Rolling out the red carpet

When’s the last time you thought about your school’s front door?

During a recent visit to beloved client Moorestown Friends School, we were wowed by the warm welcome we received upon arrival. A school’s emotional curb appeal—the atmosphere at the entry point, front door, or the reception desk—is something we always take note of on a campus visit, and MFS is on point.

Mario Morgado Photography NYC

We encourage all our clients to consider how their schools look and feel to a newcomer, experienced as someone new to the community would experience it. While you pull up to your school and walk the familiar halls every day, your impressions are informed and shaped by all the knowledge you hold as an insider. But what do prospective families see, and more importantly feel when they come to campus? With tour and open house season in full swing, there’s no better time to think about the first impressions your school is making on first-time visitors.

At MFS, nestled in charming downtown Moorestown, New Jersey, prospective families pull into the carpool line and immediately find visitor parking spots. We love the idea of designated admissions tour parking because families know they are in the right place, right from the start. Visitors then walk to a large, clearly visible entrance where they are welcomed by a greeter at the front desk, who signs each guest in, issues a badge, and—most importantly—makes them feel invited into the community and at home even in an unfamiliar space. MFS offers a master class in warm welcomes, and we’ve got a few more pointers of our own:

  • Every visitor should be welcomed to the school by someone gracious and knowledgeable to help with logistics and information and to make an important immediate connection on a human level. We all greet guests at the door at our homes—schools should, too.
  • Consider adding a dry erase or chalkboard sign featuring visiting families’ names, to reassure them that they are expected and welcomed. It’s a little thing, but a nice touch.
  • Make a quick audit of what folks see when they walk into your entry point. They will take it all in. Is it full of art? History? Comfy places to sit? This space says a lot about the values of the place, like it or not. Take a moment today and walk through your “front door” as if it were for the first time. What do you take away? What seems important to the school based on this space? A carefully curated entry point connotes a carefully curated teaching and learning environment; a shabby, neglected space sends a message, too.

We also recommend that your entry point gives prospective families a sense of how deeply children are valued in that space. Moorestown Friends welcomed new head of school Julia de la Torre this year, and she set to work immediately to revamp her office to match her personal aesthetic and extend the school’s commitment to welcoming spaces. Her office happens to be right by the main entrance, and she enlisted the help of the student body to decorate the space around her door.

There, for all visitors to see, hangs a giant sheet of paper on which students have written their names and marked their height at the beginning of the school year, just as a parent might on a wall or doorframe at home to mark a child’s growth over the years. This collection of multicolored names and height marks, from the tiniest pre-K learners to the upper school basketball team’s center at the top serves as an important focal point in the MFS entrance. It’s also a gathering space where kids convene to measure how much they’ve grown physically in just the first few months of school and proudly show friends their progress. It’s the kind of personalized representation of growth—and proof of how every child at MFS is encouraged to make their mark—that speaks powerfully to prospective parents.

Do you have a front door space you’re proud of? Drop us a line to tell us about it. Or do you want to talk through your front door, tour strategy, or open house approach? Give us a call.

Where to eat in ATL during NAIS

Tom Wolfe famously wrote in A Man in Full, “Restaurants are the theatre of Atlanta.” And that was a solid 30 years ago. If anything, our culinary theatre has evolved into one of the top dining destinations in the Southeast (you can also make compelling cases for New Orleans and Charleston). So if you’re looking for good food at the end of a long day of conferencing, we’d recommend you grab a few friends, stray out of your hotel room, and enjoy the fruits of our city.

Note: We narrowed our choices based on their proximity to the GWCC and surrounding hotels. They’re not walkable, but you won’t get snarled in Atlanta traffic traveling to and fro either. And nobody who lives here eats downtown. 🙂


Antico Pizza Napoletana
Part of chef Giovanni Di Palma’s Little Italia “square” (along with Gio’s Chicken, a gelateria, and Bar Amalfi) Antico brought the Napoletana pizza revolution to Atlanta a decade ago. The pizzas are cooked in absurdly hot stone ovens (imported from Italy of course) to achieve the perfect amount of char, chewiness, and flavor. You know it’s good when the daily hours are “11:30 – out of dough.” If you’re a purist, you can’t go wrong with the Margherita, though the San Gennaro and Sophia are also local favorites.

