Kathy: Welcome to The Unspoken Truth of Successful Branding. I would now like to introduce Shane Shanks senior strategist and editorial director at Zehno and our client, Christy Zurcher, director of communications at Ursuline Academy of New Orleans.
Shane: Today we’ll take you behind the scenes on a big rebranding project. We’ll cover each key stage:
• Before you start: we’ll review the essentials to have in place.
• Setting the foundation: your research, brand messages, creative concept.
• Creating your content: bringing the stories to life.
• Making it real: we’ll show how our main pieces rolled out.
• Making it last: we’ll outline what you need in place for long-term success.
Here’s the unspoken truth about this webinar: it is focused on one school. We’re doing that so you can see everything it takes to pull off an entire branding project.
But the process would be very similar for other types of schools — from community colleges to liberal arts colleges to research universities. So as we talk today, think about how this process could work — at your institution.
Here’s the school we’ll be focused on: Ursuline Academy of New Orleans. As you see from the photo, it’s got serious Harry Potter style. Ursuline is getting ready to celebrate its 300th year, but it didn’t want to be known for being old.
Why rebrand in the first place? The drivers for this project probably sound familiar — no matter which type of institution you work for:
• Maybe the market doesn’t know your school. Maybe it only knows the 1980s version of you (or if you’re as old as Ursuline, they might know the 1880s version of you).
• Parents loved this school, but couldn’t put their finger on why. And the teachers were so focused on the grade they taught that they lost touch with what was happening in early childhood or for seniors. If there was a common thread running throughout the academy, we wanted to make it apparent.
• Ursuline was founded by an order of sisters — and they weren’t really in it for publicity and attention. So in a humble culture, how could we talk about ourselves without being too braggy?
• And every school has its enrollment challenges. You might need more students, or better students, or more full-pay students, or more toddlers. Or all of the above.
Christy, why don’t you set the stage by describing the New Orleans market.
About Ursuline Academy of New Orleans
Christy: The New Orleans market is very unique in that it is citywide and not neighborhood-based.
Ursuline pulls from over 50 zip codes. There are 10 all-girl competitor schools within a 10-mile radius. Of the 10, 9 are Catholic.
Another unique factor is that the Archdiocese of New Orleans dictates the admissions policies — allowing students to only apply to one high school. This makes the market even more competitive as we try to catch the attention of middle school prospects and stand out amongst competition.
Ursuline Academy, founded in 1727, is the nation’s oldest Catholic school for girls. To put things into perspective, we are 49 years older than America.
We have a little over 600 students, ranging from Toddler 1 through 12th grade.
Tuition is a little over $12,000 — which is mid-priced for our market.
While Ursuline produces National Merits every year, we often have the academic reputation of being middle of the pack.
Our seniors have gone on to attend MIT, Williams, SCAD, the Naval Academy and many other prestigious schools.
While we are a Catholic school, survey results showed that is not a key factor when most families are choosing us.
Beginning with the founding sisters, we have a history of being humble — not one to brag on ourselves.
Because of our small size, our girls are able to play more than one sport, lead more than one club, and interact with peers in different grade levels. Our students help each other in a way that feels real.
What did we learn about the students?
• All ages: makes it challenging to talk to parents. Parents care about their kid, not the other ages.
• All races, income levels, and religions. In fact, we learned from surveys that our Catholicity wasn’t a key factor in families’ decision making.
• High school students are required to complete 120 hours of service in their five years, but the average girl does 251. With a school motto of Serviam, meaning I will serve, service is ingrained in them and is the heart of what it means to be what we refer to as the Ursuline girl. In fact, our girls go off to college looking to continue the service aspect of their lives.
Project-based learning happens throughout the academy. In fact, because of our small size — elementary and high school classes are often able to interact and learn from one another. A Reggio Emilia-inspired approach to learning starts in early childhood and continues throughout high school. This approach puts curiosity at the center of learning and encourages students to explore, make mistakes and learn from them.
Ursuline’s Blaze Brighter Video
Shane: We’re all presenting from different locations today. Alex, please start the video.
Let’s take a look at the new brand video created to capture the spirit of this school. It builds on the school’s strengths and gives a girl’s voice to our key messages.
Now when you see that video, as a parent, you’re excited. As an alum, it pulls at your heartstrings. As a teacher, you cry (we needed to pass out Kleenex the first time we showed it).
