- Think carefully about who is buying your services and match the application process to their needs – Nick Salloway of Status Marketing employs psychologists to create ‘personas’ that allow you to plan the interactions customers expect over time. While this may be a big step for a school, the first step is to keep reminding yourself that ‘you’re not your customer!’
- Remember that customers are on a long-term journey and you need to keep working on this relationship – Julie Atherton of Small Wonder spoke of the importance of creating a ‘loyalty loop’ where parents send their children to your school, enjoy and get benefit from the experience and then become advocates. Sarah Mullin of the Priory School Edgebaston reinforced this when she spoke of creating parent advocates who share stories about the school.
- Use technology to provide knowledge, not just data – Nick Salloway pointed out the importance of focusing measurement on key areas such as application success – and then carrying out research to improve these areas. Daniel Clarke of Finalsite emphasised the importance of having ongoing conversations about the effectiveness of conversion through a website rather than too much focus on design.
- Let your students promote your school – the Head of Wimbledon High Jane Lunnon was passionate about this – her school has almost 50 Twitter accounts, a student run social media site that aims to stretch students academically (‘Wimterest’!) and many other student publications and events.
- Hire teachers who are prepared to market your school – Chris Wheeler, Headmaster of Monkton Coombe School and David Lloyd, Head of Solihull School, both work hard to recruit people who share the values of their school and are therefore willing to speak passionately about it. They both emphasised that marketing is a whole school responsibility and it’s vital that parents aren’t put off by inconsistent or negative experiences when visiting the school.
At the Inside Government conference where I spoke about preparation for Brexit I also had the privilege of listening to a number of other speakers. A clear theme throughout the day was making marketing more personal. Here are 5 ways that were suggested...
Whether you're marketing your school to attract new students or to engage parents it's vital that you're doing this with evidence from around your school. It's easy to gather evidence of academic results, new buildings and so on, but that's not really what makes a school special. But how do you bottle and share excitement, engagement and all those intangible things that make your school so special?
Here are our 8 tips....
1. Focus on your key messages
There's so much going on in schools that it's easy to be diverted from what makes you different. But if you focus on a few memorable messages (ideally the result of wide consultation) not only do you remember them but all staff and students can as well - and they can all remember them and share stories that exemplify them. For example I was in a school recently that focuses on aspiration and success - it was great to have a session with the staff where they were all able to share examples of these in practice with each other and capture them for external use.
2. Make time for celebration in school - for all
Most schools have celebration assemblies or award ceremonies, but there's often not much time set aside for staff to celebrate what has gone well. Try to carve time out of staff meetings at all levels so the best can be shared - and don't just do this from the top; encourage staff to share the little things.
3. Ask your wider communities for their views
There's sometime considerable embarrassment around asking parents and the wider community for endorsements (especially if like us you're English). But while you should do this, asking them to contribute their experiences of school is also a good way of gathering evidence. What did they think of their child's first few days at school, or the drama performance or sporting fixture? Social media channels are a good way of doing this.
4. Record and tag succeses, however small
These high points then need to be recorded and kept - it's a great idea for a school marketer to record them (on video, in writing, whatever works best) tag them and keep a record them in a central spreadsheet or database. Set time aside every now and then to work through them and add them to your ongoing or special campaigns.
5. Rewrite and capture stories
Once you've some great stories to share, take time to write them up formally. Think about the background to the story, the people involved and how the school helped them to achieve success. If you need more information, photographs, quotations or video, find the people involved and get that information before you share the story.
6. Invest (sparingly) in high quality photography, videography and design.
Top designers and the like can seem very expensive to schools. But they're expensive for a reason - they can capture ideas in a way that untrained people can't (see the photo at the top of this story). So when you have a new brand to share, or a fantastic story to tell, get the professionals in. The rest of the time, it's a great idea to find your best resources from around your school - can you ask your best students, or talented artists or photographers in the staff to help you showcase the story?
