Admissions, Bah Humbug

Abacus image from the Slide Rule Museum

Article originally published in the International Admissions Bulletin – issue 4, and on the OpenApply website.

I am a Business Manager, a title that conjures up the stereotype of the bespectacled Ebenezer Scrooge, hunched over his abacus, counting the sheckles, and sardonically berating anyone who dares to suggests an expense that lies outside the approved budget. Sometimes this is true, but more often than not nowadays the miserly behaviour of old Mr Scrooge has become a relic of the Dickensian era. The new and improved version of the Business Manager has a thorough understanding of all the school systems such as HR, IT, Operations, Marketing, Finance and Admissions. We actively engage with all the different department heads and in smaller schools we perform many of these tasks ourselves. We do a bit of everything except teach, and some of us have done that as well.

The other stereotypical comment I hear a lot is that ‘anyone can do admissions’. Well I can honestly tell you that this perspective is a load of hogwash. It is a generalisation held by people who have never had to do the job, or worse, have forgotten how hard it was.

What I have learned during my thirty-something years as a senior manager is to keep an open mind and listen to people. I am not just referring to the CEO or the Board of Directors, who are obviously very important and need your undivided attention, but you need to listen to your colleagues, and in an International School setting the Admissions Officer is key.

The Admissions Officer is the face of the school, a responsibility that carries a very heavy weight. To do so effectively the Admissions Officer needs to know the intricate workings of the school. Cafeteria menus, uniforms, bus timetables and after school activities are items that frequently come up for discussion during the enrollment process. A level of understanding of the curriculum is important too when it comes to presentations and school tours. Then there is the wider school community where influential groups such as the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) need to be taken into consideration when it comes to supporting a new family.

The Admissions Officer has to have faith in the Head of School, the teaching staff and the academic quality of the education provided. Any member of the Admissions team that is not prepared to send their own children to the school speaks volumes to a prospective parent. Many schools offer free or reduced tuition fees for their Academic staff. It is my considered opinion that Admissions staff should receive the same cost benefits, otherwise it becomes very difficult to explain to prospective parents why their children are not at the school.

An Admissions Officer not only needs to be empathetic towards the concerns of the enrolling family, but must balance that empathy with courage to suggest alternative solutions if the school does not have the right facilities for their child. They will deal with happiness, sadness, confusion, anger, trepidation and delight, often all within the first meeting, which quite often requires them to be able to read between the lines. Management of such varied and diverse personalities is a difficult task that the Admissions Officer will perform with courtesy and respect.

For new families, factors such as visa restrictions, political ideals and the economic climate lie outside the sphere of influence of many schools, but local rules and regulations will have a significant impact on the enrollment process, and a good Admissions Officer will be across many of the issues that face these families. For example: many international schools in Vietnam have a cap on the amount of Vietnamese Nationals that can be enrolled. Breaching this cap can lead to fines and problems with the Ministry of Education and Training. With such a high demand for an international education it is not uncommon for families to exert whatever influence they might have in order to secure a place at the school. When this happens the propensity to begin enrolling students who are not ‘mission appropriate’ increases, which has a long-term negative impact upon the wider school community.

In Oman the Ministry of Education has strict guidelines on the content of Arabic that must be taught in their schools. It is also mandatory for Omani students to be taught Arabic as a first language, regardless of whether it is spoken at home. My school is an International Baccalaureate PYP School catering for expatriate children and Omanis alike. We are in the process of incorporating the local Arabic curriculum with the IB, which is no easy task. The aim of our Admissions team is to maintain a ratio of 50% Omani students and 50% expatriate students. This makes timetabling easier to manage and assists in staff recruitment. Our team also try to ensure a healthy mix of boys and girls. It is a convoluted process, aided by OpenApply, but still requiring a significant amount of human interaction. This is where a good Admissions team can really shine.

Last April I attended a training course in Doha, Qatar. The theme of the course was ‘Bringing Admissions to the Leadership Table’ and I was dismayed to learn that the Admissions Officer was still not considered to be part of the Senior Leadership Team within many schools. As a Business Manager my main responsibility is to ensure the financial stability of the school. There are many stakeholders involved in this process and I have always considered the Admissions team to be an integral part of the group. Whether you work in a non-profit or a proprietary school the pressure is on to fill places and cover costs. The Admissions team provide the Finance department with up-to-date student numbers and enrollment trends. I rely on their knowledge and expertise every year when setting the budget and without this support many of the key financial decisions that I make would become much more difficult.

In my experience Admissions is a very personal task requiring compassion, courage, empathy, strength of character and a high degree of intelligence. The admissions process cannot be templated or streamlined as it requires the right person, with an appropriate skill set, in order to be done correctly. I encourage you dear reader not to ‘Bah, humbug’ Admissions. Bring them to the leadership table of your school.

Please Support The NeuRA Big Run

Several years ago my mum had a stroke, which scared the hell out of us I can assure you. None of us had had any experience with stroke and the prospect was daunting. Fortunately mum recovered well, thank goodness, and got on with her life.

A few weeks ago mum had another minor episode and although I was just as worried, my knowledge of the disease, its symptoms and treatments had been greatly enhanced by my employment at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), an independent not-for-profit research institute, based in Sydney.

