Photographic libraries are destroying our reputations
All too often we conduct a brand audit at a residential college and are faced with a library of photographic imagery that sends the wrong message. The images that are used don’t convey the important aspects of the college, or what college life is like.
You can fine-tune the message in your text as much as you like, but the design and imagery really tell the story to potential students and their parents.
First impressions count
We recently consulted to an international college. They had a reputation for being a ‘party college’ that focussed heavily on sporting achievement and drinking. This reputation led to a downturn in applications from academically focused students and led to an increase in applications from the sporty, party students.
The college engaged a writer to help them rewrite their marketing material. The new text was gold — it conveyed the right message to the ‘right students’. It also reassured parents that their children would be living in a responsible, caring environment… unfortunately the photographs used in the brochure destroyed the message of the text.
Their new ‘golden text’ was next to the happy-snaps of the college bar nights with seemingly drunken students. There were pictures of boys kicking footballs around while the girls sat watching — all of them wearing rugby jerseys.
What message do potential students and parents take from the brochure when they see if for the first time? Will they read the text before deciding what the college is about? It’s more likely that the photos will have convinced them that this is not the residential college to send their precious offspring to.
Perched on the other side of campus sat their competitor. They understood the nature of this competitive market and had invested in a library of professional images. Their library depicted the college as a safe, friendly, wholesome, yet exciting place to be — exactly what BOTH the colleges are.
Both charged similar fees, were similarly distanced from the campus hub and offered rooms of a similar age and quality. Yet if you reviewed the marketing material of the two colleges, you’d get a completely different opinion from the photos.
Make sure your imagery lines up with your core values. The photos you use speak volumes to potential students and parents. It can be the first impression they get of you and, depending on what that message is, be the deciding factor of whether to contact you or not.
You’re selling an experience, not bricks and mortar
Lets face it — most colleges aren’t the Ritz. They’re not meant to be, and don’t need to be. They should be warm, safe environments that help students to prosper academically while making lifelong bonds.
With that in mind, there’s no need for residential colleges to develop real estate image libraries that focus solely on what their building looks like. It’s also not helpful to focus on dressing up old bedrooms with a glum student looking at a laptop — these don’t entice anybody.
Enticing images capture the spirit and the essence of the college. They create vision for potential residents and excite them at the prospect of being a part of your community.
This is not to say that architecture has no role, for a small minority of colleges. For those few that have new buildings you’d be foolish not to list this as a benefit. But don’t forget what makes each college truly different is the culture within the walls. Capture this in your photos. You’re selling lifestyle first and real estate second. If the community and ethos is right for the student then the architecture plays a secondary role.
Planning the photoshoot
Plan your photoshoot over a few days, or weeks. At the very least, on one day when there are a variety of events on. Shoot some day-to-day activity, a sporting event, a lunch sitting, an awards or valedictory night. If your college runs a conferencing facility, time the photoshoot to fall on a day there is a conference booking. Ensure your library portrays all of the flavours of life at your college.
You should be able to express what it’s like to be part of your college community in 5–10 images, but you’ll want a lot more than that for variety.
Put your snappers away
The key here is quality. Step one is to gather all the images that have been taken by students and staff and file them in a folder called “for use on the blog or Facebook only”.
Step two is to find a professional photographer to capture the images you’ll use for the top-level marketing of your college.
A professional photographer knows how to capture the mood you seek and has the technical knowledge to create images that are properly lit and composed. Some styling won’t go astray — tidy the place up, get rid of clutter from rooms. Snakes of powerboard cords beside desks may look normal, but they ruin photos. It may seem contrived getting students to change into clothes that match each other or letting the photographer spend time lighting the room, but you will see the difference once you get your professional marketing images.
You are in a competitive market. If you don’t present as professional, the assumption will be made that you’re not.