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Kelsh Wilson Design creates message-driven marketing communications, in print and on the web, for education, business, and nonprofits. Admissions / Advancement / Branding / Photography + Video



Print & Pixels: Kelsh Wilson Design's blog where we post our latest news and inspiration. Kelsh Wilson Design creates message-driven marketing communications, in print and on the web, for education, business, and nonprofits. Admissions / Advancement / Branding / Photography + Video


The Independence School—Campus Displays with Marketing Impact

melinda wissmann

Indy_banner email V3-1.jpg

Kelsh Wilson teamed up with The Independence School in Newark, Delaware, to create a series of exterior displays that bring key elements of the school’s brand—very visibly—to life.

Until recently, The Independence School faced a challenge common to many institutions: When you looked at its main building from the outside, it was impossible to have any sense of the energy within.

Outside, you saw unrevealing, if impressive, facades of brick. Inside, you saw all vitality and creativity of an exceptional place of learning—one populated by 500 children, age 3 through grade 8.

The situation represented something of a marketing challenge. After all, visitors’ first impressions were inevitably of a place more institutional than personal. It also represented a lost opportunity. Guests and passersby who saw the Independence building might easily go away knowing nothing more about the school than when they came.

Kelsh Wilson’s answer to the challenge was big, bold, and multifaceted:

  • welcoming banners on the lampposts along the campus entry drive with photos of Independence children and others around the central campus quad with bold message lines,
  • larger banners hanging from the building itself, featuring the words “Inspire,” “Dream,” and “Achieve” from the school’s motto,
  • special signs trumpeting the school’s 40th anniversary, and
  • artful shapes—stars and expressive lines—festooning a long expanse of empty windows along a key connecting corridor.

Together, these displays help create a stronger sense of place, in effect branding the Independence campus. They bring life and color to exterior spaces in a whole new way. And, they build clearly on graphic elements and messaging used in the school’s print and digital communications, creating the chance for extra resonance. (The branding program including these graphic elements and messages was one of several previous projects that Kelsh Wilson developed for Independence.)

One lovely touch in the creative execution of the program involves the different effects inside and outside the building created by the stars-and-lines window decorations. Outside, they project color and suggest a sense of motion. Inside, they cast fascinating shadows along the floor of a main corridor, which move and morph as the day goes by.

A number of elements in this program make it uniquely an expression of The Independence School—from words that are drawn from the school’s motto and marketing themes to the planning of elements to take advantage of the particular geometry of the campus.

What’s not unique to Independence is the idea that a school’s most visible asset—its physical infrastructure—can be turned into a communications tool as well. In short, why not see your campus as a canvas?


Holy Ghost Prep—Speaking Visually

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Working with Holy Ghost Prep, an independent boys school outside Philadelphia, Kelsh Wilson helped create a visual branding program to ensure that every piece the school creates contributes to an instantly recognizable look—a major step to a powerful brand.

It’s such a basic point that it may sometimes be overlooked: A brand is nothing without consistency. You need to repeat the same set of messages if they are going to sink in. You need to employ a single set of visual elements to create a look that people will recognize.

Doing so is key to building public recognition for your school. It also communicates a strong message that you are running a professional, coordinated operation. Last but not least, consistency is absolutely essential if you are working with the kind of limited marketing budget most schools have; the tighter the money, the more important that every brochure, email blast, and ad buy pulls in the same direction.

The question, of course, is how? Your marketing team dreams of consistency, yet when you collect your year’s work on a table, it’s not a pretty picture.

The answer is that you need a set of tools that together create a visual system, and you need to employ those tools systematically. As Kelsh Wilson and Holy Ghost Prep have together proved, it’s not something that happens without effort, but it’s more than possible with the right approach.

Kelsh Wilson’s work for Holy Ghost started with the design of a new school logo—deeply rooted in HGP’s oldest traditions and symbols, but rendered with a whole new level of clarity. (The dove, flame, and fleur-di-lis that form the mark represent the Holy Spirit and the French roots of the school’s founders, the Spiritan Fathers.)

