Archive for the ‘Fall 2008’ Category


Miscellaneous observations from an educational communicator’s perspective

The great Chinese logo cover-up

Monday, September 1st, 2008

The great Chinese logo cover-up Watching the Beijing Olympics, I was confused to see an athlete with a patch of duct tape stuck to her swimsuit. What was the tape covering—was it a form of personal protest? I quickly found an answer online: Beijing Olympic organizers tried to ensure that only the logos of official Olympic sponsors would be visible on television. I later learned that the Beijing “logo police” enthusiastically covered logos on bathroom fixtures, posters, light switches, thermostats, and more in the effort to control non-sponsor visibility. There were reports that curious visitors to the Olympics could not resist peeling away the tape to see what was hidden underneath.

I was surprised to learn that brand protection laws are not new to the Olympics, but have been in practice during past games as well. What is new is the level of enforcement by Chinese officials. I found that strange mix of authoritarianism and capitalism to be one of the more enduring impressions of the games.


Miscellaneous observations from an educational communicator’s perspective

Off-track logo

Monday, September 1st, 2008

Off-track logo Capital Off-Track Betting’s logo caught my eye on a recent visit to New York. Why? I think there are a number of problems—starting with the unnecessary fussiness and clutter of shapes that attempt to define and separate the horse from the letterforms. There are other clumsy shapes created by the horse’s nose jutting into the “t.” And why is the “t” lower case when it’s upper case in the organization’s name?

The shape of the horse emerging from the letterforms is most problematic. Racing is a powerful forward movement of the horse on the track. Here, the curve of the shape causes the eye to move backward, going against the natural flow of the sport. Correcting the awkward rendering is only part of the problem. The bigger challenge is to design a mark that faithfully portrays the essence of the organization it represents.


Miscellaneous observations from an educational communicator’s perspective

No Bullwinkle

Monday, September 1st, 2008

No Bullwinkle When I first received an email from an administrator with the last name Bullwinkle, I thought it was spam. It wasn’t, so I emailed her back, and here is her reply:

It’s really my last name. I grew up in a small town so everyone knew us and didn’t respond to the name at all. But my brother, who is about 20 years older, was in the army when the cartoon was on the air and he had to do a lot of pushups in response to giving his name. COs just didn’t believe him. Oh, and Facebook initially rejected me because of my name. There’s not many of us, so I really like it.

Many institutions and organizations possess what may be thought of as unfortunate names. This woman’s positive spin on her situation reminds us that if something is attention-getting, it helps you stand out from your competition. Then, it’s up to your PR efforts to take that attention and focus it on your institution’s strengths and key marketing messages.

FEATURE : Talking (post-consumer) trash

Talking (post-consumer) trash

Monday, September 1st, 2008

A simple answer to a complex problem Although recycled paper has been available to printers for decades, the recycling process left a lot to be desired in the early days. When the pulp was bleached to get it white enough to use, the chemicals from the bleaching process polluted our water. The smoothing process was not designed for the irregularities of recycled material, which resulted in an inferior paper that clogged printing presses with the chaff that was left behind on the rollers. The ink coverage on recycled paper was inconsistent, and there were telltale flecks on each sheet. Luckily, things have come a long way. Today, the bleaching process is chlorine-free, and the “flecks” in the paper have been greatly reduced. Recycled paper runs through the presses without the problems experienced in the past; in fact, some printers prefer recycled paper.

Deciphering the terminology A new lexicon has emerged along with the escalating demand for recycled paper. Below are a few definitions to help you learn the lingo.

Responsible forestry: Our paper should come from responsibly managed forests. There are several watchdog organizations that monitor forestry practices and certify the ones that benefit people, wildlife, and the environment.

Recycled materials: There are two different kinds of recyclable materials—post-consumer and pre-consumer waste. Post-consumer refers to products that household consumers recycle. Pre-consumer refers to paper from printing companies, magazines that were never sold, and any materials used in the manufacturing process.