I look after twordbrainhe Digital Strategy and Online Marketing for NeuRA. They are leading the field in brain and nervous system research, and their goal is to prevent, treat and cure brain and nervous system diseases, disorders and injuries through medical research. They cover a myriad of health areas including dementia, motor neurone disease (ALS), Alzheimer’sParkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and stroke, to name but a few.

Sitting with my mum in hospital I was able to better comprehend the information the neurosurgeon and physicians were telling her. I understood the path to recovery and the processes mum had to follow. I have received advice from some of the doctors and professors here at NeuRA and mum has once again recovered well and is now enrolled in one of NeuRA’s many study programs.

It has been enlightening to work with so many brilliant researchers and PhD students, and it has been an absolute pleasure supporting these amazing people by promoting their work through online channels such as FaceBook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Wikipedia.

And that’s what this post is about, supporting effective health research.

Australia is a big country, with big health issues. It is estimated that nearly 1,000,000 Australian’s will suffer a form of dementia by 2050, and even today 1 in 5 Australians – that’s 20% – suffer with a disease or injury of the brain or nervous system.

This is why I have volunteered to be part of the crew supporting the participants taking part in The NeuRA Big Run.

In May a team of eight intrepid fitness fanatics, comprised of doctors, professors, researchers and employees of NeuRA, will pound the pavement from Canberra to Sydney to raise over $50K for neuroscience research. Departing the nation’s capital early on May 3, this 28 hour relay will cover almost 300km and have the team finishing absolutely stuffed at NeuRA Randwick in the afternoon of May 4.

As well as raising vital funds, the team aims to increase awareness of disorders like those listed above, and draw attention to the dedicated researchers who give their life to finding new and innovative cures and treatments.

You can follow their progress via the hashtag #NeuRAChallenge or, more importantly, you can support these brave, and slightly crazy, individuals by donating here. And if you mention Matt’s Notes in the Donor Message section I’ll give you a special shout out on my blog 🙂


Blippar The AR Monster

Augmented reality (AR) has had a relatively slow uptake amongst magazine publishers and media agencies however publishers globally are beginning to see AR as an opportunity to innovate and even create new revenue streams, thus reinforcing the power of print. The recent takeover of AR company Layar, by image recognition platform Blippar, is poised to create a leviathan in the AR world that will generate a major push towards a broader adoption of augmented reality.

“Blippar’s takeover of Layar has
caused shockwaves in the
augmented reality market,
and rightly so – it is the most
important acquisition yet within
this sector.” – Output Magazine

Recently I had the pleasure in sharing breakfast with Ms. Kate Russell, an ex-pat Australian executive previously employed by Layar and who is now the Strategic Accounts Director for Blippar – based in their Amsterdam offices.

Tell me Kate, what did the purchase of Layar mean to you and your colleagues?

“Although both companies will continue to operate as separate entities for a while, Blippar have begun incorporating our staff and clients into their systems. By joining forces we have now effectively created the largest AR reach in the world. Together, we are the undisputed leader of Augmented Reality and visual browsing with offices in the US, UK, Europe and Asia.”

So what has the takeover meant for your clients?

“The deal represents an exciting opportunity for clients of both businesses –the combining of two of the globally leading AR platforms and all the data and best-practice that both business have accumulated. Together we have over 100,000 users of either the Blippbuilder or Layar Creator platform spread throughout around 5,000 publishers and brands that use our products. Publishing companies such as Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith have enjoyed the success of AR campaigns as have major brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Procter & Gamble.”

Output Magazine has reported that the takeover of Layar by Blippar is one of the most important acquisitions ever within the augmented reality sector. Would you agree?

“Definitely. Independent research has shown that mobile AR apps are tipped to generate $5.2 billion in revenues by 2017 and that customers are 165% more likely to buy a product that includes an AR marketing component. To be the leading provider of AR solutions at this time provides a wonderful mix of benefits for our clients and the company as a whole.”

So interactive print really offers significant advantages to publishers and advertisers?

“For sure. Our research shows that people viewing interactive print will click on the content 87% of the time. That is a major improvement on engagement over static advertising. Publishers can now measure how their readers interact with the printed version, which is of great value to them.”

That’s great news for publishers and marketers. So when do you think you’ll be moving back to Australia?

“Ha ha. Well I think the Australian market is ready to embrace interactive print so I don’t think it will be long before we have a more permanent presence here.”

We hope so too.

For more information on Blippar and Layar please follow the links to their websites and you can contact Kate on

Show Me Shomi

Publishing industry takes a page out of the future with Aussie startup Shomi.

Australian-based tech startup Shomi has potentially invigorated the future of the publishing industry with the release of their new scannable font-based code. It’s similar to a QR code in its capacity for mobile linking, but Shomi’s insight and design-led thinking has innovated the entire scanning process and with it, possibly the publishing industry too.

“The purpose was to simply link
print to digital content with
the use of a font-based code,”
says founder Tony Williams.