Holy Ghost Prep Logo

The logo, however, was just the start of a complete visual branding program, documented in a crystal-clear user’s guide. That guide specifies a color palette and set of fonts to use across all print and digital communications. It prescribes permissible uses of the school seal. And it provides detailed guidelines on applications ranging from letterhead to typical publications. (Note: if your current graphic standards manual focuses mainly on how big you can run your logo, there’s a lot missing.)

The HGP guide also presents a brand-new athletics identity, built around a spirited “firebird” logo that Kelsh Wilson developed. The mark is bolder and cleaner than any of the dozens of competing versions used in the past. And it’s a way to make use of a branding opportunity many schools miss—ensuring that every time one of your teams takes to the field, they are projecting the same image.

We would love to talk with you about how the kind of approach that’s working for Holy Ghost Prep could help your institution. Just email us to set up a call!

Canterbury School—Communicating About Community

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In a new messaging program for the Canterbury School in Connecticut, Kelsh Wilson came to terms with a problematic fact: The word “community”—one of the most common in the viewbook lexicon— has not only been drained of its impact from overuse but, ironically, never meant that much to students to begin with.

When you speak to educators, parents, and alumni who are passionate about a college or school, one of the top reasons they cite is its sense of community. The particular institutional personality may vary from place to place, but the story of personal connections, shared purpose, and a feeling of belonging remain essentially the same.

What’s more, in focus groups with students, you find they agree—but with a catch: They rarely use the word “community.” They may speak about friendships or fitting in and feeling at home. They may say the best thing about the place is the people. But they don’t turn to abstract nouns, especially when they are seventh- or eighth-graders (a vital audience for any prep school). In other words, these students tend not to think in the same language as most administrators—and many marketers.

In a new communications program for the Canterbury School, a Catholic boarding school in New Milford, CT, Kelsh Wilson found that the message of community was absolutely central to the story the school needed to tell, and took on the challenge of driving it home with fresh impact.

One part of the answer was to unpack the term “community” and explore its many dimensions at Canterbury—from the idea of shared values and an education delivered on a personal scale to an open-minded, open-hearted campus spirit, welcoming to newcomers.

Another part of the answer was to invent a form of story-telling specifically to illustrate these ideas. In carefully planned words and photos, Kelsh Wilson’s new viewbook features Canterbury people in groups of two and three, speaking about their connections with each other. For instance, one section entitled “Form Powerful Partnerships”—presents Chris Roberts (teacher and coach) and Julia Dellaruso (student and player), with their comments on the varied ways they’ve worked together. The story-telling comes mainly in bite-sized quotes presented in a diagrammatic style over bold photos.


Of course, the viewbook and the communications program as a whole develop other messages too, from the richness of the academic program to a commitment to service grounded in the school’s Catholic identity. But the signature creative element in the program—the profile stories—focus in on the signature strength Canterbury needed most to stress.

Like other school-wide messaging projects that Kelsh Wilson has undertaken, the Canterbury project started with a process of message building and testing, in which a number of key themes expressed in different ways were shared with target audience members for reaction. In addition to admissions print materials and new ads, the project includes a Brand Guide, to help bring consistency to a range of other ongoing communications efforts.


The School Magazine Reimagined

melinda wissmann

In this age of digital media, one of a school’s most potent forms of outreach is actually one of the most traditional—the school magazine. The magazine offers the rare chance to reach all your institution’s audiences with a single compelling publication. It allows for multipage feature stories—virtually the only option left to explore important ideas in depth. And, in a strategic messaging program, it can play a key part—helping weave your message into your community’s sense of itself over time.

Think about it. Your brand strategy starts when you identify the way you want to position your school and the messages you want to send. But can you simply repeat those points again and again? No. You have to keep re-illustrating your strengths with fresh and interesting stories—and that’s the heart of a great magazine.

Kelsh Wilson has worked with institutions as diverse as The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania to help bring new impact to their magazines. Most recently, we teamed up with The Independence School, a pre-K through grade 8 school in Newark, Delaware, to reinvent their semi-annual publication, Spirit.

