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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

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Blog

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

 

Wayland Academy: The Power of the Particular

melinda wissmann

Working with Wayland Academy, a small, excellent boarding school in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, Kelsh Wilson created a branding program that’s all about capturing big themes in small examples—a strategy more schools would do well to consider.  

Sometimes the small things you notice about a place tell a big story, giving you the sense of what it’s really like and why it’s really special. This is the belief at the heart of the messaging program that Kelsh Wilson has helped Wayland Academy create. To get a sense of what this approach looks like in action, consider a few “Wayland Moments”:

#1 “It’s walking across campus and realizing you know every single person you saw.”

#8 “It’s when a Latin student sees her Latin teacher in the cafeteria and says (in Latin) ‘Hail, Teacher, who is more than the greatest!’”

#14 “It’s having the house parent in your dorm room help sew your prom dress.”

These and a couple dozen other moments like them are featured in a mini-book stitched into the center of the Academy’s new viewbook, some paired with photos. The result is an eclectic collection of real quotes from real students and teachers capturing the personality and strengths of this wonderful school.

What’s so great about this approach? Three things:

It’s a home run with the target audience. We know because the concept is the result of a process of message-building and testing in which Kelsh Wilson sketched a broad range of creative options, then gathered reaction from prospective students and parents. 

It’s accessible and addictive. These numbered “Moments” have all the power of the web’s best listicles, and package the school’s positioning into bite-size bits as easy to swallow as cream puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair.

It flexibly, scalably connects, print, web and social media. Wayland is already extending its Moments to the school’s Instagram posts and the email campaign from the Admissions Office. But that can be just the start. The list of Moments can grow forever. Visitors to campus can add their own. Alumni can get in on the fun too. 

More broadly, the Moments answer questions every institution needs to face as it tells its story to the world: How are we setting ourselves apart? What are we saying that other schools aren’t?

Sometimes the answer is a tagline no one’s ever dreamed of before. Sometimes it comes from as a spark of inspiration in the mind of a talented designer. But often, the way you set yourself apart best is not through a single masterstroke in concept development. It’s in the content you create to populate the concept. It’s images and examples that are granular, and real, and get to the heart of what people who love your school love about it.

WAYLAND ACADEMY / VIEWBOOK

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WAYLAND ACADEMY / MOMENTS

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WAYLAND ACADEMY / SEARCH PIECE

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WAYLAND ACADEMY / EMAIL MARKETING CAMPAIGN

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WAYLAND ACADEMY / SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN

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WAYLAND ACADEMY / BRAND & STYLE GUIDE

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Penn Engineering: Speaking Visually—and Very Visibly

Fred Wilson

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Kelsh Wilson teamed up with Penn Engineering, a long-time client, to create a series of large-scale photo displays that turn blank interior walls into a visual marketing opportunity.

For years, the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania—Penn Engineering, for short—has been a client of Kelsh Wilson Design. Our latest collaboration is a resourceful, imaginative re-use of some great photos in order to bring empty building walls to life. Here’s the facts: 

Where: The Towne Building, the historic administrative headquarters of Penn Engineering, the corridors of which are busy with steady foot traffic: students, faculty, and many visitors. 

What: Giant photo montages showing scenes of teaching, research, and campus life. Also, 55-square-inch captioned photo panels, featuring specific projects underway.

Why: Because people passing through the building—including those who learn and work there—can’t see the amazing activity happening behind all those marble and plaster walls. Also, the idea presented a wonderful chance to reap an additional return from an investment in photography that had already been shot for other purposes.

How: Durable, high-quality, and relatively inexpensive digital printing.

When: About six months ago—but that’s not really important. More relevant is that any organization with empty wall space and high-quality (and high-resolution) photography can try this pretty much at any time at all—and can swop out images over time to keep things fresh.

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Synching for Success—Malvern Preparatory School

melinda wissmann

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Launching multiple major branding projects back-to-back can be a bit overwhelming—but also exceptionally effective.

Working with Malvern Preparatory School, Kelsh Wilson completed a school-wide branding project, then, in short order, a set of admissions materials and a program of print and digital communications for a major campaign. The result was a lesson in the efficiencies and added impact that are possible when multiple marketing projects all reinforce each other.

