This stuff really works…

tmla website

Last fall we worked with The Mary Louis Academy, a private, Catholic school for young women in Jamaica Estates, New York. Enrollment at the school was dropping, girls were not listing TMLA as their first choice, and nearby co-ed schools were competing for and attracting girls who no longer seemed to want an all-girls education. We began in the admissions office to see what was working and what needed to change. We suggested how to approach new markets, how to increase campus visits, how to improve attendance at open house events, and more. With a vigorous admissions plan in hand, we then created a new website, print brochure, and graphic standards manual to ensure that all communications stayed on message.

Results as of February 2016 are remarkable. Students who selected TMLA as first choice rose by 50%. Second choice rose 11%.  The story is ongoing but we can clearly see things are looking up at TMLA. Smart marketing really works!

Logo Lessons

CSF logo optionsWhen designing a logo, we keep several things in mind:
1. Keep it simple.
2. Make it reflect the organization.
3. Keep it fresh.
4. Give the client options.
5. Be at peace if the client does not pick your favorite option.

As wonderful as our clients are, they may not always pick our favorite design. That’s why we need to be sure that everything we present will make them—and us—proud. We presented four different logo concepts for the Center for the Study of Federalism, an organization dedicated to advancing understanding of the principles of federalism. Option one (our favorite) shows a circle of books (study) forming a star (federalism) in the negative space. Option 2 pulls the book shapes away from the center to de-emphasize the star shape. Even though the client chose our least favorite option, we are at peace since either version says something meaningful about the organization.

The power of authenticity


Vivian Maier was an intensely private street photographer whose work was discovered by accident in 2007, two years before her death. Since her discovery, writers, historians, art collectors, and the public have fallen in love with her work and are burning to learn more about the enigmatic person behind the Rolleiflex. Although she shot over 150,000 images, only a few were ever printed. In fact, over 2,000 rolls of film were left unprocessed in the canister. In spite of that, her work matured in concept and quality over the course of her life. How does a photographer improve without seeing the photos? How does a full-time nanny find time to become such a masterful observer? Those are the kinds of questions I and thousands of other admirers have about Maier. I think our fascination is rooted in Maier’s authenticity. She had a genuine passion for photography—a passion that she followed without the need for critique by others or audience approval. Her creative drive was an end in in itself. That authenticity is enormously appealing. That is the quality we all should aspire to in our work for education. The closer we come to authentically capturing the essence of a place, the better we will communicate to our audience. Do the photos feel real or staged? Are the words honest or are they institution-speak? These things matter a great deal if you want to be seen and remembered.

Mixed messages

I noticed this eye-catching display outside of a restaurant in Rome. What a great idea! Too bad the cigarette butt and ashtray were left carelessly in the scene. Suddenly the idea of dinner here is much less appetizing. What a great reminder about the importance of minding the details when we reach out to our audiences. Happy marketing and buon appetito!

The handwriting on the wall…

Brush script calligraphy on book covers is having quite a surge of popularity these days. I’m not sure where the trend started, but I now imagine book cover designers being held captive until they agree to pick up the brush tool and swirl out letterforms. The irony is that all those handwritten covers are trying to project attributes like “unique,” “quirky,” and  “personal.”

Although design conformity can feel delightfully comfortable, you give up the opportunity to carve out your own distinctive brand position. Looking like our competitors will also be a major stumbling block if we hope to attract new prospects.

Baltimore Murals: A beautiful way to brand neighborhoods

Do neighborhoods have brands? Of course they do. And, thanks to area businesses and community associations, many neighborhoods in Baltimore have murals that represent their brands.

Baltimore’s neighborhood murals never fail to grab my attention. Each mural is different; one focuses on a historical event, one celebrates a cityscape, while another makes an economic or social point. Who creates these murals, who funds them, to what extent is each neighborhood involved?

I learned that over 250 murals have been produced in Baltimore City as a result of the Baltimore Mural Program. The process begins when a Baltimore resident wants to host a mural that displays an idea specific to his or her neighborhood. Once the community association approves the painting, a location is picked and approved by the property owner. Although the Baltimore Mural Program does not have state or city funding, most funding comes from local Baltimore businesses or fundraising within the community. The mural program coordinator works with the community members to select a topic and artist for the painting. Once completed, there is a party to celebrate the artist and artwork. See more here.

Baltimore Murals are more than paintings on a wall; they brand an area of people with a name, symbol, or design that identifies and differentiates one neighborhood. It’s a great way to show community pride to everyone who passes by. -Contributed by GCF intern Cat Lee

Brand or Bland?

If you can watch this video without wincing in recognition at least once, you don’t work in communications. Sure, we all work hard to make brilliant, powerful, enduring work. But there are times when we are forced to compromise. Perhaps there are budget restrictions, or impossible deadlines, or bosses who won’t listen to reason. Reality happens. But seeing this video reminded me how important it is to stay focused on fresh ideas. It’s the only real tool we have to get the attention of our audience. After all, safe marketing is as meaningless as it is ineffective.

Passport fail

I just received my new passport in the mail. I was horrified—not over my photo, for once—but over the document’s overblown redesign. Gone are the flexible covers that allowed me to flip easily through the pages to admire all my entry and exit stamps and gone are the understated backgrounds that allowed clear legibility of those stamps, my personal data, and my photo. A passport is an official record of our travels to other lands and cultures. It seems contradictory to me that the redesigned pages are so obsessively focused on our own country’s culture and landmarks, as if our government is afraid we’ll forget where we come from.

I am surprised to write this, but not everything needs to be redesigned or rebranded. I like some things to remain unchanged by the whims and trivialities of the real world. Don’t redesign my passport, my license plates, or my money. But, if you must redesign them, please hire a professional who understands the importance of legibility, aesthetics, audience, and concept to do it.

Grace’s world

Grace Weitman is a retired entrepreneur, mother, grandmother, friend, and most recently a photographer whose photos reflect her inquisitive, upbeat nature.

Grace’s interest in photography coincided quite inadvertently with her increasing loss of vision. She has 40-45% vision in one eye only. I asked her if the title of her blog, “Sight Unseen,” was a reference to her own difficulties with sight. Her answer took me by surprise. “I thought it would make a great title for a mystery novel but come to think of it, it also refers to the way I shoot my pictures. I can’t see very well through the viewfinder, so I just point the camera at a scene I think will look interesting and shoot.” Her technique has remarkable results. She has captured spontaneous moments between her daughter and grandson, the incongruity in a Palermo storefront, a warm connection inside a high-tech store, and much more. What inspires her? “I like to take pictures of things that are quirky, or beautiful, or different,” she says. “I carry my camera with me wherever I go.” I for one look forward to seeing more of Grace’s delightful world.

Separated at birth?

I was browsing in a bookstore recently and was struck by the similarities between these two covers. Jobs and Lennon look like twins or at the very least they go to the same hair stylist. The black and white portraits on a white background add to the uncanny resemblance. Perhaps Jobs is subconsciously emulating one of the people who inspired his own creativity. According to biographer, Walter Isaacson, Jobs was fascinated with Lennon’s dogged reworking of a chord in “Strawberry Fields,” asking the band to revise and revise until the sound was perfected. Sounds like strawberries to apples to me.