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

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