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Dublin calling - 22 May 2013
St Gerard’s is the latest school to contact “the school branding experts”.
Following a trip to Dublin to meet the Principal, Head and Governors we have been commissioned to review the school’s brand identity and create a new prospectus pack – all pretty fast track with term ending at the end of the month.
“The girls think that the prospectus is really cool” -
In this months Independent Schools Magazine, Paul Kilvington supports the role of a well considered prospectus…
On the ‘circuit’, the question I am most often asked is “Are the days of the prospectus numbered?” This is of course entirely dependent on how one interprets ‘prospectus’. So, this month, I want to dispel some myths and attempt to clearly define the nature of this beast!
When I first became involved in this sector some fifteen years ago it was all about the prospectus. Marketing was rather sniffed at by many and branding was certainly not on the radar of Governors and most Heads. However our very first prospectus for Stowe established a brand still in use today and almost every prospectus I have produced since has included the development of a refreshed or new logotype and brand identity, albeit in the early years somewhat covertly! Then, most propectuses were very formulaic, standard in shape, size and structure. A passive collection of staged, wooden photographs and clichéd, often copious, text, with almost interchangeable covers. Incredibly some of these dinosaurs still survive and are in use today.
For me a prospectus is, and always has been, an emotive document with a very clear objective; to stimulate a visit. If a recipient thinks, “Wow! This place looks really special. We can’t afford not to find out more!” then it’s doing its job. Having created over 200 prospectuses, all of which are unique to each individual school, the question has been asked, “How are they all so different? Surely all schools are basically the same.” Well, perhaps in 80% of respects that is true, but it is the remaining 20% that holds the key. This represents what makes the school distinctive, special, unique; what sets it apart from competitors and what should underpin the direction and style of the prospectus. And there is only really one way to truly identify that. By listening. Your designer, the person actually responsible for coming up with the idea, approach, visual and written style and tone, has to engage with your constituents and audience. For me this is two or three days spent at the school, really getting under its skin. Perhaps the most important stakeholders? – the pupils themselves. Your end product and your best advocates.
This process will help establish the key messages to be communicated, a clear positioning and core brand values – in effect, the brief. Tempting though it might be to develop a preconceived idea of structure and format, far better for it to come out of this essential foundation stage. Trust your designer. Allow him or her to bring something new to the party. After all, that is what you are really paying for.
It may well be that you don’t actually need a prospectus, in its commonly perceived form, at all! An Annual Report, or almost a piece of direct mail may be more appropriate. For The Cheltenham Ladies’ College, a mini prospectus developed as a more cost effective response to overseas enquiries, arguably became more effective than our full prospectus. The girls loved it! For The King’s School, Canterbury an Annual Review we are currently working on will, I’m sure, become a primary marketing document, as well as communicating with alumni from a development perspective. A follow up to our “Life in a
Day of Seven Dolphins” – “Where are they now” – together with a ‘programme’ and folio poster focused on a new film, “A year in the Life of the Dolphins”, will collectively effectively become the school prospectus.
A good prospectus should not be style over substance. Nor should it be complex or in any way gimmicky. Proprietary pop up or pull out packages incorporating CDs or sticks that look much the same as any other are a missed opportunity. Many of the strongest prospectuses are paired down and relatively minimalist, effectively communicating a strong, immediate and focused message. Most importantly they are bespoke and rooted in the ethos and values of the school they are portraying.
Stunning, engaging photography capturing the moment in a real, honest and engaging way, whether grabbed or set up, is paramount. Occasionally we have been presented with a set of photographs or even a photographer. Whilst, inevitably some images will have to be supplied, often of a ski trip or a visiting speaker taken by a member of staff or a pupil, key shots need to be taken by a professional photographer, selected following the identification of a clear strategy and strong creative concept. Most importantly they need to be art directed with an eye on both aesthetics and messages.
The power of words is often underestimated, overshadowed by images and regarded with trepidation by the nominated author. In my experience schools approach this in different ways, each of which can work. Some feel it their prerogative to develop final copy, others like to devolve responsibility. For some, mainly high concept approaches, I have been known to write the copy, informed first hand by the initial focus groups. Otherwise a copywriter is commissioned. Perhaps the most successful route is collaborative, with the structure and maybe headings, developed by the designer, a first draft content by the school and then a joint editing, refining and proofing process.
