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.