7. Create alternative ways to show off your highlights
When you have time, think about using the stories in a creative way to celebrate how far your school has come in pursuit of key messages. It's been great to see the revival of the school magazine in many schools - either printed or online - but you could also produce an annual video review or photography exhibition, giving students a chance to contribute a wide range of skills in the process.
8. Share at events alongside the tangible
Parents evenings are a good example of a time when you can become too focused on data and individual performance. But while parents are waiting for their appointments why not remind them of what makes the school great by sharing your creative videos or reports - and ask them for feedback and their stories at the same time!
How do you set up social media for your school? How can you manage the volume of news your school produces? And how can you track what others are saying about you?
The right applications will help - so we've put together guides for the key social media platforms as well tools to help you use social media better. They're all either free or have free trials - and we've provided links below...
Our research with schools shows that while new contenders for our social media attention are arriving all the time (Snapchat, Houseparty?), Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram are the ones being used successfully. Here are links to our advice guides for each one...
Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Instagram
Once you've decided which platforms to use, the next issue is often managing the content you send to each one, and when you do it. Three of our proposed solutions work across all popular social media - Tweetdeck is specifically for Twitter (but that's often the one with most going on!). Use the links below to create trial accounts and see how they work for your school.
Hootsuite Buffer Tweetdeck eClincher
It's important that as well as posting your own content you monitor your school's reputation by looking at what others are saying about you. Here are four tools to try. The first three look out online for mentions of keywords - Klout enables you to track your 'social status' over time!
Mention Google Alerts Social Mention Klout
If you'd like to explore these further as well as learning more about using social media in your school, why not sign up for one of our Social Media Management Workshops?
Fewer and fewer schools are communicating on paper any more - our latest School Marketing Survey found over 70% now send newsletters by email.
But what changes does this bring? Well, whether you're creating an e-mail newsletter, writing a website or using an app to send messages, here are the three things you need to do to compete with paper - and the two big advantages of digital writing!
1. You need to grab readers' attentions more quickly:
People are far more likely to be less distracted working on a tablet or phone than reading a magazine or letter. So your subject lines (in an email) or headlines (on a webpage) need to be 'compelling teasers' that get people to read further. Questions ('want to know what your child did in school today?') and lists ('10 ways to save money during the summer holidays') are good ideas.
2. You have to stop readers being distracted more often:
There's always the next email or open tab in a web brower, so your content needs to offer something to the reader. E-mail service Constant Contact suggests making 80% of your content 'useful' - for a school this would means adding information about holiday opportunities for children, advice on safe internet use, local community links and examples from different year group to your routine notices and news.
3. You need what you write to work across different devices:
While you might think that you'd have more options with digital displays, adapting the way text flows on devices ranging in size from mobile phones to PC screens means that you are best keeping each story as a separate block of text and minimising use of columns and so on. It also means that you're far better off using HTML newsletters (essentially web pages) rather than Word or PDF documents, which also tend to be larger and more difficult to view on different devices.
4. You don't have stick to words and images...
The good news is that now you have a screen, not paper and can use a wider range of content to help engage readers. As well as colour pictures, think about using embedded videos - either full clips or taster 'gifs' - take a look at 'GifIt' which will turn your videos into great animations for example.
5. ...and you can see what works and use it to build relationships.
Most online content as well as downloadable files allows you to embed hyperlinks to external content or websites. If you use a service such as Constant Contact or MailChimp you can get immediate feedback on not just what has been clicked and when, but who has done so. This means you can measure the success of different messages as well as going back to people who were particularly interested in an article.
Every school has a wide range of visitors - prospective parents, potential students (in the picture above), former students and local community leaders. And all the evidence shows that visits are vital to important decisions - choosing a school, giving a donation or helping out in other ways.
But sometimes schools think a school can sell itself - we'd argue that great preparation and organisation is needed to really ensure success.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Here are our top tips..