But when you see it as a girl, you think “she sounds just like me.” And you’re energized about what you can do at this great school.
Now if you work at another institution, it’s easy to watch the video and say “I’ll take one of those.”
It’s flashy. It’s got style. It’s got a point.
But here’s what it takes to get there.
What it takes for successful branding
Ursuline’s branding work recently won a bunch of top awards, so people started calling Christy and Zehno with questions:
• How can I get that website for my school?
• How can I get that video for my school?
• How can I get that viewbook?
So here’s the unspoken truth about branding: Before you can produce a video that makes your audience say, “Wow!” you have to be clear about what your school really stands for.
And before you can create the tools for the public to see, your team has to define your position in the marketplace, learn what audiences think about your institution, and hash out the messages that matter most.
There’s a lot of work that happens behind the scenes. So today we’re going to walk you through the key steps to get you there.
Long before you debut your flashy video, you need to have several things in place.
• Invested leadership: president, board, leaders in admissions, advancement, the academic side.
• Strategic plan: vision, goals, timeframe — your brand needs to support where the school is heading.
• Internal buy-in: faculty, alumni, donors, parents, etc.
• Time: one to two years to see results.
• Resources: money and people: you need annual funding to implement, and a staff to lead that effort.
The unspoken truth is that if any of these factors are missing, you’ll limit the success of your new brand. So line these up before you start.
Setting the foundation: let’s talk about three steps that most people don’t think about. But when you see great branding work, all three are present.
The first step is research. It’s important to find out what people think about you. You want to hear what your audiences value. For parents especially, this helps you learn which messages matter. You want to define how you are different from other schools.
At Zehno we typically do interviews with stakeholders — either in person or digitally. We do surveys with key audiences, and focus groups with a targeted segment. We also analyze the positioning of your competitors to discover how your school might stand apart.
The next step is the brand platform, which is your behind-the-scenes playbook for messaging. You can see some of the key elements listed here.
Based on what you learned from research — and from your school’s natural strengths — you start lining up key messages. As Christy reminded me, there’s a lot of self-reflection at this stage as we workshop the messages and pinpoint what truly makes your school distinctive.
The end result of the brand platform is clarity on what your school stands for.
Christy: While Ursuline has many strengths, I believe the greatest is our history of firsts.
From the first female pharmacist to the first female photographer, first woman to contribute a book of literary merit, first convent, first free school, first retreat center for ladies, and many other modern day firsts — Ursuline Academy of New Orleans creates, and continues to create, pioneering women who we like to call trailblazers. More modern day examples include the first female law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, a Fulbright scholar, a U.S. senator, a U.S. Army colonel, and inventor of the world’s first glow-in-the-dark swim goggles.
While other schools in our market specialize in one or the other, Ursuline excels in both STEM and the arts, creating flexible thinkers.
As previously mentioned, project-based learning is another strength which instills confidence in our girls.
Ursuline is a nurturing community — we often refer to the Ursuline family. I truly believe we are a nurturing community — a sisterhood where people help each other succeed.
In fact, there is one special day each year where our sense of community shines through. It is the Feast Day of our foundress, St. Angela Merici. From Toddler 1 through 12th grade and teachers, staff and administration in between the entire academy participate in service, in and around our community. We visit nearly 20 different service sites — living out our motto of service.
With that sense of bonding and community comes a friendly, most coveted tradition of Rally – a tradition that began in 1948. This evening of volleyball games, relays, skits, cheers and costumes is deeply loved by Ursuline girls young and old and is greatly treasured. Each class has its own mascot that is passed down from big sisters to little sisters. At Rally, these classes compete for the most coveted spirit award. Other schools have since copied and created their own versions, but this is another first that we can own.
Shane: Once you’ve fine-tuned your platform and agreed on your strengths, how do you show it to the rest of the world? That’s the third step: the creative concept.
The unspoken truth is that the best educational branding always has a concept. And the concept runs through all the communications tools you produce. It builds a bridge from your platform messages to your audiences.
For Ursuline, our concept was: Blaze brighter. It was based on the idea that every girl can blaze her own trail. It’s what Ursuline girls did 300 years ago, and it’s what they still do today.
Let’s look at how that concept, Blaze brighter, developed into the finished tools.
The brand look and feel doesn’t just magically appear. There’s a lot of thinking that goes into it.
