The perceived image of an educational institution is perhaps its defining quality in Pakistan (often trumping the actual quality of the education imparted!), making positioning within the myriad tiers of schools vital to enrolment and the quality of students who apply.
While mainstream advertising has a minimal role to play in the image building process, Lahore’s FormanChristianCollege (FC College) has gone against the grain and launched five successive ad campaigns over the last five years, with a strong emphasis on the institution’s reputation.
The need for such communication is rooted in FC College’s nationalisation in 1972, when the institution’s original owners, The Presbyterian Church of Pakistan were dislodged, putting FC College under government control.
FC College was once considered to be one of the most prestigious institutions in Punjab, with a history dating to 1864. However, according to Uzma Khan, Director Communications, FC College, “After the College was nationalised things began to deteriorate. The attitude of the teachers changed – they began to act like government officials. Class sizes increased so there were up to 100 students in some classes. And then the student union started controlling administrative and academic decisions…”
In such a degenerating, politicised environment, FC College’s image took a huge hit, and says Khan, “Parents were afraid to enrol their children due to security reasons.”
Furthermore, FC College’s infrastructure was badly neglected for decades, adding to the list of problems faced by the institution.
Consequently, when the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled in favour of returning FC College to The Presbyterian Church in March 2003, the institution’s reputation had hit rock bottom, with enrolment rates at an all-time low, an overall drop in the quality of students applying and only 10 PhD’s remaining in teaching positions.
To address these issues, the new administration began work on multiple fronts, beginning with the infrastructure, which included extensive renovation and the construction of two new buildings to house the science and business schools.
According to Khan, “The infrastructure has improved so much that when some of the old Formanites visit, they can’t recognise the place.”
Along with the improvements in the infrastructure, FC College introduced a four-year Liberal Arts Baccalaureate programme in 2005, which “provides students a large number of course options. It basically offers high quality western style education at a Pakistani cost,” says Khan.
However, although FC College was changing internally, the degree to which its image had been negatively impacted in the eyes of the public forced the administration to turn to advertising as part of an image building effort aimed at potential students and their parents.
In 2004, FC College appointed Publicis Pakistan and a long term strategy was developed aimed at releasing year-on-year campaigns focusing on FC College’s former glory, the ongoing improvements taking place on campus, the increasing educational opportunities available, and the FC College ‘experience’.
According to Masood Hasan, CEO, Publicis Pakistan, “Our first campaign focused on the legacy of FC College, and we talked about the great people who had attended FC College, emphasising the fact that the same kind of spirit will now be driving the institution forward…”
“Next we talked about the changes that were taking place and the improvements we were affecting in each area. Finally we highlighted the new look of FC College and the change in the quality of students and on campus faculty.”
Each of these campaign elements were introduced chronologically from 2004 up to 2009 in the English-language print media, with the last campaign extended in 2009 to include radio and BTL activities.
The result of five years of such campaigning?
According to Khan, “Over the last few years, both the number and the quality of applicants have gone up. Our target was to have 85% of the new Baccalaureate intake with over 60% marks; however, the actual number turned out to be 89%. The proportion of female students too has increased, and this year roughly a third of our Baccalaureate intake is made up of female students.”
A significant change has also taken place in FC College’s faculty, which went from its original roster of 10 PhD’s in 2003 to 76 currently teaching at the institution.
Future strategic plans for building FC College through advertising will focus on further improving the quality of students through communicating greater changes in infrastructure, facilities and faculty.
Additionally, having established the basics, Hasan says upcoming campaigns will position FC College as “the preferred choice of students and parents; a focal point for extracurricular activities and the healthy promotion of the arts.”
As the journey to rebuilding FC College continues, it seems the impact of consistent advertising has aided in turning the institution’s reputation around, hence not only communicating change, but actually being a factor in causing it.