There are many funny videos online. The funniest often have an element of truth. This video is from a series on ‘Honest Advertising.’ It promotes a fictional University but asks questions on what a degree will actually cost you, and what it will give you. As school marketers we need to be aware of this cynicism. The popularity of this type of videos (over 5 million views) indicates that the message does resonate with viewers – even if meant as a joke.
A temptation we school marketers face is of using ‘Bait and Switch Advertising.’ We promote one thing but does our school actually deliver another? I will be addressing this topic at the School Marketing Aforia with some stories and ways to avoid it.
In an era of beautiful school buildings, wonderful and creative brochures and slick multi-media presentations the use of mud by schools is unusual. We suspect that is part of the novelty, and perhaps why the media picked up this story. The Trinity Christian School mud trek is a 13-obstacle course mud run. Before you dismiss the muddy concept as crazy consider this, “Last year, the muddy mayhem brought in $35,000 to $40,000 for the school”
Scotch College's website includes a video telling the personal story of a family emigrating from South Africa to Perth. The parents share the newspaper article which first prompted them to take a look at the school. Now years later as their son is school captain they are looking back on their experience.
The beauty of this video is that it is a story. A true story. It is not a 'sales' promotion. No staff are interviewed. This is a family, mum, dad and son talking from their 12 year experience, and it works.
Catholic schools in Hawaii have been introducing a contract for teaching staff to make their expectations of them clearer. This can be a contentious issue. Yet it is an important one for school marketers to consider. How we portray our school sets expectations for parents. Helping staff to understand any expectations BEFORE employment is vital.
"The church wants to be unambiguous about what the moral teachings are so those teachers can know what they're saying yes to when they say, 'I want to be a minister as a teacher in a Catholic school,'"
Barrye Dickinson, Director of Marketing at the The Knox School brings a great passion to his role. He is a regular, and popular presenter at the School Marketing Aforia. Barrye’s holiday auto-responder email put a smile on our faces.
“Thank you for your email. I am currently not in the office until XX.
With today's technology, however, and my constant obsession with iPhones, I am always checking my emails from wherever I am in the world and I will respond as soon as I can.
If you need a quicker response could you please contact David XX on +Phone (email: ---@knox.vic.edu.au) or the School Office on +Phone (email: -@knox.vic.edu.au)
Thanks for your patience.
Then with a full signature and branding.
> School Marketing Aforia – Perth 19-20 June 2014
Asking your school community for feedback should be a regular part of your school marketing plan. Using quotes from real people in your community to explain what happens in your school has a more authentic sound than cleverly polished words by marketing staff. Parents trust parents speaking from experience.
Taking the time to actually talk with families is vital. Jot down notes, type them up and ask for permission to use any quotes. Surveys can also help provided they have room for comments rather than just tick boxes and rating scores. The benefit of conducting surveys is you can connect with a wider, and often more representative, cross section of your community. Giving people a chance to be heard is important – especially if you are willing to listen. Schools often wait till the end of the year, or when families are leaving, to ask for their feedback. Often these are the busiest and most stressful times. Surveys can be more useful conducted at other times.
The Centre for Marketing Schools has a range of online and paper surveys available. Visit: > Why Survey your School Community
Surveys will help you identify what is going well, what to work on, and can give you some great comments to incl
How will you summarise your school year? What lasting impressions will remain? The school Year Book is a traditional way of recording and sharing memories. The downside can be that they are generally not freely available to prospective parents. They are also retained rather than passed on or shared. However video is becoming an increasingly popular method. It is easy to share and open to a wider audience. It also brings to life so many of the school’s activities activities while conveying the emotions of your community.
On the home page of Dominican Convent School in Belgravia Johannesburg I was surprised to see a photo of Sir Richard Branson ‘high fiving’ students. Under the photo was the caption "At Dominican you can dream."
The slideshow then progressed with three more clear and short statements with photos.