We use mood boards to give our creative concept its direction. We suggest a graphic look, color palette, photography styles, headlines that push the idea forward. At this point we don’t have real photos — it’s not official copy. We’re pulling examples that we think have the right vibe
For Ursuline we were thinking:
• Handmade lettering for headlines
• A photo mix that shows learning in action — and maybe some stylish black and whites
• Illustration to keep it young and fresh
• A color palette that wasn’t just navy and white — the official school colors
The point of mood boards is to open the door on our creative process. We get feedback from our clients and target audiences, make some revisions, and move forward.
We also do a large-format brand vision that maps out the future of the brand. It shows sample tools: website, viewbook, parent communications, even some swag.
This vision lays the groundwork for all the future tools you’ll develop.
If you want to learn more about it, get in touch with us.
All the great work you’ve done so far goes nowhere if you don’t have quality content.
We know the pressure that’s on you: As a school, you’re supposed to be able to talk about every topic under the sun. But to work strategically, you should focus on content that brings your key messages to life.
Don’t say everything. Say the right things.
You’ve got thousands of stories at your fingertips, so which ones are the best? The best stories are those that prove that your key messages are true.
When you work with Zehno, we build a bank of flagship stories that can run throughout all your tools. So yes, there’s writing. But there’s also visual content: photos, video, illustration
But how do you tap into those riveting stories? Well, we started with a casting call similar to American Idol. We were searching for the personal stories that would make our key messages real.
So what is an Ursuline girl? We did quick interviews with all ages to find out. It was easy for high schoolers — we’d learn that they founded their own charity or interned with engineers on a construction project. But for the littlest girls, it was a challenge: we might only learn that they like dragons. Or that their favorite U.S. president was “the one with the beard.”
Christy: We brought in over 100 girls, at least 30 from the four divisions for this casting call. This process was so much fun and quite a learning experience. What better way to show our strengths of trailblazing and diversity than in talking to the girls themselves? This was their time to shine, their time to tell their story — a great learning experience for myself as communications director and Zehno’s creative team.
I am a one-person department, and I don’t always get out of my office as much as I’d like. These casting calls were a great motivator. They charged me with telling the stories of the trailblazers of today.
Shane: If we wanted to truly capture the Ursuline spirit, we knew we had to have a killer video. But we also needed beautiful stills.
So we gave ourselves a challenge: let’s shoot them at the same time. This was more complex, but we got a continuity of style and storytelling. And we created a lot of images that cover an entire campaign.
Christy, the trooper, was there every day of the shoot.
Christy: Three of the four shoot days took place during a school day. With that said, it was important for me to have a working relationship with the teachers and students since they were the stars of the show. With a little reassurance and a lot of prep work, we understood the need to be both real and flexible during the shoots.
I also worked closely with administration throughout the day to make sure that they girls and teachers were where they needed to be and that we were on schedule. Teachers were given a list of props needed for shoots and most were even pulled beforehand.
We all know, things don’t always go as planned. We started shooting on a Wednesday and by Friday morning, the city declared that there was low water pressure, and we were forced to close school for the day. This kept us on our toes and forced us to act quickly and creatively. I immediately began calling parents of students who were scheduled that day, teachers who were scheduled that day, and even some who weren’t. Being the close-knit community that we are, we were able to do all of the scheduled scenes.
Now, I may have borrowed uniforms from the bookstore, had students switch shoes and blazers in between shots, and made other concessions, but we got it done! It was most definitely a group effort that we can laugh about now.
Shane: Shooting stills and video together was a precision operation. We even had a dedicated props room, like on a movie set. It was filled with costumes, art projects, musical instruments, robots.
When we didn’t have something already, we made it ourselves. And the cool part was the students helped: The pre-Ks you see here were happy to dive in and paint.
And because they have that unflappable Ursuline spirit, we knew the finished product was going to look great when we paired it with our creative concept.
Here they are, blazing brighter. In the boat that they helped build.
Christy: This is by far my favorite photo of the entire shoot. It embodies all that we set out to do with our branding efforts. It celebrates our current trailblazers, while honoring our founding trailblazers in a modern way. You see, 12 Ursuline sisters traveled five months by boat from France to New Orleans to found the academy that thrives today.
Ursuline is currently featured in a “Women in Business” article of a local New Orleans magazine. Rather than spotlighting one woman, I chose this image to honor our original business women and all that they represent. It definitely stands out amongst the spread.