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Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand
Chef Delia Champion is something of a local legend as the founder of the Flying Biscuit Chain. The Westside outpost of her eponymous Chicken Sausage Stand features all manner of house-made sausages, from links to patties to ground chicken for tacos and lasagna, along with delicious thick-cut fries (wedgies), and cake-shakes. Late-night celeb sightings have included Ludacris and Andre 3000, who’ve posed cheekily in front of the “So Cluckin’ Good” sign.

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Star Provisions
If you can only escape for breakfast or lunch, Star Provisions serves a premium selection of made-to-order sandwiches, salads, composed plates, and pizzas, along with espresso and hard-to-pass-up baked goods. As the casual, counter-service sibling to four-star Bacchanalia (which, if you have three hours and an expense account, yolo!), you get the expertise and careful sourcing of one of the best chef-owners in town in a relaxed, affordable setting.

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If you’re on lookout for healthy fast casual, Upbeet marks the spot for either lunch or dinner. Structured around grain bowls and salads—with an adjacent smoothie and juice bar—Upbeet serves (mostly) organic, non-GMO vegetables, grains, and proteins that have the added bonus of being filling and delicious. You can create your own, but we trust their own creations that come with the requisitely cute names (Pesto Manifesto, Curry Up, Cobb Your Enthusiasm).

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Bocado has gained city-wide fame for its burger—the Bocado burger stack—which is worth a trip in itself. The rest of the new American menu covers all the non-burger-bases as well, from a bevy of small plates to mains, all displaying fresh and eclectic local flavors. It’s a great spot for lunch or to share a bunch of tastes over dinner.

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JCT Kitchen
Serving reimagined Southern fare in a bright, open space, JCT has been a Westside mainstay for a decade. You can check off a variety of Southern classics like fried chicken, shrimp and grits, or chicken and dumplings here, all artfully updated for the modern diner.

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Le Fat
Because we’re in the South, even this bright and modern Vietnamese brasserie has its own version of fried chicken (and it’s quite delicious, studded with crispy shallots and Thai chilies). Of course you could be more of a Vietnamese purist here—the shaking beef, pho, clay pot chicken, and whole grilled fish are all winners.

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Cooks & Soldiers
This Basque-inspired tapas place serves traditional Spanish pintxos alongside newer interpretations featuring grilled octopus, lamb tartare, Georgia quail, and butter roasted scallops. The menu is extensive and great for sharing. Oh, and the bikini is the best grilled cheese you’ll ever eat.

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Miller Union
Chef Steven Satterfield won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2017, though most Atlantans knew that honor was only a matter of time. Miller Union showcases his deft touch with vegetables and his simple yet pitch-perfect preparation that honors locally procured ingredients. The farm egg baked in celery cream is probably the city’s most famous appetizer.

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Atlanta may not be coastal, but since O-Ku flies its fish in from Tokyo’s Fish Market, that’s not a problem here. With a long list of creative small plates, melt-in-your mouth nigiri, and inspired “signature nigiri” (like the crème de la crème: otoro, truffle, and caviar), O-Ku will satisfy your sushi craving.  Added bonus: sweeping city views from the upstairs open-air bar.

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Now is the perfect time to invoke Virginia Woolf: One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. From everyone at CRANE, we hope you get the chance to dine well during your time in Atlanta, and have a wonderful time in our city at the conference. Cheers!

New Year. New CRANE?

At CRANE, we’re used to making major announcements on behalf of our clients. But rarely do we have the occasion to share our own big news with our extended community.

With the advent of a new year, we’re also moving into a new era. We’re calling it CRANE 2.0.

