Q&A with Omer the Admissions Guy

To date, we have produced six Omer the Admissions Guy videos for King’s Academy.

  1. This Could be Your School Too

  2. It’s Good to be at King’s - Academics

  3. It’s Good to be at King’s - Cocurriculars

  4. It’s Good to be at King’s - University Counseling

  5. It’s Good to be at King’s - Middle School

  6. It’s Not a Competition

Whatever out-of-the-box ideas we bring to the table, Omer is on board. Whether we need him to ride a camel, rappel from a clocktower, dive into a pool in his three-piece suit, sink a three pointer without looking, or perform an entire scene backwards, there is little Omer won’t do for his school.

We got him on the phone to learn what the Omer the Admissions Guy brand has done for him and for King’s Academy.

How did you become Omer the Admissions Guy?

I was approached by our communications department in March of 2016 with what they claimed to be an exciting proposition. I was greeted by a full room of grinning faces, among which was Robert Bahou, an alumnus of King’s academy who graduated along with my brother, Abdullah. Rob explained that he wanted me to be the host of a video we were putting out to excite kids about King’s. I had little reason to say no. I was happy to do my bit for the school, though I had no perception of what would follow. Over the next week, between my routine admissions emails I would catch a few with a capitalised subject line like “CAN YOU DO THE SPLITS?” or “ARE YOU ABLE TO RIDE A HORSE?”. We were in for an adventure.

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Was the first video successful?

The video was by all accounts, a huge success. The number of inquiries and applications we received increased markedly (56% and 34% respectively), though there was definitely some initial nervousness about the video prior to its release. We Jordanians aren’t famous for our sense of humour, so this approach was not without its critics. There were reservations that humour may undermine King’s Academy’s prestigious reputation, but once we published all reservations went out the door. We saw a significant increase in interest and energy, and our reputation locally and internationally was elevated. King’s felt the impetus to leverage this by making five more videos later that year, which have become the staple of my traveling presentations. Families hear similar things from every school out there, and King’s is no exception, but they rarely come across videos quite like ours. All I have to say is “just watch the videos” and I’ll have 180 degree different interactions with them.

Why humour?

My former boss and mentor, the late and great MacGregor Robinson would always say, “We need to take our work seriously but we need to stop taking ourselves so seriously”. He knew very well that the best way to disarm and to include families was to make them laugh. Everybody likes to laugh, I think we can all agree on that. MacGregor was a big driving force in making these videos a reality, and the way he used them was magnificent. In our admissions tours he used the series as his silver bullet to turn a difficult crowd into a group of fans.

Selling Jordan is a tough ask. Our geography can easily dissuade potential families, though you’d never guess it from how tranquil our campus is. We find that the only way to give families an honest look at us is to show them how we laugh. So many international families experience that “you’re just like us” moment and suddenly are sold on the idea of Jordan just because of these videos.

For our audiences it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s an institution that is finally bringing down the walls and saying “we’re human, we’re a school, we value laughter and whatever we do, we do it well.”

How does the fact that you’re an admissions officer play a role regarding the videos?

Families often walk into our office and formally present themselves, as one should, and as soon as I walk in the formality dissolves. The ice is broken and they greet me like an old friend, although we may have never met. Before we had the videos I rarely knew where I stood or how to approach a new family, at this point, half the battle is already out of the way. It’s like walking into a Geico office and being served by the Gecko himself.

These videos are the jumping point for somebody’s digital first impression of King’s and when I’m on campus they’re the jumping point for somebody’s physical first impression. This is priceless. We are selling a boarding school, and one of the most important things is that a family feels comfortable and familiar. Would you consider sending your child to live among strangers?  

How do you feel the videos affected people’s first impressions?

