Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Smile Please

“Say cheese!”

Here we are in a severe recession and parents need to make informed decisions about the most appropriate school for their children. Yet too frequently Independent School prospectuses and web sites resort almost exclusively, to images of smiling children! Yes it is important that children enjoy the process of learning, but “cheesy snaps” are not going to convey those distinct ingredients that make each school special.

In fact to reveal the true benefits of a school takes time and a well thought out strategy. Images that reflect the character and spirit of a school will involve careful planning and research. Furthermore, there is a rare skill in being able to understand the real benefits of a particular school. Is it highly academic, does it major on extra curriculum activities, is it highly artistic or musical, dose in maximise on its unique location, near water mountains or centres in a major city? The process of accurately reflecting the life and spirit of a school is more complex than it first appears! Nonetheless this is very important if we are going to give parents and future children the ability to exercise choice.

Pretty pictures are one thing, but even more demanding is how do you effectively communicate the very qualities that make one school different (or even better) from the next. It’s all too easy to confuse school photography with wedding photography, spreads, festooned with smiling attractive children. In fact many photographers commissioned to handle schools are in fact wedding photographers. But this photographic culture can have a limited scope and even demeaning effect in communicating the real advantages of a particular school.
 All too frequently parents and staff are getting short changed because schools’ marketing material looking superficial and identical to promotional material of competitive schools.
The question, which needs to be addressed, is “how can prospective parents make informed choices for the most suitable school for their children, when the marketing material is identical to other schools?”

The answer is simple – “with difficulty!”

In this time of a financial challenge, parents, more than ever need to be able to make informed choices. The importance of clear information to avoid confusion when selecting a school for their children.
There are a few basic questions that when addressed, will help schools to shape and create effective marketing material. Why are we producing a new prospectus or web site? Who is it for, and who are we aiming at? Who are we competing against? What makes our school distinctive? Do we implement a different culture to other schools that appeals to a particular group? The benefits of a school designed for single sex education, compared with co-education. Consideration should be given to the school’s environment as well as its demographics, which both have a bearing on the choice between boarding and day. Can a creative use of photography enable the school to convey these benefits?

For a school marketing initiative to be effective, parents need to be able to have an insight that reveals the school’s individual character.  Each school must aim to convey why it is different; the quality, the breadth, the unique benefits, the ethos. Inspired photography and clean design can play a pivotal role in enabling parents and their children to make more enlightened decisions about a school. Aim for high quality, no gimmicks, no tricks. Saying “cheese” will not convey the right message! Transparency and clear thinking are the essential ingredients for an effective marketing strategy.

Getting your strategy right will put a smile on your face!

For more information please visit our website

Monday, 18 May 2009

Vive la difference!!!

I recently attended the BSA Head’s Conference where a provocative, but thought provoking Kevin Roberts CEO of Worldwide Saatchi & Saatchi said he found school marketing consistently boring and uninspiring. He went on to say as we were facing a serious financial crisis what steps were schools taking to succeed in the downturn?

Similarly at an AMDIS Marketing conference last year I spoke to two heads that complained that all prospectuses looked the same, (I resisted saying that they are the people responsible for approving them!) Many are beginning to question their whole approach to schools marketing. This is a wake up call! For too long it has been possible to swap the name on the cover of one school’s prospectus and exchange it for another. The real problem is that you probably would not have spotted the difference! These solutions are driven by unthinking suppliers with a “that’ll do” policy. Sadly, this is no joke, but a fact!

There are a number of excellent creative companies, but still too many, that are happy to churn out cost cutting, bland, conveyor belt, design solutions for schools. They will send in a photographer for a couple of days to get a few standard classroom and sports shots. It is not surprising it is difficult to distinguish one school from another. The strategy is well rehearsed; a shiny navy blue cover with the mandatory crest, the serif titling and a picture of children outside the main building. Inside the theme continues each spread is festooned with static shots of smiling children all taken from two meters away! One prep school prospectus I saw recently had three, patronising pictures of the head in it but hardly any of its staff! This approach will do the school no favours.

The other extreme are companies who subject the schools to irrelevant graphic solutions that are different, but for totally the wrong reasons. For example, a very good school in Surrey was pursuaded to adopt ‘EasyJet’ orange in the name of difference. I’m relieved to say they’ve given up on that wild excursion now and have reinstated navy blue! Then more recently, I came across a marketing package for a school, all built around the DVD packaging, where the designers had hidden the prospectus inside the DVD cover, it took me four days to find it, ridiculous!! The “design” should not be the captivating feature of the prospectus, but the “school.” Years ago someone at the Royal College of Art said to me “Good design never gets noticed.” Put another way the design is subservient to its task of effective communication, not a self-indulgent whim. It is only by familiarisation of the life and spirit of a school that an informed design can take shape. Informed design solutions can help parents/pupils make informed decisions about the appropriateness of one school as opposed to another.