Shane: When people look at the Ursuline work and say “Ooh, I love the photography,” they probably don’t realize we had an in-depth photo plan. We shot three different styles of photos — each for a strategic reason:
• We wanted environmental shots to show what it’s like to be a student, to show STEM scenes and arts scenes and to show all ages
• We shot dramatic portraits — in black and white — just as we envisioned in the mood boards. These bring out the individual personalities and talents of the girls. We knew we would pair them with profile stories from the casting call.
• We also needed shots to illustrate how students learn. What does project-based learning even mean? We knew we needed to get inside the classroom. These images show creativity and exploration — and how it stretches across the grade levels.
Here you see a robot trained to pick up an apple, an art project in early grades, and the next million-dollar business idea: bath bombs for dogs!
We created custom illustrations to give us more ways to tell our story. Illustrations are great for showing ideas, like the balance of STEM and arts (on the right). They could also convey the sense of sisterhood at Ursuline.
Christy: The illustrations are a great addition to our branding. They add a sense of fun and truly showcase our Ursuline spirit.
They definitely stand out amongst our competitors as well. In fact, I’ve opted to use illustrations vs. photography in billboards, print ads, online ads and social media posts.
We received a lot of great feedback on them — the girls think they are fun and modern and the parents have commented on how much they love that the illustrations represent strong girls of all ages and with all different body types.
We love them so much that we invited the illustrator to come to campus and speak to two of our high school art classes. During that time, she and the art director discussed the whole creative concept and how these came to be. I was also able to comment on the working relationship I had with the two of them. The girls had an even better appreciation for them and asked a lot of questions. They were even able to see a time-lapsed video of how the illustrations were drawn.
Communicating your brand to the outside world
Shane: After all the behind-the-scenes work, you’re ready for the flashy, sexy part of branding.
This is the stage when the pieces come together — the strategy and the stories. This is when your brand starts to speak to the outside world.
Let’s walk through the signature communications tools and talk about how they work strategically.
First out of the gate was a series of ads during the citywide open house season. A typical ad would say “come to open house” and then give you the time and place. But our ads tell you what your girls will get from this school.
We needed to say a lot in a small space, so we trimmed our message down to three words: STEM + arts + courage.
The copy says: “Ursuline girls blaze brighter.” And you meet Isabel: a multimedia artist who’s heading to Williams College.
Christy: The use of the dramatic black and white photography really sets us apart from our competitors. People often think that ads need to be really colorful or show strength in numbers by having multiple girls in one ad — these prove otherwise.
And again, these photographs are a great way to spotlight our strong trailblazers: Maggie is a future chemist who once designed a prosthetic leg, and Maci wants to open a hair salon and be a veterinarian
The ad template that Zehno provided also made it very easy for me to stay on brand and be consistent. That is much appreciated and quite helpful.
Shane: After the self-reflection and debates about what Ursuline stands for, we were ready to march forward with our manifesto. But let’s be honest, how many parents are dying to read a long manifesto?
So this piece was a big achievement in a small format. This tiny brochure takes all the messages of our brand platform and boils them down to short phrases. We call them our rally cries because they get straight to the point. That’s why you can read this entire brochure in under two minutes.
Here’s the opening spread: Ursuline girls make their mark. They are: Fulbright Scholars, US Senators, chief diversity officers for GE, state basketball champs.
The illustration supports the ideas of what we’re saying: problem solvers, creative thinkers, courageous people.
That’s the opener. Then each spread leads with one simple message — a rally cry — and pairs it with a few facts. Let’s see an example.
Christy: These have received great feedback and have been great giveaways for events, conversation pieces and a concise, colorful way to give insight on all things Ursuline.
Since they are less expensive than brochures, we are more willing to pass them out freely and share them as much as possible. They are a great first touch with a prospective student before handing out the divisional brochure and other information. Since they are small in size, we’ve used them in giveaway bags and even as place holders for on-campus luncheons.
We’ve shared them with corporations as well as alumnae.
They are a great teaser — intriguing readers to want to learn more and even visit our microsite.
This is the first time that we have divisional brochures. In the past, it was an academy-wide view book that, honestly, probably focused more on high school. Separating the divisions gives us the opportunity to give each division the justice it deserves, celebrate the girls at that age level and tell parents exactly what they are looking for at a particular point of their search.
They celebrate Ursuline girls and their projects at all age levels.
Shane: Let’s look inside the high school brochure. It opens with:
• Ursuline unleashes the power within you.