As you may already know, our founder Patti Crane has long admired the land, the climate, and the ethos of southern California. It also doesn’t hurt that her two sons and two granddaughters call it home. So after 30 years here in Atlanta, Patti has made the leap to Los Angeles, Steinway grand piano and all. Let’s be clear: Patti is decidedly not retiring. (Have you met her?) However, from her West Coast vantage point, she will play a different role at her namesake company going forward.

Patti has been laying the groundwork for this transition over many years, ensuring that her vision, her values, and her ideals continue to drive our work every day. Shelly Peters, long-time CRANE managing director, big-picture strategist, and tireless client advocate, has taken on the role of CRANE principal.

With Shelly at the helm, we’re blazing new trails and taking our own advice to clients by updating our self-presentation to more accurately reflect the CRANE of not just today, but tomorrow.

Most noticeably, we’ve launched a brand new website, and we hope you’ll find a few minutes to take a look and explore. Also, be sure to follow us on our various social media platforms for daily wisdom, wit, and work updates.

Happily, the planets have aligned in such a way that the 2018 NAIS conference is set for early March right here in Atlanta. We will be co-hosting a gathering with SAIS for friends old and new and industry colleagues, and would love for you to join us to reconnect with CRANE team members you already know and meet the extended team. Details to follow, so stay tuned! But we can offer one early tidbit: It will be a room with a view.

Thanks for being part of our evolving journey, and for doing the important work that you do every day.

In anticipation,
The CRANE team

Six literary elements that can take your school from spreadsheet to story

Remember back to English class when you learned the basic elements to construct a story: setting, voice, character, plot, tension, and how the work appeals to its audience? Well it turns out you learned those things for a reason (unlike, say, long division).

Think about your school’s story. What makes it compelling, memorable, even fascinating? What sets it apart from your competitors? What makes it jump off the page instead of being neatly sorted into the uninspiring columns of a spreadsheet?

By intentionally applying the elements of story in your messaging, you begin opening up the world of your school to audiences.


1. Setting—What do you first see when you drive onto campus or step through your school’s front door? Painting a detailed picture of your physical spaces—through great photography and design as well as words— transports prospects into your school well before they make their first visit.

View the Punahou School Intro Piece


2. Voice—How you talk, write about, and describe the daily rhythms of your school reveals its character and essence. Syntax and diction can swing the tonal pendulum from formal to informal, from colorful to dry, from energetic to predictable, from exciting to staid.

View the Grinnell College Student Selfie Letters


3. Character(s)—Teacher-student relationships form the bedrock of your school’s value proposition. Are you showing who your teachers are beyond their credentials?

View the Norfolk Academy Intro Piece


4. Plot—The story of your school lives in more than pronouncements of academic rigor, course lists, athletic offerings, STEAM spaces, and college acceptances. How do you chart the journey of a student from K-12? How do you trace the trajectory from precocious preschooler to polished senior?


5. Tension—No, your messaging doesn’t need a masked antagonist or a struggle between good and evil. But you should employ contrast in your messaging, highlighting what stands out against your competitors rather than comparing shared similarities.

View The Hewitt School Congratulations Video


6. Audience—Every book needs a readership, and your school is no different. Understanding your audiences’ values and expecations, and tailoring your messaging to respond to them, isn’t pandering. It’s good, intelligent communication.

View the Duchesne Academy Dad’s Piece


Flannery O’Connor once said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” In writing the story of your school—employing the same tried and true elements that have existed for millennia—you might be surprised at what you discover along the way.

Good work

More than an excuse to grill hotdogs and break out the croquet mallets, Labor Day is a fine time to ponder, well, labor itself.  It’s a day, first and foremost, for all of us to reflect on the long history of activism and agitation that has secured safe working conditions, living wages, and a quality of life that American workers couldn’t count on two or three generations ago.

Around here, it’s also a moment to remember our own company history. We celebrated our 21st annual Founder’s Day on Friday, marking the day that Patti Crane launched her namesake company in 1996.

And this year, as we steer CRANE through a series of exciting changes, it’s a time to reflect on and draw from the passion we feel for the work we do here on the daily. And the truth is, not one of us would really call it “labor.”