1. Gather information in advance.
When someone calls and asks to visit, take the time to find out more about them and what they want in a visit. If they're a prospective parent, find out about their children, their ages, if they have any specific concerns, interests or access issues - and how you can contact them with more details. You should ask similar questions for other visitors.
2. Share and use this information
There's no worse way to start a visit that for the person who meets you not to know your name or why you're visiting. Brief receptionists and key staff before the visit, not during it.
3. Make sure the right people are available and that you know where they are
As far as possible tailor visits - make sure that a potential class teacher, or SENCO, or pastoral leader is available at the right time. It's also worth reminding them a couple of times - and checking that they are where you expect them to be!
4. Use the school's best assets - students and their achievements
One of the most important aspects of marketing a school is to back up any assertions with stories and facts. For a visitor this should involve meeting students and hearing their stories. If the visit is out of school hours, make sure to tell and share written stories.
5. Plan a bespoke route - you don't have to go to the same places (or everywhere) everytime
Just as you'd tailor who a visitor meets, think carefully about where they need to do. Make sure to cover their interests (music, sport, drama, the Sixth Form Common Room) but you don't need to go too far!
6. Check for any areas that you might want visitors to avoid....
Schools are dynamic places and some rooms and corridors might not always be great for visitors - for example at lesson changeover or lunchtime. Tell staff where and when a visit is taking place - and if there's a suggestion that a particular area might not be appropriate on that day, avoid it!
7. ....but also find areas they can be involved in!
As well as avoiding some areas, if you know things are happening around the school that fit with their interests ask if they can be involved - using Science or Technology equipment, listing in to a visiting speaker, watching a Drama rehearsal.
8. Ask them how things went - don't assume they're happy
Visitors to schools can often be slightly intimidated by the setting and reluctant to give anything but positive feedback. Make sure that you give them the chance to ask questions - a paper or table questionnaire at the end is also a good way of surfacing any concerns.
9. Follow up visits
However positively a visitor leaves your school, they could be off to visit 2 or 3 more in the next couple of days and might not make a decision for a couple of weeks. A personal letter or email reminding them of your key strengths, a telephone call, or a copy of your latest newsletter can all help 'seal the deal'. And also encourage them to follow your social media feeds!
Working in a school there’s so much interesting news going on it’s tempting to focus entirely on sharing it as widely as possible. However it’s also very important that you take all possible steps to ensure the safety of students and indeed staff.
Here are our answers to the most common questions we're asked on our training courses – but please make sure you read your own organisation’s policies and take advice from experts if you’re unsure about anything.
Replacing your current website is a major task – it’s likely to be one of the biggest marketing costs for a school and invariably takes up much more time than you imagine at the start. But websites do get out of date – the design becomes unwieldy, the site is difficult to manage or can’t cope with modern media, or you’ve run out of your contract with a current provider. The challenge then is to bring your site right up to date and future-proof it as much as possible, so you don’t have to go through the process again!
Here are our 5 top tips for future-proof website creation…
1. Understand your stakeholders. Look at who uses your website at the moment, who you’d like to be using it in the future, what they want to see and how they are likely to access it (probably on a mobile phone!). These stakeholders will include current and future parents, staff and students and perhaps former students and local community organisations – anyone who is vital to the future success of your school. Remember also that your government is a stakeholder and may need to see specific information (for state schools in England, the Government provides a list of information here).
2. Design for your visitor’s journey. Once you know what you need to communicate, you can start to design the layout of your site. Focus your design on the different stakeholders rather than your school’s organisational structure – so for example prospective parents can find all the information relevant to them in one place, with links to the latest stories that support your key messages. You should also create ‘landing pages’ for different stakeholders that can be used in external advertising and social media and quickly capture contact information.
3. Find the right experts. Once you’ve reached this stage, it’s time to talk about design and content and to talk to several external experts (we recommend a few on our Consultancy page). Send them your ideas and invite them in to talk – at this stage as well as looking for a sensible price, you’re looking for a partner who understands you and schools and who you can work with over time. Don’t be seduced by the latest gimmicks, but make sure your site is easy to update and upgrade. Always ask for and take up references before choosing one supplier.
