Stuart Country Day School
The global pandemic dealt a wide range of challenges to the world of education, but then again, “NOTHING STOPS A STUART GIRL.”
“Everything that we knew changed,” remembered Monica Vogel, art director for the Office of Communications at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart. “We had to start from scratch and rethink the way that we approached everything.”
As an all-girls independent school in Princeton, New Jersey, Stuart Country Day School saw an opportunity during a time of uncertainty: a chance to launch a mission-focused branding campaign and a website redesign initiative that could rally the school community around a change that was undoubtedly positive.
“NOTHING STOPS A STUART GIRL” became an ongoing message about the resiliency of the girls at Stuart Country Day School, not just during times of change, but every day — from their first steps on campus to long after graduation.
“If you look at any school advertising out there, they all follow the same formula — school ads look like school ads,” said Hilary Morris, associate director of communications at Stuart Country Day School. Having previously worked with ad agencies in other roles, Morris and Vogel both brought their previous expertise and applied it to the world of education to mix things up — and it’s made a difference.
Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart is a leading PreK to Grade 12 private school in Princeton, NJ dedicated to the education of girls. Stuart’s mission is to prepare young women for lives of exceptional leadership and service within the framework of the Goals and Criteria of the Schools of the Sacred Heart.
“We needed to be bold and this campaign needed to be about the girls,” Morris added. “We wanted to make sure that we were showing concepts where any girl could see herself here and use language that could be applied across the board, depending on what your gifts, your skills, and your specialties were.”
While the campaign was aimed to better present the community and students at Stuart, it also served a more timely, pragmatic purpose of driving enrollment during a critical time of the pandemic when families were leaving public schools and researching private schools. “We had a selling point that we were one of the only schools still open, so we took advantage of it from an enrollment perspective,” explained Morris. “That's when we went from putting this campaign together in a nice, slow, timely manner, to full-speed ahead and having to completely change our own mindset and approach.”
To make the most of the timing, much of the campaign’s design and branding efforts needed to be prioritized ahead of the launch of their new website — a calculated risk in creating cohesive messaging for the entire school. The idea to launch a campaign before a website to accompany the branding efforts was in contrast to what both Morris and Vogel knew was best practice, given their extensive backgrounds working within not just the education world, but also with boutique marketing agencies and some of the biggest names in advertising.
“It's what our community really needed,” Morris realized, “so we just did it differently and we communicated with everybody along the way. We just knew we had to take everyone along with us on the journey to get there.”
“We could make our advertising stand out more knowing it was a bit of a deviation from your typical school ad,” said Morris. “You can be more creative because you know that's not a main driver of conversions.”
To drum up excitement, the pair met with faculty and staff to share the vision and inspiration behind the “NOTHING STOPS A STUART GIRL” campaign. “We wanted to let the teachers know because they are our brand ambassadors, the ones that are walking around, living and breathing the brand every day,” said Vogel. “This isn't just two people sitting in an office making these decisions — we are really taking the girls into consideration and we're trying to be authentic.”
Stuart is already seeing the results of altering their approach: a positive change that energized their current community and produced a clean, simple message that resonated with prospective families. As Morris put it: ”What does your community need? What do you need to put out there?"
“We're trying to tell their stories, said Vogel. “We want the other girls outside of Stuart to see these girls and think, ‘that could be me,’ and have that same kind of powerful feeling.”
The campaign’s execution started slowly at first, with small drips of informative messages to faculty and families about the rollout. Then came an integrated approach— magazine ads reached new audiences while new school swag was gifted to accepted students, and “teaser” banners hung around campus, all leading up to the big news about their upcoming website redesign. With new photography and visual elements already collected and much design and branding completed, Stuart’s website redesign would be the cherry on top of the campaign, but it didn’t mean the hard work was over.
“I think for us, the blessing that came out of this pandemic was that we got to throw ourselves into this campaign AND a new website,” said Vogel. “We're usually so swamped with events that happen in person, but we had that removed from our plate, and it did give us a little bit of time and space to continue running with this marketing campaign and the new website.”
Morris and Vogel were able to drive the momentum of the campaign onward to the school’s website redesign, along with the help of Finalsite’s Deployment Team.