Over a period of just a year and a half, Malvern Prep essentially reinvented its program of marketing communications. It happened when the Catholic independent school for boys, located just outside Philadelphia, undertook a major rebranding just as it was also in the planning phases of a new student recruitment program and its largest-ever development campaign. Kelsh Wilson partnered with Malvern from beginning to end—from a discovery and message-building phase that provided the foundation for the rest of the undertaking all the way to a fly-through video spotlighting the new landmark building at the heart of the campaign.

The experience yielded some insights that might be useful to other organizations as they engage in macro-level planning:

Expect Some Efficiencies

As we all know, there are certain tasks common to any major communications effort. And yes, by taking projects on in coordination it is possible to avoid duplicating these tasks and save money. This can be true when it comes to planning photography. (There’s no reason not to shoot a donor for a case statement and a student for a viewbook on the same day.) It can be true when it comes to meetings and administration. (Present ideas for a campaign brochure and website during one campus visit.) Most significantly, it can be true of discovery.  

To start our branding project with Malvern, Kelsh Wilson completed multiple days of focus groups and research interviews. Knowing that we would soon be focusing on a campaign, we expanded our scope of questions to include items on institutional vision and donor motivation. We also talked to more members of the donor audience than we would have otherwise. This allowed one phase of research to do double duty, avoiding duplication of efforts and the risk of interview fatigue among certain go-to stakeholders.

Good Timing is Part of Good Branding

The core deliverables of a branding project typically include a Message Guide and Graphic Standards Manual, sometimes with a new tagline and/or logo woven in. These are vitally important tools, but they do not in themselves make a big public splash. For this reason, it is ideal to plan the roll-out of one or more high-profile marketing projects to show off the new brand in action. In Malvern’s case these included an admissions viewbook and a campaign brochure (both of which reached families across the school community), and a case statement, campaign website, and campaign video.

This cascade of communications helped build excitement, recognition, and momentum for the brand—a roll-out impossible to miss.

There’s Power in Partnership

When you have a strong working relationship with a creative firm and their capabilities match the needs of varied projects (and only when these things are true), it can be highly advantageous to make full use of their talents in multiple ways—just as Malvern did in choosing Kelsh Wilson for brand development and then for several key components of the brand implementation. It’s a beautiful thing when a school and its creative firm form a true partnership. By the time the Kelsh Wilson was called on to shoot Malvern’s campaign video, we not only knew the personality of the school and the messages it needed to send, we knew each of the educators we were interviewing on camera.

There is another advantage too: The fact is, the people most likely to implement your brand in a way that’s fully faithful to its true spirit are the people who created it to begin with. To establish a truly strong brand, it’s advantageous to turn to these people for the first major initiatives that will bring it to life.

Back-to-Back Beats Simultaneous

Clearly, there are advantages to planning multiple major branding efforts in the same timeframe. However, this is not the same as doing them all at once. For the strategic work of branding to shape a website or print program, the branding project needs to come first and requires a bit of a head start. Without that, web or print designers are forced to make important decisions in a vacuum and then to retrofit later—or even worse, produce work embarrassingly out of synch with the new brand. As long as the brand work leads the way, other pieces can fall more or less where they will—or where they need to support your development, admissions, and communications programs.

Is it always possible to plan several significant marketing and communications projects on the kind of back-to-back schedule Malvern did? No. Is it worth trying? We absolutely think so.

The Essential Work of Informational Marketing—Woodlynde School

melinda wissmann

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The Woodlynde School in suburban Philadelphia has a distinctive mission, providing a great college prep education to students with learning differences. However, their experience partnering with Kelsh Wilson on a school-wide branding project teaches at least one lesson that any school, college, or non-profit can use.

We all know that a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and in the world of marketing communications, the #1 bit of knowledge most people have is that you need to focus on what makes you unique. #2 is that you are supposed to move beyond “features and benefits” to talk about your mission and impact in big, inspiring ways. Both points have validity, but if you take them too literally or too far, you can end up with communications that fail to speak to the issues your audience members care about most—or at least the ones they care about first. 

