FEATURE : Ed Gold, Designer, Mentor, Author, Professor

If you were to trace the origins of educational marketing in America, your journey might lead you to one man in Baltimore—Ed Gold. As creative director at the Barton-Gillet Company, Ed created some of the first innovative designs for education while training many well-known names in the educational marketing business. We asked Ed to tell us about those early days and to help us imagine what lies ahead for our field.

How did educational marketing get started?
“One of my first jobs out of college was as a designer at Barton-Gillet, a printing broker in Baltimore. David Barton, Sr., sat on the board of several colleges. At that time, which would have been about 1956, colleges were mainly using printers to produce their marketing materials. Hood College had a need for some printed brochures, and Dave Sr. volunteered to print the brochures. Dave Jr. turned the job over to his designers, who, of course, took the opportunity to create something that most printers would never have done at the time. Designers being designers, we, of course, entered the brochure in a few design competitions and happened to win some design awards.

“Dave soon realized that he might be able get a lot of college work, so he got busy contacting other colleges. It wasn’t long before B-G started winning a bunch of design awards for other work done for colleges and universities, which raised the bar for all the others. The demand for well-designed materials quickly spread. I won some of my first awards for the Park School in 1959.

A viewbook for the Park School designed in 1959

“For a long time, B-G had no competition. We would win nine out of ten jobs we pitched. Then, as designers from B-G began to leave to start their own firms, competition became increasingly stiff, which might explain why Baltimore became a hub for educational design and marketing. Another factor for this might be that Baltimore is such a good place to live that many of the designers who had worked at B-G decided to stay rather than pursue high-profile agency jobs in bigger metropolitan areas like New York. I myself received lots of job offers from New York companies, but I thought, ‘why would I want to leave Baltimore?’ Many folks I knew that moved to New York ended up divorced and in therapy. Baltimore was, and still is, a great town for great design.”

How is educational marketing different? Is it different?
“I think educational marketing is vastly different from product marketing. The creative process is similar—focus on your audience, speak their language, and so on. But most products, like toothpaste for example, are very similar to their competitors. The differences have to be manufactured through packaging or clever advertising. Colleges, however, are very diverse. They need marketing to help clarify their differences so that ultimately people can make the right choice and pick a school that is really right for them. At a time when New York City colleges were having a difficult time convincing parents that New York City was a safe place to send their kids, we produced a series of recruiting brochures for NYU that helped them double their applications. That makes you feel pretty good. You do something that’s good for the school and for the kids that go there.

“Unfortunately, many colleges are not doing a good job defining themselves. They have taken a product marketing approach. The bureaucracy often doesn’t allow individual decision-making. Too much is decided by committee. They need someone from the outside for a fresh perspective.

“When I was at B-G, I much preferred my educational work over the product work I had been doing for an advertising agency. One of the accounts I was responsible for at the agency was the Parks Sausage account. Every time I heard the words ‘More Parks Sausages, Mom…please,’ I cringed. I worked hard at the agency, but I didn’t feel any personal satisfaction. That’s why I especially enjoyed the educational clients. I still worked hard but I felt I was really making a difference.”

What is the future of print and web for educational marketing?
“Although many people go online for information, colleges are still sending out a lot of printed materials, and I think they should. I’m convinced that web technology will continue to change and will become much faster and cheaper. But you have to remember that the dynamic is different. People have to find you on the web. Your print materials find them.

“I also wonder how long will it take for people to get bored with social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Will the novelty wear off, and will people move on to newer and trendier networking platforms? I’m optimistic that all this social networking will move us toward what’s really important—getting off the screen and actually connecting in person with friends.”

What are your thoughts on traditional education versus distance learning?
“There are people who should enroll in online universities and others who shouldn’t. I still prefer the real classroom to the virtual classroom experience. I understand how important peer pressure is to students—this is something that is missing from the virtual classroom. Students measure themselves against their peers and find it stimulates them to try harder, to push further. I’ve seen unprepared students come in here and leave much better because of the support and interactions they received in the classroom.”

Ed Gold is an alumnus of the Maryland Institute College of Art and winner of more than 400 awards for excellence in graphic design. He is a professor at the University of Baltimore, co-director of the School of Communications Design, director of the School’s Ampersand Institute for Words and Images, and director of the MFA in Integrated Design. For many years he was Creative Director at the Barton-Gillet Company, a nationally renowned communications and marketing firm. He is the author of The Business of Graphic Design, cited by Critique magazine as one of the “greatest books on design ever written.” Ed teaches Creative Concepts, Theory of Visual Communication, Design-Business Link, and other advanced theoretical and applied design courses.