Creating great content for your school is an imperative in today’s competitive environment. But how do you properly navigate through the various aspects of these projects? We sat down with Jerry Ward (Headmaster, the Fenn School 1993 - 2018) and Olivia Boger (Director of Marketing, the Fenn School 2011 - 2019) to get their insights and perspectives on topics independent schools encounter each and every year.
Below are 11 videos that touch upon important topics such as budgeting for quality, the importance of communicating your mission, capturing the moments that make your school unique, etc. At the bottom of the page are the transcripts of each.
We hope you enjoy.
evolution of marketing within independent schools
“Having video and having the freshness and the voice of people who are involved in the school directly… is essential, but also is very moving and very powerful.”
the important first steps
investing in quality content
“We led with quality, and then we made the numbers work. And the investment… proved itself ten times over.”
moment to moment
“A student’s experience is shaped moment to moment. To capture that, to me, is really how you convey the mission… and life of the school.”
showcasing who you are
consistency of message
“There is a tremendous consistency of message conveying the fundamental and very clear mission that our school has and that never wavers.”
investing in quality photography
“What I got in return was this incredible photography that captured the heart and soul of the school… that I could use in so many different ways across so many different mediums with many different departments.”
the power of the image online
“When people would tell us that the website was wonderful and amazing, I know that they weren't talking about how well it was laid out… they were just talking about the power of the image.”
the big picture
being true to your school
“What you need to find is a creative crew who can capture exactly who you are and not worry about what your competitors are doing, because that's not who you are.”
focusing on mission
“It's going to be the mission that will shine through. But it only shines through, obviously, when you're able to work with people who can convey that to you in an artful,… genuine way.”
how video supports fundraising
“We had such rich archives of video…. We were able to go back because of the remarkable quality that again told the story of what Fenn is about very powerfully, and they created a video that moved people deeply.”
the next steps
where to start
“[Copper Hound Pictures'] really thought about our culture and how they could represent it in a better, more cohesive way online and in video and through photography.”
working with copper hound pictures
“It couldn't be a nicer group of people to work with. They bring experts to the scene. They think about it as a project and they want to invest to make sure that you love what you're getting.”
INTERESTED IN learning more?
We’d love the opportunity to sit down with you to talk more about how Copper Hound Pictures can help your school further its messaging.
The Evolution of Marketing within Independent Schools
The evolution of marketing in independent schools has been fascinating to watch, and over 25 years, gosh, has it ever changed. Certainly with the advent of technology and the internet and all of that, it became very much oriented toward online marketing and, with that as well, the really powerful communication of video.
I learned over time that as much as I'm a person of the written word, at the same time, you really have to be able to speak not only to the head and intellect of people, but also to the heart. Having video and having the freshness and the voice of people who are involved in the school directly before you is something that really, I think, in this day and age is essential, but also is very moving and very powerful.
Above all things, we all know this, enrollment is job one. I also can say from my work with the Association of Independent Schools in New England, that it's essential in this day and age of declining enrollments that schools really be able to effectively reach out and be proactive.
Unsolicited so many times, I'd be approached and parents would say, especially at open houses, they would say ... You know, I would be someone to always be asking, "how did you hear about us? We're not that famous for sure." But many of them would say, "Well, I was doing research online, but I was really struck by your website, and I loved the videos." And more often than not, it might be the video about the life of a fourth grader. It might be a video about sportsmanship at Fenn, or it could be that beautiful video about the arts at Fenn, but they would cite it.
And again, quite honestly, they would often state, "Your website and your videos are far superior to what we've seen. We're here now and we're loving what we're seeing. And obviously the school is bigger than a video or a website, but that's what brought us to Fenn." A year out now from my position, as I've retired, I understand it's even coming that much more strongly in terms of number of inquiries, I know fundraising continues well, applications continue well, and the school is thriving. But it's not by accident. It's thriving because it's a great school, with a wonderful faculty and staff, with a really centered mission. But it's also thriving because we are able to tell that story to parents and to alumni.