Take the example of Woodlynde School in Strafford, PA, a K-12 college preparatory day school that has served students with learning differences since 1976. When Woodlynde wants to inspire, it’s not hard. Its everyday stories of student success bring tears to people’s eyes. But those stories are just part of what the families of prospective students want to hear.

As Kelsh Wilson discovered through a process of message-building focus groups, what’s more important, at least at the outset, are key facts: Exactly what kinds of learning differences does Woodlynde support and which does it not? What methods are employed and what services offered? Is specialized reading instruction daily or weekly—offered in class or through “pull-outs”?

If these points seem surprisingly detailed, a conversation with any Woodlynde family would reveal their value. The answers to these questions tell families of children with learning differences whether Woodlynde is a potential fit—and whether they want to learn more or not. They also prove the value of informational marketing.

It’s important to note that this kind of marketing is not just for LD schools. Consider these scenarios:

  • You are a consortium of universities offering online graduate degrees in engineering. People want to know…  What degrees and specializations can they choose? Are courses synchronous or asynchronous ? How many can you take at a time and how long does it take to finish?

  • You are a community school of the arts offering lessons and classes in music, art, and dance. People want to know… What instruments can they choose at each branch location? Do you have individual or group instruction? Do you start just in the fall or all year round? Do you have evening lessons?

  • You are a summer camp operation at a school or college. People want to know… What programs do you offer for each age camper? Which ones are scheduled for which weeks? Is robotics all day long, or do you also get to play outside? What about after care and early drop-off? And lunch?

Of course, it’s possible to answer these questions and still have bandwidth left over to focus on your quality, your philosophy, or other less tangible selling points. The key is to identify the facts most people want to know, present them in a clear, brief way, and do it consistently every time.

Doing so not only gives people the answers they want, but also has persuasive power. It positions you as the kind of organization that’s easy to deal with and that delivers customer satisfaction. And it keeps folks from clicking away to your competitors.

Smart Branding for Your School

melinda wissmann

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At Kelsh Wilson, we talk with people at many schools and organizations who deeply appreciate the value of a good brand, but would struggle to say just what makes a brand good. Based on a three decades of experience, we’d love to share some answers.

First, for a definition. Yes, sometimes people use the term “brand” to mean just a logo. But for the purposes of this post, and in most important conversations organizations have about reaching their strategic goals, a brand means much more.

It’s the carefully designed image of your school or institution that you choose to project to the world. It’s your identity intentionally made public. That means not just a logo, but a look and feel and a story you tell.

So what makes that look and feel the right one? What makes that story sing? It boils down to four things:

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You need to project the same image in the same way over time and  stress the same messages in many different contexts. If you do so, you become known and recognized and maximize your marketing investment. If you don’t, it’s debatable whether you have established a brand at all.

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Without creativity most school’s brands would be built around ideas such as academic excellence and community, or challenge combined with support. These may be valid, but they lack all impact. It takes imagination—visual and verbal—to leap beyond the expected into the territory of something memorable.

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To stick, your brand must grow from your true strengths as an organization. It should tell the world in some real way what you stand for. Otherwise, you may succeed in generating a buzz, but you won’t be building a brand that your community can really own or that your audiences will ultimately believe.

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Yes, a good brand tells the world who you really are, but it needs to do so in a way that will help you get where you want to be. One way to think of this is in terms of your organization’s current image and your target image—how you’re seen now and how you need to be seen to be positioned to advantage in the competitive landscape. The idea is to reveal your organization’s identity with a particular awareness of the strengths that matter most to your target audiences, that set you most clearly apart from peers, and that correct any misperceptions standing between you and greater enrollment, giving, and respect.

We know this can sound like a tall order. “All” you need for a great brand is consistency, creativity, honesty, and strategy. As if that weren’t hard enough, we also know that the toughest challenges involve the how—how to define a brand in a way that will encourage consistency, how to sort through a sea of market research to find clarity in strategy.  

So please look for future posts where we’ll dive deeper into these questions. Or give us a call. We’d love to talk!