It’s our calling. And it’s a gift.

So this Labor Day, we say thanks to the people who make it possible for us to make a living from what is truly a labor of love:

The institutional leaders who trust us enough to invite us into their schools or organizations to watch and witness, to consult and counsel, and to take part in the stewardship of their own life’s work.

The many students we meet every year, who welcome us into their schools and pile into our conference rooms to answer all our questions with good grace, complete candor, and impressive insights. You light up our days—and, often, kindle our best ideas.

The teachers who, day after day, bring learning alive in the classrooms we visit. With every instance of compassion you model and every moment of understanding you facilitate, you are building a better, brighter, kinder world.

And finally, our creative and business partners, families, and friends who have supported, advised, or otherwise cheered us on through all the thrilling twists and turns of the last few months. Thank you for valuing what we do enough to help us do it in a new way.

To be honest, we’re as ready for a long weekend as anybody. We’ll be kabob-grilling and beach-going and porch-sitting with the best of them. But on Tuesday, we’ll return to the work that challenges and fulfills each one of us, every day.

And that’s worth celebrating.


Moving can be an exhausting process–a harsh reality we confirmed a few weeks ago, when we packed up our desks and our snack drawers (not to mention our enormous, commercial-grade printers) and ferried twenty years of accumulated office stuff across the metro area to a new home base. But moving also got our organizational blood flowing a bit faster, so to speak, and sparked a sense of excitement and possibility that has invigorated our new space.

One of the real pleasures of the move was the archeological experience of sifting through our sample closets and our in-house stationery stockpiles. As we leafed through two decades of our own materials–watching as the CRANE nameplate shifted and our origami motif evolved over the years–we were reminded that, for us, change has been a constant. We survive and thrive because we give ourselves room to grow.

But we also stay rooted in a method we trust. As we packed up viewbooks and campaign brochures, we revisited campuses we once walked and remembered clients we’ll always love. We reflected on the thoughtful and intentional process that guided programs of the past–and continues to drive our work today.

It was a good time for a quick history review for us, as we prepared to head in a new direction. It was the right moment to confirm how strong our foundations are and to remember that that we carry those, too, with us wherever we go.

And fortunately, those guiding principles don’t have to be dragged up three flights of stairs on a dolly.

Looking up

Today, we wait for a change in the light. Just two hours south of the path of totality, Atlanta will see an impressive partial eclipse this afternoon. We’re told the moon will blot out more than 90% of the sun’s rays and create a dazzling “diamond ring” effect that our local meteorologists have been hyping for weeks.

It’s impossible to listen to the descriptions of the eclipse—night elbowing its way across an afternoon sky, a steep drop in temperature, the song of crickets at midday—without imagining how startling all this must have all been for people living hundreds or thousands of years ago. No weeks of news coverage, no NASA website to consult, no sales promotions on Moonpies. Just a sudden shift into unexpected darkness.

But for us, the eclipse is a happy event. This afternoon at the office, we’ll have lunch together then step out on the terrace to pass around the few precious pairs of safety glasses we managed to secure.  We’ll watch the skies change and the light shift and for a moment, we’ll all probably feel a little smaller in the grand scheme of things. And the very thing that must have unsettled our ancestors will give us cause to celebrate, to wonder, and to reflect.

That’s the difference preparation makes.

We’re in a season of celebration, wonder, and reflection here at CRANE, which goes well beyond the magic of today’s eclipse. Changes are coming—exciting, energizing changes that we’ve been planning for carefully over the course of several years. We’re ready and we’re thrilled.

And we hope that over the coming days and weeks, our supporters—our friends and families, our creative partners, our colleagues, and our extraordinary clients—will celebrate with us as we unfold all our carefully laid plans.

Please stay tuned.

Encore! The reality of Season B admissions


by Pam Mason-Norsworthy
CRANE strategic partnerships manager


I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
–Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

‘Twas a time in the independent school world when prospects contacted schools in the fall then visited some weeks later. They submitted applications sometime around the holidays then waited for the mail carrier to deliver the hoped-for good news just as the crocuses—or daffodils and dogwoods in the case of southern climes—were preparing their spring show of color. It was a simpler time.

