Who Does Your School Think It Is?

Andrea Naddaff in conversation with Donna Von Samek

A conversation between two creatives about
day school marketing and branding.

Andrea Naddaff is someone you might call a real marketing and branding guru. For over 20 years, Andrea and her team have been enlisted by some of New England’s most prominent universities, private schools and museums to develop their branding, websites and communications strategies.

On a spring day in April, Prizmah’s creative director, Donna Von Samek, sat down with her to talk about two of their favorite topics: marketing and schools. 

Donna Von Samek: Andrea, you’ve worked with quite the roster of independent day schools, universities, start-ups, charities, museums and much more. What is the one thing that always surprises you when you embark on a new project?

Andrea Naddaff: I think what surprises me is how much it doesn’t really matter what industry a client is in, or what their business model is, or if they are a B2B, B2C, B2B2C. (Editor’s note: These are different models of marketing: business-to-business, business-to-consumer, business-to-business-to-consumer.) They all need to do the same thing: figure out what makes them different and unique, package it in such a way that is authentic and compelling, and tell their story to their audiences so their audiences step up and take notice.

DVS: It’s so true. I can’t help but always come back to this mantra I once read: “It’s not about saying something louder, it’s about saying something different.” But even that can feel daunting at times. I know that when Prizmah first opened its doors in July 2016, there was this sense of “OK, where to begin?” when it came to building our brand. In your opinion, where does a school or an institution begin?

AN: It always begins with defining the strategic part of your brand and figuring out the five Ps: position (the benefit that sets your brand apart), promise (the pledge to your customers about the experience), permission (the scope of the brand, the dos and don’ts), personality (your brand voice and attitude) and permanence (enduring qualities of your brand).

DVS: As a client of yours, I have to say that part of your genius is in the questions that you ask clients during kickoff meetings. Your questions force them to be disciplined and drill down to the root of why a company/organization/institution needs to exist. What have you found to be the most evocative question to ask? 

AN: I have two:

How would the world be different if your organization didn’t exist? 

Share with me something about this organization that someone on the outside wouldn’t know.

DVS: How does an established school know if they are ready for a rebrand? When does it go from being a “nice to have” to a “need to have”?

AN: That always depends on what is going on with the “business of the school.” Some questions school leaders should ask themselves when questioning whether to take the leap are:

What’s happening in the peer landscape? 

What’s happening in your school? Are applications declining? Is leadership in flux? Is there attrition in certain grades? Is the curriculum still relevant? 

Is the school’s marketing truly reflective and commensurate with its strength?

DVS: I’m sure schools are asking themselves these questions every single day, but when considered in the context of a rebrand, they take on an entirely different tone of possibility. One of the things I am always struck by are all the different preexisting beliefs about marketing. What are some of the old notions about marketing that you wish people would just forget? 

AN: That’s an easy one! That building a brand is designing a logo.

DVS: So true! Here is a harder question: Off the top of your head, how many marketing dos and don’ts for Jewish day schools can you list in 30 seconds?

AN: I really only have one of each: DON’T look and say the same thing as others. DO differentiate and be bold. 

DVS: So you think there is room for Jewish day schools to take risks in their marketing?

AN: Absolutely! But in order to pull it off, a school needs to have organizational confidence, leadership confidence and authentic delivery.

DVS: What about our DIY marketers—the lay leaders, volunteers and administrators who aren’t trained in marketing, but are learning on the job and are hungry to learn more? What can they be doing to get to the place where they feel comfortable taking risks and creating bold marketing messages and materials?

AN: Listen, read, and seek out. Trade and industry associations are valuable learning resources that offer podcasts, webinars and workshops. I would also recommend reading industry and business publications such as Fast Company and Harvard Business Review, as they often feature articles on educational branding. I would look at the local chapters of CASE, NAIS, Ad Club, AIGA and AMA, and encourage meeting peers whom you could learn with and from and bounce ideas off of.


DVS: I’m so happy you named the Harvard Business Review. It has been such a valuable resource for me, and their articles never disappoint. I can’t end this interview without using the B word: budget. For many, strong marketing is a luxury, one they simply cannot afford. And let’s face it, adhering to all the best practices could get pricey. What advice do you have for these schools? 

AN: Honestly, you can’t afford not to invest in your brand. It’s so important for your internal audience (teachers, administration, staff) to be buoyed by the brand, as they are the ambassadors to the external audience (parents, students, partners, etc.). I recommend staging your initiatives in phases and slowly versioning your brand efforts to accommodate your budget and marketing priorities.

DVS: Yes, oftentimes, when I coach marketing professionals, I tell them that just having a plan in place makes everything so much easier, and that you don’t have to do everything at once (think progress, not perfection!). But it’s not only about strategy...

AN: For sure, there is the emotional component of branding too. A great brand balances the rational and the emotional and helps break through the clutter of options. As consumers in today’s marketplace, we experience choice fatigue. A brand that bursts through the plethora of options and delivers beautifully in the entire experience wins.

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HaYidion School_Advocacy Summer 2018
School Advocacy
Summer 2018