The new president sat across from me in his modest office, not behind an ornate desk but out front, friendly and comfortable.
He was casual with me, though his institution’s plight was anything but—remote not rural, private, with limited academic programs and a reasonable inability to add more in an efficient way. I asked tough questions. He gave insightful answers.
This was a pre-proposal meeting, one I had requested and they had gladly agreed to. I was hosted in a guest house on campus (there was no hotel within 20 miles). I had the freedom to roam, talk to people, and immerse myself in campus culture for most of 24 hours. I was even asked to the campus church potluck.
The president was barely in his 30s. It was the first time I had been older than a client president. Age didn’t seem to matter—he seemed savvy, his vision right. And to be fair, the eventual “oops” has been oft-repeated by older and wise folks; at the time I simply gave him the benefit of being President Doogie Howser.
His two requests for the creative campaign:
- “Tell our academic story, it’s powerful. We don’t now and we need to be taken more seriously.”
- “Obviously isolation is a problem. We need to show the power of relationships.”
Alas, in the end, the low bidder was chosen. Months later I received what the school produced.
The viewbook cover photo wasn’t a science lab or engaged students with a professor—it was a shot of airborne kids jumping off the sign at the campus entrance. The two-panel critical center spread of the book was of a solitary girl, head down, walking across campus alone on a gray day. The rest of the book was a mish-mash of clichés and features.
So, in their flagship piece, they failed to make a case for academics AND reinforced the greatest barrier to enrollment—double trouble. I still use this case of brand v. execution dichotomy as a teaching moment.
The president was gone a short time later. The school is still alive today, though struggling. In a recent check of their home page I noticed one improvement.
While they still use a solitary girl as a lead image, and she still has her head down, at least she’s studying.
Baby steps, baby.