“Knowing that we were flipping the website quickly, I really appreciated having the structure of the project management system provided by Finalsite,” said Vogel, who shared that she felt supported by Finalsite’s deployment structure, schedules, and guidance.
Prior to the site launching, the pair once again leaned into their community for feedback and input, meeting with key stakeholders to approach the web portion of the project through a collaborative lens and knowing how impactful forward-facing departments of the school are involved with messaging.
“In addition to giving everybody Google Docs with their copy, everyone also filled out a wish list, knowing that at the end of the day, we'll make the final decisions on what we do with what we have,” said Morris. “Everyone gave me ideas of what they wanted, gave me talking points, any language that was new that we needed to add to the website. All that went into consideration and I gave everyone deadlines with multiple check-ins along the way.”
The duo was then able to collect campaign assets, rework the site’s content and navigational structure, and re-envision the design, layout, and feel of their site to create a cohesive link back to their campaign — the pièce de résistance.
“The goal was to be authentic, to be organic, to be original, and to make sure that we're highlighting the school in the way it needs to be...at the end of the day, we're doing this for our girls.”
Both Morris and Vogel wanted to make sure that the content they’d be producing matched what was authentic and true to Stuart’s brand, so they welcomed involvement and feedback from the community, making it a collaborative project.
Working within the confines of busy schedules and social distancing, the pair met with their constituents to better define what it truly means to be a student at Stuart. They worked with community members, especially students, to brainstorm, collaborate, and vote on the imagery and design concepts behind the campaign.
“When it comes to the concept development and the production of campaigns, you don't want everyone to be a part of every single decision that you make,” Morris added, “but including them as part of the process made it so organic. We feel so good about it because it's authentic. It was really validating to get feedback from current parents, the board, and newly accepted families saying how much the messaging made their daughter feel good, made them feel so proud of their child.”
“We had brainstormed phrases like ‘risk takers’ and ‘change makers’ and ‘leaders,’ and we thought, ‘we can't print that, but how do you say that?’” added Vogel. “Our students are just unstoppable forces and we wanted the messaging to be a little more ‘in your face.’ When the phrase "NOTHING STOPS A STUART GIRL” came from a fifth-grade student's testimonial about how she felt about her Stuart experience — as marketers, we instantly knew, this is it! This is amazing!”
The pair got to work producing Stuart’s campaign, adding a creative flair with bold, colorful photography — and also a bit of fun. The result was a fleet of promotional materials that included banners, magazine ads, posters, lawn signs, postcards, and even billboards that communicated the strength of Stuart girls, posed in their element, confident and ready for anything.
In the competitive private school market, Stuart’s website stands out in the crowd. The site itself seems…unstoppable. Following the launch of the campaign and the website, Stuart went on to collect multiple honors for their efforts, including Gold recognition in the International MUSE Awards, and three awards from the recent 2021 InspirED School Marketers Brilliance Awards.
Those Brilliance Awards included a Silver Award for Paid Advertising, which received comments like, “A stunning and well-thought-out campaign! The consistent headline says it all; I didn't even need or want to read more to understand what this school is all about. The photography is gorgeous and captured the students' expressions so perfectly. I am sure SCDS is incredibly proud of this campaign, as it should be!”
Their work also received a Bronze Award in the category of “Admitted Student Welcome,” which received this acclaim from judges: “The ‘NOTHING STOPS A STUART GIRL’ line is extremely powerful and motivating for an admitted student. The colors are bold, the text is bold — the items in the admitted box would appeal to a young high school girl. It's an exciting package to receive in the mail and reinforces excitement to enroll, boldness, and the distinctiveness of a girls' education.”
Stuart also earned a Bronze Award for “COVID-19 Enrollment,” which prompted this comment from the judges: “LOVE this campaign! Great visual and creative execution and it looks like a really successful event. What a great way to maintain energy and excitement, and build school spirit, during the pandemic.”
“None of that would have happened if it weren't for the pandemic, honestly,” said Vogel.
“The goal was to be authentic, to be organic, to be original, and to make sure that we're highlighting the school in the way it needs to be,” said Morris. “We knew that we were going to be successful and we needed to do this. And at the end of the day, we're doing this for our girls.”
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