Q&A: How to manage school marketing in these tumultuous times
Schools should remember that Covid security is far from the only horse in town, says expert Emily Richards
What's your biggest tip for marketing and communications this Autumn Term?
It has to be to think beyond the pandemic. For a whole host of reasons, it is going to be really important this term that school marketing is seen as a "vital to do" and isn’t relegated to a "nice to have". Independent schools are experiencing a unique moment when more families than ever are dissatisfied with what the state system has provided and are considering their local independent schools. Competition will be fierce based on schools spending the marketing budgets that they’ve been holding back across the past few months during the lockdown and those schools who don’t step up will, unfortunately, get left behind. In these tumultuous times, even the most successful schools cannot be complacent.
What do you mean by thinking beyond the pandemic?
Independent schools have risen to the challenges of the last six months superbly well, in many cases far surpassing the expectations of parents and pupils. School marketers however, must resist the temptation to take their foot off the gas with marketing their school and for everything to be about Covid-19. Every school in the land will be communicating about this. Safety of pupils should be a given.
Independent schools have a real opportunity to differentiate themselves by focusing on offering an aspirational, exciting and rich learning environment across the autumn term and beyond. An attitude of "we won’t let this pandemic bring down our educational provision, it will actually make us more determined than ever to provide a dynamic and robust learning environment for our pupils", will fill families with confidence and make you stand out. Tom Rogerson, headmaster of Cottesmore Prep in West Sussex, summed it up well a few months ago, when he posed the question "How can we make September awesome for our returning pupils?" I love it Tom.
What's your top recommendation for reaching and engaging with families?
In an era of social distancing and restrictions on school visits, schools need to ensure their digital "assets" are all in tip top order. Your school website for starters. This is one of the first places prospective families will go to when checking out potential schools for their child/ren. It’s essential that this offers a solid "shop window" into what your school offers. If the experience is less than exciting and engaging (e.g. poor quality photography, lack lustre messaging or a lame user journey), then those parents will click away and move onto the next school. Not only must it be clear, intuitive and informative, consider what additional functionality and content might be added to wow prospective parents - virtual tours, video content from key staff members across the school (teaching and non-teaching), videos from those living and breathing the experience you offer - parent and pupil "voice" is one of the most powerful forms of marketing. Showcase this.
Driving prospective parents to your website is also essential of course, as there’s little point in having an "all singing, all dancing" website without any visitors. Digital marketing such as Facebook advertisements, and sharing useful and engaging content, are both highly effective ways, but make sure you stick to your key messages so that your "output" is powerful and consistent.
If schools were to do one other marketing exercise this term, what should it be?
An open event is always valuable. In the current climate, it might be wise to plan at least two: one virtual event and one "in-person" a little later in the term/academic year. A virtual open morning will usually include a live welcome from the head, a virtual tour (not necessarily live) and then dedicated time to "meet" key staff members. The head can also do a live Q&A based on questions sent ahead of time by parents.
Whether in person or virtual, an essential part of any open event is the "follow up" activity. The visitors that attend your open event (as well as those who expressed interest but were unable to attend) are gold dust. Their interest in your school should be nurtured by way of a structured series of communications across the days and weeks following the event. Keep going until they either convert to "offer accepted" or (heaven forbid) decide to go elsewhere.
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