• It’s your time to shine.
• Then it calls out things like taking AP courses, traveling abroad, going on a faith retreat.
And here’s the STEM-arts balance: You can read it in the copy or see it in the photos — of robotics and Mary Poppins.
The final spread centralizes details about honors classes, sports, National Merits, Catholic heritage, and more.
But visually these details are secondary to the overall message: We believe in every girl. Always have. Always will.
Christy: The Blaze Brighter trailblazer insert in each brochure is an added bonus that lets the reader meet our Ursuline girls.
How does Isabel stand out? She was Archdiocesan Student of the Year and speaks three languages.
Nicole is a basketball star and piano player. And Amelia is the epitome of STEM and arts as a state trigonometry competitor and theatre star. Maria can program a traffic light to change on command.
And Khue who loves robotics, happens to have once held the title of grand prize winner of Ursuline’s citywide Bach contest.
The beauty of the black and whites and storytelling is that it doesn’t have to stop here. We can continue this branding project to add to the stories and include in more Ursuline girls in years to come — giving the concept a much longer shelf life.
The insert ends by asking the question: “What trail will you blaze?” A question we’ve used for prospective students so that they can imagine themselves at Ursuline and as a sense of excitement for incoming students who’ve accepted the challenge.
Shane: The biggest project in this rebranding is the admissions microsite, and it’s one of our most important tools.
It’s entirely admissions-focused: Becky in admissions gives a killer tour — and this microsite really supports her. It brings together all the info parents need to understand the Ursuline difference. It’s all in one place so you don’t have to slog through the main website.
It’s a scrolling website: Each block hits a different message. Video is the lead.
Next block is “What we stand for.” There’s STEM + arts + courage. “How We Learn” describes how project-based learning works with a carousel of examples to scroll through.
This shows our trailblazing spirit.
And the next block covers some stats.
Christy: We didn’t realize how much we needed these! It took outsiders to come in and hold a mirror up for us to see all of the great statistics we had to celebrate.
Before the branding, we weren’t really looking for this information. Afterwards, we realize how important it is to share and how much it sets us apart and makes us stand out.
The fact that we can boast these two 100%s meant a lot: 100% learn coding and 100% percent learn a musical instrument.
Shane: There’s a block showing campus life. Feeds from Instagram to show what happens day to day illustrations turned into simple animations.
As you click through, there’s a section for each school level — because parents want to see what their kid will do. If you’ve got a sophomore, you don’t care about what the toddlers are learning.
Each block shows how Ursuline is different and what your child will do at this age: “We encourage girls to ask questions, take risks, and blaze their own trails.”
It shows project work at this grade level. You see the projects your children will work on, and you see the concepts they’ll learn.
Christy: There’s a master index that shows learning all across the academy.
Before we had this page, the only time we really shared “how we learn” was through open house demonstrations and web stories and social media posts that featured a class project.
Not only does this page let you get into the classroom, it shows you the progression from early childhood to high school. It showcases that project-based learning that makes Ursuline special.
Having the ability to easily sort by division makes it quite user-friendly.
Again, this trailblazer page shows progression from early childhood to high school. It also shows that spirit of trailblazing and confidence for all different age levels.
As director of communications, I have to say that it is quite humbling to see these strong photos and read each girl’s story and know that they are 100% authentic. I watched as each of these girls walked up for their photo shoot. Their level of confidence was already there. And because we had done the casting calls, each girl was captured in her element for who she truly is.
From members of the robotics team to book publishers, fashion designers, and future astronauts — we tried to cover all of our bases.
And once again, having the ability to easily sort by division makes it quite user friendly.
After you’ve created those core communications pieces, you’re ready to roll out more while staying on message.
What you see here was really fun for us. It was a way for us to extend the branding with our own ideas. We reached out to the illustrator to design this lion with the same feel and style as our other images while tying in that school spirit.
Shane: Christy’s been doing an excellent job with her social media mix. She’s not just reporting what is happening, but she’s posting strategically. That means some posts cover our big brand messages. Others spur people to take certain actions, like coming to visit.
And most important: some posts go inside the classroom:
• Kaya created a business plan for a non-palm oil candy shop that would protect the natural environment of elephants.
• And Christy’s been posting videos of classes and projects because Ursuline didn’t miss a single day when it switched to 100% distance learning.
Christy: Look for all kinds of ways to extend your brand — not just the look, but also the concept and ideas.
