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.


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

Precise, interesting, and true: how modifiers can invigorate your school’s marketing language

by Dr. Ann Gelder, CRANE writer 

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.
–Stephen King
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Can Stephen King help you market your school?


Surely no one knows more than Stephen King about the road to hell—or successful writing. And many education professionals seem to agree with his view of modifiers. Adverbs as well as adjectives, they believe, are at best unnecessary adornments to the central message, and at worst insincere, even false.

But is spare, unadorned prose the best path for conveying your institution’s identity?

At CRANE, we take King’s point as a caution, not a doctrine. We believe there’s another road, paved with elegantly deployed modifiers, that can lead prospective families, honestly and effectively, to choosing your school.

King dislikes adverbs for two main reasons. First, as he explains in On Writing, a Memoir of the Craft, they can indicate weakness in the surrounding prose:

Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really needs to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me … but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door?

You’ll get no argument from us on the importance of active verbs (He closed the door rather than The door was closed by him) or of specificity (choosing slammed vs. closed). Making such decisions, word by word, sentence by sentence, remains critical to good writing—whether it’s a suspense novel or a school’s About Us page.

We also agree that the context of every sentence matters. You can’t expect one sentence, and certainly not one adverb in that sentence, to carry the show when the rest of the actors aren’t doing their jobs.

But what if you have met these requirements? Does that render all adverbs—and adjectives—unnecessary?

Not—as King himself suggests here—if you need to make fine distinctions in meaning. And, because you’re writing about what makes your school stand out from all other top schools in your area, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

By all means, ask yourself if firmly really needs to be there. But remember that sometimes, the answer is yes. Other times, you may still need a modifier—just a different one.

Which brings us to King’s second point:


[Adverbs] are like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day … fifty the day after that … and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally,  completely, and profligately covered with dandelions.

It’s certainly possible to overuse modifiers. Especially—as King hints—if those particular modifiers are not good. Of the three adverbs he highlights here, two—totally and completely—just can’t do the work. Sensing their inadequacy, the writer (that is, the struggling writer King’s pretending to be here) starts piling on more of the same, in an effort to shore up the words’ weakness. The reader, in turn, detects the writer’s lack of confidence, and so misses or doubts the underlying message—the lawn, as it were.

On the other hand, profligately is an interesting, specific adverb that looks bad only because of the other, unhelpful words leading up to it. To us, that’s a crucial distinction that King’s anti-adverbial zeal glosses over.

Instead of categorizing all modifiers as weeds, what if you carefully plant only precise, interesting, and true modifiers in your prose? Might the beautiful green expanse of your message leap forth even more vividly?

Take a look at the Portrait of a Graduate page on the website of St. George’s Independent School,* paying special attention to the adverbs and adjectives. What do you think?


*St. George’s is a CRANE client.

Warming your website welcome letter: from navigational chart to intriguing invitation

by Dr. Ann Gelder, CRANE writer 

The newest computer can merely compound, at speed,
the oldest problem in the relations between human beings,
and in the end the communicator will be confronted
with the old problem of what to say and how to say it.

–Edward R. Murrow


In approximately one million ways, computers have compounded the problem of what to say, and how we say it.

Your school’s website presents a case in point. Especially as busy, distracted, often anxious prospective parents comb through your site—plus those of five or ten or more other schools— looking for … what, exactly?

AP offerings and athletic teams, college matriculation lists and tuition costs—yes, no doubt. But above and beyond the nuts and bolts, your prospects seek a way in.

Not just your admissions procedures, but the key to understanding who you are as a school. For that, more often than not, they turn to the Head of School’s Welcome page.

And then, just possibly, they turn away again.

Because, just possibly, the welcome letter wasn’t quite what they were hoping for. Instead of quickly and powerfully conveying what your school, and only your school, offers, the letter might, for example, dash through a few paragraphs of generic jargon (“We value critical thinking, diversity, and a whole-child approach”), followed by a brief and probably unnecessary site-navigation guide (“Click on Athletics to learn about our sports programs”). And so, rather than “Welcome! Come on in!,” the prospect may hear, “Move along. Nothing more to see here.”

We’re not saying that every school’s welcome letter reads like this. Even if many do, they haven’t necessarily lost a prospect. But a less-than-optimal welcome letter represents a missed opportunity to draw the prospect further into your school’s world.

So what goes into a really welcoming welcome letter?

Writing Clipart 349

Take a look at your letter, and see if it includes these essential elements:

  • A clear, differentiating statement of your school’s vision. What kinds of individuals, thinkers, and citizens do you help create? How and why? *

At Langley, we know children’s social and emotional acuity is critical to their academic success—that’s why we intentionally nurture both in equal measure. We graduate uncommonly optimistic, grounded, poised, and kind learners and thinkers—citizens of the world, wholly prepared to thrive in the nation’s top high schools, and to lead lives of integrity and self-defined purpose. (Elinor Scully, The Langley School, McLean, Virginia)

  • Specific, differentiating examples of your vision in action.

Trevor’s school architecture embodies [our] commitment to children. Student-centered common spaces define the Trevor experience. Here, teachers and students collaborate in a dynamic manner, and together, navigate a classic curriculum that leads to academic mastery, innovative thinking, and a global perspective. (Scott R. Reisinger, Trevor Day School, New York, New York)

  • A compelling sense of what it’s like to learn and grow at this school every day, not just for students, but for parents, teachers, and staff members, too.

You hear, in the laughter and excitement of our lower school students, the lure of curiosity and the thrill of discovery. You see, in the faces of our middle school students, the joy they find in discovering emerging interests and latent talents. You feel, in the passionate exchanges among our upper school students, the confidence that comes when sustained and focused investigations reveal to them their own values and convictions. For all of our students, learning is powerful and transformative, and it’s a great pleasure to watch it unfold. (Christopher P. Garten, The Seven Hills School, Cincinnati, Ohio)

  • A warm, engaging voice that doesn’t just tell prospects who you are, but actually embodies your school’s and your head’s (merged) personalities.

When I walk through our light-filled hallways and see our 4th graders discussing the nuances of evolution and revolution then and now, Kindergarteners installing Goldsworthy-inspired art in our hallways, 2nd graders preparing to present their history of the Seaport to a community board hearing, 4-year-olds performing plays based on original beanstalk stories that grew out of their study of edible plants… I know we have unearthed a secret that many have spoken about but not enough experience: powerful, deep learning is joyful. (Allison Gaines Pell, The Blue School, New York, New York)

In each of these letters, the schools, through their heads, express themselves. In a few paragraphs, they give prospects a memorable and meaningful sense of who they are, what they do, and—always, always, always—why.

sm-Oakwood_ATP_0515126_LR* *Disclosure: Each of these schools has been a CRANE client.