Institution-Wide Branding Programs: The Wellington School - Silver Medal

Category 37: Institution-Wide Branding Programs
The Wellington School

Contact: Elizabeth Steele, communications director, 3650 Reed Rd., Columbus, OH 43220, Phone:(614) 457-7883, e-mail:

Program Objectives:

  • To define and express the points of distinction of The Wellington School.
  • To bring coherency and consistency to the Wellington community’s stories about their school.
    • To create a broad, accessible, and lasting framework that will connect personal experiences.
  • To distinguish Wellington among its peers.
    • To discontinue the practice (internal as well as external) of defining Wellington in relation to the older and more established competitors.
  • To convey the everyday vibrancy of the school, the personal relationships, and the true joy of learning that is instilled and developed.
  • To show pride in the idea of never being finished – that each child, each person is forever striving for more.
  • To explain and illustrate the importance and the value of the school’s emphasis on the individual child and his or her personal definition of excellence.

Planning and Research: The Marketing Committee of the board of trustees was created in 2003 and immediately began a multi-year strategic process to define and express The Wellington School brand.

The committee is comprised of Wellington parents and alumni who are also marketing professionals. Three teachers represent their colleagues and convey the committee’s work back to the faculty, who are recognized as core ambassadors for the school. Both the head of school and the chair of the board serve on the Marketing Committee.

Step One: The brand work began with extensive market research with key constituencies of the school. Nearly 100 individuals contributed to the resulting collective understanding of what distinguishes Wellington.

  • Five constituency focus groups were conducted at the Columbus offices of InChord, a division of GSW Worldwide. In addition to the expected key audiences – current parents, faculty, and alumni – there were also groups of “dual allegiance” parents, those with a child at Wellington and one at a competitor school, and former parents, those who had withdrawn a child from The Wellington School within the past two years. All sessions were tape recorded for future reference.
  • Clear and consistent points of distinction emerged from the focus groups, even the one held with parents who had withdrawn their child. These included:
    • Wellington’s Differentiated Instruction and attention to the individual;
    • the school’s personalized definitions of excellence;
    • alumni’s preparation for life beyond college;
    • the many opportunities for academic and co-curricular initiatives;
    • and the genuine sense of community and caring.

Step Two: Assessment, Approval, and Funding: Research showed that The Wellington School has great strengths, but no common language and few demonstrations of the impact or value of these strengths.

The Marketing Committee includes a parent who is the founder/chief creative officer of Ologie, a national branding firm with headquarters in Columbus. The CCO agreed to work with Wellington, charging one-half its usual brand development fee. Ologie made a presentation to the full board, which unanimously approved the initiative, and a trustee made a restricted gift to underwrite the project. (Ologie continues to work with the school’s communications director on brand implementation.)

Step Three: Competitive Analysis and Task Forces: Collateral materials were collected and reviewed from competitor independent and public schools in Columbus. In addition, marketing materials from such well known institutions as Exeter and Choate Rosemary Hall were included for review and evaluation.

Two stakeholder task forces were involved throughout the brand development process, starting with the competitive analysis. A task force of students (grades 5 – 12) provided invaluable input that was both unfiltered and authentic. They participated in a series of creative exercises about brands, about Wellington, and about the competitors’ materials. A task force of parent leaders (key volunteers) offered their insights and impressions in similar, but separate, sessions.

The Marketing Committee worked closely with Ologie throughout the branding process, with the communications director serving as point person. The Executive Committee of the Board received periodic updates by the Marketing Committee chair, reviewed the brand direction early in its development, and responded to creative implementation plans.

Rationale for Change: The Wellington School offers a distinctive program within a competitive marketplace. Local public schools are not only tuition-free, some are also recognized as quality providers. Area private schools are much older than Wellington and have established alumni bases, legacy families, more name recognition, and established reputations. Wellington needed to define its points of distinction, its own value added, and its positions of strength. The school needed to coordinate and convey images and messages in order to advance its competitive position.

