September 28

The Sky’s the Limit: How Drone Shows Can Pull in Your Higher Ed Community

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by | Sep 28, 2023 | Branding, Featured, Podcast

Drone shows are much more than pretty lights in the night sky. Through curated storyboarding and other audio-sensory elements, these innovative spectacles can bring communities together by painting a larger story.

Telling your education brand story is a powerful way of bringing together your higher ed community.

School spirit not only provides a sense of belonging and unity on campus, it attracts prospective students looking for a higher ed community.  

A drone show is a unique experience that can help you capture that school spirit in your marketing and pull your community together.

Joy Fulkerson and the folks at Pixis Drones help us see the benefit to drone shows for pulling together higher ed communities. After Joy Fulkerson, Director of Leadership and Civic Engagement at East Tennessee State University (ETSU), saw a local theme park drone show, she knew her school’s community needed that experience as well. 

Once she suggested the idea to Leah Adinolfi, the school’s Dean of Student Engagement, they started looking for experts in the field.

That’s where the folks from Pixis Drones come in. In this episode of The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, Joy and Leah join Pixis’ Vice President of Operations Martin Codd, Chief of Staff Maria Booker, and Sales Coordinator Ethan Delinski to discuss how drone shows can engage higher ed communities.

What is a drone show?

At the beginning of our conversation, Martin Codd explains the allure of drone shows: 

Most people have seen a drone show on TV or on the web, perhaps at the Olympics or maybe the Superbowl. 

A drone show, in essence, is lights in the sky, and those lights tell a story. They are particularly adept in terms of portraying a brand, a product, a service, or a school [in a way that is] unique because they dominate the night sky and connect back to the audience. 

Very few people to date have seen a drone show [live], but [the experience is] very similar to your first music concert. We all remember which band or which act we saw first. The same will happen when you see your first drone show in person. You will remember that for the rest of your life.

More than a Spectacle

We’ve all seen fireworks, and we know how they work. 

There is a certain pattern to a fireworks show. You start with the crowd-pleasers, the fireworks that are relatively simple. 

Gradually, the sparks get brighter and the patterns get more intricate as you build to the big finale at the end. 

Fireworks are a spectacle, but there is a whole different methodology and outcome to putting together a drone show.

[Drone shows are] a digital renderer essentially, so you see [the whole show that] you’re going to fly before [the drones] go up in the air. 

It’s an entire creative process. [You have to imagine] what it will look like in the sky, [consider] the audience that you’re entertaining, [and choose] the music that could accompany it. 

You want to get the vibe right of what you’re flying and who you’re flying for.

By crafting a story with your drone show, as opposed to simply creating a spectacle, you are able to create a sense of community around your education brand.

There is a storytelling aspect to it. Maria puts together that story so well! 

There is a clear beginning, a nice culminating moment in the beginning, and then a nice transition at the end. So you’re really walking away with a great story in mind. 

[Another magical aspect of drone shows is] the precision of drones in the sky. When you see two to five hundred drones all move in unison at different speeds, from one image to the next on this massive canvas, it’s just mesmerizing! 

We can also utilize unlimited colors and produce almost any shape. There is a sense of anticipation in terms of what you’re seeing and a sense of wonder about how the drones are doing that.

Uses for Drone Shows in Higher Ed

There is a real excitement that Joy and Leah have brought to ETSU through their drone show. But they are not the only colleges that Pixis Drones has helped to tell their brand story.

We’ve worked with a number of different colleges, not just on the student life side, but also on the athletic side. 

We are currently talking to a university about putting a drone show above their stadium when their high school prospective students come in at the start of the football season. 

There are a variety of ways that drone shows can be integrated or incorporated into a college [context].

A Unique Storytelling Tool for Higher Ed Marketers

There is an amazing amount of creativity and opportunity here if higher ed marketing teams were able to unleash some creative ideas on campus through drone shows.

They could be used during half times, for homecomings, visit days—the possibilities are endless! 

By using a different number of drones for each show, you can create the perfect presentation for any school—small, medium, or large. 

As a higher ed marketer, we’re always looking for creative ways to pull in our communities and make them feel connected to the education brand. 

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

For more insights and info on how to use this unique storytelling method to tell your story, listen to our full interview with Joy Fulkerson and the folks at Pixis Drones where we go into more detail on: 

  • The emotional benefits of drone shows in brand storytelling (5:06)
  • How ETSU and Pixis collaborated on their storyboard and keywords (12:57)
  • Incorporating creative elements to conduct a multisensory experience (18:23)


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Featured image via Pixis Drones YouTube video

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