But a convergence of realities has transformed the traditional admissions “season” into a continuous loop—or at the very least, a Season B. Our new digital lives mean applicants wait longer to apply because they can hit that “submit” button on the iPad at the eleventh hour—or perhaps, long past it.

What used to be the first hurdle prospects needed to clear to demonstrate serious interest has transmogrified into a hurdle for the admissions team to clear: “They inquired. They visited. They emailed. They called. They started an application. But how do we get them to complete and submit the darn thing?”

The rise of the Millennial parent


Millennial parents are doing their demographic research and in many markets, are well aware that the fewer number of four-year-olds out there means that their child won’t necessarily get turned down just because the paperwork is late. In their book Millennials with Kids, Jeff Fromm and Marissa Vidler assert that today’s parents want a very tailored and individualized education experience for their children. And perhaps that begins with the application process, where they may test the school’s willingness to consider their family’s particular situation and timeframe outside of published deadlines.

With qualified families operating on their timetable—not the school’s—social media, earned media, and website newsfeeds must tell a compelling story all year long. Not just in the fall when admissions season kicks off. Not just during the weeks before Open House. Not just as a reminder when the application or financial aid deadlines near. But ALL. THE. TIME.

So how can schools respond?

Even well-reputed schools must increasingly go beyond simply posting adorable photos of the sixth-grade field trip with the caption “Sixth graders had a great time at the Air and Space Museum!” Instead, they must help the uninitiated decode the message in the photos. And whenever possible, must tie the event or activity to pedagogy, academic program, and school culture.

Sixth-graders got an inside look at how history, physics, and politics merged during our visit to the Air and Space Museum. We examined how the Space Race catapulted engineers, scientists, and mathematicians to new discoveries— all to ensure the Russians didn’t get too far ahead of us! It’s part of our Cold War study, which students incorporate into grade-wide presentations later this year.

While this kind of post requires a bigger investment from the communications team—to connect with the teachers involved to get an authentic picture of the value of the experience—it also does far more heavy lifting in appealing to prospects than a straight-tell caption could ever do. While we’d all like the admissions work to be wrapped up in late spring, technology and market forces have changed the game. So remember to shape every public-facing message through a marketing and positioning lens all year long—not just in the fall. And have a little patience with those running-late Millennials. They simply want to make the very best choice for their child. And that, increasingly, takes time.

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by Dr. Leslie Batty,  CRANE writer 

It is always during a passing state of mind
that we make lasting resolutions.
Marcel Proust

It seems as if the new year just started, but here in Atlanta we’re swiftly rounding the corner into spring. Our dogwoods and our Blue Ridge foothills and our weather-beaten, ill-fated Falcons banners are awash in a glorious, clear light.

As we look back on the winter that was at the crane offices, we notice that 2017’s herd of new year’s resolutions has already been rather dramatically culled. Originally they included the tried and true inclinations to climb more stairs and eat less caramel, to practice gratitude and get to bed at a decent hour. A few colleagues pledged to watch less television and one was determined to spend more time roasting more things in a Big Green Egg.


Most of these promises were left out, in what passes for the cold here, sometime in early January.  Now, at the three-month mark, it seems the resolutions that survived are ones that aligned most closely and meaningfully with our existing values. Our nature-loving colleague has made good on her promise to hit the mountain trails twice a week. Our resident bibliophile is plowing through his book-per-week at top speed. The office sugar junkies/caramel disavowers, however, have long since slunk back to the candy drawer in our company kitchen.

The bottom line seems to be that we strive most strongly toward more of whatever already resonates with us. And perhaps that’s why new year’s resolutions, for all their storied fragility, tend to be substantial rather than superficial. The best resolution—the one most deeply felt and the most likely to stick—is really just a promise to circle back to the best of what’s already in us.