Wellington is a tuition-driven institution and so the branding work relates directly to student admissions. But it is not limited to that area. The branding process has brought together all constituencies so that the resulting messages speak as effectively in student retention, faculty recruitment and retention, and short- and long-term fund raising. The Marketing Committee includes the admissions director and the Development Director, both of whom are Wellington parents.

Criteria Guiding Logo Development: The Marketing Committee considered developing a new logo as part of the branding initiative. After careful deliberation, though, it was decided that the school should retain and build on the recognition it has in place with its existing logo, which dates back 10 years. The existing logo was updated with a brighter blue and the key message of “Lifelong Learners, Lifelong Leaders” was embedded into the circle.

Implementation and Marketing of the Program: Wellington is a close-knit community with frequent overlap among key audiences. Many faculty and staff are also parents of Wellington students; school founders are now Wellington grandparents; alumni are now sending their children to their alma mater; Columbus community leaders are Wellington alumni and parents. It is important that Wellington’s messages are coordinated and so it was equally important that all constituencies were involved in the brand launch and brand roll-out.

Implementation began with a “brand primer;” a mini-booklet that showed the new look, highlighted photographs of real life at Wellington, and expressed some of the philosophy statements that were distilled from the market research and task force feedback.

Three launch events were held over a few months:

  • A “pre-launch” presentation by Ologie to a gathering of all those who had contributed to the process (the more than 100 people who are on the Marketing Committee, served on the task forces, or had been in the focus groups).
  • A presentation to the full faculty, conducted by the faculty members of the Marketing Committee during a professional development day. The faculty was the first to receive the packet of branded brochures.
  • Themes were incorporated into the annual all-school Founders’ Day event. To generate enthusiasm and raise the brand’s visibility, many students created “I am Wellington” statements or drawings and every student and faculty/staff member wore an “I am Wellington” t-shirt. (Students and faculty continue to wear their shirts on Dress Down Days and younger children wear them on field trips.)

Founders’ Day was followed by a mailing to current families and all alumni, with a cover letter from the chair of the Marketing Committee, who is also a parent. The package included the primary branded print materials – the main piece, which is used by admissions as the view book, and the associated student “I am Wellington” publications.

The school Web site was redesigned in time for the Founders’ Day / community launch and brand posters remain on display around school. Print advertising reinforces the core messages. More new materials have just been created for the school’s capital campaign, taking the brand and developing it for this major building project. The magazine and electronic newsletter are being redesigned now to bring them into alignment. A style guide is the next initiative planned.




Focus group research


Gift of a parent / VP of GSW Worldwide
Brand Development


Reduced fee (Ologie founder is a parent)
5 brochures


5,000 qty. each piece
Stationery – school wide


Letterhead, envelopes, laser labels, note cards, business cards, etc.
Associated pieces


Brand t-shirts – all students, faculty; school displays with brand messages
Web site revision


Bring design in line with brand



Restricted gifts by trustees


Final cost to the school

The balance was funded by a special allocation by the board Finance Committee.

Results to Date: Student retention is at a record high; new student applications are strong and there are waiting lists at some grade levels; faculty morale is high (five teachers were just honored by Ohio Magazine as among the best in the state); the Annual Fund is ahead of schedule; the capital campaign has passed the halfway mark; and Wellington has successfully recruited an outstanding educator to become its next head of school.

While these outcomes cannot directly be attributed to the brand, they are endorsements of the institution’s strengths which are so effectively expressed through the brand.

The theme of “Lifelong Learners, Lifelong Leaders” accurately and succinctly expresses Wellington’s purpose of education for a lifetime and leading by example and with purpose. The philosophy statements, such as “When you feel safe you take risks; When you take risks you grow” and “To be ready for the world, children must be self-aware, compassionate, and empowered” express the context and the purpose of a Wellington education and the Wellington experience. Members of every constituency have commented on how these messages resonate with them and how true they are of this school.

This brand is authentic. It honors this school, captures its many intangibles in words and images, offers a common vocabulary, gives proof through examples, and opens opportunities for discussion and further expression. The proof is seen in initiatives like the individual students’ expressions of “I am Wellington.” This theme well represents and expresses the intensely personal and individualized nature of the Wellington experience.