by Robert Andreas
In spring 2016, my alma mater, King's Academy (Jordan), was in search of a yield video. It would be the first of its kind and its purpose would be to bolster yield numbers. King’s approached me shortly after I founded my production company, The Film Guys, with a clear assignment: “Excite prospective students about King’s Academy.” When looking for inspiration, I noted that virtually every other school I reviewed produced similar "talking head" videos (interview setting, shots of school life, happy music, etc.) and I was growing tired of the format. After watching dozens of videos, my only real takeaway was that private schools around the world felt uncomfortably similar to one another.
I resolved to make a different, more memorable video, for two distinct reasons: The first was that if every school was producing the same videos, it left space for King’s to go the other way to stand out. The second was a matter of efficiency—from a production perspective, talking head videos are a time-sink. The interviews take a long time to make, there is rarely a guarantee of good usable phrases with the right intonation (without scripting), and the editing process can take weeks, or more. There was definitely a much quicker (and better) way to make videos for schools.
With its selective program, vast campus, and substantial tuition (especially by local standards), King’s was developing a reputation of exclusivity around the small Kingdom of Jordan, a reputation it did not deserve considering its inclusive mission. To address this, I intended to use tongue-in-cheek humor for the yield video. Humor is disarming, memorable, inclusive, and most importantly, it speaks to the kids. They were, after all, the target audience.
The idea for “This Could Be Your School Too” (see video below) resulted from my team researching marketing campaigns we enjoyed and decided to pay homage to. With an eye on Volvo’s Jean Claude Van Damme truck stunt and Old Spice’s “I’m on a Horse” spot, I approached Omer Khalayleh, admissions officer and international student recruitment manager at King’s, with a bold proposal. Khalayleh was to be the charismatic host of King’s Academy, “Omer the Admissions Guy.” We developed a script and brought it to the decision makers at the school. They had some reservations; until then, King’s had maintained an image of seriousness that they felt was at risk. Perhaps the video would be too silly or playful, undermining King’s Academy’s image of academic rigor. Perhaps the audiences would feel like the school wasn’t taking education seriously. Their apprehension was reasonable. The deadline was looming, and although our approach promised swiftness and excitement, the selling point was substance. I had to convince them that excitement did not have to come at the expense of information.
The final video was delivered five days later, and quickly caused waves both locally and internationally. Prospective students and, surprisingly, parents expressed their delight. Admission numbers took a sharp rise and the video was, objectively, a success, winning a Gold Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
Differentiation through Creativity
Producing videos that are inherently risky simply because they take the road less traveled shows boldness, confidence, and, importantly, a willingness to be current and adapt to the 21st century. These subtextual messages speak the loudest. Your video, simply because it is “different,” could become a key point of differentiation between you and the next school. Today’s prospective students are highly interested in individuality and uniqueness, and an admission video can be a perfect platform to showcase this in your school. Unfortunately, the vast majority of schools don’t take full advantage of this opportunity.
Most schools use the admission video as a visual brochure, an informational session packaged neatly into a few talking head interviews, some nice imagery, and a pleasant jingle supporting the ensemble. This approach can reinforce a status quo. Students who have already applied or plan to apply are being exposed to the video because they are already looking. The video is not meeting new audiences, and so will have little to no effect on improving admission numbers.
The way we see it, the core function of an admission video is to attract new students and ultimately bolster admission. The greatest accomplishment an admission video can have is to attract a student who has no prior knowledge of a school and was introduced to it through the videos they encountered.
In an age where information is gathered primarily through social networks, a priority for an admission video must be to make it shareable, which in practice translates to being memorable. A video of this nature will be shared by proud students, alumni, and parents alike, enormously expanding the organic reach of your content (alumni being among the most valuable, as each has access to a mutually exclusive network). Attention is an extremely valuable commodity in today’s digital media environment and it is imperative that any video respects that by making videos that are interesting, entertaining, and worthwhile.
With substance at the forefront, the way we approach filmmaking is to ask two questions: What are your talking points and what are your objectives?
The answers to these questions provide us with all the information we need to begin developing a concept. The talking points simply refer to all points the school wants to address, all the things they want to get across. The objectives, if not obvious already, refer to what the school wants to accomplish with the video. Within these guidelines, we can allow the creativity to flourish. With a finalized script, storyboard and production schedule, the client is completely in the loop about what the final video will look like.
All this is not to say that you necessarily need to outsource a film crew to adopt this approach. You can do it yourself if you have the capable manpower to make it happen. The fair warning is that your video must be top quality in all senses. Poor video or audio quality, camera errors, and any lapses in attention to detail will speak far louder about the institution than the words that are being spoken in the video.
The "talking head" has been here since videos became the common medium, and only the bold and exciting few will step out outside the common, leading the way to a new generation of admission videos. Just as you ask your applicants, your applicants will be asking you: “What makes you different?”