 

 

 

 

 

Powerfully Promoting Your Event

melinda wissmann

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Too often campus planners go to the hard work of attracting a great speaker or planning a public event and then miss the branding opportunity that comes with it. Working with the Life Sciences and Management Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Kelsh Wilson showed how to use event communications to project quality and professionalism—as well as draw audiences.

Life Sciences and Management at the University of Pennsylvania is an innovative program drawing on the strengths of the Wharton School and the College of Arts & Sciences, and each year it sponsors a marquee lecture featuring top figures in fields ranging from bioethics and biotechnology to medical research and pharma.

This annual highlight presents two communications goals: to shine a bright spotlight on the event and its featured speaker, and to use the opportunity to raise the public profile of the Life Science and Management program.

Kelsh Wilson has partnered with Penn for years on this project, and learned some key lessons along the way.

The first is to think of the event as the chance for mini-branding project. The event invitation, program and folder, plus related digital communications should also share an instantly recognizable look. This approach boosts open rates for communications, projects a sense of coordination and professionalism, and helps create the feel of a multidimensional experience—much more than a speaker in the front of a room.

Second, it’s key to find a path to visual impact. Your event might be round-table on political issues, a debate on the topic of inclusion or, in Penn’s case, a talk about communicating science to the public or developing a new drug. These topics, though diverse, share something in common: none are photogenic. That means turning to other tools in the graphic kit—from bold uses of color to creative typography. In the case of LSM, Kelsh Wilson’s design team has developed conceptual illustrations exploring each speaker’s theme in order to add interest and impact.

The final lesson is simply to plan ahead. Too often event invites and programs are dull because event deadlines sneak up on creative teams. Assess all the pieces it will take to make an effective promotional program and get them started well in advance!

Make the Most of Your School Magazine

melinda wissmann

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In this age of fleeting tweets—in fact, more than at any recent time— alumni, parents, and donors love getting your magazine. They’ve told us exactly that. So it’s worth the effort to make the most of this unique publication. In projects for four different partner schools, Kelsh Wilson shows how.

The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, the Canterbury School in New Milford, CT, The Independence School in Newark, DE, and Penn Engineering, part of the University of Pennsylvania, are four very different institutions, each publishing different school magazines. But all have partnered with Kelsh Wilson in order to take the opportunity—at several key points each year— to put their best foot forward.

Kelsh Wilson has worked with each school to develop new design approaches for their magazines and to produce issues of their periodicals that reflect this design consistently over time. In certain instances, we’ve also helped with photography and with writing of high-profile feature stories.

The look and feel of Penn Engineering, The Masters School’s Bulletin, Indy’s Spirit, and Pallium (the Canterbury’s School’s periodical) differ in ways that reflect the school’s individual identities. All, however, reflect several key approaches.

1) Sophistication in Design

We’ve all seen periodicals from educational institutions that actually feel more like newsletters—from clunky typography to a suffocating absence of white space. Readers often tell schools they love these magazines, because they do love the news they contain. In reality though, publications like these damage the image of the schools they represent.

The design of your magazine is a chance to project the quality and professionalism of your institution through the quality and professionalism of your design choices. This is about more than pure aesthetics. In a world where every reader sees hundreds of examples of smart design every day, it’s about putting your school in the right company. It’s positioning yourself as the kind of organization that inspires pride, loyalty, respect, and support.

 2) Practicality in Imagery

From the photos that make National Geographic the wonder it is to the signature cover illustrations of The New Yorker, it’s no secret that an enormous part of a magazine’s impact comes from its visual content. It’s also no secret that most schools don’t have the kind of budgets these national titles do to commission photographers and illustrators.  

The answer is to work practically with the images that are possible given your budget. When you do spend money, focus it on the most important visuals in your publication: the cover photo and the images to support your feature stories. Conversely, when you have to make do with less-than-inspiring existing shots, run them small. When you have the chance, shape your story list around the visuals (i.e., don’t make the cover story about your gala if you know it’s going to mean a dozen paralyzing grin-and-grabs).

When you do have the chance to hire a photographer, make the most of your investment. Schedule efficiently—as Penn Engineering always does in working with Kelsh Wilson’s photographers. And, grab everything you can—not just the big planned shots but student faces, architectural details, and found moments—little gems you know you’ll use to brighten up otherwise dull pages.

