By Hyemin Han (Graphic by Sam Goldman)
In the summer of 2015, Head of School Jim Dunaway attended a workshop for new heads of schools in Atlanta, where he heard a presentation given by Crane Metamarketing. Dunaway learned about Crane’s brand work for independent institutions and knew that MPH, recovering after a year of a crippling financial realization, had to work on its marketing.
After the workshop, Dunaway shared his interest, yet inability, to hire Crane with an established school donor, who requested anonymity. The donor agreed to pay for what Dunaway calls the “astronomical” expense of retaining the firm.
But the costs are worth it to Dunaway, who said that there is some perception within the local community that MPH did indeed shut its doors, or is planning to. The end goal is that with a new marketing emphasis, Manlius Pebble Hill School and what it is about will become as recognizable as a can of Coke.
One year after a financial crisis that threatened to shut down the school, it’s easy to question the validity of using this money to work on branding rather than put it towards something the school lost, such as scholarships. Dunaway, however, believes rebranding will be most beneficial to MPH moving forward.
“[It] will, in my opinion, have more long-term positive effects than having used it for scholarships,” Dunaway said. “We would have run out of that money very quickly with scholarships.
… There would be no continuing value.”
To attempt to understand MPH fully, Crane team members spent 33 hours on campus conducting interviews, observing classrooms, touring campus and attending MPH events.
They led focus groups with 129 members of the MPH community, including students, faculty and board members.
“Our job is to capture the essence of MPH, not to create it,” said Christina Albetta, Crane program manager who visited MPH’s campus this year.
The administration has since been presented with a reflection paper (a report of what Crane saw and understood about MPH) and a Promise Statement (the text of which may or may not be fully released to the public), which intend to detail the MPH experience, the core of what represents the school. The administration will utilize language in the Promise Statement and reflect that message on the school website, in the literature MPH sends out, its letterheads and radio advertisements. Crane will be on retainer until next year to continue consulting for MPH as these materials are implemented.
While the school continues to recover from the crisis, and faculty and students look forward, the events of last year have left an indelible mark.
“It’s a feature of the history of this place now,” said English teacher Pat Bentley Hoke. “Have we moved on? Yeah, although, I don’t think we want to forget it.”
The effort to rebrand MPH comes at a crucial time. With the unforgettable backlash towards the “Way Forward” and “MPH First” campaigns when the financial situation was revealed, whatever new project that is launched, especially one that seeks to depict MPH’s essence, will not only be under scrutiny of the MPH community, but the MPH alumni, donors and greater CNY community.
Crane will “recognize, identify, and articulate, using common language, what we really do well,” Dunaway said. “Maybe we all know that, but people out there need to know that.”