Make marketing matter

The end of the school year is a time to reflect on what worked well, and consider what you might change. Education marketing expert Justin Smith shows you how to review your marketing activity and rise above the crowd

Brent Davies, author of Strategic Marketing for Schools, defines marketing as the means by which the school ‘actively communicates and promotes its purpose, values and products’. Effective marketing lets you take control, manage your agenda, and broadcast your positive messages to key stakeholders. Moreover, there’s a synergy between marketing and income generation: your ability to communicate effectively can attract vital support for your fundraising.

Education is currently surrounded by ‘white noise’: budgets are tighter than ever, competition for places is fierce, and recruitment for the best talent is a challenge. Promoting your school and making yourself heard above all this white noise has never been more critical – and that’s where marketing comes in.

Some may question the value of marketing in schools, and, certainly, wasteful and ineffective campaigns deserve scepticism and doubt. However, having a clear plan of action that’s designed to meet measurable objectives should help deliver success. An effective plan should be a simple and accessible document that evolves over time and is shared with stakeholders. The key features are:

  • Executive summary – at a glance, the purpose of your plan
  • Situational analysis – an assessment of your situation, using tools such as SWOT
  • Planning – your objectives for both the coming year and for the following two years
  • Programme – actions and timescales
  • Resources – personnel and available budgets
  • Measurement and reflection – what works and why

This final part of the plan is often overlooked, but it’s vital to reflect on past and present marketing activities to understand what is working and what needs tweaking. This needn’t be an onerous task – a review of strategy over the past year can cover the following simple steps:

Press coverage

Look at your communication with local and regional media outlets and assess how it is helping promote your fundraising projects and other good causes. I’ve introduced a number of schools to a simple press release template that covers the five news ‘Ws’ – who, why, where, when and what. Using a template saves you time and makes it easier for the media to publish stories about your school, especially when accompanied by eye-catching photographs and a quote from staff or students (where appropriate).

Top tip: A similar template could be introduced for internal use, allowing staff to share their departmental success stories. Stories can then be introduced to social media and websites in a more managed and effective way.

Culture and branding

The renowned management consultant Peter Druker claimed that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Astute school marketeers will recognise the role culture has to play and how core messages reflect the culture of the school. You may be looking to partner with a business, or asking for sponsorship for your fundraising events. So being clear on your values and what makes your school a worthwhile investment is really important.

Top tip: Consider whether your school has identifiable core values. Are these values displayed in prominent places, such as the reception area, corridors and sports hall? Are the values woven into your materials and clear on your website?

Materials

If you’re approaching business sponsors and donors for support, they will expect to see professional materials that clearly represent your school’s values. Assemble all your literature (such as newsletters, prospectuses and open-day materials) together and evaluate the consistency of branding. Introducing brand guidelines – a set of essential elements including colour palettes, type style and logos – ensures your materials are reproduced consistently, time after time.

Include displays and signage in your marketing review. Visitors to school, whether they be parents or potential sponsors, will form an opinion very quickly, so it’s critical you project your positive brand messages. Check whether your signage is clear and welcoming, and review the ‘customer journey’. In other words, how does a visitor feel when they first make contact with the school? Are they made to feel welcome and can they find the answers they are looking for?

Consider introducing a ‘key facts’ sheet – a simple, downloadable, promotional sheet that highlights why staff and students should choose your school. Include essential features such as academic data and outcomes, quotes from Ofsted reports, extra-curricular activities and pastoral care provision.

Top tip: Walk around your school with a trusted friend or colleague (someone who doesn’t know the school well). They may well see things that you don’t. One of the schools I worked in placed a large Biffa waste bin outside the reception area three days a week. My fresh pair of eyes noticed that eyesore immediately – and it was swiftly relocated!

School website

First and foremost, your website needs to be up to date and reflect current protocols, policies and practices in school. Carry out a regular web audit to remove old stories and newsletters. Check that links between tabs work correctly, and that all statutory information is up to date and accessible. Over half of all web activity takes place on mobile devices, so make sure your website is tablet-friendly.

Make it easy for people to find out about your fundraising activities. Add a new tab to your website, such as ‘Support Us’. Use this to link to all your projects, with photos, details on why you need support, and the impact the new facility or programme will have. Make sure that it is easy for people to donate, by using downloadable Gift Aid forms, for example.

Digital media is extremely effective at engaging with audiences – video marketing increases the number of visits to school websites and the amount of time visitors spend on the site. Research shows that 64% of people say they are more likely to use a service after viewing a video (Insivia Statistics, 2016). Parents are far more likely to engage with a short video clip than read paragraphs of text, so think about introducing short, student-led video clips. Two-to-three-minute clips are really effective in attracting the interest of prospective parents. They’re also far more interesting than a static image of the headteacher or a stock school photo. Google is biased towards fresh digital content, so use this to push your website further up the search rankings.

Top tip: Your fundraising efforts can be boosted with a video of your project. If the film is led by the children then it’s more likely to make an emotional impact. 

Social media

Social media is an effective and inexpensive way to promote good news stories and broadcast key messages about your school. More than 60% of schools use Facebook, and it remains a favoured communication channel among parents. Twitter is also a great platform for engaging with businesses and developing relationships with local groups and organisations.

Top tip: Ensure someone in school has responsibility for managing social media communications and give them the time to do it effectively. They can coordinate the news story templates from other staff and ensure materials are proofread and suitable before release.

  • Justin Smith is MD of Chameleon Training and Consultancy, which provides marketing and fundraising support to schools. @jus_chameleon

 

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