The earlier in the game, the better.
When I started marketing for my kids’ school, I did not systematically approach it at all. I just did anything that came to mind. Yeah, don’t do that. :)
Instead, one of the first things you should do, after deciding who will be involved in marketing efforts and your school administration’s involvement is determining your school’s enrollment weak spots. These are the spots that you hope to rectify with marketing. Examples might be: an enrollment decline of 15% between third and fourth grade; low kindergarten enrollment numbers for the past three years; or fewer parents have toured your school for the past two years.
Knowing your weak spots will help you determine your marketing priorities and which specific tactics to utilize.
1. Meet with your administration. Meet with your principal and review the enrollment data. Look for trends from year to year. This will tell you the what but not always the why. Also seek out any insight your administration may provide. They may have access to other data, too, such as exit survey information. Please note, sometimes you will not be able to get this data and you will have to rely on other information outlined below.
2. Seek anecdotal information. After reviewing the numbers, talk with parents in different grades, particularly the areas with weak spots. Of course, when possible, listen to a variety of voices.
3. Survey. Send out a parent satisfaction survey. This can give you an idea of information not revealed in the data, particularly retention-related. The only wrinkle is you should send this out in October/November or early spring. (Sending it out at the beginning of the year will not yield enough information.)
4. Be prepared for general trends. It’s also possible you will determine you have a general trend, not tied to one specific area. (Say, an annual slight decline (or increase!) in most grades.) Or perhaps the biggest takeaway will be more anecdotal—i.e., that your school’s reputation is outdated and/or inaccurate.
5. Don't rely on assumptions. It's understandable you may see this effort as a waste of time if you've been involved with the school a long time or you are anxious to start marketing. Sometimes the results will surprise you so please don't rely on assumptions.
No matter the scenario, I expect the fact-finding will be fruitful. It’s good to understand your current situation early in the process. Otherwise, how can you know where you want to go? And how can you measure if what you are doing is working? By the way, have you toured your competitors to see what they are doing that is working?