Great ideas need a cadre of creative and collaborative people.

“No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.”
— Victor Hugo

It started with Dean of Admission Henry Broadddus’ idea that the replacement for the William & Mary view book would be like a spaceship. Student recruitment and yield is not for the faint of heart and Henry and his team were committed to rethinking the traditional 16-page full color piece that William & Mary mailed annually to 35,000 high school juniors. After months of brainpower, combined with courage and good, old-fashioned hard work, we are about to launch the spaceship.

Late last fall, we issued an RFP and began the search for an external partner for this critical admission communication project. Henry and I both allocated funds from our existing budgets (no plus-up to make this happen!) Stacks of shiny proposals and a few snow storms later, we awarded the contract to mStoner.

Reflecting on the strength of our 2007 – 2009 collaboration with mStoner (re.web – a redesign of, we knew we were getting the best. To build our version of a spaceship, we needed some of the most creative minds in higher ed and spitballing ideas around a table with Patrick DiMichele and Mark Sheehy was absolutely the way to get going. So we did.

The mStoner strategy process is rock-solid. Combining data and impressions from hours and hours with students, faculty, and administrators, the mStoner team conducted an exhaustive review of existing collateral and developed a strategy for the project.

By spring, we were blown away by three tremendous design comps from mStoner’s Kevin Rieg. Actually, we were like kids at Christmas when the FedEx packages arrived with instructions not to open until our conference call with Patrick and Mark scheduled for the next day. The very exciting reveal left us with plans for three spaceship-like options.

Team members working on this admission communication project ranged in age from 26 to 60-something. So we knew better than to select, in isolation, the one option that would speak best to the 16- to 18-year-old prospective student. During the audience testing phase, we shared paper dummies (i.e., mockups) with high school students in Richmond and Chicago who met the profile of a William & Mary admit.

The results from these audience focus groups turned what might have been a three-hour, angst-filled meeting into a “that was easy” moment. Consistently and enthusiastically, students in our target audience rallied around one of the concepts. (Note: it was the one the old folks thought was the least likely to be liked. Enough said.) We followed their lead and began the design, copy-writing, and wire-framing phases.

We think the collaboration between mStoner and Creative Services is a model for higher education. mStoner’s deep strategic sense of William & Mary and Creative Service’s exhaustive knowledge of institutional priorities and parameters were the right combination.

After all is said and done, what matters is the big idea. When the idea is powerful and exceptional, it must be executed. If you are the campus lead for the idea, you should combine whatever it takes for successful execution. In our case, we combined:

colossal creative, concept, and copywriting from mStoner
exceptional expertise, enthusiasm, and endurance from Creative Services
tremendous talent, tenacity, and trust from the Office of Undergraduate Admission

I hope that, by now, you want to see the spaceship. Patience, grasshopper. Once it’s hot off the presses, we’ll share. For now, let’s just say we embraced the & in William & Mary. The copy below represents incredible talent from mStoner’s Dave Roos and Mark Sheehy, and offers a sneak peek of what you’ll see later:

First & Foremost
Making history since 1693.
William & Mary has been around so long that we still refer to America as “the new guy.” The first permanent English settlement was established in Virginia in 1607 right down the road at Jamestown, and the original plans for the College were drafted 11 years later. The only reason we’re “younger” than Harvard is because a Powhatan uprising delayed the campus dedication. We couldn’t make this stuff up.

Even as the second-oldest college in America, we’re famous for our firsts: the first U.S. institution with a Royal Charter, the first Greek-letter society (Phi Beta Kappa, founded in 1776), the first collegiate student honor code and the first law school in America. George Washington was our first American chancellor, and the first law professor at W&M — George Wythe — was the mentor of a promising young student named Thomas Jefferson.

By attending W&M, you can help write the next chapter in a very (very) long history of tradition and distinction.

The William & Mary flagship admission piece (now our version of a spaceship) will include these components:

  • something printed and mailed to prospectives
  • a sandbox on the web that extends the concept found in the print piece
  • user-generated content

Don’t you wish you scored a 1240-1450 while sitting for the 2011 SAT and could get it early? Stay tuned.

– Susan T. Evans