Open Days are incredibly important for any school – you have a captive audience of people who are interested in your school. Your goals are to to attract people to look at your school, and to make sure that they leave wanting to take the relationship further and apply.
Each school Open Day should be unique and memorable - here are 16 tips to help (and please add your own in the comments).
1. Before you do any planning, look at your key messages: Think carefully about what you are looking to communicate to prospective parents and students – focus on your strengths, what makes you different from other schools and the innovations you are making to meet stakeholder needs.
2. Start early and get a wide range of staff involved in creating the day. As a school marketer you know the messages but teachers and other staff know the student and their stories that best demonstrate them, as well as the most innovative ways to get messages about teaching and learning across. And any creative process benefits from having many people involved.
3. Research and use student achievements and stories in as many ways as possible: Parents choose schools because they believe their children will thrive and succeed there. You need to show how students like their children have done this, through case studies and personal interaction. You can present case studies as videos, as posters, or as presentations from the students themselves. One school successfully used cardboard cut-outs of previous successful students with their stories attached.
4. Make sure your adverts use these stories to say why people should attend your event. It's so easy to place adverts that just announce an event. Any advert needs instead to say why your school is different and to back it up with evidence. And as there will always be parents who can't make a specific event, give them alternatives.
5. Don't rely on adverts alone. Use your whole stakeholder network to publicise your event - from putting posters in parents' businesses and faith and community meeting places to sharing what the event will look like on social media. Use targeted direct mail as Solihull School did here. Visit feeder schools and tell them what to expect.
6. Use other stakeholders at the event as well as students and teachers: I’ve never seen the PTA used to do more than pour drinks or sell uniform. Let them talk privately to prospective parents or ask some to present on how they have found the school! (thanks for @marketschools for the idea). And ask governors to talk about the strengths of the school and their role in maintaining them.
7. Make sure everyone knows what to say: As a teacher I’ve never been briefed properly before an Open Day – something that would scare any commercial exhibitor to death! All teachers, students and parents involved should have copies of information given to visitors in advance, know what the strengths of the schools are and who parents and prospective students can talk to to answer any difficult questions.
8. Don't make it too formal. A lot of events follow the same pattern - speeches, tours, goodbye. Try showing a short video on a loop and letting your Head talk to every parent individually. This also means less of a crush in the school hall!
9. Involve visitors in the process: Don’t just take visitors on a tour and present to them – give them short bursts of actual lessons and clubs (parents and potential students!), create a treasure hunt, let them make something to take home, write a communal story or poem or make a sculpture together.
10. Personalise the event: If you know someone who speaks a particular language or comes from a particular ethnic group is coming along, match them with similar current students. If you know a parent is particularly interested in sporting facilities or a particular subject, make sure you send them there first.
11. Walk in your visitors’ shoes: Think about what a parent or student wants to see and plan a route to make it easy for them to do this. Make sure you and your guides walk the route they will be taking and check you see the right messages and the right people. And you don’t have to show everyone the whole school - focus on the bits that make the difference!
12. Make sure you know who attended: Get everyone to fill in a feedback form and check their details against people who you thought were going to attend. Make sure you contact anyone who didn’t make it and invite them to another event or for a personal tour. Ask teachers and students for specific feedback as well - make it easy for them with a simple shared spreadsheet or paper form.
13. Don’t leave any questions unanswered. If anyone asks a teacher, student or parent a difficult question, the visitor needs to be passed on to someone who can help. If this can’t be done, take contact details and make sure a follow up call or email takes place.
14. Share the Open Day to those who can't make it. Think about using Periscope or Meerkat to share the event live on social media, videoing talks for your website, asking a student guide to write a blog, or creating a newsletter around the creative outcomes of the event.
15. Follow the Open Day up: A day or two after the event, email as many people as possible with outcomes from the event (pictures, your collective story, details of who attended) – and an invitation to other events (concerts, sporting fixtures, etc) or a personal tour of the school. A great idea is to add a personal note from the student guide or member of staff who gave each group a tour.
16. Reflect on each Open Day as it happens: As soon as possible, get a sample of those involved together to find out what was good and what needed improving!