A piece of print, in whatever form, has a tactile quality, often a smell and a physical presence that invites interactivity and an emotive response that digital media can never properly emulate. I am wary of prospectus pdfs on a web site. Why? Well, surely better to stimulate a prospectus request and in so doing a conversation and rapport with the Registrar. And beware clever, virtual, page turning ‘print on screen’. There are much better ways to communicate this content on line.
Good, well-considered print can demonstrate craftsmanship, an attention to detail, elegance, style and personality, often less corporate, less hard sell, more approachable and truly reflective of a school’s brand. Is it certainly still a highly effective and relevant part of the marketing mix, informed by and complimentary to, other media, whether social, web based or film, particularly when consistently reflecting a coherent, compelling brand identity. And if, throughout its life, pupils consider it cool, whatever that really means, it will inevitably be a successful part of your marketing and communication material.
New projects for the oldest school in the Country - 8 March 2013
With its origins tracing back to 597, The King’s School, Canterbury has commissioned “the school branding experts” to create and produce an Annual Review to both communicate with Alumni and market the school. A row of currently under utilised shop fronts on the historic Palace Street on the school boundary will also benefit from some innovate new display material designed to act as a high impact and interactive showcase to the multiplicity of King’s activities.
Research involving numerous focus groups has now been completed and positioning, values and messages defined, with design now underway. Watch this space!
“Jewel discovered” in Hemel Hempstead -
A rather special 3 – 16 girls school, Abbot’s Hill, has selected “the school branding experts” to refresh its brand identity and produce a new prospectus pack and web site to effectively communicate and really put the school on the map, following the appointment of a new Head. In depth discussions with representatives of all constituents have already highlighted a number of opportunities and creative interpretation is advancing rapidly. The jewel is being polished!
Shaken not stirred - 8 January 2013
Many who have seen the latest Bond movie, Skyfall will have left with the thought, Wow, the best yet?! Perhaps, but what really stuck me was that it is unmistakably a Bond movie. True to Fleming’s character and concept; looking, sounding and feeling like a Bond movie. Perhaps more importantly it fulfils most people’s various individual expectations of what a Bond movie is. It retains the heritage, brings it up to date and is a fresh, contemporary take. Arguably the most successful movie franchise ever, Bond is bang on brand.
A successful school is no different. Putting the brand at the heart of your marketing and communication makes a huge difference. And this isn’t just about a logo – count how many times you see the (albeit iconic) 007 logo on screen – it is about everything the school, does, says, feels, sounds and smells like. More importantly it is about what your audience understands you to be – your reputation. And branding is reputation management.
To use a construction analogy, your brand is the firm foundation upon which all your marketing and communication activity should be built. Get it right and everything will be much stronger. Get it wrong and there is a danger of everything ultimately collapsing.
I have experienced instances where a request for the development of the brand, often described as a new logo, is almost secondary on a web site brief and developers are invited to pitch. Also where print designers or photographers are invited to discuss a new prospectus and develop a new brand, or again, logo, almost as an afterthought.
This is rather like inviting a kitchen specialist or interior designer to help you design and build your dream house. They may have a role to play subsequently but such things are best left to the experts.
So how do you go about choosing the right company to work with to help build your brand, or even to properly understand your brand and use it in an innovative, distinctive way without compromising its integrity or consistency? Firstly, to paraphrase an old adage associated with our analogy, Experience, Experience, Experience. Yes, of course, you need to get on with them, afford them, trust them, but, above all else, what have they actually done – and not just for schools – for whom, for how long and with what success?
Can they provide evidence? Did they keep to budget and deliver on time? Do they really understand branding – and your brand? Fundamentally, is the person presenting actually the specialist who will be working with you, or in reality does he/she know someone who is a graphic designer?!
A recent article in the FT, discussing how grand brands need grand design, describes how marketing schools is often all about changing perceptions – how many public schools with big, well established brands, perceived by many as elitist, were actually affordable, educating the best of the best rather than the best of the rich. This is true branding. Easy to get wrong, but invaluable when done properly.
St George’s open day - 4 October 2012
“Amazing!! Over double the numbers at Open Day from this time last year which is incredible! The bags & prospectuses looked fab and were greeted with lots of oohs and ahhhs! Six registrations on the day too!”
“We love the new branding – smart, sophisticated. The whole school looks great!”
“Incidentally, I do like the new logo more and more – on the Calendar, the Invitation to Dinner and on the website (which is looking infinitely better). Well done!”
“The new website is astonishing, you are right to be proud of it.”
