You’re the Director of Marketing Communications at an independent school. You’re just back from spring break and the baseball coach wants to show you something. He’s very excited. He’s very proud of himself. He tells you about the new publication he has developed called the “Leaf Academy Baseball Bulletin.” It’s aimed at parents of team members to showcase the accomplishments of their awesome sons.
Ok. Not a bad idea. Good for school spirit. Good for support for the baseball team. Good for student retention.
And then Coach shows you the piece that he has already distributed to said parents.
Not only is the design a stellar example of 80s desktop publishing, but the photos are dark, taken from a distance, and dismal. The colors are burgundy and grey, when your school colors are blue and green. Why? “Because I like those colors,” Coach says. Typos, misspellings, and incorrect identifications abound. The return address is wrong. And, to top it all off, the school logo looks nothing like the official logo, but something pulled off the internet that “kinda, sorta looked like it,” according to Coach.
In your role as Director of Marketing Communications, you know that it’s a mixed blessing when your independent school colleagues take it upon themselves to create marketing pieces. The good part is that it takes one thing, no matter how small, off your plate. The bad part is when others go rogue, creating a piece that reflects poorly on the school’s brand. What’s a communications director to do?
First, thank Coach for his enthusiasm and for taking initiative. It’s great that he is excited about the baseball program and wants to boast about it. After you’ve heaped some more praise, ask Coach (well, this really isn’t so much an ask as it is an imperative, but you know how to do this nicely) to show you all future pieces before they go out. (After all, players shouldn’t try to steal second unless they get a sign first, right?) Make it clear that you don’t mean the night before it’s due to go out, since you need time to give it a proper review.
Then show Coach your school’s style guide, which contains information about your school’s graphic identity and brand messages. (If you don’t have one, you should. Read more here.) Tell Coach that this isn’t your style guide, it’s the school’s, and every piece that goes out from the school must conform to it. Tell him that the Head of School says so. (And make sure you actually do have the Head’s backing.) Most of all, tell him that branding your school is a team effort, and all team members need to do their part in order for the brand to be successful.
Explain to Coach that the purpose of your job is to promote and protect the well-earned image of the school, which is fragile and can be negatively impacted by even small things. Provide examples that don’t involve him, such as a crabby receptionist, peeling paint, or litter around campus. Every person in the school, from the maintenance crew to the Head of School, has the power to help or harm the school’s brand by how they do their job and interact with internal and external communities.
Show Coach good examples of other schools’ baseball bulletins. Perhaps you could create a “master template” that conforms to brand identity for Coach to use as the basis for future issues.
A poorly designed baseball bulletin isn’t the worst thing that can happen on spring break. But a fastball to the head of the brand has gotta hurt.