When I started in the realm of public school marketing, the district had just determined that our school was no longer to be tied to particular boundaries but rather students from throughout the district could attend. Indeed, it was given the designation of "School of Choice."
Seeds of Anxiety
With this designation came some benefits (increased status, busing options, funding, etc.), but also risks. It was kind of like flying without a net. We would be no one's "default" or "neighborhood" school. We parents were a little scared about this: we knew we were good, but would enough families seek us out? Had enough people even heard of us?
Oh, and did I mention charter schools were cropping up and thriving in our area? It felt like students were constantly leaving to go join the latest-and-greatest charter schools and parents were always talking about getting on such-and-such waiting list or lottery list. Further, our district was being criticized for not being fiscally responsible and thus was losing override elections which in turn tarnished our school's image.
You can see how this all added up to cause a perfect storm of anxiety....And thus the getting-the-word-out frenzy was born.
Marketing Efforts without a Plan
It could have been so much more strategic and effective, rather than exhausting. I never bothered to figure out where our trouble spots were. I never set goals or prioritized. I just focused on Getting Our Name Out. I thought of an idea and I did it, even if the idea was time-consuming or other things would have yielded the same or better results with less effort. If I heard of an event, we were there. We did so, so many events. And I spent a lot of time on getting a postcard made--as if one (expensive!) mailing was the solution--and also on investigating installing additional signage.
It all worked out okay. We all learned a ton that year and our enrollment numbers were good. But did we need to do quite so many activities, outreach events and press releases? How much time was wasted? Luckily in successive years we worked a lot smarter, using a plan and constantly evaluating. We also focused on retaining the families we currently had, which was huge.
If you and your school are at the infancy of marketing and/or experiencing a similar anxiety-induced frenzy, stop and take a breath.
Tips to Remember:
1. Public school marketing is more than just "getting the word out."
2. Public school marketing must include a strategic plan--no knee-jerk reactions and don't do everything you think of!
3. Public school marketing plans must include retention.
Are you dealing with new schools cropping up nearby that are creating buzz/drawing your students? Share any stories of time-wasting, misguided marketing efforts. Did you go to an all-day carnival and only talk to one person and he lives out of state? Let's share a laugh at our misfortunes! And also check-out tips on involving your principal, something you should do from the get-go.