Member of Staff
More to come about the phenomenal success of our latest project…
‘Charitable’ independents, it’s time to be rebranded - 21 September 2012
They are among the oldest charities in the country, with histories stretching back many hundreds of years. But according to one leading private school headmaster, it is time to rebrand independent schools. By Irena Barker, The TES. Nicholas Allen, chair of the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) and Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council (ISC) are both quoted.
Postcard from Menorca - 31 August 2012
Into the last week of my annual sabbatical in Menorca and reflecting
on the past academic year and looking forward to the next. I’ve been coming
here for ten years. Up until a couple of years ago things were thriving. The
hustle and bustle of tourism, with boat owners in particular paying dearly
for exclusive berths, executive service and exquisite food. Grand designs
on prime plots. New bars and boutiques bountiful.
This year things are a little different. Far fewer people. The expensive,
but not quite so good places are gone and the people who relied heavily on
what they thought was their water tight client base are really struggling.
In a tough, declining market ( this year has been the most difficult for all
of us) only those with a clearly defined product or service, selling to an
audience they really understand and look after, seem to be surviving and
So, as you contemplate the new term, perhaps as a new head, a head with
ambitious new plans or even as a head with a mission to merely survive,
what has all this got to do with you? It strikes me that there are many parallels.
A specialist, declining market. Increased competition. External influences
beyond your control. Maybe your numbers are down. Perhaps your results are
not quite so good as previous years. Does your main competitor appear to be
enjoying some success as a result of all that marketing of their new boarding
facility. Has a new Academy just opened locally….??
Rather that batten down the hatches and live with that rather tired image for
yet another year, or make do with a cheap and cheerful prospectus revamp
or web site re skin, perhaps now is exactly the right time to invest in your
brand. To clearly differentiate yourself and communicate what makes you
special to an audience that is actively looking for your kind of school. Your
style of education. Your particular ethos and values.
As in Menorca, even the big brands cannot afford to be complacent. A modest
budget, carefully focused, can have a huge impact, particularly if part of an
ongoing brand and communications strategy. It could make all the difference.
Or has too much sun got to me?
Wish you were here!
Survival of the fittest - 23 April 2012
At the Cheltenham Design Festival Stephen Bayley and Roger Mavity, under the rather illusory title of ‘Profits of Doom’, attempted to pitch their paperback, ‘Life’s a Pitch’. Their open conversation soon led to the merits, or rather dangers, of research. Too much research, they mooted, rather than an idea born of gut instinct, passionately communicated, was inevitably a recipe for failure. Perhaps unsurprisingly this prompted indignation from Peter York, sitting on the back row, who attempted to defend research, in the form of another self promotional pitch, thinly disguised as a question, during the customary closing session.
Whilst agreeing that it is certainly possible to stifle a good idea by over researching, my question to the duo was; “Whilst in many instances it pays to have the courage of one’s convictions and in effect to be ‘product’ driven is it is not also very important to understand your audience, their requirements and anxieties, in order to successfully pitch? – ie to undertake some, albeit perhaps informal, research. After some discussion this point was conceded.
Given opportunity, and the appropriate platform, I would have proffered our launch of Range Rover in North America as a supporting anecdote. Focus groups comprising potential customers soon confirmed that they were not looking to buy a luxury SUV at all. What they actually wanted was what they perceived as an English country lifestyle. So, with the help of photographer, Patrick Lichfield, that is exactly what we sold them, ultimately leading to what has proved over the years to be a very successful pitch indeed.
So, what has all this to do with the survival of independent schools? On the same day, the front page of the Telegraph carried an article headed, Private schools becoming ‘preserve of the super-rich, continuing on page 2 under the title, Private schools must evolve ‘or face extinction’. Alarming, but a logical and perhaps believable prognosis. Whilst this rather pessimistic prediction is not really ratified by current statistics, it does highlight the need to be vigilant in navigating our way though the current storms in education.
Whilst I’m certainly not advocating anything other than fundamentally pitching (to use our presenter’s terminology) the most appropriate school for a particular child, there will of course be particular emotional trigger drivers that need to be identified in order to clearly focus marketing and communication activity. A clear understanding of what makes a particular school different and special, alongside a real knowledge of the target audience, what they are looking for and what may concern them, with a specific focus on aims and objectives, will certainly help formulate a clearly defined marketing strategy. This will help take control of and manage reputation, in effect branding. And if, as the article suggests, independent schools are in danger of being “frozen in the past”, a coherent, compelling, consistent, distinctive and engaging brand will become increasingly important in ensuring that our independent schools remain relevant and competitive.