Recycled content: The higher recycled content a paper contains (either pre- or post-consumer), the less virgin fiber is used. Presently, with uncoated paper, you can choose a high percentage of recycled content [up to 100%] without sacrificing quality. Coated stock generally has a much lower percentage, between 10% and 30%, because of the process used to smooth and coat the paper. As paper mills improve the recycling process, this percentage will certainly increase.

Energy efficiency: Many paper mills are taking advantage of wind or other alternative sources of power. Some mills even work with power companies to provide electricity back to the grid.

Vegetable-based ink: Traditional printing ink used heavy metals and petroleum distillates, and often contained volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Today, most printers use a soy-based ink with very low VOCs.

Certification confusion A multitude of watchdog organizations determine a paper’s level of environmental correctness. Unfortunately, many of the certification groups are relatively new and small. The two largest, FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative), each employ fewer than 10 employees in the United States and rely on outside auditors. There are minor differences between the two certifications, but both advocate responsible forestry.

Watchdog groups are in a constant state of flux, and more will be appearing to address growing public interest in sustainable recycling practices. Too many cooks in the kitchen, however, can lead to confusion. For example, the organization Friends of the Earth (FoE) no longer recognizes FSC certificates. FoE recently stated that it “is deeply concerned by the number of FSC certifications that are now sparking controversy and threatening the credibility of the scheme. We cannot support a scheme that fails to guarantee high environmental and social standards. As a result we can no longer recommend the FSC standard.”

You could include any of the above logos if you print your piece on sustainable forest-certified paper that’s made from recycled pulp with a chlorine-free process using renewable energy such as wind power, delivered by carbon-neutral methods. Keep in mind, though, that some of these logos have minimum and maximum size requirements and white space allowances. Many of them are poorly designed and add visual clutter to your piece. Some of these logos need to be verified by the issuing organization, and that process can take time and resources that you may not have.

Where do we go from here? The confusion has gotten out of hand; it’s time to simplify. We advise our clients to sidestep the politics with a typed statement on the back of the print piece accompanied by the classic recycle symbol:

Printed on paper from responsibly managed forests using 100% PCW recycled material. Produced using wind power and delivered via carbon-neutral methods.

With that kind of clarity, audiences won’t need a degree in environmental science to know that your organization is doing what it can to encourage responsible printing practices.

FEATURE : GW Law School microsite

GW Law School microsite

Monday, September 1st, 2008

Successfully promoting an alumni weekend As planning began for alumni weekend 2008, the George Washington University Law School development office noticed that one particular class—the class of 1973—was making a lot of money for the Annual Fund. To recognize the class’s accomplishments and reward its members, the Law School tasked GCF with creating a microsite that would promote alumni weekend, allow attendees to register online, and thank the class of 1973.

GCF interviewed several members of the class to gather the anecdotes that shaped the creative development and architecture of the site. No new photos of donors were taken. Instead, vintage photos of student protests, funky hair, DC busses, crammed classrooms, and the old gym provided both a rich history and humorous tone for the site. A 1973 favorites songlist (that you can listen to online) and a quiz helped connect visitors to their memories of faculty, class pranks, and favorite things to do from that era.

Postcard announcements of the event with the microsite URL were mailed to class members, and within a few weeks visitors were hitting the site.

Lessons learned According to Rich Collins, Executive Director of Advancement, having an alumni weekend in September “is deadly.” Summer is not a good time to work with volunteers, and he said that spring probably would have been better timing. Registration did not go as smoothly as planned. Registrants had to print a form, fill it out, mail it to alumni relations, and then the alumni office sent registrations on to development. Rich says he would have coordinated registration through development and made it a simpler process. He recommends to other institutions considering the microsite approach that they start planning and registration a year in advance of the reunion date. Keep the site navigation very simple, and don’t feel the need to stick with the University’s color palette—the school colors can overpower design if the palette is too limited.

Results In spite of these few challenges, the Law School alumni weekend attendance doubled from last year. Planning committee members thought the site was great, and the songlist was a big hit. Rich Collins says he would create a microsite again and hopes its presence helped build the online alumni community. At the very least, the microsite gave development a wonderful way to connect with and thank high profile alumni and their classmates.

