Buh bye to 2009
From a business perspective, I’m not sorry to see 2009 end. Ultimately, mStoner was fortunate: we didn’t suffer as much as other companies in our peer set. But that’s largely because we had a wake-up call in 2008, when we realized that we needed to tighten up our business practices and the way we managed projects. Or else.
So we entered 2009 much leaner and more disciplined. We also had a backlog of projects from 2008. It was a good thing, too: by March 2009, we looked ahead and worried about what we’d face for the rest of the year.
It will come as no surprise to you that schools, colleges, and universities faced major challenges in 2009. More than ever before, our clients were expected to do more with less. We’ve always been willing to tailor our services to a client’s needs, but several projects in 2009 required a new level of flexibility, with clients encouraging us to explore how to balance our own resources with theirs. We’ve always considered our clients to be our partners, but some of these collaborations have taken partnership to new levels in order to help make the most of available budgets.
By year’s end, the RFP flow picked up and some of our clients signed off on additional projects. We had managed to eke out a tiny profit. Mind you, no one on our team got a bonus. But, when many companies had to reduce size considerably or fold, we were fortunate to have wonderful clients who completed their projects with us and, in many cases, engaged us for additional work. To all of you: thank you. We’re very grateful!
Thriving creative and new projects
But 2009 wasn’t all gloom and doom. mStoner had an incredible year from a creative standpoint. The George School website won a Grand Gold in the national CASE Awards of Excellence competition, and William & Mary’s website) won EduStyle Awards for Best Website Redesign and Best Use of Photography.
We launched a number of great sites last year, and several of them exemplify how our work is taking significant new directions:
Progressive branding: In the age of authenticity, branding is a two-way street shaped by the dialogue between an institution and its constituencies. Storytelling and social media are the new pillars of branding because they allow real people and their stories to create and reinforce a brand’s meaning. In particular, four of our clients’ sites exemplify this approach: Boston College School of Social Work, Fashion Institute of Technology, College of Charleston, and the Northfield Mount Hermon School.
Social media: Most of our projects now incorporate social media in significant ways. For example, Northfield Mount Hermon’s website integrates social media feeds so that visitors can move back and forth between NMHSchool.org and various social media sites. We spoke and wrote about social media: our blog last year includes a half-dozen case studies relating to campaigns that integrate social media with other channels. (I presented on this topic at the CASE Summit, CASE VII, and CASE V.) Also, a whole series of posts focused on how independent schools are using (and excelling at) social media for an article published in CASE Currents. Doug Gapinski, one of our creative directors, developed a two-day workshop on social media that he presented at Kenyon College.
Collaboration: We developed a new model for an immersive, collaborative web strategy with Bethel University. Two of our client partners there, Michael Vedders and Mark Erickson, spent a couple of days in our Chicago office to work out information architecture, wireframes, sitemaps, and other significant aspects of Bethel’s new site, which will launch this year. [Read more about that process.]
Public Square: In another example of collaboration, we helped researchers at the Pennsylvania State University conceive, name, design, and build an interactive collection of research projects currently underway across campus. We named it “Public Square” to make it as clear as possible to the public that the work showcased is ongoing and participatory. The site’s tagline is “Public Square provides a place for the public to learn about and get involved in University projects that aim to make the community-
and the world-a better place.” The site will launch in 2010.
Community Colleges: Institutions offering customized, flexible two- and four-year programs are experiencing rapid growth. Last year, we worked with several community colleges. We launched sites and provided training for Oakton Community College and many of the colleges in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. And we worked with Nevada State College, a nimble four-year institution located in a suburb of Las Vegas.