"At Dominican you can believe"
"At Dominican you can excel"
"You can, at Dominican"
The purpose of your home page is to be a first window into your school. It tells a visitor enough to know whether to linger and explore, or move on. Raising the curiosity of visitors helps. Some schools feature photos of visiting celebrities, or politicians, on their websites and it feels forced, or unnatural. It is often better to quickly capture a ‘moment’ than arrange everyone for a formal photo. The relaxed nature of this photo of Sir Richard Branson worked in that it intrigued me enough to explore further.
If you have updated your school website, prospectus or created a promotional video, in the past 18 months then enter it in the annual School Marketing Awards. Download an entry form. > School Marketing Awards 2014
School Tours are a vital part of the promotional process for many schools. Yet do you present the things which are of most interest to you – or your visitors?
Deidré Proxenos, Director of Marketing & Foundation at Dainfern College
shares “I run the PR programme with the students at our school. In the student interviews for selection into the program I love to ask three questions."
1. "Where would you not take a new parent when they are visiting the school?” It is interesting when they have no reply. This is a good reflection on our whole school.
I also find out interesting information about;
2. What they liked about the school when they joined
3. What was different from their old school.These are three clever questions you could consider asking your students. Record their responses and weave them into your tours. These first hand stories, plus understanding what is important to them, gives you valuable information for your marketing. Some schools actively involve students in tours as it gives visitors a clear impression of the school and allows them to ask specific questions.
Long documents can be hard to read. Long school newsletters or letters are tiring. Help parents by allowing them to skim to what is of interest to them through the use of headings. Schools should be good at communication. This tip from Greg Pendlebury of Think-write Consulting offers practical advice.
“A heading on a page visually breaks up the text for the reader and signals a break is on the way. It provides content in bite size chunks that are cognitively easier to handle.”
Driving kids to school on wet days can be frustrating for parents. Many drop off zones at schools have inadequate cover for wet weather. Starting the day stressed is no fun for students or their parents.
I have seen some schools have a team of staff members with branded umbrellas lined up to welcome students and help them out of the cars. It helps reduce the stress of those wet mornings.
On the days I am at school, and it is raining heavily, I make a deliberate effort to grab some school umbrellas and stand in the drop off zone. I am amazed at the goodwill this simple gesture generates. Helping a few kids out of their cars while holding an umbrella over their heads says ‘we care’ far more than you can convey in a prospectus or poster. Some kids then make a dash to the closest cover. Some love getting wet. Others have time to put up their own umbrella. Others may accept the offer of a spare umbrella and they place it outside the office when they’ve reached cover. Interestingly it can start a positive ripple effect where others become more willing to share their own umbrellas.
I encourage you to try it. While it would be nice to have someone there every rainy day it doesn’t happen. However just doing it spontaneously can still send an important message to your school community about your culture.
PS it does help to have a spare pair of shoes and socks in your office for those rainy days.
Michelle Favero, Marketing and Communications Manager at Emanuel School in Sydney will be sharing some of the School’s fundraising experiences at the School Marketing Aforia in Perth. Emanuel is a co-educational, Jewish community day school, for students from Pre-school to Year 12. As part of their Capital Appeal campaign they created a teaser video combining time lapse photography of a current building which was to be demolished and then animated video of students imagining what they would like to replace it with.
There are now only 11 weeks till we gather for the annual School Marketing Aforia in Perth. I encourage you to consider attending. There is something special about exploring schools, hearing from other school marketers who are experimenting with new ideas, and having others give ideas on how to tweak what you are already doing. So often we can be ‘competing’ with other schools. At the Aforia we gather to help each other.
Our vision for the Centre for Marketing Schools is that school marketers would be encouraged, equipped and connected. This newsletter can provide some encouragement and ideas. The Diploma in School Marketing helps equips. The Aforia accomplishes all three. Some delegates are regulars. Others attend every few years as budgets allow. There are always first timers.
Mercy Academy Kentucky USA has realised that formal tours are not always the best way for prospective teenage students to decide about enrolling. They encourage them to be buddied up with a current student who will be their personal tour guide for a day. They experience school as a student, rather than a spectator.