Investing in Quality Content
Jerry Ward: I don't think I know of a school that operates with some sort of an unlimited budget, so you have to be strategic and you have to be careful. My view was that, and we shared this belief strongly as a marketing team, was not necessarily to go for a project, or a team that was going to come in at the lowest possible cost, and then product, if you will, would follow. We believe strongly that if this investment of a kind, and it is an investment, was really going to be worth it, we needed first to choose quality, and then within reason, and we found Copper Hound quite honestly, to be very both receptive and reasonable about working out the terms of budget.
Olivia Boger: I think what was great about Copper Hound was, it wasn't a, "Here's our bottom line, this is what you have to spend up front, this is going to be our process." They were very willing to start small with us, to see their response and to grow from there. And again, as a director of marketing talking to your head of school, I wanted to make sure that the way were spending the money, was actually coming back to resonate with him, and with the admin team, the senior admin team, and so I needed time for him to see how powerful the work that was being done was, and how much of an effect it was having on our school as a whole.
Jerry Ward: We led with quality, and then we made the numbers work. And I have to say, we made the numbers work without breaking a sweat somehow. The numbers were reasonable enough, and the investment really, I believe, proved itself ten times over.
Olivia Boger: When I was having the actual budget numbers discussion with the CFO, he was great about understanding that, if one video convinced a family to Fenn we would be earning back three times over the cost of one day of photography with Copper Hound. So he was quite invested in making the commitment to a really great photography and video crew, because he knew how important it was, and he knew what the return could be by just having one family enroll at Fenn. After that first year, it was so apparent after the first video and first photographs that they took for us, that they 100% knew who we were, that it wasn't a discussion I needed to keep having with my marketing team about rehiring them. In fact, it was people had a laundry list of projects that they wanted their help working on, and we needed to prioritize.
Moment to Moment
I so strongly believe that a student's experience is shaped moment to moment. Education occurs moment to moment, and of course, you put that altogether over four years, five years, six years, whatever it might be. Then the whole of this young person who's graduating from you reflects those moments and the effort that's done daily. To capture that to me is really how you convey the mission of the school and the life of the school. To capture it you have to do it in a way that number one is able to see it when it's there, and secondly to be able to be present for those moments without being intrusive in any way.
And I have to say I was always struck, as I would take a look at some of the drafts if you will of videos, or taking a look at the photography that was done, the still photography by Copper Hound, I was always struck by how they were able to capture those sacred moments if you will, and number one, recognize it when it was happening, but number two, to allow them to happen without the boys being self-conscious or the teacher or the adult or the boys with each other. There's a real art to that and a technique I would imagine as well. But they were able to take that and then, of course, tell the narrative and weave it into this larger artful form that they do.
Consistency of Message
One of the other things that I learned over time with a lot of help from the folks like Olivia, our Marketing Director, and other is that in conveying the mission and the message of Fenn School, it's not simply to one space or in one way. Our endeavor is to be able to speak to alumni, our endeavor is to speak to prospective parents, to speak to current parents, and our endeavor as well is to reach out broadly to our school community. Copper Hound did that really effectively. I've seen in recent time the profiles that they've done with alumni that helped bolster the very successful annual fund campaign that was done this past year. I've seen them work certainly to really make our website come alive that much more and social media and the like. And for sure, I've seen them do the work that they've done in video for admissions and all.
It's really multifaceted and I'm not the best judge of all of that. What I am the best judge of I think again is what we are conveying, whether it is or isn't really telling the genuine story of Fenn. In fact, Copper Hound does that beautifully and artfully and genuinely. There is a tremendous consistency of message conveying the fundamental and very clear mission that our school has and that never wavers. There's the constant in all of that cutting across different kinds of outreach, cutting across our constituents and very effectively done.
