Over the years, Monash University has undergone a stunning transformation, rapidly rising up the global rankings. This didn't happen by accident. We had an ambitious agenda which laid out our vision to transform into a deeply internationalised, enterprising and forward-thinking university.
In 2017, to celebrate and showcase this transformation, we made the strategic decision to run a Partner Profiling event, to ensure that our partners were aware of our values and saw us as an institution which is embracing change.
As part of this showcase, we wanted to emphasise the student voice. We felt this was important and something which spoke deeply to our value proposition. So, arrangements were made to have a student prepare a video on the student experience through the eyes of other students. The video was to be played to our partners at a special luncheon.
One of our biggest challenges was to ensure that the student voice was authentic, and that the message conveyed was genuine and a meaningful expression of the experience we provide. To achieve this, we gave a project brief to one of our students, confident in his abilities and excited for him to identify and communicate what was unique about the learning experience at Monash. After all, who better to 'sell' Monash than some of our very own students?
What could possibly go wrong?
We commissioned a student, recently returned from a learning abroad programme, to lead the development and production of the video. A briefing was held outlining our key requirements and to explain the key audience (university partners and study abroad professionals). We looked at some examples of other successful works and agreed a 'look and feel'.
We allocated a budget and timeline, and discussed important milestones. We also discussed contractors and other details to assist with the production. With just 6 or so weeks to prepare the video, there was pressure to bring this together quickly.
Let's do some research
Each week, I checked in on the progress of the video. The student reported that all was going well. In the first few weeks, he successfully organised focus groups with students to understand a little more about their learning abroad experiences, and he began to identify a storyline for the video. These focus groups also acted as a source for potential interviewees or storytellers for the video itself.
Once the focus groups were out of the way, our student indicated to me that he had a much clearer sense of what content and storyline he wished to emphasise. He had also identified students to feature in the video. All seemed to be going well.
Lights, Camera, Action!
At last, filming commenced and ran over several days on campus. The footage was then sent to an editing team to cut and polish. As you can imagine, we were all very curious and anxious - we couldn't wait to see our creative vision come to life.
And the pressure was on. We had just a week to go, and the first cut of the video was still not even available. After following up several times, a draft eventually reached me…
Let's just say that the video we saw wasn’t quite what we had in mind!
Whilst the brief was to showcase the student voice, our team felt that the rough cut video we saw translated a little more like a marketing piece. That is, it focussed on what we have and what we do, rather than who we are and why we do it. It was different to the vision we had laid out in earlier discussions. And it was with heavy hearts that we agreed that in its current state, it was going to need more work.
What’s more, some of the students featured in the film were troubling me... Something didn’t seem quite right.
I queried this with the student. He conceded that when filming, the fantastic students he'd identified through the focus groups, and who promised to show up for the filming, didn’t show up at all. In his desperation, he asked a member of the film crew to step in and ‘act’ out the scenes they had planned (the switcheroo)! This was very much NOT the authentic content that we were looking for (and in fact potentially fraudulent!).
Back to the drawing board
With just a few days to go, our student had to start filming again.
Thankfully the new footage was much better, and we managed to bring this together in time for the showcase. Even still, the final product did err more on side of marketing, than on channelling the inner student voice (which was the original vision for the piece!). You can see the original draft in the video below.
This of course wasn’t the student’s fault. This video was in fact my video; it was something that I wanted for a very specific purpose and a very specific audience. It was difficult for the student to bring the student voice, because the drive for this was coming from me, and not from him.
This was an important learning outcome for me - that finding the balance between control (managing the brand) and authenticity (telling the truth) isn't always easy, but ultimately, is key.
It all sounds good in theory, but you don't fully appreciate the challenge until you put that balancing act into practice with a project like this. The lessons we learned made our next student-led project much more successful, and despite the video not quite living up to our expectations, it certainly didn't dampen our partners fondness for Monash... or the spirit of the Partner Profiling event.
Onwards and upwards!