How Archival Footage Can Reveal the Soul of Your Liberal Arts College (and Make Your Video Shareable)

How Archival Footage Can Reveal the Soul of Your Liberal Arts College (and Make Your Video Shareable)

A classic problem of marketing small, independent liberal arts colleges is that after a while, let’s face it, they tend to sound the same. It’s routine to tout the small class size, access to professors, a beautiful campus, academic rigor, the plethora of student activities, personalized curriculum, alumni success stories, etc.

When creating a video for a fundraising campaign or for admissions, it’s our job as filmmakers to tap into the soul of an institution, to excavate the true differentiators and then highlight them. Each school has a personality, with different traits and eccentricities, the question is how to imbue the marketing materials, in our case video, with those qualities, so they’re distinguishable in a clear and compelling way. So they’re telling the real story.

Agnes Scott College is an all-women’s college that punches above its weight. The quality of education and intellectual rigor attracts (and graduates) exceptional women who tend to be determined free-thinkers.

During the pre-production process for Agnes Scott’s campaign film, we discovered a piece of archival footage that illustrates the character of the the school and its students. In the 1950s, the televised GE College Bowl pitted the women of Agnes Scott against a College Bowl goliath, Princeton University.  

We incorporated the footage into the opening of the film, and juxtaposed it against contemporary interviews of the women on the winning team, creating a powerful narrative.

Here’s a clip of the final campaign video:

Could we have creating the film using only the contemporary interviews? Of course! But  the use of archival footage amplifies a sense of nostalgia and pride that’s infectious. The Agnes Scott campaign, “The Greatness Before Us,” exceeded its $100 Million goal by almost $16 Million.

By connecting the school’s history to the present, visually creating a throughline, viewers absorb the fact that the character and determination remains unchanged. The key message is this: the Agnes Scott student is unique...formidable...exceptional.

A few years after the video was released we showed it to an alum who happened to be in our office. It made her misty-eyed. She asked for the link, and forwarded the video to her friends.

Connecting to the tradition of an institution and evoking this kind of emotion encourages sharing. When people share a video, they’re making an attempt at sharing the way they felt while watching it themselves.

Accessing archival footage can be a vivid reminder of how a college shapes individual lives, consistently, over decades. By folding in old footage, new videos shimmer with a sense of history that can’t be manufactured, and evoke the soul of a place without really trying. That comes across in a powerful way that can be utilized for admissions or fundraising.  

Maintaining digital archives may seem like an easier project than storing old metal film canisters. However changes in format and technology can render footage unplayable. We’re not suggesting you have to be the library of Congress, but it’s important to have an archivist maintain and adequately label and tag old footage.

It’s worth formalizing an archival program for your video and audio footage, not just for historical purposes, but for utilizing in your marketing here and now.  (And, if you have questions about archiving, you can always contact us.)