appeal to digital audiences. 

Selecting a mood board

One of the first steps in a brand refresh is to develop a mood board. This serves as a collection of imagery and colors to capture the feeling of the MSR and influence final color palettes, typography and photography style. Tracey leaned toward a board that was more soulful, confident, cultural and bold. 

Using the mood board as a guide, Deluxe developed several logo concepts—from modern to traditional—keeping in mind the goal of attracting a more youthful audience. Tracey gravitated to the version with a big, bold and straightforward vibe where MSR is iconographic and instantly recognizable. The angles also give a sense of forward momentum, which is exactly where Tracy sees her family business headed.

Watch the complete makeover

For those curious to see all the changes made to this longstanding business— including a full remodel of the interior of the newsroom—head to Hulu, Prime Video or smallbusinessrevolution.org, where Deluxe teams up with community leaders and industry, financial and tech experts to help the MSR keep founder Cecil Newman’s vision alive.

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