FEATURE : McDonogh School

McDonogh School

Monday, September 1st, 2008

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.

FEATURE : Search techniques to know

Search techniques to know

Monday, September 1st, 2008

Remember how we searched for information before the Internet? I vaguely recall something about libraries and card catalogs and encyclopedias… Now that we have Google and other online search engines, we can usually find what we’re looking for without ever leaving our desks. But there are a few advanced search options that are incredibly valuable when conducting online research:

1. “Quoting phrases” is widely known and used. If you aren’t using this in your searches, you’re behind the curve. This technique will search for the words within the quote in only that order. This is especially helpful when searching for people by first and last name.

2. To search within a specific site, use the following formula: twitter. This particular phrase will bring back pages from that include the term “twitter.”

3. Throw a minus sign in front of a word to filter out results that include that term. If you’re interested in the Olympics, for example, but not gymnastics, diving, or equestrian events, then you would type: olympics -gymnastics -diving -equestrian.

4. Want to find out what government agencies are saying about global warming? Try this: site:gov “global warming.”

5. Take searches that interest you and track them using Google Alerts. Whenever Google discovers something new on the web matching your search criteria, they’ll email it to you.

FEATURE : Retouching—a touchy subject

Retouching—a touchy subject

Monday, September 1st, 2008

Photo manipulation is not a modern phenomenon. Before Photoshop, photographers used various techniques such as applying ink to the photographic print, or darkroom tricks such as dodging, burning, or double exposures, to alter the image captured by the camera. The original image below of Civil War generals by Matthew Brady was altered to include General Francis Blair at right. More ominously, this photo of Stalin was altered for propaganda purposes—a Russian official who fell out of grace with Stalin was executed and later “rubbed out” of the group photo.

Today’s sophisticated technology makes photo tampering harder to detect than ever before. We’ve all seen images circulating the Internet like the one of the shark attacking a helicopter or the giant human skeleton found in the Saudi Arabian desert. It’s easy to dismiss them in spite of the verisimilitude. Websites like Snopes do a good job of separating truth from fiction when an image is not so obviously fabricated.

We educational communicators must take care when we use photo-retouching technology. Is it okay to retouch blemishes on the close-up shot of a professor? What about a little Photoshop to clean up the peeling paint on the column of Old Main? Or seeding the grass on the athletic field? Or removing a distracting cluster of paper cups in a lab scene? I think all of these examples fall well within the permissible range of retouching. But retouching that manipulates the truth of the institution falls beyond the acceptable range. In one high profile case, a university edited a shot to include a minority student in a cheering crowd because the original shot was not diverse enough. That same university added an African American student—who wasn’t there before—to a group shot in the viewbook. The retouching was discovered after publication and aroused a storm of controversy.

When deciding which edits are acceptable, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: “If the retouching were discovered, would it harm the reputation of the institution, your office, or you?” If the answer is unequivocally “no,” then go ahead and polish the shot.

Suggested reading: All Things Photography

Contributed by Domenica


Cool Tools

Monday, September 1st, 2008

Recycle and create your own.
With everyone recycling, why not create your own envelopes from used paper—like that extra holiday or birthday wrapping paper you have lying around.

Readers of the future…
The Plastic Logic rivals the Kindle (one for books and one for newspapers). Both are revolutionary ways of reading.



Monday, September 1st, 2008

Fun and/or informative links for the discerning info-snacker.

There’s nothing like the embarrassment of a yearbook picture. Are you curious how you would have looked during the 50s or 60s when big hair, pointed glasses, and Brylcreem were all the rage? Yearbook yourself and be happy with your real yearbook picture.

Falling gracefully is a true art.

There are still some free things in the world worth your attention, such as free radio and free TV.

Ever wonder how you too can have your favorite saint’s image burned on toast? Now you can, with the Scan Toaster!


Do you have comments, questions, or story ideas that you’d like us to cover in an upcoming issue of the Cram Quarterly? If so, email Brenda or call her at 410-467-4672.


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