3) Strategy in Content

Too many magazine staffs exercise too little imagination when it comes to developing their story lists. Yes, there will always be events to cover and sports to recap. There will always be a place for a snowy campus scene. The questions, however, that too often go unasked are: What is the content we need to feature to build our brand? And How can we show our stakeholders our mission in action?

These are the kind of questions that lead your team to develop meaningful, original content—pieces that generate real reader feedback.

Customize Your Collaborations

If the challenge of making your magazine into the publication you want it to be seems daunting, think of all the ways you can get help. Yes, you can hire a creative agency to take over the project, or you just can get some focused strategic advice on content planning.

Yes, you can partner with a design professional to layout every issue, or just to do a one-time facelift and create a set of templates that your in-house team can use going forward. 

Yes, you can find a top-notch photographer to fill every issue with beauty, or you can get that same great photographer to give you one day of his best work twice a year and really make the most if it.

Be smart. Be practical. Be the magazine people admire!

Putting Messaging Strategies Into Action

melinda wissmann

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Working with the Volgenau School of Engineering at George Mason University, Kelsh Wilson built a program of brand tools, then put those tools to work through a campaign of carefully targeted ads. The goal: to reach a group of particularly important influencers, including deans of peer schools nationwide. 

It’s a twist on an old joke: How does an institution create the public image it wants? Answer: Very carefully.

In this case, the institution is the Volgenau School of Engineering at George Mason University, an organization that’s dynamic, fast growing, thrillingly diverse—and not as well known as it deserves to be. In early 2017, Kelsh Wilson undertook a project to change that fact, a reinvention of the Volgenau message that resulted in a new brand, intentionally planned to spotlight the school’s truly distinctive strengths and to reach a range of audiences.

The program was built around the tagline “The Future of Engineering is Here”—a phrase uniquely appropriate to this decidedly forward-looking school.

Shortly after the launch of the new brand, KWD teamed up with Volgenau to bring the school’s new messages to life while reaching out to a particularly important audience. This was the membership of the ASEE—the American Society of Engineering Education—including deans and department heads at engineering schools across the nation. The members of this relatively small group have a big impact when it comes to shaping opinion—and voting on rankings—in their field.

Working with the Volgenau communications team, Kelsh Wilson set out to impress these key influencers with a series of ads in the ASEE magazine, Prism. Each of these ads tells a single story, and each of these stories makes the same point: that the future of engineering really is taking shape at Volgenau.

One submission highlighted NASA-funded work on machine algorithms used to process flight data in new ways, leading to safer skies. Another explored Air Force-funded cybersecurity research targeting malicious software in the form of so-called “Trojans.”

Whatever the topic, Kelsh Wilson works to distill complex stories into compact (but accurate) form and to pair the text with images that leap off the page.


Nichols School—Powerful Annual Giving Appeals

melinda wissmann

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The challenge of creating effective annual giving solicitations year-in and year-out is telling essentially the same story again and again, but always differently and always well.

At Kelsh Wilson, we believe the answer lies in diving deeply into the life and work of the school. When we seek out stories of teaching and learning, of innovation, and of student achievement, we find evidence that speaks straight to the hearts and minds of donors.

As Kelsh Wilson helped the Nichols School in Buffalo, NY, to develop its most recent series of annual fund communications, our source of inspiration was the school’s strategic plan. We asked where Nichols had made exciting strides toward its published goals, and we found stories of growth and progress—and of educators enriching the lives of students.

One of the year’s appeals focused in on Nichols’ Entrepreneurial Studies program, another on its exemplary service-learning offerings, a third on leadership development experiences. All included quotes, photos, and interesting stories—in brief.

In each case, we presented content specific enough to be interesting, but with a broader point: Nichols is engaged in exciting, important work. The impact on students is clear, the partnership of donors, essential.

In the world of annual giving, there may be nothing new under the sun. But by writing skillfully about the right themes, great schools can tap a limitless supply of donor-motivating content. And those right themes all trace back to the same origin. It’s force that connects stakeholders to an institution in the first place: its mission.

