College taglines that work

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We’ve all seen them—taglines that are stale, comical, or simply forgettable. I’ve talked to some college communicators who see taglines as a distraction and refuse to use them at all. Writing a great tagline is one of the toughest challenges we can tackle. Abraham Lincoln once wrote: “ I’m sorry I wrote such a long letter. I did not have time to write a shorter one.” Brevity is one of the challenges of tagline writing. Imagination, simplicity, and authenticity are others.

“Think different.” “It’s the real thing.” “Just do it.” “Pizza! Pizza!” Corporations have long used imaginative taglines to reinforce their brands. A well-written tagline can cut right to the essence of a company and create a lasting message of quality or benefit to the consumer. Like a haiku poem that derives its power from a few carefully chosen words, the tagline can distill a complex admissions program or capital campaign down to a strikingly powerful message.

Well-written taglines work. Poorly written taglines don’t. Unfortunately, clichés and corniness dominate the college tagline scene. Here are suggestions that will help you keep it fresh and make the most of your tagline opportunity.

  1. Make it personal. Write a tagline that will make sense only for your institution. We created the tagline, “Success begins with CCSU” and a logotype, CCSUCCESS, for Central Connecticut State University. The tagline transforms a commonplace word into a personal and powerful message for the university.
  2. Use short, punchy words. Choose a crisp Anglo-Saxon word over a longer, loftier Latinate word. Use ask instead of inquire; start instead of commence; build instead of construct; pick instead of select.
  3. Give yourself time to do it right. Great taglines are the product of thorough understanding. Don’t create unrealistic deadlines that force a poorly conceived solution.
  4. Reinforce your institution’s mission. Consistent messaging is vital in all we do as communicators, and taglines are no exception. If you find the tagline and your mission in conflict, it’s time to change one or the other.
  5. Highlight a key benefit or attribute. “Think is for girls” is the tagline Sweetbriar College displayed in hot pink letters to appeal to Gen-Y students who might not have considered enrolling in a women’s college. The campaign was a hit and first-year enrollment increased by 40%.
  6. Play with words. “The power of X” makes good use of the serendipitous letter X in Xavier University’s name to create a memorable tagline.

What does it take to really see?

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Nobody sees a flower—really—it is so small—we haven’t time—and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
-Georgia O’Keeffe

In a few simple words, Georgia O’Keeffe gets to the heart of it. Truly seeing takes time, patience, and attention, yes. But the key to observation is the mental state of the observer. To see clearly, it helps to enjoy the act of observation. Just like the enjoyment of building a friendship over the years, seeing needs to happen when we love what we are doing. It’s helpful to keep this in mind on days when work feels like a struggle. It may be time to kick back, have a cup of coffee, or take a half hour walk across campus. A change of pace helps to clear away frustration so that you can return to the task refreshed and raring to go.

An authentic voice

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I recently re-read Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth and became absorbed, once again, in the harrowing and moving world of peasant Wang Lung and his family. Banned in China for years, the book is now hailed by contemporary Chinese writers such as Anchee Min and Maxine Hong Kingston for its authentic portrayal of ordinary Chinese lives. Buck wrote with authority because she pulled from her observations as a missionary’s daughter in China and experienced first-hand the day-to-day lives of the Chinese people around her. Buck also spoke fluent Mandarin and was determined to capture the feel and flow of that language in English. She explained that she conceived the story first in Mandarin Chinese, which she then translated into English. It’s like reading the story in Chinese without the language barrier. That’s why every sentence rings with authenticity. What a wonderful reminder of the power of an authentic voice.

Video tips and tricks

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Most colleges recognize the value of admissions videos and make a point to include them on their websites. The downside is that many of these videos are poorly conceived and produced so watching them is a chore.

I talked with Bill Denison, an amazingly talented educational photographer, about making great video. With his input, I’ve put together a list of things to do to make your videos stand out—in a good way.

1. Know what you want to accomplish. Don’t just shoot and pray that something will emerge. Outline your goals. Without a clear idea of what you want to say, you could wind up with a lot of footage that never gets to the point.

2. Keep it flexible. You need an idea about where you’re going, but you also need to be flexible enough to rethink it as the project proceeds.

3. It’s about story, not technology. A good story can deliver a powerful message. Be sure you are focused on telling that story, not showing off that you have the latest zoom camera with sliders and fill lights.

4. Don’t be literal. Use video to express the story rather than merely record action. Interpret rather than document. This is where shooting style comes in. A small detail can sometimes be more powerful than showing the entire scene. Different angles can add dramatic interest. For example, showing feet descending a set of steps can be more interesting than shooting the full staircase.

5. Shoot a variety of angles. Include a variety of low and high angles, long shots, medium shots, close-ups, etc. Don’t move to the next scene until you are sure you’ve covered the subject with multiple angles and ranges. It’s always better to shoot too much than not enough.

6. Know how to roll. Documentary videos are composed of A-roll and B-roll. A-roll is the footage of the interview. It can be shot in the studio or on location, and the focus is the person speaking to the camera. B-roll is everything else—like the video that plays during an audio voice over.

7. Know when to shoot B-roll. Shoot B-roll after the interview. Why? The conversation may inspire ideas on how to shoot the person in action.

8. This is video…move! Get your subjects walking, running, or going in or out of a room. If you’re in a lab, follow the student as she gets up from the table and walks to the specimen case. Record the organic sounds around you. This adds a sense of realism to the action on camera.

9. To make great video you need to watch video. If you want to learn to draw, you study the old masters. The same is true for video. Take the time to critically assess the work of exemplary videographers.

Here are a few links to get you started:

Great concept.

Narrated by Werner Herzog, this video uses humor to tell an important story.

A simple idea that gives a glimpse into the thinking of a number of people.

From Bill Denison’s portfolio, photographic stills with voiceovers create a dynamic experience.

Join us at the UCDA Design Summit

In March, Brenda Foster will be speaking at the UCDA Design Summit. Interaction between designers and clients can be frustrating, unproductive, strained, at times even antagonistic. Clearly, it doesn’t need to be this way. Clients and designers are both focused on creating success, but they approach the problem from two different corners. Brenda’s workshop, Dangerous liaisons: Improving designer/client relationships, will provide insights into the client/designer dynamic and ways to create a smoother path to a shared goal. Topics include gaining respect, getting the attention of the gatekeepers, building trust across the generation gap, appreciating differences, and working with difficult people. Brenda has more than 23 years’ experience on the front lines with both clients and designers and has learned how to successfully mediate between the two. Registration is now open.

Welcome to Cram Now

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Welcome to Cram Now, our new monthly newsletter that will replace Cram Quarterly. This new format allows us to publish articles more frequently while giving our readers an opportunity to comment on or share stories. Enjoy!