4. Build up relevant content and file it correctly. While the site is being built, start to build up relevant content that leads back to your key messages – you’ll need up-to-date photos, news stories (written and video) and background information. If you file or 'tag' content correctly it can automatically be shared with the right stakeholders across different pages.
5. Leave time to test, test and test. A new website has huge potential for something to go wrong – from simple spelling mistakes to broken links and wrong information. As with all school marketing activity, look to engage your staff in the process, letting them check (mark!) the work – and suggesting improvements or new stories in the process. If you launch a site with errors, you’ll lose trust in the whole project and cut the time before someone suggests starting again!
GDPR (or the European General Data Protection Regulation) is one of those technical issues that arise from time to time in marketing - if you're prepared for it there won't be a problem, if you're not it could cause a lot of hassle and wasted time after its introduction next year.
Here's our quick guide, complete with links to find out more.
What is it? It's essentially an update to the existing Data Protection Act, improving and changing regulations on data storage to reflect changes over time - and the many breaches of data that have happened over time. (Here's a frightening list of the UK's biggest ones!)
What is changing? The main focus of change is to increase the responsibility on those who store and manage personal information.
What if we ignore it? Will it go away? Despite the legislation originating from Europe, it will be implemented before any Brexit deal takes place. The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) will be able to fine organisations (including schools) up to £500,000 - and data security is an area that OFSTED inspectors will look as as part of their inspections of e-safety. So no.
What do we have to do? A good start is to look at the ICO's guide you can download here.
You should take a look at point 11 first - you need to appoint a Data Protection Officer across your school or wider organisation (you might already have one). You can then work with them to look at how your procedures and policies need to be updated.
For school marketers, a key area will be point 7 - consent. You need to get positive agreement from people to use their personal data - and to be able to demonstrate this. So if you're holding an open event, asking people to write their email address down doesn't mean you can do anything with them!
You also need to review your current stored data (point 2), review the information you give to people whose data you are storing (point 3), check that you can meet people's rights (point 4 - especially the right not to receive direct marketing) and have processes in place for replying to 'subject access request' (point 5).
Point 9 is also important in the area of reputation management - is your school prepared for a data breach? You might also get involved in communicating changes to your wider community (point 1) and work on the legal aspects (points 6 and 10).
You should also talk to data processing companies (in the marketing area these will include email companies, CRM providers and website creators) and check they are prepared for the change (key issues are where they store data and whether they are properly accredited for disposing of IT equipment that contains personal details). If you need to change supplier it's better to work this out now before the 'mid-2018' GDPR implementation date.
Where can we find out more?
The best place for the latest information is the Information Commissioner's Office, which will have the latest information also hosts a questionnaire so you can see how compliant you are. There are also a host of companies that will be offering 'GDPR solutions' - but make sure you educate yourself before you sign up for an expensive one!
A key challenge for schools and school marketers is to make the best of social media – it’s not going away and it can’t be reinvented. This was the theme of our workshop at the 2017 isbi schools marketing conference at Fresham Heights School in Surrey.
Using our 2016 School Marketing Survey as the basis for our insights, we identified 4 key areas that school marketers can make the most of social media to add value to their school.
We take a look at each point below – together with some of the great feedback and ideas from delegates! If you'd prefer to skip to the bottom of the page you can download the presentation and the questionnaire we gave to delegates to rate their own school in these areas.
Gathering information – rather than spend hours chasing round your school looking for the great stories you need, setting up social media accounts for sporting teams and your high-performing departments and training staff means stories will come to you. One delegate built on this by sharing how his school encourages teachers to use iPads to take pictures of great work for marketing purposes.
