Punahou School | Honolulu, HI
Speak the name Punahou, and heads turn across the educational world. Despite being located on the most isolated archipelago on earth, Punahou has long been at the leading edge of educational innovation, and the school’s influence, reputation, and example ripple far beyond Hawai`i. At the same time, Punahou could never be Punahou anywhere else, and its unique Hawaiian heritage and roots infuse the school with an inimitable spirit.
On the heels of a successful capital campaign and an impressively thoughtful and thorough self-study, Punahou didn’t need better numbers. But they needed better understanding around the pioneering work they were doing on campus, on O`ahu, and around the world.
Punahou staff member
Founded in 1841 by Congregationalist missionaries and built upon the fertile lands of Ka Punahou—a legendary spring at the center of campus—Punahou School celebrates a proud legacy and enjoys a well-deserved international reputation as a thought leader and beacon of independent education. And for good reason.
The school’s impressive features are encyclopedic: a diverse student body of 3,750 students and the myriad opportunities that come from being the largest independent school in the nation; a notable, ever-growing network of more than 30,000 alumni worldwide; an impressive list of curricular and programmatic achievements and honors; devoted teachers who are artisans of inquiry wielding real autonomy; self-directed, ambitious, and high-achieving students; a trusting, invested parent body and an expert and agile administration team—the list goes on.
But we wondered: Might Punahou’s uncommon size and scale and bountiful list of opportunities and accolades actually be diluting this school’s many-layered story? Do Honolulu, Hawai`i, and the world really know and understand the true Punahou?
The Punahou community longed to tell a powerful but concise story. The problem: The Punahou story is nothing if not complex. We asked: In a school with so much opportunity to offer students, how do we begin honing a distilled through-line to this extensive story? The answer lay in the question: The opportunity itself, not necessarily the outcome, is key.
Because of the school’s size and scale, not in spite of it, Punahou has the great opportunity to provide great opportunity. And the school doesn’t stop there. Punahou asks each community member to embrace every person, conversation, situation, or offering as a chance to learn and to grow—to continuously shape and define themselves. As a result, Punahou students learn to approach school, life, and the world as part of their broader classroom—a classroom that they choose—not just today or tomorrow, but throughout their futures.
The tagline begins and frames the conversation: “Define your classroom.” This statement immediately signals the school’s tailored approach that inspires and encourages each student to determine and then navigate the path they take—not only through Punahou and college, but throughout every day to come.
Across the entire messaging program, this same tone of respect for the audience melds with outcomes- focused writing, poignant, authentic community stories, and attention to lyricism evocative of Punahou’s storied past and reverence for deep, poetic meaning. By pairing immersive, artistic photos with abstract textures reminiscent of Hawai`i’s multifaceted landscape, people, and culture, the school invites the audience to understand the surrounding environment in a new and different way, cultivating a more expansive worldview.
Marked by subtle shifts of perspective and framing, Punahou’s new storytelling is intentionally curated to reveal and showcase what the school community already does so naturally. Speaking with an unapologetically bold yet humble voice, Punahou’s messaging unveils this pioneering community where the power of choice emboldens graduates to become effective, compatible partners in their communities, men and women who never stop seeking to find and define their classroom, five or even 50 years after graduation.
Punahou’s proficient communications department took the CRANE metaconcept and ran with it, producing vibrant new intro pieces targeted to both parents and students, and launching a new website that accurately and evocatively portrays the look, feel, spirit, and message that has long resided in the heart of Punahou, but, until now, escaped distillation and definition.