Investing in Quality Photography
When I looked at the budget, I looked at, "Okay, what was the cost of an advertisement that was a one off?" And then that sometimes, a $2,500 advertisement or $2,000 advertisement, was about what we were spending on just a photographer coming for one game plus afternoon at Fenn. And yet those pictures were so specific and they could really only be used once or twice. And they were of the same kids doing the same thing. And that was an easy thing to convince a CFO to pay for because they were relatively low costs.
When we kind of shifted the way we were thinking about the budget and the value proposition of investing in great photography, it was obviously a bigger number. It didn't allow me to do as much advertising. And yet what I got in return was this incredible photography that captured the heart and soul of the school. And was photography that I could use in so many different ways across so many different mediums with many different departments.
And I was using it two years later in a way that I hadn't anticipated when I first signed on to get that content library. So it really paid for itself so many different ways because it allowed me to invest in a crew. And that investment, in really capturing what Fenn was, was worth the time and the money because we have incredible content now. And we have content that we can use at a fundraiser. We have content that we can use at admissions event. We have content that we can use once a current parent enrolls and is at a new cultivation event. It is worth every single penny because you need somebody to understand your culture. You need somebody to spend time at your school to understand who you are. And then you need somebody who is incredibly good at fine tuning the length of your video, the angle of your photography, so it looks and stays current.
I think that when I first got to Fenn and I was looking back through old photography, it was quite obvious when the photos had been taken. They seemed so dated. And I look at photography that Copper Hound took in the very first year and we could use it today. And you don't realize you can do that because you're only thinking about your next project. If you can shift your mindset and start thinking about projects over the course of five or 10 years, you will start to realize the impact and the benefit of having incredible content.
The Power of the Image Online
We had all the marketing directors and some advancement and admissions people come to Fenn for a discussion about websites. Over and over and over again, we heard how powerful our videos were, and how well they were produced. We had one, specifically, that was voiced over by Steve Carell, our arts video. Obviously having Steve Carell be the voice, because he's an alum, was wonderful, because the video was seen by a lot of people. But, in seeing the video by a lot of people, it wasn't just like we got a lot of hits because people wanted to hear Steve Carell. Over and over again, we would hear how powerful the arts video was. So then, I think people started looking at some of our other videos.
It was really, I mean it was a huge source of pride to hear people say how much they loved our website. Because, when we redesigned our website, the entire website was based off of Copper Hound photography. So, we looked for any website design we could find that just highlighted photography. Because, we would go back and forth about what was important about the design or the different gimmicks on the website or the way to make animation work. What we kept coming back to is, at its core, Fenn is about the boy and about the child and about the community that we're building. What better way to do that than with a photograph, a really great photograph, and great video.
When people would tell us that the website was wonderful and amazing, I know that they weren't talking about how well it was laid out. I think they were just talking about the power of the image. And, to have consistently rotating different images every season because you have that library, I felt like I never ... I mean, I could change that image once a week, and feel like it was still capturing the essence of Fenn.
Being True to Your School
When I look at other schools' videos, the first thing that comes to mind on a video that's really not done well for a school is that it's so produced, and it looks incredibly staged, and it looks like they took the best shot after six or seven takes of the same scene. And I can tell right away that they put a ton of work into the mapping-out of exactly how the video was going to go, and they put a ton of work into scripting, and they put a ton of work into asking faculty to say exactly what they wanted to come out of a video.
In a Copper Hound video, one of the best memories I have of this team was, we wanted to capture the day in the life of a fourth-grader, and we had them come to drop-off, and there is Tim with his video wrapped around his waist, with the arm coming out of the camera itself, and he literally still has his backpack on. He hasn't even unpacked his stuff for the day of shooting, and a kid is getting out of his car and running to a classroom, and Tim runs with the kid. And he ran with him the entire way. The video might have been shaking, but Tim was sweating, running with the kid, got him as he went in the door, and then Tim turned around with this huge smile on his face, and he was like, "We got it!"