Segmenting and targeting your audiences – this is something that marketers do as a matter of course with other media, but few schools in our survey set up different social media accounts with targeted content. We also discussed sharing different types of content on different social media, targeting different age groups with different social media and using scheduling apps to produce content at the time people read it most. It was great to hear from one delegate about the way her school ran different Facebook pages for different stakeholder groups.
Tracking your social media reputation – schools can use a range of tools to move beyond simply looking at their number of followers. We discussed looking at engagements, using social media scoreboards such as socialcandy.co.uk (for Twitter) or Klout (for all social media), tracking social media enquiries or contacts from alumni and looking at changing perceptions through focus groups and surveys. There was a good discussion about whether schools should also be on the lookout for people who started following them on social media after events – and if they could be sent specific material to help them through the application process.
Helping with safeguarding – school marketing professionals are using social media regularly and can often see and hear things that will benefit pastoral and safeguarding colleagues. We looked at a few specific areas – identifying new social media platforms used by students (the rise of Snapchat for example); passing on information about dangerous social media trends such as the Blue Whale Challenge; and looking for negative or concerning social media posts by students that include the school as part of ongoing social media monitoring. One delegate shared how his school had identified risky behaviour in a former student in this way.
One of the reasons many schools don’t ‘do marketing’ is that they think it’s expensive and a drain on the scarce resources that a school has. But if you see marketing as an investment over several years instead the figures show it could be what your school needs to bring in those resources.
We’ll start with the easiest situation - a school that has 5 spare places in each year group. Depending on the school each of these could be worth anywhere from £4,000 to £15,000.
Filling them in the first year gives an income £22,500 to £75,000 - the cost of a typical marketing programme. So where’s the return?
This is where the value that these new students have in future years is taken into account. Recruiting someone into Reception or Y7 mean you can expect income to come in for at least 5 years – for a ‘through school’ you might even get 15 years of income!
You can calculate this total return by calculating their ‘Net Present Value' – essentially looking at what their overall income is worth today. Clicking on 'NPV Calculator' below will bring one up in a pop-up window to help you work this out. The ‘discount rate’ is essentially the value you could get from investing money elsewhere – pretty low in the current economic climate but we’ll leave in the 5% suggested by the calculator.
Examples: Putting in £4,500 income per student per year over 5 years (we’re even assuming no increase in funding!) against an initial investment of £50,000 gives a return of £64,000 for an 11-16 comprehensive once the initial £50,000 is returned. For a private school that charges £11,000 per year, successfully investing £100,000 in marketing will return over £218,000 if the students stay into the Sixth Form! An expanded marketing budget leading to the opportunity to hire a new teacher or to refurbish a department – or just mitigate current cost pressures.
But what if a school is currently full up – does that mean marketing isn’t worth doing? The problem is that the market isn’t static. All schools in the present climate need to be investing to protect their position, so they don’t end up with spaces when the economy or local population changes or new schools open up nearby.
Marketing can also help you grow specific parts of your school such as a Sixth Form, save money on staff recruitment, set up a development function to raise money from former students, let out your facilities to the community and set up an income generation programme. The calculator above will allow you to model returns on all of these activities.
And you also need to consider the other benefits of marketing that will be happening around this – from centralising and making existing activity more efficient to raising your profile and improving relationships in your community.
Where should you invest in marketing?
The two examples above assume marketing investment of £50,000 for a state school and £100,000 for a small private school.
What would £50,000 get you? For this level of spend, a school could hire a marketing officer who would work with you during term-time as part of your administration team. They would focus on finding great stories, running your social media and organizing community events, and ensuring that applications convert into a full school through email newsletters – the most cost-effective marketing tools.
What would £100,000 get you? At this level, a school would be able to hire a full time experienced marketing manager and give them an effective external marketing budget. As well as the activities above they could focus on creating a strong brand and website, work with local media to achieve wider coverage for the great things your school does, and run targeted on- or offline campaigns to fill specific places. They could also support other school needs such as helping attract new teachers.
Both marketers would of course benefit from Marketing Advice for Schools’ networking opportunities and discounts!
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