Summer is usually a good time for the marketing team to review the year to date and plan for the year ahead. Strictly speaking, summer doesn't begin in most private schools until school is out. That can be anytime between the middle of May and middle of June, although some schools finish classes at the end of June. In any case, this is usually an excellent time to spend a couple of days reviewing your marketing initiatives. It is important to see what's working and what isn't working.
I like to think of marketing from the perspective of the home-owners I used to represent back in the 80s when I was a real estate broker in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. I would explain to them how important it was to view their home and surroundings just as a potential buyer would. Buyers see things which you are so accustomed to seeing that you don't see them. The things which you do not see objectively could well be deal breakers. The same principle is true in marketing your school. Certain things which you take for granted or think are not important could be deal-breakers for potential families looking at your school.
Against that backdrop, let's took a look at each of your marketing tools as well as your overall campaign.
1. Your website
Think of your school's website as the front door to your school. The entrance to your school is warm and inviting, isn't it? Perhaps it is impressive, even imposing. The point is that it is memorable. Is your website memorable? Does it make a potential parent think "Wow! I want my child to go there!" Or is it full of clutter? Is it confusing? What happens after you open the door and enter the reception area? Is there more clutter? Is there somebody on hand to greet you? Is there signage pointing out directions and clearly labeling rooms and offices? So, you get my point. Start with your website and evaluate it thoroughly from the potential parent's viewpoint.
This video illustrates what a professional web design firm can do for you.
Does your website offer links to your social media pages? Is it easy to find Facebook and Twitter from your splash page? Is your website integrated into your digital marketing program? Is it easy for visitors to request information? Remember that nobody likes to fill out more than two fields in a request form. Name and email address are all that is necessary. The decision timeline in most searches for a private school is a long one. It is not an impulse buy. That's why it is so important to capture visitor names and email addresses as soon as you can on your website. Does your website drop a cookie on the viewer's computer? Are you using Google AdWords?
2. Your social media
Schools seem to approach social media as communications tools. There are lots of photos of games and teams, and so on. That approach is good as far as it goes, which is not very far. Think of social media as one of your most effective marketing tools. Once you do that, you will begin to realize that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are dynamic marketing tools which can add hundreds of fresh contacts to your database of potential families. Your website and your social media pages form the core of your remarketing strategy. Bring a digital marketing professional who understands how to market private schools in for a day to work with your marketing team. It will be money well spent.
What about Pinterest and Flickr? If you have time, set up your Pinterest and Flickr pages as galleries. Pinterest permits you to set up galleries within galleries. It is important to plan our the architecture of your Pinterest and Flickr pages so that they flow thematically in an orderly fashion.
3. Using printed materials
For decades private schools have produced catalogs to use as marketing tools. While they can be impressive and still have their uses, catalogs are expensive to produce and distribute. Having said that, read Why Time-Tested Education Marketing Still Fits to understand why printed materials are still an effective marketing tool in the 21st century. Digital ads come and go. A glossy catalog will sit on a coffee table until it gets thrown out. Quite frankly, when you are asking families to spend $30,000 plus for day school and $60,000 plus for boarding school, your catalog better reflect the tremendous value which your institution offers. Compare how you market your high-end educational service with a high-end product such as the Patek Philippe watches. People want to know what they are getting for their money. Well-produced print materials will enhance that perception of value at first glance, and for many months afterward.
4. Recruitment events
An effective recruiting strategy has many moving parts. Offering day visits and expertly choreographed and well-led tours of your school are part of that decision timeline which I mentioned earlier. As in everything to do with marketing, leave nothing to chance. Day visits and school tours should be planned, organized, and executed by the marketing team.
If you are prospecting for applicants to your residential school, then you must think outside the box. A professionally produced video tour of your campus and facilities as well as your school's environs is a must. And don't just have the video tour available on YouTube or on a DVD which you mail out. You are selling a high-end educational service. You have plenty of competition. There are plenty of reasons why parents may decide not to send their child to a residential school. When your prospective family is at the point in our decision timeline where a school visit is warranted, but, due to circumstances, they cannot physically visit the school, then show them that professionally produced video with a member of the marketing team personally narrating it. Skype and other video-conferencing software make this possible.
While the following video clip is not about private schools, it does illustrate some production values necessary for any high-quality video.
Join with other boarding school marketing teams in mounting and attending events in key areas at home and abroad. Enlist the help and enthusiastic support of your graduates when you hold these events.
5. Recruitment events
The more people in your local community who know your school, the more leads you will generate. Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful tools in your marketing toolkit. Hold open houses. Get involved with local service clubs. Let members of your local community advertise your school as one of the reasons why their community is such a great place to live.
Questions? Contact me via Twitter. @privateschoolreview