That, right there, is exactly what I wanted, because he was so in tune of what a school day means, and how important it is to get that picture of how excited a little guy is when they arrive at a school that they love. And we didn't need to stage it! And we didn't need to practice it, and we didn't need to do cuts one, two, and three.
It started our video, and it is the thing that, when a parent watches, they're like, "Oh, yes, that is my kid! I want my kid to be that kid!" I think the kid was missing a strap to his backpack, so the backpack was actually falling at an angle, and it totally captured who we were as a school. We're an all-boys' school, and Tim totally captured it, and I think that that's what's so cool about a Copper Hound video, is that they've spent enough time on campus, they feel comfortable enough with kids and faculty and with just the pace of an independent school, that they get right into it. They just start shooting what your life is and what your school culture is, and that's so important for a school.
We're all charging this huge amount of money to send kids to this incredible education, yet we're all totally different. None of us need to be the exact same. None of us need to make a video to look just like what our neighbors down the street did, because we're very different schools from one another. So, what you need to find is a creative crew who can capture exactly who you are and not worry about what your competitors are doing, because that's not who you are.
And that's what Copper Hound knows how to do. They, I think, had come from, at one point, a shoot at an all-girls Catholic school a few days before they had come to Fenn. You couldn't imagine two different schools, and when I looked at the video for the all-girls Catholic school and then the Fenn video, oh, my gosh, did they capture the culture of both perfectly! And they were very different from one another, but I think that's what you get when you hire a team of people who have incredible skill as artists and content managers, and then also, these wonderful people skills that you feel really comfortable working with.
Focusing on Mission
I think for any school that's taking a look at outreach, whether it's for admissions, or for advancement, or for alumni work, you name it, it's going to be the mission that will shine through. But it only shines through, obviously, when you're able to work with people who can convey that to you in an artful way, and an in a genuine way. If a school is to be honest, if a school is to be genuine, if a school is to be true to its mission and powerful in providing the education it seeks to do, it has to start with its core, it has to start with its mission. And in Fenn’s case we wanted to work with a firm that would get us, so to speak. And when we interviewed the team from Copper Hound what became clear to me, right away, in the initial exploratory conversations is that they did know schools well. They had the sensibilities around what independent schools are, and what makes them distinct each on their own terms.
But secondly, it was clear that they really had a very open mind and clear eyes about coming to understand the particularities of Fenn in the broader sense of Fenn. And with that they were able to come into the school and I think get really to the epicenter of what our mission is about. But as importantly, to be able to take a look at those defining moments in a school day. That really that's ... The clay is shaped by teachers and the clay is shaped by the adults, and fellow students working with each other. And that becomes the experience of students. That has a very direct relevance, to state the obvious, and appeal to perspective parents and boys themselves as we're looking at the school.
But as importantly, it has a direct relevance as well to currently enrolled parents and also to alumni. Alumni really seek to know that the school that has changed in some ways externally, as schools need to adapt to the current times and look to the future, that the core of it is constant. That the core of it remains the same. So in coming into work with us, in Copper Hounds work, they really came to understand the essence of Fenn. And I would say for us, and you might say this about a number of schools, but for us the essence of it was care. And that care was so beautifully, and I think artfully, and importantly genuinely conveyed in these rather intimate moments that they captured in the halls, and in the classroom, in the dining hall, in games, and all of that. This fabric of care that knits a boys' experience together. And it was Copper Hound’s teamwork, but also Copper Hound’s, I think, artistic insight to be able to capture that that was powerful. And that for us made a great difference.
How Video Supports Fundraising
Schools as always in order to advance and be true to their mission and be current in times and future leaning, do reach those critical junctures where capital fundraising is absolutely essential.
As I made the decision to close out my career at Fenn after 25 years and I informed the board of that 18 months in advance, the board decided at that point that it would really go toward an aggressive fundraising schedule and to raise funds in a much more compressed period of time than we, at least in our school might normally do. And so the charge became in order to meet the next phase of the strategic plan, the charge became to raise $20 million. In our case, it was for financial aid and for other essential aspects of the program and for a new makers space and engineering lab. And every step that we took was time sensitive.
