During the annual senior celebration chapel in April, Emily Gordon ‘16 addressed the students, faculty, and staff packed into the Larimer Center for Performing Arts. She recalled the new experiences she faced at Rowland Hall, crediting them for helping her become the best version of herself. One of those experiences entailed working in a team to create a print ad for her school and pitch the ad to a panel of experts.
"I remember thinking to myself, this is brilliant,” Emily said with a grin. “You're simultaneously indoctrinating us with Rowland Hall propaganda and getting free advertising ideas.”
Laughter followed her witticism and gave way to louder claps and cheers. Emily—a champion debater who plans to attend Harvard University in the fall—nailed the joke. Her story evoked a fond memory for seniors, and juniors who eight weeks earlier had completed the ad campaign unit in beloved teacher Kody Partridge’s AP English Language and Composition class.
“I loved it,” junior Emma Carlin said of the ad unit. “We just came out of the research project, which was a total grind for three months...The ad project was like a step back, and we got to use more creativity.”
In the preceding research project, each student analyzed a different vintage ad. They each wrote a paper delving into the historical context of ad copy and aesthetics—a total deconstruction, as Emma called it. Unlike the research project, the ad unit relied heavily on collaboration: students created ads in teams, and held a practice-pitch session to receive feedback from classmates. In some cases, they consulted other faculty members such as art teacher Rob Mellor and computer science teacher Ben Smith for graphic design advice and design software tips.
Emma and her teammates Matt Orford, Steven Pasinsky, and Walker Nasser began with a couple of different visions for their ad, then bounced ideas around for hours.
“We all got on FaceTime,” she said, “and we kind of gently poked holes in each other's ideas.” They came up with two drafts, took a vote, and compromised between the two versions to create their final product (headlined "Prepare Your Student Early").
The Marketing Department kicks off the ad unit by presenting students with Rowland Hall’s brand history and usage guidelines, and providing project requirements. Marketing Director Stephanie Orfanakis tells students to create an ad that targets a specific demographic, communicates emotion to connect with that audience, and communicates a benefit of the Rowland Hall experience.
Kody and the marketing staff give students creative license to focus on what they love about their school. Trumpet player Will Matheson and his teammates—Mia Brickey and Kaela Gilbert, who are heavily involved in dance and creative writing, respectively—focused their ad (headlined "Find Your Voice!") on the school’s "tight community around the arts.”
“When we thought about portraying Rowland Hall and something that’s unique for us,” Will said, “it was the arts department, and how that department has just made our lives so much richer. And we wanted to communicate that to other people.”
Their group talked to Rob and dance teacher Sofia Gorder about how to effectively portray Rowland Hall’s arts programs in an ad. “We tried to take their lessons and see what we could do with them to make our ad work,” Will said.
In addition to providing an opportunity for collaboration, the ad unit poses other benefits for students. In her 14 years at Rowland Hall, Kody said she has seen several AP test questions about the roles of advertising and propaganda. The one-two punch of the vintage ad research project and the ad unit equips students with the tools needed to ace such questions.
Emma also hailed the ad unit’s concise copy as a helpful precursor to writing college essays. Normally, she said, Rowland Hall English assignments revolve around “writing really profound ideas and looking for complexities and nuance.” But in the ad unit, like in college essays, the goal is to write more focused and compelling sentences in fewer words.
Kody agrees. “It moves them to think about the importance of a really clear message, about concise writing, and about that idea of a target audience,” she said.
The ad unit culminates in a presentation to a panel of Rowland Hall’s administrative leaders, including the head of school, assistant head of school, Upper School principal, and the directors of admission, advancement, and marketing. Advertising professional Kelly Hindley, senior vice president of strategic planning at MRM//McCann’s Salt Lake City office, has also spoken to the ad unit students and served on the panel.
Kody commended the ad unit for encouraging students to reflect on their personal experiences at Rowland Hall and the value of their education. Juniors often choose to promote their favorite subjects: a team full of debaters, for instance, advertised the school’s renowned debate program; dancers and musicians often focused on the arts, as Will’s group did.
“I thought that was powerful,” Kody said of the students’ personal investment in the project.
After presenting their ads and receiving feedback from the judges, students are curious to hear about panelists’ behind-the-scenes chitchat.
Kody talked in a hushed voice, imitating a student: “‘Did they like one better than the other? Do you think they might use one of our pitches?’ And it was beyond the grade, you know?”
As Kody and the Marketing Department have fine-tuned the unit over the years, students have taken the project more seriously, the teacher said. And while Rowland Hall students often shine during the presentation portion, there’s still a modicum of nervousness that Kody doesn’t always see from her young scholars. “Maybe because it felt really meaningful to them,” she posited.