The Purpose & Power of a Brand Campaign: A Leader’s Perspective, Three Years On…


10 Jul 2024

Emma Pendleton

15 minutes


Three years on from its ‘Made by Girls’ campaign, head of strategy Chris Bosher (CB) revisits Norwich High School for Girls’ Headteacher, Alison Sefton (AS), to talk about whether the motivations and goals that informed the campaign have turned into reality.

Shaking off outdated perceptions is a challenge in many sectors – and perhaps none more so than the independent school sector, and single-sex schools. 

“I felt we had become a little reluctant to state that we were proud to be an all girls school,” explains Alison Sefton, Head of GDST’s Norwich High School for Girls, reflecting on her motivations for a rebrand. 

The then-new headteacher had quickly realised that perceptions of the school were largely shaped by its history. Not a bad situation, but one that meant its brand perception was defined by its past, instead of its present and future. And their brand hadn’t leant into the things that made this school unique – and, arguably, weren’t reflecting the current political climate. 

“We were ready to shout from the rooftops about what we do. We’re a values-driven organisation that puts girls first. Although we already had that narrative, we weren’t necessarily articulating it,” she explains. 

Heritage and tradition can be strong selling points, but making educational establishments that are resolutely connected with the past feel relevant in the present can be challenging. 

This dilemma is likely to resonate with many leaders: the motivation to share the great product and service you offer with a new audience, shifting an existing perception in a changing climate, but being open to what the marketing solution would be. 

Alison invited marketing agencies to present their solutions. Among them was Borne, and from the outset head of strategy Chris Bosher believed there was a clear positioning: as the only girls’ school in Norfolk, Norwich High School for Girls was uniquely placed to own the single-sex education category. This wasn’t something to shy away from – it was a clear point of differentiation.

A brand strategist, with an advertising background, Chris proposed a positioning that could work ‘in the real world’: in its brand proposition, and in its advertising campaigns. 

Made By Girls’ – a strapline conceived to celebrate the confidence, character and spirit of the students.

Three years on, Chris met with Alison to discuss her motives for the relaunch and how she managed the subsequent roll-out, internally and externally. Whether it galvanised or disrupted the business, and whether it ultimately achieved its goal: attracting new audiences, and shifting perceptions. 


Can you give us an insight into the motivations for the brief?


There were a variety of things that pushed me to the decision. It was simple things, such as our website not really telling the story of who we are today. It had some information on it, but it wasn’t massively interactive. Our social media was saying some things, but not a huge amount. We just weren’t visible.

When I came to the school for the interview, I drove past it twice because the signs were difficult to see on Newmarket Road. People knew of us, but didn’t know about us – and I knew we needed to do something about it.

Marketing is something I’d never really been involved with in previous leadership roles, in other schools. I feel very lucky to be part of a group of schools, the Girls’ Day School Trust. Looking at what other schools within our group were doing, I felt there was more we could do to push our brand. But I wasn’t sure what I wanted at that stage, which made it really hard


When we met you, you were still clarifying the school’s story in your mind. Can you tell us something about that journey?


I was trying to get an understanding of what the DNA of the school was. I hadn’t been able to visit as much as I’d planned to in the months leading up to starting the job. A lot of time was spent just trying to understand how everything worked, and what people knew and understood of the school.

When I got here, I felt everybody knew the school, but they knew it from the time when they were first introduced to it rather than what we are now – for many, when they’d been here as a student 20, 30 or 40 years ago. But I was struggling to hear what people knew of the school as it is now.

I felt we had become a little reluctant to state that we were proud to be an all girls school. We are the only one in Norfolk now, which is something that we should be really proud of. We still don’t live in an equal society, so I felt it was something I wanted to be able to make more of a statement, and which would be something that would shape the work that we ultimately did with Borne.


If you’ve had a strong connection with people in the past, evolving that perception can be really difficult. You felt like there was a brand, but that it wasn’t being leveraged?


That’s a really good way of putting it. Yes, we knew who we were, but I didn’t feel enough people were able to tell me what they knew of us today.

There was a lot of history, but I like to talk about us being a modern school in a historic setting. We are trying to shape the girls to follow a pathway of which they’re proud, and balancing history with modernity is really important while giving girls the absolute best place to be.



You said that you weren’t knowledgeable about marketing. But do you feel you came out of the experience with your expectations met?


It totally exceeded it really, because I didn’t know what we would get from it. We had you plus two other agencies that came in to pitch and I was amazed at the range of what was being pitched to us. But I knew it was important to find somebody that would ‘fit’ because we would be working so closely for many months.

I remember coming out of the meeting and saying that you’d got under the skin of what we were doing, and we knew there and then you were the right people to work with.


During those early conversations, there was an appetite to not just be different but distinctive, i.e. to get noticed. Was there nervousness around some of the directness in the language – about boys and girls being equal, but how they’re not the same?