The remarkable part was in involving Copper Hound in this project, we had such rich archives of video from the work that they had done before that they didn't have to come on campus and start shooting new rolls for us. We were able to go back because of the remarkable quality that again told the story of what Fenn is about very powerfully, and they created a video that moved people deeply. I will say that perhaps to my surprise, we were able to raise that money in that short time frame, and it wasn't solely because certainly the materials or because of the work of Copper Hound. But I'll tell you, I honestly believe that we couldn't have done it without the work of Copper Hound.
Where Do I Start?
You probably, if you're in a marketing department at a school, you probably get a million emails and phone calls from people who want to help you with your content. My suggestion to you is if you're thinking through what steps you should take, the best step that we ever took was having the team come and talk to us. They came onto campus, they sat with us as a free consultation. They heard the things that we are hoping for as a school and they really thought about our culture and how they could represent it in a better, more cohesive way online and in video and through photography. And the step... I think that that step, what made that so powerful was there was a huge amount of buy in by the other administrators on campus because they really loved talking to the guys and hearing their ideas and also seeing their portfolio of work and how expansive it is and how good they are at telling the story.
I think that you might not know where to even start, but if you are watching this and you're interested in a content team, it's probably because when you look at your content, there's a lack of consistency or there's a bunch of different ways you're trying to grab it, or you're worried that your content isn't telling your story. And all of those things that I just mentioned are something that a Copper Hound team could come onto campus and sit with you and look at and then give you their best advice. And the other thing I will say about them is, I don't even know if they have somebody who is truly a sales person. So what you'll be doing is you'll be talking directly to the creative team that you're going to be working with, which just saves so much time for you and for them. And I think eventually, and ultimately, gets you the best product.
What It’s Like to Work with Copper Hound
What I love most about the Copper Hound team is how easy they are to work with and how flexible they are and also the fact that they come from independent schools and very much understand an independent school culture. They are a team that arrives on campus, that knows and loves the age of the student that they are about to photograph, and has the ability to work with the adults that are helping them to set up the day of photography. It couldn't be a nicer group of people to work with. They bring experts to the scene. They work with you after the actual shoot in post-production. They are so flexible on going back and forth on edits of the video. They are not charging you for every single minute that you spend with them. They think about it as a project and they want to invest to make sure that you love what you're getting.
They're willing to go back and forth in the beginning stages when you're thinking about script for a video, so that word by word you feel like they are exactly nailing what your school is all about. And because they are so good as people and are such natural people people, it takes away the need for them to come in as a firm and set up focus groups and surveys and almost exhaust the community before they've even stepped foot on campus. That was the thing that we love so much about Copper Hound when we started working with them was so many other people wanted... When they were pitching us their project ideas or their business models, it was a lot of pre-work. And as a school you'll know this, nobody has free time. Constituents feel like they're tapped for this strategic plan once every 10 years and then for the AISNE re-accreditation and nobody wants to be in focus groups or surveys and you want just to be able to give a team some information, have some discussions with them, tell them what your concerns are as a school, what your goals are, where you hope projects go, and then they do the work of thinking through what you need and the days that they need to be on campus.
And then you want a team of people who are naturally okay just coming on campus and understanding who you are so that that pre-work doesn't have to exhaust your community. They do this so well. It is very much like you're working with a faculty member at the school and they are respectful of the teachers. When I would tell the teachers and the faculty that Copper Hound was coming onto campus, smiles would come across people's faces. They knew who they were. They would ask them how certain life events had gone because people had become friends with them. Nobody felt threatened to have them in the classroom. No one felt annoyed to have them walking around campus. They were such a natural part of our community that boys years later would say hi to them, and they really are a dream when it comes to working with a group of creative artists.