There is an > online booking form to schedule a day. If they indicate they already know someone they can request that friend be their buddy. Here is how they describe it.“You will have the opportunity to tour our awesome 24-acre campus, attend classes, meet teachers and coaches, enjoy a complimentary lunch, and experience the Mercy sisterhood firsthand!”
What do you do? When people know I work in schools they ask what I teach. When I say I am a storyteller it generates curiosity and some confusion. Earlier in the year I wrote a bio for a book I am working on. A teacher offered this slightly tongue-in cheek version.
“Neil Pierson takes photos for a living. Lots of photos. The kids at school are so used to Neil taking snaps of them playing, swinging, running, walking, lining up, listening, drawing, experimenting, performing and even hiding under desks in a lockdown drill that he is universally known as 'Mr Camera'. His beguiling smile, which encourages one and all to smile back, disguise his remarkable powers of persistence and persuasion.
Neil's favourite subject as a child was 'show and tell' and now as an adult he specialises in showing and telling both the usual and unusual of everyday school events. Neil chronicles the living, beating heart of school life displaying it in a friendly, easily accessible and yet very slick format enjoyed by school communities as well as the general public.
Invite him to your school and discover his affable charm and formidable skill. Let him show you the extraordinary in your ordinary. Let him pull together the individual threads of your school's narrative so that your story can be clearly read by all.”
Some schools use creative ways to attract locals to visit their school. Many use school fairs, concerts, or hire out their facilities. Oxley College, who share their facility with the Life Ministry Church in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs, are effectively using Christmas lights to put themselves ‘on the map.’Featuring 40,000 lights the computer programmed show runs for just under 30 minutes. It starts at 9pm, and repeats for the two hours each night. The display runs for two weeks from December 10th to 24th inclusive. The school and church facility is on 70 acres so there is room for car parking. Toilet facilities are provided. A large grass viewing area allows families to sit and watch the half hour light show.
Australian Thoughtleader Matt Church has a list of simple questions he asks of himself when under time pressure.
• Is this the best use of my time?
• Is this what we do?
• What would (insert name of someone you admire) do?
• What question are we asking?
• What decision needs making?
• Who is responsible for that?
• What could go wrong with that decision?
School marketers often talk about being busy and time poor. These may be good questions to ask yourself today.
One of the entries in this year’s School Marketing Awards is from Somerset College. On their website home page we like the dramatic photography, the clear identification of the location, plus the simple inclusion of a phone number for reception. The Somerset Times newsletter has recently gone from pdf to digital and works well.It will be interesting to see what impresses our judges. These awards are an opportunity for schools to have an independent review of your website, prospectus or video. The judges are parents – not school marketers or Principals or web designers and they will see things differently. They want answers to their questions, to ‘get a feel’ for a school, and understand whether they would fit your culture. It is always good to include parents in evaluation of your school marketing materials. After all they are your main audience.
Here is a simple marketing strategy for your school. Take a popular song, add some lip synching students, feature significant local landmarks, add glimpses into your school facilities and upload to YouTube. By following this simple formula Harding Academy Memphis has generated over 114,000 views in a week for their video Happy in Memphis.
In last week's article "How do you treat latecomers to school events?" there was an example of a school fining parents for being late. This generated some interest from our readers. Christine Kirkham, of Palmerston Christian School, shared "In my experience, the students (families) who are late are those with least capacity to pay any extra. I feel it would also give a negative impression to all families when the problem is limited to a few. Open to suggestions about how to fix the few though."
David Orchard of Canbury School in Kinston Hill UK raised the concern that "this course of action would alienate parents, and they in turn might opt to simply go to another school."
Possibly part of the school's intent is that parents do comply, or leave. Independent schools can find it simpler to expel students, and therefore families, than government ones. Schools with waiting lists may also take the approach that “if you don’t like it then someone else will happily take your place.”
Generally as school marketers our role is to attract families. Sometimes we may need to consider how to deter them.
The Centre for Marketing Schools is an international network of people passionate about schools. Founded by Dr Linda Vining the Centre is now led by Jenny Pierson.
Join us. Together we can learn, share ideas and tell the unique story of our school community.