I was definitely comfortable with it because it’s research driven [girls perform academically better in single-sex schools]. It’s at the core of what we do. I think it was a change which I suspect that a number of people around me might not have been as confident in straight away. But I felt it was my role to move that forward, because it was something that I believed was the right thing to do.

Having focus groups, talking to groups of staff, talking to groups of students as well so that they were part of the process helped. But I recognise that not everybody enjoys change, so that has to be managed and to be part of that process.


Social attitudes to the role of women in society were changing very rapidly, which made us feel confident that what we we’re talking about wasn’t radical but a very mainstream thing. Was there any trepidation on your side about accidentally stepping into a cultural war in 2020 though?


We knew we were being bolder than we had been. And I suppose the potential risk was whether people wanted to hear that. But I never felt there was a risk from the current parent audience. I didn’t feel there could really be a risk from potential parents either, because actually what we were doing was shouting about what we do – and if that’s not what you want for your daughter, that’s fine. There are other schools locally that you can choose from.

What I really enjoy now is talking to parents who come to our open mornings who say they had no prior experience of Norwich High. So, they haven’t had a relative that’s been through the school and they don’t know anyone that’s been to the school. But they’ve heard about us, they’ve seen our marketing message, and they really want to come and explore the school.

If we can excite people about what we do because of ‘Made by Girls’, then that’s half the battle, isn’t it?


There’s something in media that we don’t talk about very often and we should, which is this phenomenon of signalling: an audience responds differently to seeing a brand buying a big media space than they do a small targeted media space. If you’re the kind of brand on a bus, that can be really potent. But how did you feel about the ‘Made By Girls’ campaign running on the sides of buses?


I was not totally sold on buses, and there was some discussion more broadly about whether that was the right place to be advertising. But actually, that really got that message out. It was so bold and so different in terms of the way we’d advertised previously, we were then doing what we had said we were going to do, which was shout about it from the rooftops.

The Head of another local school said they liked our new marketing campaign. I thought that was brilliant. If they had seen that, then it was being marketed in the right place and it’s standing out.

It’s been two years since we did that and we haven’t done an advertising campaign as bold as that since. But we’re still living and working off that in terms of my new favourite marketing phrase, ‘repurposing’ – such as bringing it in on our own adverts in terms of ‘Confidence Made by Girls’ and ‘Futures Made by Girls’. We’re talking about sixth-form careers and it’s really helped us to channel and shape that style.


Did you know that you wanted to invest in an always-on campaign concept, and your brand, initially?


I didn’t have a clue at that point. I realised that every pitch we received would have done something for us and we might have got the same outcomes in terms of what we see now as what we get from our marketing. But what I realised when listening to Borne’s pitch was that you understood the school. You weren’t just trying to sell me an idea. You articulated back to me what I knew about our school and what I knew other people would want to hear, but what you did was then put that gloss on it in terms of the way we could deliver that.


You had a career in finance and in the territorial army before becoming a teacher. In branding and advertising, we borrow a lot of military language – strategy, tactics, campaigns and so on – but has your background had a big influence on your leadership of the school?


It definitely has in terms of the planning processes that you learn within the military and also dealing with crises, for want of a better word. During the pandemic, we were doing a lot of operational leadership. That was a really interesting challenge for me taking over at the school in September 2020.

Something I draw a lot on is the military one-third two-thirds rule for planning. It works well in education, where we have three terms in an academic year. So if you want to change something in September, you need to have had that thought process a year before, because you need to give yourself a term to be planning it and you need to give your team two thirds of the year to do the same.

Finally, when I was at Sandhurst, we were taught about how to react to enemy fire. As the leader, you stop and let your team deal with it, which gives you time to take a deep breath and plan what you’re about to do.

I think that it comes into so many aspects of leadership, where you sit in your office and you’ve got people coming to your door and telling you that they need a decision. Sometimes you have to have the confidence to say thank you for the information and take your time to make the decision.


Three years on, do you think that ‘Made by Girls’ campaign has achieved its goal: attracting new audiences and shifting perceptions of the school?


Yes, absolutely. It has completely revolutionised the way we approach our marketing. We have a new marketing team in school with Director of Marketing and Communications Amy Beck, and Marketing and Communications Coordinator Katie Cox. They have ensured we have an always on approach with targeted marketing using the style and assets created by Borne.


With the benefit of hindsight, would you do anything differently?


I don’t think so! The return question might be… is there anything Borne think we should have done differently.


No, we really enjoyed working on this brief. You came into the process with an open mind and collaborative mentality which made the partnership all-the-more creative. But it’s the consistency with which your entire organisation has adopted the strategy and how it’s been rolled out ‘in the real world’ that’s really created the work’s success.