Millfield School launched the Discover Brilliance marketing campaign in January 2020. The campaign was born out of a sense that Millfield was moving away from its founding principles as a bold, progressive school and had somewhat lost its way and its identity.
Millfield’s reputation for sport precedes it – and that is a field in which the school most certainly excels above all others – but there is much more to the school than its sporting achievements and, to do it justice, it was felt that these other facets were not coming out in our marketing and brand messaging.
Perfect opportunity to re-evaluate
I was fortunate to join Millfield as head of marketing at a time when several members of the senior management team were new to their roles, including the headmaster, deputy head (pastoral) and director of sport. As we got to know the school, we learnt about Millfield’s foundation, its distinguished past and its current direction. Collectively, this gave us the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate and realign the existing Millfield brand to what we found the school to be. It was felt that we were selling ourselves short in our marketing in terms of the range, scope and scale of what is truly on offer at Millfield.
“It was felt that we were selling ourselves short in our marketing in terms of what is truly on offer.”
Like many schools, Millfield has an extensive alumni network and we were very lucky to be able to call on help and advice from an Old Millfieldian in the “change-maker” field who was very willing to help guide us and hone our discussions from his own experience of the school. This took at least six months.
There were several key things that we had to establish in order to move forward and build a consistent public-facing message. We needed to set out the school’s purpose in a snappy statement on why we exist, what we are here for and what we are trying to do. Those words needed to convince staff to come to work with us, encourage parents to choose Millfield as the right school for their child and motivate students to want to be here.
Not shackled by tradition
As a young school (founded in 1935) Millfield is not shackled by tradition in ways that some other older independent schools are. Through our discussions we concluded that Millfield’s true personality as a bold, progressive school that is not afraid to be part of the conversation or to do things differently and challenge the status quo, had been lost. We gained insights from a BBC documentary on Millfield in the 1970s which included interview footage with the founder “Boss Meyer” on his ethos for Millfield. This was fantastic material to have as we were able to hear the voice of the founder describing his reasons for creating the school.
Redefining what Millfield stands for
From our discussions with many stakeholders, we redefined what Millfield stands for:
Our Purpose: To break the mould as an activist educator and provide an education and experience that honours the individual.
This is about pushing the boundaries and shaping an education that is fit for the demands that young people will face when they leave school and enter the workplace. It is also about being part of the conversation on educational reform and questioning whether the current education system is fit for purpose. It fits with Boss’s founding principle of shaping the school around the child and not the other way around. From this we then defined what we want to achieve and how we will achieve it.
Our Vision: To be the world leader for the development of children.
- Discover brilliance in every child
- Be the world’s best at immersing children in limitless academic, creative and sporting opportunities
- Be the market leader in providing transformational bursaries
- Discover Brilliance
“Discover Brilliance” became the unifying thought, connecting all parts of the school, and the brand marketing campaign was born from that. It wasn’t a million miles away from the previous school marketing slogan of “Personal Best” although this has sporting connotations and we wanted to encompass all fields from academic to co-curricular as well as sport.
“We wanted Discover Brilliance to become the core strand which runs through the school community.”
We wanted to position Discover Brilliance as a promise that Millfield will help everyone to discover their brilliance, including students from ages 2-18, staff, parents and Old Millfieldians. We wanted to communicate that we give children the opportunities to develop a curious mindset which enables them to uncover their brilliance and staff the environment to deliver brilliance in the classrooms, on the sports field, in performances and from their desks. We wanted Discover Brilliance to become the core strand which runs through the school community, believing that everyone has their own brilliance story to share.
We then went on to establish five short and clear values for the whole school community to get behind:
- Be Disruptors
- Be Curious
- Be Kind
- Be Authentic
- Be Brilliant
The values again reinforce the message of brilliance and clearly link our campaign back to the bold, progressive character of Millfield.
“Be Disruptors” was the most controversial value because, to many, it has negative connotations such as being disruptive in class. At Millfield, being a disruptor means challenging facts you are being told – not just taking someone’s word for it- and seeking new ways of doing things that might be better. Disrupting an established way of doing things for positive effect is a skill needed in life and work.
To bring this new messaging to our target audiences we developed a creative strategy to embed Discover Brilliance in all areas of our marketing. The marketing team worked hard to produce everything in-house other than the promotional video which was outsourced but with a very clear brief.
We produced a new creative wrapper, with all photography and design created in-house, for print and digital ads. We used strong single images of students in their field of brilliance, dressed in the kit they would wear; an athlete with his hurdle, a mathematician writing a complicated maths equation, a dancer in full pirouette, a track cyclist on her bike, a musician with a double bass. We wanted images that young people, often the ones now personally choosing where they want to go to school, could relate to and feel inspired by. This was moving away from our previous adverts of pupils dressed in their school uniform. We chose bright pink and blue backgrounds, portraying a fresh, modern school that wants to stand out. When you consider the similarity of adverts in the education press you will understand our thinking.
“We wanted to move away from our previous adverts of pupils dressed in their school uniform.”
The images give our lesser known but equally brilliant arts and academic departments a place in the spotlight and are a deliberate declaration that Millfield is for all.
The individual stories of the students depicted in the images feature on the school’s website so that anyone can find out more about their time at Millfield and what else they are involved in alongside what is shown in the campaign creative.
Often students have multiple facets to their school life and so a musician may also be a talented sports person and on the debating team. Prospective students and parents see a person that they can aspire to, relate to and feel excited by.
The campaign was rolled out at a London train station, across a supermarket brand and via our social media channels, including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Discover Brilliance features on our three school prospectus covers, in industry publications, on home relocation websites and, of course, prominently on the school website. The “About Us” tab was renamed “Discover Brilliance” and we created a new promotional film “This is Millfield”.
“We have seen applications for Sixth Form places increase by 20 per cent in the first year and 40 per cent in the second year of the campaign.”
The film narrative talks about Millfield as a school with its eyes firmly fixed on the future and not stuck in the past. It encourages belief in what is possible and presents the school as a force for positive change. Interestingly, we created the film about four months before the pandemic hit and the first words the viewer hears are “We live in uncertain times”; this is something that couldn’t be more true at present!
We have seen applications for Sixth Form places increase by 20 per cent in the first year and 40 per cent in the second year of the campaign. The school has correspondingly increased in size due to demand for places. We now have to run waiting lists much earlier than in previous years.
It has been fantastic to see students at Millfield and Millfield Prep recite the five values and, without any prompting, openly talk about discovering their brilliance in conversations with prospective families.
The process that we went through has unified our thinking and strategic direction on many levels other than marketing. We have also tried to have fun with the campaign and have thoroughly enjoyed delivering it. As marketing never stands still, I’m sure the next project will be to develop it further.
This article first appeared in the latest summer 2022 print edition of Independent School Management Plus magazine, out now.