What makes a profile truly riveting? How do you get readers to say, “Wow, I want to know that person or I want to have that kind of experience”?

By writing for your audience — and finding a creative format to match.

Publications like The New Yorker write for readers willing to while away an afternoon soaking up almost epic-length profiles. But in higher ed, you might not have as much space to tell someone’s story — or the readers willing to invest time in a lengthy narrative.

Good news: There’s more than one way to write and style a captivating profile.

Draw inspiration from these examples created for higher ed audiences — from prospective students to donors — and featured in our partner projects.


#1

Quickie Quiz

Bucknell Magazine Pop Quiz

Project:

Bucknell University magazine

What we did:

Bucknell Magazine profiles alums through multiple-choice questions and comments from the person profiled.

Why it works:

When we surveyed Bucknell Magazine readers, we learned they craved more contests and quizzes, so we added a twist on a standard quiz as a profile format. These creative profiles reveal colorful details about the alum, using his or her own words, that you might miss in a full-length feature. In the quiz profile, Bucknell alum Gbenga Akinnagbe, who plays a pimp in the new David Simon series The Deuce, reveals his favorite costume from the show: a floor-length cowhide coat designed specifically for him.

How to make it work for you:

Style your questions from serious to weird — to bring out each subject’s personality. And keep the profile visually interesting by mixing up the question format and typography.


#2

24-7, A Day in my life

UHC A day in my life

Project:

University of Holy Cross viewbook

What we did:

UHC’s new “Do Good. Do Well.” brand concept emphasizes students as people with a purpose and spotlights personal success stories through mini profiles.

WHY IT WORKS:

This profile style follows students’ lives in a 24-hour day, using timestamps, photos and one-line summaries to show students in internships, jobs, class and with family. They’re a quick read and get the main point across: students can fit UHC into their already busy lives.

Indeed, Stephanie Nguyen’s 24-7 profile shows how she balances two jobs, project research and coursework all in the same day.

How to make it work for you:

Catch your readers’ attention with snippets of information that matter to them and bring out your brand.


#3

BLURB-O-MATIC

Bryn Mawr Faculty Profile

Project:

Bryn Mawr College magazine

What we did:

The Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin redesign features a recurring faculty profile told through first-person blurbs. Examples from a profile of a Bryn Mawr sociology professor Piper Coutinho-Sledge include:

  • What I study: My current research focuses on the “gender trouble” created by cancer-care patients whose bodies and identities don’t match the expectations of medical professionals.
  • The lure of academia: I worked for a nonprofit for a while and got sucked back into academia. I couldn’t stay away.
  • Gender, work, and organization: There’s more to gender than add women and stir.

Why it works:

This breezy format gives you a glimpse inside a faculty member’s research (without drowning readers in distracting details or complex academic-speak). In magazines with long-format features, this short profile style offers a nice change of pace.

How to make it work for you:

Keep it short and simple. Choose four to five topics and distill each topic down to one sentence.


#4

Graphic resume

Union College profiles

Project:

Union College admissions microsite

What we did:

Building off Union’s brand focused on learning at the intersection of many ideas, its viewbook, postcards, admissions microsite, and other tools feature short profiles as graphics. Each component represents a key accomplishment and intersections of experience.

WhY IT WORKS:

Union’s typical student is good at many different things. So why just focus on one? In a quick snapshot, the graphic profiles wow student prospects with ideas of what they could achieve at Union.

Keilah Creedon’s profile shows how you could research modern forms of slavery, win a Fulbright to teach in Africa, study in Tanzania, explore medieval dance and music, major in math and history, and learn Swahili.

How to make it work for you:

Put design first. Brainstorm new ways to use your existing graphic devices — then write specifically for the space.


#5

Tools of the trade

Shipley Profile

Project:

Shipley School magazine

What we did:

In this recurring department, Shipley Magazine profiles teachers by asking about their personal interests and career journeys.

