Marketing an institution of higher education is a dreary business. The brand messages tend to run together into one platitudinous blob. "Find yourself at our university..." "Free yourself..." "Be yourself..." "Transform yourself..." People who produce this stuff for a living have my sympathy. I'm sure they crave the opportunity, once in a while, to sell a good vegetable chopper. At least a chopper has an edge and does unquestionable good.
Universities themselves can be dreary places – which is behind the marketer's malaise. Institutions of higher education are expensive, slow to change, and filled with tenured professionals. Tenure itself is an odd anachronism. Just sit there untouched no matter how you perform? Like an earl or duke in the Middle Ages? "Unfortunately, we don't have capital punishment," a professor once told me with a sigh. We were discussing one of his particularly out-of-control (and tenured) colleagues.
A few days ago I ran across this ad for a business school. It made me think. What is this place? How is it different? I looked it up. A nearly brand new business school at Johns Hopkins, founded in 2007 – devoted to teaching business "with humanity in mind." Sounds visionary? Idealistic? Something intriguing about "repurposing the traditional business school toolkit to reflect our principles of humanity, compassion, innovation, and opportunity."
The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School is only a couple of years old. Let's set aside our skepticism – and wish these guys well. There is a wise, understated tone in their brand – yet the words are high-minded. Hats off to their marketing team. In a time of bluster and brag, people who photograph a few seeds and promise to help you plant them deserve our respect.