The same undercurrent of authenticity shapes our work at CRANE year round. Our clients don’t come to us to be reinvented, but for help to reintroduce their existing, differentiating truths. To flesh out what they already do beautifully. To better connect with the kinds of students and families they already serve brilliantly. Together, we resolve to create powerful, enduring messaging that sticks—because it connects to the best of what was already there all along, waiting to be excavated and exclaimed.

Magnifying Glass Old Book Dark Globe Lantern


Making your magic marketable: translating teaching for best-fit families

by Dr. Leslie Batty,  CRANE writer 


We are what we repeatedly do.

We live in a mysterious world where, every day, things happen that defy explanation. We’re not just referring to mental telepathy, housecats riding Roombas, or just about every aspect of the current presidential campaign here.

We’re also talking about people expertly knitting socks and easing pineapple upside-down cakes out of pans and onto platters perfectly intact—all without the slightest intimation of how to explain the technique of what they’ve just accomplished. Turns out, doing and explaining are two vastly different feats.

It’s no surprise, then, that sometimes we see even the best educators struggling to explain themselves. To define their pedagogy. To tell us how they do what they do so well.

And we find that even truly awesome teachers can retreat into the shorthand of buzzwords. Or simply knit their brows or throw up their hands in frustration. And, good gracious, rightly so. It’s hard to explain how teachers teach and how learners learn—to pin down that kind of pure magic—in mere words.

This presents a pressing dilemma. If transformative teaching is so difficult to define—even for experienced teachers—how can we ever hope to convey an illuminating, inspiring sense of how it all works in your school, in ways that reach prospective families?

The answer lies in backtracking from wobbly ontological abstractions to something much more concrete. In short, we ask educators better questions: Not what is your teaching philosophy? but what do you do in real time for real students?  Not tell us about your methods but show us your best moves. And when we pose the right queries, we get the most revealing and relevant responses. We get stories and examples and memories—and profound, powerful insights into how your school helps students learn.

Toward a clearer view(book)
A few years ago, St. George’s Independent School was puzzling over how to make their innovative methods more accessible to Memphis, where tradition is vitally important and classic pedagogy is deeply respected. Fortunately, St. George’s teachers are intentional, reflective, and effusive about their teaching, and they were able to flesh out how the SGIS approach woProcessed with VSCOcam with m3 presetrks in human, anecdotal terms.

They detailed day-to-day activities and outlined year-long projects. They described assignments and shared touching, specific, individual outcomes. And at the end of our discussions, we funneled these vibrant slices of the St. George’s experience into vivid scenes.

At St. George’s, your child also inventories the supplies for a make-believe pizzeria and tracks the movements of an imaginary herd of buffalo. Later, he studies photosynthesis on the sun-dappled paths of a nearby nature preserve and hikes through a cavern to explore the bat habitats he’s been studying in class.

Instead of listing subjects and skill sets to tout what St. George’s students are learning—addition and subtraction, ecology and history—we offer a series of snapshots to show prospective parents how they learn.

At St. George’s, your child also uses scientific principles to design a golf course. He applies an understanding of forces and vectors to the construction of nine holes and adds an electronic circuit to notify players when they sink a putt. And then he donates the game to the junior kindergarten for field day.

Rather than unleashing an avalanche of jargon to claim experiential learning, problem-solving assignments, project-based learning, service learning, and real-world concepting, we invite prospective families to view all these methods through the lens of a single, multi-disciplinary project.

Starting with evocative examples of what your teachers and students do every day in the classroom equips your school with the details you need to translate your transformative pedagogy clearly and compellingly. Like a cat on a Roomba, the best teaching can’t really be explained. It must be seen, if only in the mind’s eye, to be believed.





  1. When a faculty member convinces her institution to collaborate with Crane MetaMarketing on a full branding program, she receives one free Roomba as a referral bonus. Actually, I don’t think that’s a thing, but we should really think about it.

  2. This took me back to when I was writing my first teaching philosophy. It is certainly a struggle to put effective teaching into words, even for an English professor, so it’s wonderful to see your creative solution to that dilemma. The only problem is that now my cats are demanding a Roomba.

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