In the first article in this series, Marketing the Small Private School: The First Steps, we looked at the resources available for marketing the small private school. The assumption which we made in that article was that your school probably couldn't afford a full-time marketing professional. Instead, you would assign an existing member of your staff the additional responsibility of handling your marketing. That assumption still stands for purposes of this article. Now we will look at how to use the various resources and tools at our disposal.
The best strategy for successful marketing is to control your message. That means that you have to know who you are speaking to and through what means you can best communicate with them. Let's use the proven journalist's approach to understanding our communications strategy.
- Who are we trying to reach?
- Why are we trying to reach them?
- What are we trying to communicate?
- How can we reach them most effectively?
- When should we communicate our message?
This structured approach ensures that your message will be unified and on message as it progresses from your keyboard to the recipients. Let's look at examples of how we can reach each segment of our school community. My suggestions are merely suggestions designed to get you thinking in a structured manner. Adapt my suggestions to suit your particular requirements.
Communicating with your community
Let's start at the top.
Who are we trying to reach? Everybody in our community as well as everybody outside it.
Why are we trying to reach them? Because we have some news to share and some events to announce.
What are we trying to communicate? News and information. Nothing of an emergency nature.
How can we reach them most effectively? Your website will reach the most members of your community in the shortest amount of time for news and information such as this.
When should we communicate our message? Assuming the information is not time-sensitive, I recommend posting news and information daily at a pre-set time. For example, every morning at 7 a.m. Most applications will allow you to create your material and then drip it for posting at a pre-determined time. I use this approach with the Facebook postings which I do daily for PrivateSchoolReview.com and BoardingSchoolReview.com. Facebook allows me to schedule my postings. Like the infomercial says "Set it and forget it!"
Routine communications with the entire community
As mentioned earlier general communications can be handled efficiently on your school's website. Some professionals put News & Events and their Calendar front and center on their school's splash page. Your eye goes to that section of the webpage intuitively. St. Andrew's School, Boca Raton, Florida uses this approach. It is simple, clean, and effective.
Notice that the news and information headlines are links. Same thing with the calendar. When you click on a link you will be taken off to another group of pages with the detail you are looking for and want to read.
Routine communications with specific groups within your community
Each segment of your school community will need a slightly different approach to receiving information. Let's take each group in turn.
Faculty and staff
You can torture your teachers with endless emailed updates, schedule changes, room changes, and so on. But that is rather old-fashioned these days. I recommend using a blog. It will be a blog accessible only by faculty, administration and staff. This restricted access means that you can be both technical and frank. Messages such as "Harry! Please cover Betty's classes. Her mother died last night. She will be out until the 15th." should never appear in public in that format. It sounds insensitive. But behind the curtain, we all know that this is what has to be done in order to maintain the smooth functioning of the school. Here are some tips on how to write a blog.
Blogs are very useful for maintaining a historical record. The latest message is at the beginning but you can go back as far as there are blogs in order to remind yourself of something which was announced earlier.
I personally believe that communications from the school to students should be handled in an assembly or at the house and class level. Children of every age will have questions. Perhaps discussion will be part of getting the message out as well. An adult member of faculty or staff giving out an announcement teaches our students another important life lesson: they need to listen and pay attention to instructions. And in the likely event that they don't hear what is being said or do not understand what is being said, the adult leading the house or class following the assembly will be able to explain what was said as well as answer any questions.
Young children will respond positively to posters and may even be able to create the posters you need to put up around your school buildings to publicize an event.
Most parents will appreciate non-emergency communications via email. I recommend separate weekly emails from the school office and teachers as an effective means of keeping everybody on the same page. Keep your weekly emails brief and to the point. Always include a photo. With smartphones, photos are easy to take and add to your communications.
What about emergency communications? You absolutely must have a system for sending text messages to every parent's smartphone in the event of an emergency. K12Alerts or similar software is worth every penny. I understand that your community will tune in to the morning news or scan the school's website if bad weather is forecast. But what if the unthinkable happens at 11:45 a.m. on a Wednesday morning? You need to alert parents instantly. If you do not have the budget for a proprietary software application to alert your parents in an emergency, then put in place a 21st-century version of the old telephone round robin. Here's how it works: the school texts one parent in each class who has taken on the responsibility for always being available. That designated parent then forwards the school's message to half of the class parents including one parent who forwards the message to the other half of the class. Texting is virtually instant. It leaves a trail. You must have some form of an alert system in place.
By now you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with marketing. It has everything to do with it. Remember how I said that we have to control the message? It starts at the top and works its way throughout your community. Your message is clear, consistent, and authoritative. Furthermore, because you have varying age groups within your community you have taken extra care to ensure that the younger, easily distracted members receive the message as well as have it explained to them. This short video underscores the importance of clarity and conciseness in your communications.
You will inspire confidence in the adult members of your community with clear, consistent, and authoritative communications. The adult members of your community probably will take all of your smooth, efficient messaging for granted, of course. But think of all the goodwill which you will generate. Your faculty and staff will know what is going on and what is expected of them.
Your biggest fans of clear, consistent, and authoritative communications will be your parents. Parents who feel their school is well-run, as well as a place where their children are getting a fantastic education, will be your very best advertisement.
To sum up, in this second article about Marketing the Small Private School we have focused on laying the foundation for a uniform marketing strategy for your school. The next article in this series, Marketing the Small Private School: Communicating Outside Your Community, will offer some suggestions for reaching outside your immediate school community. Yes, we will discuss some ways of selling your school. That is, after all, what marketing is all about.
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