Part of the project was to restructure the piece with the right departments—from “Portfolio,” showing off student work, to alumni profiles (formerly rambling and appearing on an ad-hoc basis, now short, sweet, varied and in every issue).

Another aspect of the challenge was to impose a new level of discipline on copy counts, making most stories shorter and the magazine as a whole more accessible.

And part of the challenge was also to update the look of the publication, aligning it with the KWD-developed visual branding that unites the rest of the school’s communications and projecting a new level of quality through the design.

The most important step forward in the evolution of Spirit, however, was in planning the content of major and supporting feature stories in order to align with the pillars of the Independence brand. In the first edition of the new Spirit, this meant diving deeper into the student experience and the minds of teachers with a feature on character education, a signature strength of the school. In future issues, features will rotate, with careful intention, through other key themes—always linking core messages with anecdotes from the life of the school right now.

The result of the Spirit redesign is a lively and colorful publication that’s generating lots of buzz—helping turn the school’s branding initiative into a sustained conversation. 

The Knox School—Drone Photos With a Professional Touch

melinda wissmann

In a new viewbook and search piece, Kelsh Wilson helped the Knox School show off its stunning waterfront campus in St. James, NY, as it never had before, in part, with the help of a drone.

One of the most important goals of a school’s admissions marketing program is to inspire families to visit, and one of the best ways of doing so is through photographs that tantalize with a preview of the sights that a visit will offer.

Unfortunately, practical challenges often get in the way: power lines obscuring the façade of your beautiful main building, or the simple fact that there is no place to stand to frame a shot that equals the impressive sense you get in person.

Over the years, Kelsh Wilson’s photographers have made a habit of solving these problems, delivering pictures no one has before. In the case of the Knox School, the solution was the smart use of a drone.

Knox sits on a lovely stretch Long Island’s North Shore. Its crew teams launch directly from campus, and every day, its students take in a range of gorgeous sites—the waters of Stony Brook Harbor, the historic mansion fronting the shore, the paddocks where the school’s resident horses graze. To get shots that showed these assets to full advantage, for instance, looking over the beautiful Georgian mansion to the waters of the harbor in a single shot, Kelsh Wilson took to the air with a drone—a professionally operated drone with a professional quality camera on board.

The results are a viewbook and search piece that show off the Knox campus as never before—and a series of photos that can be used again and again online, in print, and in table top displays at school fairs.

Villa Joseph Marie

melinda wissmann

Like so many excellent small schools, Villa Joseph Marie has traditionally done a better job fulfilling its mission of education than it has in the task of self-promotion (a less inspiring, but necessary endeavor). However, that recently changed when Villa’s admissions and marketing team decided to take the school’s communications program to a whole new level.

As a partner in this effort, Kelsh Wilson developed a set of powerful admissions publications for the school and also a User’s Guide to the Villa Message—a key tool in bringing consistency and impact to other communications, be they print, digital, or face-to-face.

The school’s president, Tom Kardish—who brings years of business experience and a Wharton MBA to the job—shares his thoughts on the project’s success:

I have two things to say about Kelsh Wilson:

1. They took the time, did the research and really “got” our school and our points of difference. More than the words, the look and feel match the incredible environment here exactly!

2. The hiring of Kelsh Wilson was a big step for Villa. It was a conscious decision to no longer be “the best kept secret” and a break from our quiet humility. I am truly excited to see the long-term impact of this investment on our school and our community.

Our communications across all parts of our organization are clean, crisp, consistent and complementary. And most of all, honest. Villa is enjoying record enrollment, and it feels like the school could grow another 10 percent with the arrival of the class of 2021.
— Tom Kardish, President, Villa Joseph Marie

Lessons from Choate’s Viewbook

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Why is the campus visit such a powerful enrollment tool?  It’s not because of the information families learn, but the feelings they have. At Kelsh Wilson, we believe viewbooks work the same way. In projects like the one we just completed for Choate Rosemary Hall, it’s our job to inspire those feelings before the visit happens—in fact, to help make it happen.

In Choate’s case, prospective students respond not just to the school’s impressive academic program and the wonders of its 458-acre campus, but also to the personality of the place—its openness and diversity, energy and creativity.

