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Letter from the Dean

spring 2005

Dear Alumni and Friends of Boston College Law School:

In my closet I have twelve ties in various combinations of maroon, black, and gold. I have some blue ones and some red ones that I wear occasionally, but most of the time, when I get dressed in the morning, I wear Boston College colors. It’s not exactly a Superfan kind of thing. For me it’s a business decision. I want to advertise Boston College Law School wherever I go.

In our print and electronic publications we observe the same kind of dress code. These formats, colors, and fonts help represent the Boston College “brand,” as marketing people call it. But they are not the only components, nor even the most important. They are like packaging in the world of commodities – the red, white, and blue of Domino’s pizza boxes. Or maybe better, like the physical traits that create a family resemblance. They have no moral valance. They do, though, remind us of the qualities we love about the institution, the same way a certain scent might remind us of a loved one or a turn of phrase might bring to mind a favorite book.

The University’s Office of Marketing and Communications sets the guidelines for the core elements of this dress code, or graphic identity system. Specific elements include the University font (the Scala family), colors (black, PMS 202 maroon and PMS 874 gold), the University seal as the only approved logo, and the WebIT content management system for the web, which is a software program that controls the look and feel of Boston College websites by creating a shell and navigation for each page. More difficult elements to define have to do with style, such as when and where to use font caps, how to display headlines, proper use of white space in design, what sort of paper and other materials are appropriate, and so on. The Office of Marketing and Communications works on an individual basis with designers across the BC community and beyond to make sure these style elements are consistent.

Keeping the Brand Promise
All these specific components serve to reinforce the idea that we are a unified group, and that we have a purpose. But what exactly constitutes a “brand” is a bit harder to explain. The best way to think about brand is that it is composed of the central promises we make to our most important customers. These promises are continuously reinforced (by things like marketing materials, fonts, colors, and logos)—and they must be kept at all costs.

When students begin their careers here, we start with an orientation into the folkways of BC Law. I tell them about urban legends circulating at other schools—hypercompetitive moot court students who cut cases from F.2d with razor blades; classmates who won’t share class notes with someone who has been sick. Then I explain that Boston College is different. We share what we have. We offer to help. This is part of our brand. It takes a long time to build confidence in this promise, but only a moment to undo. If students come to campus and find that cases have indeed been cut from F.2d, we have broken that brand promise. Take another example. In our Admissions Bulletin we promise to provide our students with the tools to succeed in the legal field, and in life. If our recent graduates don’t agree, prospective students (and those alumni) will no longer trust us.

The Importance of a Brand Strategy
The idea of building a brand is not a new one, of course. The Smith Brothers were selling cough drops before the Civil War. But it has been growing in importance in the field of higher education in recent years. Three things have happened to make branding particularly important to Boston College Law School. First, we have become a national, indeed an international, institution. We draw students and faculty from around the world, and we send alumni to far off places. Many people now hear about Boston College who have never been here. Second, the practice of law is an attractive career and good law schools have recently been swamped with applications. Last year we had more than 7,800. Most of these students applied to other schools as well, and the competition for the ones we admit is fierce. These two points – a national market and stiff competition – mean that we travel a lot more than we used to (the Dean, Admissions, Alumni & Development, and Career Services), and that we send out more mail.

The third point is the explosion of the Internet. This enables a prospective student to go directly to our website, download admissions materials, take a virtual tour of the school, e-mail the faculty, or go to a chat room and read strangers’ opinions of the Law School. There are good and bad parts to this. We can reach our intended audience much more quickly and easily than ever before. Within minutes, for example, we can e-mail our entire admitted applicant pool and direct them to a new password-protected website, where they can chat with each other and members of the community, get the latest news and information, check the calendar of events, and view video of faculty and student testimonials.

However, studies show that the average person is exposed to about three thousand messages each day. Communicating our brand promise is a much more complicated and important task than it was just a handful of years ago.

Relationship Building
As complicated as our external marketing plan has become, communicating our brand must start from within. The chief supporters of a school’s brand are the people associated with it. Fr. Leahy once remarked to me that the University’s most important good will ambassador was the man who occupied the security booth at the main gate on Commonwealth Ave. Visitors to the campus associate his greeting, smile, and helpfulness with Boston College. In the same way, Law School applicants who call our Admissions Office and hear a friendly voice will form a good opinion of us. This is true of the way the Library greets patrons and the Career Services Office hosts visiting employers. When faculty and administrators participate in professional conferences they act as our ambassadors. Their behavior reflects well or poorly on the Law School just as Americans traveling abroad represent the United States.

A truly successful brand is about relationships. Prospective students who are attracted to our brand will apply here. Alumni who believe in our brand will support what we do. Judges and law firms across the country who are familiar with our brand will have a pretty good idea of what a BC lawyer will bring to the courtroom. When we extend an invitation to teach, professors who understand who we are and what we stand for will have an easier decision when considering whether to join our faculty.

These are the relationships that we, and all schools, strive so hard to build. But there is more to it. A clear and consistent brand helps inform the decisions we make. What sort of students are we trying to attract? Will this particular person be a good fit on our faculty? How should we shape our curriculum? All these questions (and many more) are, in large part, answered by the brand promises we have made.

A Successful and Lasting Brand
My point here is simply this: to build a brand that will last, we must focus on what we do well. We must clarify what we stand for as an institution, and communicate this to the world (this includes the Boston College community; internal communication is vital too). If we do this in a consistent manner over time, then the components of our brand—the packaging, fonts, colors and logos—will come to mean something to our audience. Just seeing the BC Law word mark and the Boston College seal will evoke an instant understanding.

I will continue to wear my ties with the Boston College colors, because I believe that marketing consistency is important, and the details count. This choice is easy for me, because I believe in the Boston College Law School brand, and I understand that if we are faithful to that brand, good things will happen. We will hire the very best faculty to support it. Our peers will view us as more focused and our reputation will improve. Prospective students will understand who we are and what we stand for, and we will receive more applications from the very best of those who stand for the same thing. Our alumni will recognize the strengths and values we represent, and our endowment will go up—and because of all these things, the value of a BC Law degree will go up too. Most importantly, our future graduates will receive the best legal education we can provide. BC Law is a school intent on educating with an eye towards the greater good. It is not enough for us to say that this is important. We must back it up in everything we do. We are concerned not just with educating good lawyers, but educating lawyers who lead good lives. And if we are lucky, perhaps they too will have an affinity for maroon and gold.

John H. Garvey, Dean