Here are a few swag items:
• Spend a day journal
• Rally cry book
• Open house buttons
We had fun with this and were brave with our colors — showing that we are more than the previous navy and white.
Think of total environment: how to brand the school itself.
Also take the brand off campus: Yard signs for open house. Banners and blocks for events (these really stood out amongst competitors at recent events).
In the upper right: Even our t-shirts say something. And they don’t have to just be navy and white anymore!
Show our teaching style in parenting publications’ e-newsletter. How to raise a trailblazer: 8 Tips for a Growing Girl.
Using the brand platform as the playbook: Use those key messages for all media — even when it may just seem like a spotlight on a particular person. For this article, I used the brand platform to sell Ursuline, not me.
Shane: So let’s talk about what you need to achieve long-term success
Christy: For us, word-of-mouth marketing is crucial.
What you need for the long term: Get parents, faculty, students and alumnae on board. Constantly remind them of the brand — send emails and hold workshops for teachers, help them incorporate the brand.
For example, for high school open house, each teacher had to adopt a rally cry and show how they represent it in their particular class. Have them share those key messages and repeat those brand attributes that set us apart.
We’re changing our perspective on how long to use this new brand. Shane says, when you’re starting to get sick of it, that’s when your audience is just starting to notice it.
Measure and adjust. Stick to your plan.
Shane: It usually takes one to two years to see full results. But this rebranding started showing results in just six months. Let’s take a look.
• Admissions apps were up 24% in the first four months.
• Open house registrations were also up across the board. And up 33% for early grades, which is an area where they sometimes struggle.
• We’re starting see a different type of student. More honors students are staying for high school — instead of transferring out. And families are making Ursuline their first choice, instead of the fallback school.
Ursuline is turning heads. Winning top prizes in this year’s Brilliance Awards is getting national and international attention.
Christy: You know you’re succeeding when parents repeat your hashtags on social media or refer to their daughters as trailblazers, when they request more of the new accent colors or barge in on admissions tours to say how well their daughters are doing at Ursuline.
Shane: You know you’re succeeding when teachers are bragging about “their” school and buying into the brand. When you have both parents and teachers as brand ambassadors, you’ve done well.
Shane: Let’s close with some tips to make your brand be successful.
• Know where your institution is headed. Start with a strategic plan. If you don’t have one, at least have a strategic vision and some goals to work toward.
• Get your president on board. A president who is passionate about the value of branding can bring the board and other leaders along. That’s even more important at bigger universities.
• Get buy-in from your key stakeholders from the start. And keep them involved. When we tally up all our meetings and surveys and photo shoots, more than 1,000 people were involved with this project. They can all become our brand ambassadors.
• Invest resources — both money and people. This is also not a one-time injection. You’ll need annual funding and a staff to keep the brand rolling.
• Research what people think about you. Be sure to include families who didn’t choose you — and families who left. You want to hear from all sides.
• Define your brand position strategy and key messages. Use your brand platform as your official playbook.
• Set yourselves apart with bold creative. Create something that feels authentic but also shows how you’re different from the competition.
• Continue to invest in the brand. Train your staff and your brand ambassadors to live out the brand. Think about both external and internal audiences.
• Measure and stay the course. Track some factors to see how you’re moving the needle over time.
And remember, you can do this. It’s possible — even with a one-person marketing staff.
If you’ve done all the behind-the-scenes work to get the branding right, your teachers, parents, students, and alumni will get on board. You’ll have an entire army working with you.
You don’t have to do everything in the first year. Think of it as a multi-year project.
And shift your mindset. For Ursuline, that meant two things:
• Not being apologetic about what they were good at.
• And changing how they thought about branding.
Branding shouldn’t be stuffy, regimented rules about how to use the logo. It needs to be about thinking outside of the box to get your main messages across.
While you type in your questions, let me point out some resources you should check out:
• Ask the expert column with Ursuline’s President Dr. Karen T. McNay. It’s a president’s take on branding. Her biggest regret is that she didn’t do it years ago.
• Christy’s article: Distance Learning Made Seamless.
• Ursuline Academy case study.
• Ursuline Academy’s admissions microsite: go.uanola.org
Kathy: This is a question for Christy. What has changed about how you are doing your job now, compared to three weeks ago?
Christy: I’m on Facebook even more than I was before, really being more purposeful in telling our story digitally.
