Challenges, Surprises, Advice, and Results — an interview with Forman School
From its founding in 1930 to today, Forman School has been at the forefront of educating students who learn differently. The school invests mightily in its students and faculty, drawing on the latest research and innovations to create a best-practice model that helps students become successful and confident learners, succeed in college, and go on to fulfilling lives and careers.
In the fall of 2012, Studio-e began working with Forman School. Partnering with Jennifer Christensen, Director of Strategic Marketing & Communications at the School, we developed a solid communications platform (in collaboration with Rick Bader, writer and communications consultant), created a new wordmark, updated the School's shield, crafted graphic style guidelines, and designed admissions materials. We recently spoke with Jennifer about the factors that went into the decision to develop a communications platform and how the process went, including her advice to other schools.
Studio-e: Would you share with us the factors that motivated Forman School to develop a brand message platform and update the School's logo?
Jennifer Christensen: Forman School has been exclusively focused on serving bright students who learn differently since 1930. Over the years, the screening criteria had become more or less lax, and there were some residual reputation issues that needed to be corrected. Our new Head of School had been raising the bar on all aspects of the academic and student life programs; he wanted to be sure the audiences knew what Forman has become.
The School's shield had been a student project in 1944 and incorporated Christian elements that no longer reflected the school's diverse population. In recent years, the athletics department had become attached to a piece of clip art that was used liberally. There was a clear disconnect in the messages associated with the school's visual imagery.
SE: What were your expectations going into the project?
JC: Having done this kind of project for many clients—both corporate and academic—I knew what the process would be and tried to identify critical success factors early on. My favorite part of doing an identity project is to build community around a central, galvanizing idea.
SE: What were some of the challenges you faced during the process?
JC: There is a lot of ambivalence when an institution faces any change, but a 'brand' change can be very emotional. Change is uncomfortable and many of the values associated with the brand were deep-seated—particularly among older alumni who identified emotionally with the Christian aspect. Building consensus is the most challenging part of the process, but it is absolutely necessary for the project to succeed.
SE: Did you learn anything about Forman School during the process that was unexpected?
JC: I was thrilled to learn that the School has a better reputation among key influencers that we had realized. I also learned that it is more important (and efficient) to be explicit with feedback than to spare peoples' feelings.
SE: Has the resulting platform met your expectations?
JC: Absolutely. It is simple, clear, and true. The messaging works equally well with different stakeholders. Why would Alumni NOT want to be associated with a school that has a better reputation than the school they attended?
SE: What is one of the most satisfying results of this process?
JC: Hearing the messaging easily articulated by colleagues across the institution; seeing the new logo consistently displayed and feeling others' pride in doing so.
SE: What would you recommend to other schools who are considering this process?
- Do your homework. Understand the organization's reputation and its historical inventory of visual and verbal imagery. "Know thy competition."
- Talk to constituents. Have thoughtful conversations with people who represent every aspect of the 'buying' decision.
- Identify the decision team. Be sure key stakeholders are there at key milestones. Don't add or subtract people once underway.
- Circle back. Revisit constituents in the platform development process to keep them engaged and invested in the process.
- Create a narrative. Take time to build the story—draw on quotations from the research and historical snippets to make the new platform feel like it belongs.
SE: Anything else you would like to mention about the process or the results?
JC: As of June 1, our School has exceeded its goal for enrollment—both its traditional school year program AND its newly-formed summer program. While we can't claim credit based on the rebranding, we do feel a sense of accomplishment in having unified the organization around a few key ideas that appear to resonate with our customers.