The Story of Omer, the Admissions Guy

 
Omer’s evil twin steals the punchline of King’s Academy’s 2017 video about their Academic Program.

Omer’s evil twin steals the punchline of King’s Academy’s 2017 video about their Academic Program.

 
 
 

It all started in 2016.

Omer the Admissions Guy is by far our greatest claim to fame. We have made seven videos of the same style for King’s Academy, each has been wildly successful in their own right. King’s has seen unprecedented growth in admissions numbers and their international profile has proliferated.

It started with a wacky idea.

In 2015 we were making some videos for King’s Academy, my alma mater, none of which were particularly noteworthy. We were quickly growing tired of a style of work we had barely started. It was taking the fun out of something I considered my passion. There was no way we could develop a long term career on foundations like those. After watching dozens of admissions videos, our only real takeaway was that private schools around the world felt uncomfortably similar to one another. When Vera Azar, director of communications and PR at King’s wrote me asking if I’d be interested in making a quick ‘yield video’. She did not know what lay in store.

Hi Rob and Alesi

What are your plans for the coming few weeks – interested in coming to Jordan to do a short (one to two-minute) “yield” video to send out to newly admitted students in early March? Let me know your thoughts.
— Vera Azar, January 18, 2016

We resolved to make a different, more memorable video, for two distinct reasons: The first was that if every school was producing the same videos, it left space for King’s to go the other way to stand out. The second was a matter of efficiency—from a production perspective, talking head videos are a time-sink. The interviews take a long time to make, there is rarely a guarantee of good usable phrases with the right intonation (without scripting), and the editing process can take weeks, or more. There was definitely a much quicker (and better) way to make videos for schools.

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With its selective program, vast campus, and substantial tuition (especially by local standards), King’s was developing a reputation of exclusivity around the small Kingdom of Jordan, a reputation it did not deserve considering its inclusive mission. To address this, I intended to use tongue-in-cheek humor for the yield video. Humor is disarming, memorable, inclusive, and most importantly, it speaks to the kids. They were, after all, the target audience.

The idea for “This Could Be Your School Too” resulted from my team researching marketing campaigns we enjoyed and decided to pay homage to. With an eye on Volvo’s Jean Claude Van Damme truck stunt and Old Spice’s “I’m on a Horse” spot, I approached Omer Khalayleh, admissions officer and international student recruitment manager at King’s, with a bold proposal. Omer was to be the charismatic host of King’s Academy, “Omer the Admissions Guy.”

Omer was beaming with enthusiasm the moment we pulled him into the room with this idea. Up until then I didn’t know him too well. I went to school with his equally charismatic brother Abdullah and knew of Omer. He had an acting background and was naturally the perfect subject for these videos. To think that there were some naysayers that were cavilling about his British accent not being representative of an American school.

The issue here was getting two golf carts of different makes to drive exactly the same speed. Had we really tried, I think Omer would have done the full splits.

The issue here was getting two golf carts of different makes to drive exactly the same speed. Had we really tried, I think Omer would have done the full splits.

What makes Omer such a perfect choice is not necessarily his British accent, though is sure helps. Omer is through and through Jordanian on his paternal side. He grew up in Zarqa, a region of Jordan that is far more traditional and far less ‘westernised’ than the capital, Amman. Omer retains a very strong cultural connection to the roots of Jordan, his Arabic is of a clear local dialect and his family is very well respected. Jordanian audiences can be sensitive to the whitewashing of their culture and King’s was treading carefully to make sure that wouldn’t happen. Having Omer in front of the camera was a safe bet, because no Jordanian could claim that Omer was not one of them. The result was that Jordanians and non-Jordanians alike were delighted at the video.

When the cameras are switched off, Omer is a quiet and humble presence, though his charm remains. Cameras or not Omer is certainly one of the most charming people I have been able to work with. He delights everybody in the room with his quick wit and welcoming demeanour. There is no doubt Omer is naturally talented, it is however important to go on record and mention that it sometimes takes him forty takes to get a line right, especially a complicated one in terms of back and forth timings with other actors. Nobody is perfect, not even Omer the Admissions Guy.

What makes the story even better is that Omer is actually an admissions officer at King’s. Just imagine Omer traveling around the world to admissions events, playing these videos and standing quietly next to the screen as the audience watches this professional, experienced admissions officer take on another persona on camera. Day after day he turns stone-faced audiences into paparazzi photographers.

To be continued.

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