Ink versus Think

David Ogilvy was an advertising guru — and much, much more. He was a sous chef. A traveling salesman. A pollster. A spy. A tobacco farmer. And a kilt-wearer. You might think I made that last one up, but it’s true! So, when a man like this talks, I listen.

One of Ogilvy’s maxims was, “It’s not the ink; it’s the think.” He knew that client deliverables were much more than an end unto themselves. All the data, research, and resulting marketing had to be grounded in a coherent, comprehensive strategy serving the end goal. “The ink” — the stuff you deliver, without “the think” — proper planning, doesn’t amount to any more than a hill of beans.

But I’m not an advertising guru. Or a sous chef, although I do love to cook. For that matter, I’m not a member of any of the other intriguing professions on Ogilvy’s list. I’m an architect whose work is campus planning for independent schools. Still, “It’s not the ink, it’s the think” has proved crucial to success in my profession.

Take a long-time client, a prominent day school renowned for the quality of its science facilities back in the heyday of the space race when they were built. A donor with fond memories of the cutting-edge science from his student days approached the school and suggested it explore modernizing its facilities.

The school engaged in a detailed exploration of the request. After performing due diligence on the existing buildings, which had served the school well for decades, they looked toward making necessary but incremental changes. A good deal of time and effort went into working out the details, including several technical illustrations showing how the work could be done.

The school took the work and its modest costs for improvements and repairs to the donor, who looked at it briefly before announcing that the proposal wasn’t as broad as he’d envisioned. The school leaders realized the donor was thinking far beyond simply fixing up the existing facilities.

Campus plans are not drawings, although they are often equated with each other.

Blanchard Group was subsequently engaged to have another look. Having worked with the school for many years on its campus planning and development, we jumped right in. Starting with the big strategic questions, the “what is and what could be,” we undertook research, studied the history of science on campus, and engaged with a variety of scholars from within and outside the sciences and the school.

Our inquiries explored what a primary science education looked like when the facilities were built, what it looks like now, and what we anticipate it might look like in the future. When we studied whether the existing facilities could accommodate the differences, the answer was, for the most part, no.

After considering the specifics of new space, the process produced a few supporting illustrations showing the proposed location and relationships between the new and those existing science spaces that could support a contemporary program. Illustrations were also developed showing how the proposed facility could enhance campus form and organization — particularly related to patterns of student use and a hub of academic activity.

When we took the work, along with its considerably higher costs to the donor, his response was worlds away from the previous effort. He was inspired, so much so that he gave the school the lead and naming gift to kick off the building campaign.

The interesting thing is that the donor wasn’t moved by “the ink” — there were, after all, only a few illustrations. He was persuaded by “the think” — the big questions that were asked and answered to make a compelling case for transformational change.

This illuminates a basic truth about campus planning. Campus plans are not drawings, although they are often equated with each other. Campus plans aren’t even roadmaps, as some people call them. Campus planning is a process; its aim is connecting institutional imperatives with donor interest and capacity.

I think even a kilt-wearing advertising guru would agree.