I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t able to get out of my office as much as I liked in the past and visit classrooms. Now there’s just so many good stories coming to me that I’m trying to find enough time and space to share all of them.
I’m really getting a chance to see what the teachers are doing and the students are accomplishing and sharing the stories that way and getting the message out.
We’re really proud, as Shane mentioned, that we have not had one interrupted second of learning in classroom time. We closed on Friday. And the following Monday, we started right away with distance learning. So we’re telling our story that way and really telling that trailblazing story during this terrible time of pandemic.
Kathy: How was the video deployed? Can you talk about that, Christy?
Christy: When we had an academywide meeting with staff, we used it to brew up excitement and get everyone on board. We showed it to students who are in leadership positions to get them excited, shared it amongst parents, and really just put it out there to share and get everyone excited, especially for admissions purposes. It was emailed out and shared on social media.
Shane: And I wasn’t lying when I said that we needed some Kleenex when we showed it to the teachers the first time!
To be honest, I’m a little uncomfortable when people cry because you think, “Are they liking it?”
But I remember right after that — I’m also not the person who wants to be hugged — some of the teachers came up and hugged me and said, “Finally we have somebody that really put it into words and images, how our students are different and and what the vibe is at our school.” And I thought that was great.
And we were so happy that we didn’t do the usual school video where you have some big-voiced narrator who talks about everything in a very highfalutin way.
We were thrilled, looking back on it, that we decided to let one of the Ursuline girls say it all herself. And when we had the script in front of her, she really understood how it would work and what the messages were.
We thought she did a great job as our voiceover talent, and because she’s an Ursuline girl, she’s one of those National Merits to come. She’s the head of the robotics team and the star of the theater productions, and we couldn’t have had a more perfect star for that video.
Christy: Another great creative use of the video is that we took the voiceover from the video and it’s now our hold message. When people call in and they’re put on hold, they can hear that voiceover.
Kathy: Oh, that’s fantastic. Christy, after your rebranding, other than the great results so far, how have your students’ parents and staff changed?
Christy: Confidence and excitement.
I think both of those have changed in a great way. We’re much more confident. We want to tell our story even more. Parents and staff are very excited when sharing things about Ursuline.
And as we mentioned, we’re not just navy and white, right? We’re all these other colors, we’re the attributes that we came up with, and we’re the messages.
You guys truly held the mirror up to us and showed us who we are. And we’re just being unapologetic and excited about it.
Kathy: Sarah sent a question: How did you persuade your leadership about the value of embarking on a big project like this?
Christy: In my particular case, leadership had made this decision beforehand. And so she really had the excitement, passion and the desire to do it. The surveys and all the other things really showed the need for this project and the need to stand out amongst our competitors.
Shane: One of the follow-ups for this webinar that we’ll mention in just a few minutes: we did an ask-the-expert interview with the president of Ursuline. She talked about what drove her to become interested in this project, how she sees the value, and how she used what she was learning as part of the branding process in her strategic plan.
I remember one of the questions we asked was “What is your biggest regret?” And her regret was that she didn’t do this years ago.
So if you’re interested in seeing the presidential perspective, and maybe thinking about how you might use it to persuade the leaders at your school, we will follow up and send you that. It might have some great ideas for you.
Kathy: I would like to add something that you can do, Sarah. Use this presentation and maybe put your leadership in touch with some other schools who have made the decision to invest in branding and marketing.
We’ve got some thought leadership about budget benchmarks in marketing, which is dedicating 1.5% to 6% of your operating budget to marketing and branding.
And a lot of schools don’t even hit the 0.5% mark because leadership and boards don’t know the investment it takes. So a lot of times, it really requires educating the board and all of the leadership at an institution to bring them along. And when they see peers with great success, there’s nothing better.
Christy: For the communications office, once this has completed and you have this brand, it benefits development with capital campaigns. So it’s a huge benefit to the entire academy, making it a great investment.
Kathy: Someone asked me to repeat what the benchmarking percentage was. And I can send you, Greg, a blog post that we did. It’s 1.5% to 6% of the operating budget.
Kathy: Christy, is there anything that you would have done differently?
Christy: I think the same thing that Karen, our president, answered: getting this done sooner, most definitely.
Kathy: Well, we are coming to the end of our time for this webinar. I want to thank you, Shane, and Christy, and everyone for listening to this webinar today. If you have any questions, please contact email@example.com. Please stay healthy and strong. And thank you for joining us today.
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