In strategic, creative ways, Kelsh Wilson captured this personality in print:

  •  A series of original drawings bring a distinctive texture to the viewbook and search piece, illustrating highlights from inventing things in the school’s makerspace to the comfort of finding your niche among friends.
  • Storybook-style headlines give the publications an attitude all their own: “How to Make Almost Anything” for a spread on design thinking or “Into the Woods” for a page highlighting Choate’s immersive environmental experience.

  • A striking variety in page layouts signals the variety and vitality of the school community—and helps hold reader interest.

Are these the right ideas for every school? Absolutely not—and that’s part of what makes them perfect for Choate.

With each new project, the Kelsh Wilson team asks the same questions as when we began our collaboration with Choate:

What feels just right for this school?

What statement can it make that no one else can?

What will set it most strongly apart?

A boarding school like no other—with the same challenge as every other.

Lisa Winward

In a world where everyone seems to claim uniqueness, Princeton International School of Science and Mathematics really does offer something different—from its atomic force microscope to its international faculty, to the multi-year research project every student completes.

Still, the school’s communications with prospective applicants have to walk the same fine line as those of any other boarding school: presenting a whole new world of independence and opportunity to kids who still may not make their own lunches.

For PRISMS, the answer was a two-part message: first, share plenty of examples of teenage students doing graduate-level work (identifying new viruses and designing wind-turbine blades), but then explain all the step-by-step support that prepared them for these remarkable feats.

As other schools highlight their own impressive offerings—from capstone projects to study abroad—it’s an approach worth keeping in mind, especially for the boarding audience. With every thrilling possibility, add a dose of comfort, support, and reassurance—for student and their parents.

Oregon State University — THE FINAL CAMPAIGN REPORT

Jodee Winger

In 2007, the OSU Foundation publicly launched “This Amazing Place. This Historic Moment. The Campaign for OSU.” By 2010, the campaign goal was increased to $1 billion, and it closed in 2014 with a grand total of $1.14 billion — making OSU one of only two organizations in the Pacific Northwest to achieve this milestone.

To commemorate this success, the OSU Foundation invited Kelsh Wilson back to campus in 2015 — a full decade after our first visit — to create a final campaign report that could serve as a “bookend” to the award-winning case statement. The goals were to help donors see the impact of their gifts, cultivate emerging major donors, and chronicle a historic time in the life of OSU while looking to the future.

Balancing bold statements of accomplishment with supporting stories about OSU people and places, the final campaign report celebrates the campaign’s many successes, including:

  • 1 in every 5 alumni made a campaign gift
  • The campaign generated 201 gifts of $1 million or more
  • More than 1,100 families and organizations gave at least $100,000
  • More than 106,000 donors from every state and 58 nations, 40% were first-time donors to OSU

It was an honor to return to OSU and help them create a publication that put the final touch on such an amazing and historic campaign effort. The name, brand, and messaging Kelsh Wilson originally created was able to sustain the campaign for its entire ten-year run and instill a sense of confidence and pride among OSU students, faculty, staff, alumni, and donors.

(Click on any of the images below to view the entire gallery.)

Holy Ghost Prep

Jodee Winger

Sometimes it’s better to have three good points to make than ten, even if they’ll all persuasive. And one of those situations is in educational marketing, where a balanced, complete, and well-rounded story can actually end up sounding generic.

During well over a decade of collaboration, Kelsh Wilson and Holy Ghost Prep have worked together to craft a presentation that is narrowly focused, highly visual, and brief. In place of a viewbook, we developed “viewcards,” digitally printed photo post cards, each with a small dose of copy on the back. A search piece and school fair piece—both folding brochures—round out the package. All the materials hit and re-hit the same key themes: about the value of a Ghost education, about the values behind a Ghost education, and about the remarkable spirit uniting the school community.

Actually, the package includes one other key component, a tip sheet for parents, outlining in a few phrases the main points members of the community should make in talking up their school. The piece has been well received and is evidence of the greater attention many schools are focusing on word-of-mouth as a key tool in their outreach efforts.