Schools are unique. They are all very different from each other. They serve different markets and aim at different clientele. A child will find one school will be more appropriate to his/her needs than another. Prospectus design difference needs to be driven by the school’s ethos, spirit and character, not by bland or esoteric design solutions. The prospectus will be different if it is an honest portrayal.


Front cover for Radley College (also known as "The Pink Cover") created by JWA Ltd., 2008

For more information please visit our website

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Our work on ebook

JWALTD  always try to find a fresh solution to solving the brief.

We believe the image speaks a thousand words. So our photography drives much of our 
design work. We are convinced the public are more visually articulate than ever before and 
make judgements on what they see before they read. 

We specialise in the production of marketing material for both the independent educational and commercial property sectors.

Here's a selection of our latest photographic and illustration work on Ebook format.

Myebook - Jon Willcocks Associates - click here to open my ebook

For more information please visit our website

Friday, 20 February 2009

Quick fix?


SCHOOLS marketing departments tell me they are inundated by eager agencies offering corporate branding as a one–stop solutions. 

We visited a school recently where the management had invested in a very convincing “brand” but despite that, the head was concerned, because of falling rolls – particularly by a severe lack of response to uptake in the pre-prep department. We looked at the existing prospectus package and noticed that the designer had allocated a tiny DL-sized leaflet to that department. The design concept had driven the solution, which, although attractive, in this case had failed to give the pre-prep department the importance it deserved.

Design solutions should convey information effectively, and should not impose artificial constraints on important information.

We visited another school whose academic reputation was good, yet whose corporate image was very poorly implemented. It appeared there was no specific typeface for the school logo.

Inevitably the website, prospectus and mailshots all suffered from a lack of visual coordination.

For a school that provides a culture of excellence for its students, it’s no longer acceptable to muddle along with a confused marketing strategy. We live in a society where the public are more visually literate than they have ever been. Both of these schools have suffered because of poor advice, and the apparent appeal of ‘one–stop’ solutions.

There are a number of agencies offering one-stop’ solutions that claim to resolve all marketing issues. I think this ‘can do’ philosophy has a compelling appeal to a number of schools, but a quick-fix is not that simple. started my career as a graphic designer working for Sir Norman Foster, and at the time he would (and the company still does) call upon the expertise of specialist consultants to undertake a project, structural engineers, for example.

Similarly I question the ability of these ‘one-stop’ marketing’ companies to exercise ‘best practise’ for a school. It would be a brave claim for a company to be sufficiently talented to undertake the school’s photography, corporate design, prospectus design, DVD filming and web construction, yet they do!

We talk to a wide range of schools across the country regarding prospectus design, and a surprising number complain that agencies are increasingly offering design solutions that have failed to promote a thorough understanding of the dynamics of their school. Perhaps the true qualities of the school are being lost in the name of ‘creative design’. We have seen a plethora of images of smiling children that give little idea of what a school really has to offer. Someone once said ‘that good design never gets noticed’ – clearly there is an element of truth in this. Of course, prospectus design isn’t an end itself but a communication vehicle, it should be, in our opinion, subordinate to its subject, even understated.

In our view, the primary task of the prospectus is to excite and inform, but not to disclose all. Its purpose is to reflect the qualities that make each school ‘special’; it is only by a thorough understanding of the school that this is achievable. It needs to persuade parents and children to visit a school for themselves. Increasingly, parents are looking for breadth in education for their children. Sport can cultivate teamwork and cooperation. Drama, music and art can encourage creativity, individuality and enriches the soul.

JWA is continually analysing how best a school can effectively communicate its breadth of curriculum. We consider it essential to spend time familiarizing ourselves with the life of the school, talking to staff, taking meaningful photographs to gain a better understanding of what makes each school ‘special’. What makes it special, its academic achievements, its location, its ambience, and its legacy? What is it, specifically, that the children enjoy about the school? It could be the brilliant teaching, or the friendly atmosphere. These are factors, which are difficult to capture without a deeper knowledge of the school.

Prospectuses will only be different in appearance when they honestly reflect the life and spirit of each unique institution. To maintain best practice it is vital we maintain careful monitoring of the printing process. Poor printing can undermine all the effort put into the design and photographic process. Similarly the choice of paper can make a real difference to the feel and presentation of the final product.

For more information please visit our website