Gift Reports Designed to Inspire Giving—The Masters School

melinda wissmann

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Working with The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, Kelsh Wilson created an annual report that not only recognizes donors but also presents a picture of the school designed to make the impact of their philanthropic support crystal clear.

Annual gift reports provide the perfect proof that when it comes to compelling communications, context is everything. You see, whether in printed or digital form, gift reports fulfill a simple core function: recognizing the year’s donors by name. However, if your gift list comes wrapped in stories that show vividly the impact of the gifts donors have made, the piece becomes something more. It becomes a vehicle to position your organization, to build stakeholder pride, and—indirectly but powerfully—to make the case for next year’s commitment.

The 2016-17 annual report/gift report that Kelsh Wilson developed for The Masters School, a top independent boarding and day school outside New York City, works to accomplish all these goals. Its theme is “Masters at this Moment.” Over a five-page narrative section, in a series of brief vignettes, the piece informs readers that Masters is…. “Strong and Thriving,” “Committed to Opportunity,” “Competing Strongly,” “Looking to the Future with Bold Ambition,” and more.

The stories provide ample fuel for pride. (Admissions metrics make clear Masters is a school of choice, increasingly selective. Stories on arts, academics, athletics, and service programs all show strength and growth as well.)

Perhaps most important, these stories connect the school’s success to donor support. A piece on the theme of “opportunity,” celebrates the impact of financial aid—and of a gala fundraiser supporting it. A piece themed “United and Inspired” focuses on the many ways members of the community contribute to its vitality, including record levels of annual giving participation.

Of course, it helps to impress donors (and everyone else) when you have the kind of impressive evidence that Masters can muster. However, in planning your annual report, the goals are the same whether you’ve had a record-breaking year or not: first, to put your best foot forward, spotlighting your institution at its proudest; second to make clear the part your donors have played in writing your story of success.

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Whittier College—The Strategy of Synergy

melinda wissmann

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Working with Whittier College in Southern California, Kelsh Wilson showed the power of leveraging your investment in admissions communications to create projects of other kinds that draw on the same look and drive home the same themes.

In the world of marketing, it can sometimes be tough for small schools to compete with larger ones, especially when the bigger institutions have proportionally larger budgets. Small schools do have at least one advantage, however: It is far easier for them to coordinate their many forms of outreach to project a single, consistent image.

Having worked with liberal arts colleges and independent schools on the one hand and flagship research universities on the other, this is a lesson the Kelsh Wilson team has learned firsthand. It is also an insight we recently put to work in a developing a series of projects for Whittier College in California, an excellent liberal arts school with just over 1,600 students.

The College’s first priority was to create a series of new admission publications— very brief, solidly on message, and in-synch with Whittier’s newly redesigned website. However, Whittier’s wish list included other items as well, from a re-design of the College magazine, The Rock, to banners to brighten campus walkways. They also requested creation of a series of templates to be used for print and email communications produced by units across campus, from the president’s office to the registrar, to alumni and development.

Kelsh Wilson’s approach started by focusing on design and messaging for the re-invented admissions materials, brief, bold, and light in tone, but driving home compelling content points, whether about the distinctive strengths of liberal arts learning or the career success of recent grads.

KWD’s designers then took key elements from the admission pieces—from typefaces and dominant colors to aspects of layout—and applied them in developing flexible templates for a multitude of other print and digital uses, from emails and invitations to short brochures. They also applied these elements in the design of banners that will define the boundaries of campus and festoon the paths followed by families on admissions tours.

In redesigning The Rock, Whittier’s magazine, the team extended the look further and took greater liberties, creating a solution suited to the unique content demands of a periodical. Still, it’s easy to recognize the magazine as an expression of the same institution behind the rest of the communications program.

The synergistic approach Whittier and Kelsh Wilson followed offers two important advantages. First, for any institution whose success depends primarily on tuition revenue, it’s smart to use every investment in marketing and communication to reinforce the impression created by the school’s admission outreach. Second, by making the admission materials the pragmatic starting point for other important projects, the client can realize major savings—working with one firm rather than several and investing in a single major design exploration (albeit with variations), rather than many.

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The Independence School—Campus Displays with Marketing Impact

melinda wissmann

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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?

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