They’ve transformed people’s first impressions of King’s Academy entirely. Right off the bat families are excited. I honestly didn’t think videos could affect so much of my interactions, first impressions are so incredibly important. We’re in a highly competitive international market where potential families will stroll and scroll past you if you don’t stand out. It is imperative that we make a strong first impression. We also know that videos often present a reality that a viewer can’t relate to, so when I present the videos personally, the audience starts connecting dots. They’ll look at me, back at the screen, then back at me and I can see the moment they’ve figured it all out. The very fact that I am standing on stage presenting, and I am in the video simultaneously, gives the audience the idea that King’s is grounded in reality, and by virtue of these videos, this reality is an exciting one. Families leave my presentations with a sense of enthusiasm and familiarity that I didn’t witness before we had these videos.

I get a lot of questions as to the fiction of these videos and the fiction of my character. Perhaps King’s should acquire a horse or a camel for me to ride around campus on, you know, to make sure we’re staying authentic.

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What has the Omer the Admissions Guy brand done for King’s as a whole?

We’ve seen very positive results aside from the increase in inquiries and applications, as that’s only where it started. I think that at this point most boarding schools in the world have seen these videos. We’re a young school so it is incredibly valuable for us to have such an internationally recognised brand.

I think most administrators will acknowledge that the unquantifiable moments often tell the story best.

Three years after the first release of our video, I’m still seeing the impact on a daily basis. Just last week I was interviewing a giddy twelve-year-old. I asked him why he was laughing and he said “You’re the guy from the videos.. I’m just excited”. The fact that kids are excited to be in an admissions interview speaks volumes about the mood around our office.

This morning I was asked to be in a photo with a girl and her father. A few weeks ago I had a very stern businessman type father walk in and turn into a gushing fan upon meeting me. The videos definitely make my professional interactions much more fun.

We had a faculty member tell us she left her post in California, from a school she co-founded no less, to move across the world and work at King’s Academy because she felt that these videos represented a school that was willing to be different, to be bold and to stand out. I really have hundreds of stories like these, many totally outside the realm of admissions.

Although I am the face of these videos, they are larger than myself. The entire series and brand has done wonders for our office and our school, and I know that MacGregor would be very proud.

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How is “Omer the Admissions Guy” different from Omer Khalayleh?

He is just a more assertive and extroverted version of myself. I definitely speak softer than he does, I'm certainly not as punchy, but I do think there is a lot of basis in reality. When I look up at that guy on the screen I don’t feel like I’m misrepresenting myself. In some respect I’ve sort of grown into the role, and in many respects the character was built around me. I do always wear three-piece suits, I occasionally don the pocket watch and the accent is real (I’ve been asked this many times).

Speaking of which, what’s the story about the accent?

The maternal side of my family is from the U.K. My brothers and I all speak with the same accent. On the other hand, the paternal side of the family is from a city called Zarqa, in Jordan. I grew up here though my British accent doesn’t give any hints to that. Arab families are often surprised to hear that my Arabic is at a higher level than my English. At some point we might create some videos fully in Arabic to do some local outreach.

How might other schools benefit by using a similar approach?

There’s a reason why companies hire spokespeople. People connect to faces, not to buildings, history, or your academic curriculum. A face you can associate with a school can be very valuable. Look inwardly, every school has characters, be it a student, faculty member, alumnus or even a board member. Boarding schools tend to both literally and figuratively put up high walls, despite the fact that the funnel for families interested in residential schools is shrinking. I think we should be doing everything we can to make the admissions experience as welcoming and familiar as possible.

Final question. What are some of the craziest things you’ve had to do for these videos, and would you do it again?

Probably rappelling from the clocktower, though doing the splits between two golf carts is high up there. The no-look three-pointer was real by the way. We don’t fake anything. Pay attention the opening scene of our new video. We filmed the entire sequence backwards and had to calculate ahead of time exactly how I needed to move my mouth in real time so that it would look like I was speaking in reverse. The things I do for King’s Academy. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. It’s a blast working with The Film Guys and I always look forward to what they’ll have me doing next. Ok the leaning clocktower shot was a visual effect, but other than that we stay true to it.

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If you’re interested in going on an admissions video adventure with us, feel free to reach out to info@thefilmguys.net or give us a call at (518) 620 4446.