WhY IT WORKS:

From pet peeves to favorite words, this format humanizes teachers and imparts tidbits about what makes them endearing — like Spanish teacher Heather Riley’s giant tub of popcorn that she refills for her students each week. This profile shows off Shipley’s teaching style, but keeps its personalities front and center.

How to make it work for you:

Humanize your faculty by looking inside their work spaces. Or focus your questions on physical objects related to their personal interests, career journeys or teaching philosophies.


#6

Concept king

Tippie Viewbook

Project:

University of Iowa Tippie College of Business viewbook

What we did:

Tippie uses “pivot points” as a repeated storytelling device in the college’s new communications tools to highlight defining moments: personal success stories, institutional innovations and confidence-building experiences that are uniquely Tippie. Every person’s story reinforces the campaign theme.

Why it works:

Short- and long-form profiles trim the fat to convey how Tippie grads pivot careers (from journalist to financial analyst, from the Peace Corps to Citibank, from researcher to advisor).

Kandis Meinders’ short profile highlights how she made one quick turn with an Iowa MBA to change careers, pivoting from researcher to advisor with one of the world’s top consulting firms. Online, a long-format story covers her career change in greater detail.

how to make it work for you:

To drive your concept, bring the most colorful info that supports your message to the top, even if it’s not the most conventionally “important.”


#7

Multi-channel mega merger

Forte Foundation

Project:

Forté Foundation campaign

What we did:

Using a mix of articles and videos, the Forté MBAs on the Move campaign profiles women business leaders ranging from Twitter’s senior director of global business marketing to Citibank’s manager of U.S. investments to a global hostel entrepreneur.

Why it works:

Forté disseminates its flagship profiles on its website, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to reach Millennial women who aren’t considering business careers. This multi-media approach connects young women at different touchpoints with relatable role models.

How to make it work for you:

Start packaging your profiles for all communications channels from the get-go. For instance, when your video story is complete, write content for other channels at the same time. Make it accessible to key audiences by promoting it on Twitter, your website, publications and other channels.


#8

Graphic Novella

Nazareth College

Project:

Nazareth College admissions magazette

What we did:

Nazareth’s quarterly admissions magazette features an illustrated travelogue — a student’s study abroad experience told through interesting details.

Why it works:

It cuts to the chase with fun things the student experienced and puts the reader in the scene — from interning at the Reichstag in Berlin to experiencing an outdoor Christmas market teeming with holiday foods and trinkets.

How to make it work for you:

Bring your profiles to life through illustrations — and save money in the process.


#9

Split personality

W&L profile

Project:

Washington and Lee University magazine

What we did:

W&L Magazine features two-part profiles that provide a glimpse into the lives of faculty, students and alumni. The profile is split into two pieces: on and off-campus.

Why it works:

Based on survey responses, faculty profiles were among the highest interest areas for W&L readers.

A magazine redesign introduced this new format to celebrate professors both for expertise in the classroom — and for their hobbies outside the classroom. For instance, Spanish professor Seth Michelson’s profile shows his two sides: writing/translating poetry and experiencing other cultures firsthand with his family.

How to make it work for you:

Hit the sweet spot between what your university needs to communicate (academic quality or rigor) and what your readers want (cool profs with personality). This format strikes the right balance.


#10

People mapping

St. Ed's Infographic

Project:

St. Edward’s University magazine

What we did:

St. Ed’s Magazine features a cluster of St. Edward’s creatives living and working together in New York. A big-picture infographic sidebar — made up of tiny shots that show interrelationships — helps readers track all the faces in this creative collective.

Why it works:

This infographic maps how each alum’s individual career and life intertwines with everyone else. It quickly connects storylines from the longer companion feature.

How to make it work for you:

Turn complex information into a table that supplements the main story. Score bonus points if your infographic also hits on a major brand benefit— like an active alumni network.


Learn more

Whether you’re managing a new brand after launch or story mining for a magazine, Zehno can help shape how audiences view your institution. Read more about our content development services.