News & Opinion

Five minutes with Judy Mitchem… how small brands can make a big impact

This week, we sat down with marketing director Judy Mitchem to find out more about the Girls' Day School Trust's first-ever ad campaign.

With 25 schools across the country, and nearly 20,000 girls in its schools, the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) is the UK’s leading network of girls’ schools. Former GDST pupils include Helena Bonham Carter, Cressida Dick, Afua Hirsch, Angelica Bell, Olivia Colman, and Mary Berry. Judy Mitchem joined the GDST in early 2017, and as director of marketing & development, has overseen the group’s recent rebrand, as well as the launch of an integrated marketing campaign across the country.

 Hello Judy. Can you tell us a bit about your background before you went to the GDST?

I spent over 20 years agency side, working for some great agencies like M&C Saatchi and Ogilvy. This was a fantastic experience, as I’ve worked with so many clients in different sectors, such as John Lewis, Virgin Atlantic and various Government departments. This all gave me a great grounding in strategic marketing, which is why I recognise the importance of a robust strategy. Just before I came to the GDST, I was working at HM Treasury, which was very stimulating, particularly as I was there during the Referendum. The rest is history, literally.

What is the single most useful thing you learnt agency side?

'Brutal Simplicity of Thought'. It's the M&C Saatchi mantra and it's still with me. I firmly believe we need to deliver information in a way which is concise, relevant and impactful, particularly as we are living in a world where people are time poor and information-hungry.

It must be a big change, moving into the education world?

Funnily enough, when I joined the GDST I was looking for a school for my daughter. So I guess I was well qualified in understanding the customer journey. A marketer needs to be in touch with the customer, or potential parent in our case. Having said that, with 25 schools across the country, our parent base varies enormously. We do a lot of targeting and segmentation to really understand parents, and how they differ in terms of demographics and attitudes.

So what is the Girls' Day School Trust, or GDST as its known?

The GDST is the UK's leading group of girls' schools. We have 25 schools – 23 are independent and two are academies. The schools are located all around the country, from Newcastle and Cardiff to London and Brighton. Our schools include Putney High, Wimbledon High and Oxford High. 

Why did you do a GDST campaign?

The GDST is a fantastic organisation, a beacon of excellence, but awareness was low. Research showed that a strong, well known, GDST brand would boost our schools. And our Head Teachers wanted the GDST to be recognised for what it is – a kite mark of quality. 

When did the new campaign launch?

It launched on 2 September with a front page ad in The Sunday Times. We then followed with billboards across the country, national press, as well as a strong digital element. The organising thought was 'Where girls learn without limits'. All the ads celebrate the GDST girls, their confidence and spirit. The campaign is aimed at parents in the early stages of considering a school for their daughter.

Who shot the ads and how did you cast the girls who star?

The photographer was Sarah Winborn. The campaign was created by VCCP, with media planning and buying by VCCP Media. There was no real casting process as such – we asked the schools to recommend some girls. They were all amazing, different ages, very different and diverse, so we were spoilt for choice.  

Can you tell us how you balanced mainstream media with digital channels?

The beauty of the campaign is the multi-channel approach. Whilst digital is an important channel, traditional media has also been hugely effective. For example, we have invested heavily in the Evening Standard, The Sunday Times, Metro and The Times. We also entered into a special partnership with Mumsnet, which has really broadened our reach and allowed us to connect directly with parents. Posters have also played an important part, giving the campaign impact as well as a local presence.

How are you measuring the campaign?

Basically through tracking results, Google analytics, school data and feedback from the Head Teachers. Interestingly, we see a huge spike in GDST website hits every time we run an ad in the Evening Standard, The Times or Sunday Times. These titles have been hugely effective. But all the channels are working in harmony. We have a rigorous measurement plan in place but, at the end of the day, this is a brand campaign and the results will come through over time. 

by Judy Mitchem 06/12/18

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