FEATURE : McDonogh School

Seventeen years of storytelling Seventeen years ago, McDonogh School hired us to tell its story while dispelling an enduring misperception that the school is a military institution. Founded in 1873 as a military school for boys, McDonogh dropped the military program in 1971 and started enrolling girls in 1975. Unfortunately, as late as 1990, people still associated the place with boys in uniforms practicing military drills. Admissions materials did not help—covers of drab olive reinforced the military mindset.

After multiple campus interviews with students, parents, board members, and administrators, we developed the theme “A Voice of One’s Own.” The resulting admissions materials displayed close-ups of students representing each school, smiling as they looked into the camera. We created two viewbooks—one for the lower/middle school and one for the upper school—because the needs of the schools seemed different enough to warrant separate treatment.

By 1997, McDonogh opted to integrate all admissions information into a single viewbook. Rather than impose a rigid structure on all students, McDonogh’s approach allows each student to feel the school is there for them and their friends. This philosophy inspired the theme “My School, McDonogh,” a direct quote from one of the students we interviewed. The new viewbook focused on individual differences by showing lots of student faces and stories. The materials were a success and were reprinted with minor changes for eight years.

In 2008, McDonogh asked us to renew admissions materials again. Although numbers were up and the materials were well liked, the school had made significant changes including hiring a new headmaster. On-campus interviews revealed that the theme, “My School, McDonogh” had become part of the institutional language and the way students, faculty, and alumni defined its differences from competing institutions. The decision was made to keep the theme, but to renew the message and change the graphic design of all admissions materials.

The new cycle of materials includes a highly pictorial 60-page viewbook that is designed to capture the McDonogh experience. Although many of the key messages remain the same, the new materials tell McDonogh’s story in a fresh, inviting format.