With function and form in mind, Shomi has created an iconic nine-character font code that when uniquely generated may be copied and pasted into any material or line of text, in any colour. This succinct alternative to QR codes is a godsend to designers used to the obtuse mobile linking graphics, and grants access to a new world of interactivity potential for publishers.

Mobile Linking Technology (MLT) was developed by the Japanese automotive industry in 1994 for tracking parts. However, the codes from this system (QR codes) contain far more data than required when used in a broader application, such as multimedia links from printed media. This lack of translation has led to graphic design challenges and low uptake of the technology. Shomi have now addressed this.

“We’re excited to see how it might
be used in different contexts, like
how we could integrate traditional
teaching with interactive learning,”
says Williams.

Alongside the streamlined code, the startup has produced an easy to use, standardised scanning application. Their in-text code and compatibility with augmented reality scanners such as Google Glass means Shomi offers a new world of interactive potential for printed and digital media.

The application features include a scan history and a social media component for sharing user scans across customers’ personal networks.

Standardising the scanning tool also provides innovation for marketing departments, with a clean user interface, scan-tracking analytics, pay-per-scan options and engagement insights for better placement of advertisements.

“Because only the Shomi software
can read the Shomi code,
we capture more data and
we can offer a safe and
consistent end-user experience,”
says Williams.

Indications suggest that Shomi’s concept is solid, with kudos coming in from the tech industry. Google Australia handpicked Shomi to participate in their startup program held in Sydney in 2014. Shomi are also finalists in Anthill magazine’s 2014 SMART 100, and clients such as Deloitte Digital are giving positive feedback.

Consumer uptake of MLT is now showing solid growth despite a slow start. According to Forrest Research, smartphone users that made use of a QR or 2D barcode in a given month was measured at only 1% in 2010, but by 2011 it had jumped to 5%, and by 2012 usage was up to 8%. In 2012, digital monitors ComScore reported a 96% increase in European QR code usage for the year, and a recent Adobe survey showed around a third of those surveyed had used the technology in the past three months.

Despite other mobile linking alternatives such as image recognition technology (IRT) and optical character recognition coming to market, there appears to be a space for simplicity. End users of IRT still need to be educated that an image is scannable, and the technology can be resource intensive for smartphones.

The Shomi app is free to download and use from the website, with basic analytics offered in the freemium version. The startup is looking for seed funding and is currently running a Publishing Partners Program, with special incentives for a limited number of selected publishers.ShomiHomePage

Talk to Tony Williams for more information.

Tony Williams, Founder and CEO,

0412 784 850

Use Shomi for free at

Dots or Pixels? An Interview With Adobe

Last year I was interviewed by Adobe for their digital magazine MyExpression. Here is a copy of the article for you.

Dots or pixels? Why not both? Publishers must embrace both print and digital editions to keep their mastheads strong, says Publishers Australia GM Matthew Green.

Magazines—whether niche or for the masses—lie firmly in the hearts and minds of designers and consumers. But magazines, like newspapers, have had a rough couple of years, with many publications suffering declining readerships and smaller profit margins, and some long-running titles even closing their doors. It goes without saying that the internet and digital technology have had a profound impact on this sector.

“Great design, backed with quality
content, is the key to a magazine’s
success, be it digital or print.”

Despite the uncertainty in publishing, there is still plenty of opportunity for excellence. Last November, the 2012 Magazine Week Conference, Exhibition and Excellence Awards, hosted by industry group Publishers Australia, celebrated the best in print and digital publishing. Major award winners included industry publication The Adviser, custom publication INTHEBLACK and foodie favourite donna hay magazine. Digital publishing and online integration was one of the main focuses of the conference side of the event: “Most of the feedback from Magazine Week indicated that publishers are interested in social media, digital publishing and sales strategies,” says Publishers Australia general manager Matthew Green.

The print/digital mix
The uptake of tablets in Australia has been one of the key drivers changing the way people consume media. Tablets are being sold at a phenomenal rate, with technology research consultancy Telsyte Services predicting more than 11 million Australians will own tablets by 2016—more than three times the 2012 figure. Despite these figures, Green points out that Australian publishers have “been a bit slow on the uptake with respect to tablet devices” to date.

“Print and digital is
the future for any
magazine seeking a
wide audience”, says
Matthew Green

Going digital has different meanings depending on the publication. “Some publishers have selected tablet or web-only strategies and dropped their print editions altogether. For example, Encore magazine has recently shifted from a monthly print [issue] to a weekly digital-only title,” Green says. But he goes on to say the drop in ad revenue indicates a major disconnect remains between media buying and magazine publishing.

Augmented reality is bridging the gap between print and digital, using apps with print magazines to unlock extra features such as videos, image galleries, online shopping and more. “Both Pacific and Bauer have apps for Apple and Android … I suspect more will be coming in the future,” Green notes. Watch out for apps coming soon to your favourite print reads to enhance your overall experience.

Enduring elements
While the industry continues to adapt and grow along with changing technology, some things still haven’t changed. In Green’s opinion, to be an award-winning magazine, the central elements endure: “Great design, backed with quality content, is the key to a magazine’s success, be it digital or print. Classic techniques such as the choice of typography, selecting the perfect photograph and the judicious use of white space are just as relevant on the tablet device as they are on the page.”