Closure and Community Angst in the Face of a New Beginning
The Sisters of Mercy manages schools across the United States. In early 2017 they publicly announced their intention to close two Cincinnati area high schools due to declining enrollments and related financial concerns. They simultaneously announced plans to open one brand new high school in the fall of 2018 to serve both communities.
The message was clearly positioned not as a merger of the two schools, but instead as two closings and an opening. The decision received significant negative feedback from the school communities, both of whom were emotionally connected through long-standing legacies (Mother of Mercy since 1915 and McAuley since 1960).
A Mercy McAuley Transition Team had the responsibility to guide the transition and find a way to make it as smooth as possible, while defining what the new high school would be and honoring the legacies of both high schools and satisfying the two communities with the transition and its outcome – an unenviable task given the level of upset and anger generated by the announcement.
Within this very challenging context, the Mercy McAuley Transition Team hired Madison Design to develop a brand identity and related strategy for the new Mercy McAuley High School. The following summarizes the key objectives for the development of the brand identity and related strategy:
- Define the brand identity and position to clearly, consistently, and emotionally articulate what the new high school is, who it serves, and why it’s different
- Understand where the new high school fits within the competitive landscape to capture more enrollment
- Expand the perception of the new high school as being more than the best of Mother of Mercy and McAuley
Madison Design subsequently hired CLARITY Research & Strategy to conduct consumer research to generate the learning and insights that would help form the brand identity and related strategy for the new Mercy McAuley High School. The objectives of the consumer research can be broadly summarized as follows:
- Identify overall perceptions of the competitive landscape of Cincinnati area high schools
- Assess the perceived strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to both Mother of Mercy and McAuley, with an emphasis on unique aspects of the schools and their respective competitive advantages
- Explore the high school decision process to understand the dynamics and what makes for a successful recruitment effort currently for the two high schools and for the future new high school
- Explore the present, the transition year (2017-2018), the opening year (2018-2019) and future years of the new Mercy McAuley High School
The target audiences included members of the leadership, parents and students, faculty, and alumnae of both high schools, along with grade school principals.
Measurement of success was determined based on the collection of all the necessary inputs to develop an effective brand identity and related strategy: identification of key messages, functional and emotional benefits, differentiators, reasons to believe, target audiences, and the ultimate product or outcome (the new Mercy McAuley High School).
Planning & Execution
The planning and execution started with qualitative in-depth interviews and focus groups with the target audiences identified above from both high schools, along with interviews among area grade school principals. A quantitative survey among parents, students, faculty, and alumnae of both high schools also provided these key constituents a voice and quantified some of the qualitative research findings.
Using the research learning and insights, we developed an awareness and recruitment campaign for the transition year of 2017-2018, with the tagline “You Belong Here”. With the insights and strategy as a guide, Madison Design developed a brand position statement, as well as a full visual brand toolkit and brand guidelines for Mercy McAuley High School. The students were provided the opportunity to choose the new high school colors (orange and gray) and the athletic team mascot (the wolves/the wolfpack).