Awards
Recruitment Features: Fountain Valley School of Colorado - Gold Medal

Category 15: Electronic Media: Recruitment Features
Fountain Valley School of Colorado – “Imagine More”

Contact: Taraneh Rohani, director of communications, 6155 Fountain Valley School Rd., Colorado Springs, CO 80911, Phone: (719) 337-8115, e-mail: trohani@fvs.edu

Project Background: In 2006, FVS engaged in an institutional branding exercise, and subsequently developed a marketing plan that called for the creation of the school’s first DVD. Location is one of the greatest advantages and obstacles for FVS. As an independent, international boarding and day school in the Western region, we are one of a kind—there are very few schools like us in the immediate market (Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana), where boarding schools are not a norm. Unlike Eastern boarding schools, where a family can in a one-two day period visit a number of schools, FVS is a single destination school visit, where a family would have to commit to three days to travel and visit one school. However, we know that once students and families visit the school, the likelihood of applying and enrolling is exponentially greater. We have to work harder to educate students and families—an increasing percentage of our students (34 percent) come from public school background and for the first time face annually paying nearly $19,000 for day and $36,000 for boarding tuition. As one of the most expensive schools in our market, offering a package of academic and transformative opportunities that are not in the mainstream of education in our immediate market, FVS has a significant marketing challenge. We have to not only inform and attract students and families for whom independent boarding schools are an unknown territory, we also have to break through the barrier of brand-conscious parents who hold a higher perceived value in our peer boarding schools in the East.

Planning and Objectives: One of the most important aspects of the DVD was the implementation of the visual and verbal identity and the school’s new brand. We know that if we went head to head with prestigious “name” schools in the East and in California—matching their lists of college matriculation, depth of curriculum and AP offerings, or number of championships and national merit award winners—we’d always be running behind the pack. Instead, we changed the dialogue: high school is about “the most important years in our lives, where we explore and discover who are.” This is the first sequence of the DVD. The FVS strategy is to differentiate the school by its locations, opportunities, community, and through genuine stories of our students and faculty.

We decided on a documentary-style approach; there were nearly 60 interviews conducted in six days of filming. There were no scripts, we had a very loose outline of topics explored through interviews; we were looking for real and genuine moments. A lot depended on our ability to unlock the conversation during the interviews, to let the interviewee open up and deliver their story, something that did not sound out of the can or an official company line. There was little set up for interviews; the crew essentially was scheduled in a “gun and run” fashion, catching folks all around campus during the regular academic day and in the evenings. We were willing to compromise a bit of the lighting and beauty in order to gain spontaneity. Also, considering that we had a small budget and limited days, we enlisted two of our students to shoot b-roll in the residence halls and for athletic events. We had to create the look and feel of four seasons, while filming in April, May, and September—although given Colorado’s weather we hit all four seasons anyway. We also knew that opportunities to capture the beauty of our natural setting would be limited. The crew rented extra cameras set up in various locations for time-lapse shots—from the early-morning magic hours to clouds moving across a jet blue ski.

A lot of the camera work was hand-held—not easy on long days for the director of photography. But we wanted movement and a dynamic quality in the shots. We used hundreds of stills to make up for what we could not captured on film, but also used still and text and titles to add a dynamic, fast-paced layering to the storyline.

Audiences: This DVD targets middle school and high school age students, 12-16 years olds. Our research indicated that the final decision rested with the student who needed to be convinced that there were adequate academic and personal/social benefits that would outweigh the risk of choosing a different high school experiences. Aside from opportunities at the school, teenagers want to know about other kids who go there, what they are like, will they fit in, what are adults like? The DVD answers many of these questions.

Resources: FVS worked with Genesis, Inc., to develop the institutional brand, create the marketing plan and implement the design. As an international corporate communications company with Fortune 500 clients, the selection was risky, in that the company had no pervious educational client experience and working with not-for-profit budgets. But, we were looking for a fresh and new approach and differentiation. This company helped us create an admission marketing tool kit (DVD, publications, Web site) in a concentrated nine-month period. By banking all the project’s conceptual work, design and photography, we saved compared to the model of doing each of these projects individually. We hired Rocketmedia, a production company who also had no previous educational client experience. But, they had a strong track record in documentary film production. Staff from Genesis were present for art direction and conceptual work throughout the filming, production, and editing. Overall, the creation of the site involved two different vendors and the school’s communications director as the project manager.

Budget:

Genesis, Inc. Creative Direction $12,000
Rocketmedia, filming (six days), production, editing, $73,675
Replication, sleeve printing (15,000) $8,729
Total: $94,404
In-Kind Rocketmedia $30,000
Genesis, Inc. $15,000

Reviews and Evaluation: We’ve received phenomenal responses to the DVD. Interestingly, the response tends to be very emotional, which is exactly what we hoped for. While we initially argued about length of the DVD, whether it should be eight minutes or 10, worrying about teenager's attention span, we are now getting the comments from prospective students who indicate that they have watched the DVD multiple times. During one admission interview, a student talked about having watched the DVD six times and how much he appreciated getting to know the school through its students.

Not having a DVD before, it is hard to make a comparison or set a benchmark. The ultimate test of the DVD will be in the ability to engage the media savvy 12-16 year olds. We will look for increases in the campus visits, but more so, in the number of occasions where students and parents mark the DVD as a tool that helped them to make the decision to look at FVS, visit and ultimately enroll.