Don't let your school succumb!
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. Accordingly, our school 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
Our marketing 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. And (gasp!) I never focused on our brand. 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. Retention is vital to any school's success, and it was good we realized that!
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. Effective Marketing takes Planning. Public school marketing must include a strategic plan--no knee-jerk reactions and don't do everything you think of! Your time is valuable. Find out where your school needs to improve, make sure your brand is strong, and come up with a plan to address your weaknesses, as well as general retention and recruitment.
2. Marketing has lots of Components. Public school marketing is more than just "getting the word out." I've seen schools think their school can be saved with a mailer to families in their neighborhood. Likewise, some parents think if a school has active social media channels it is set with marketing. There is a lot more to consider. You want to think about the big picture and which tasks warrant your attention and in which order of priority.
3. Retention is Important. Public school marketing plans must include retention. You must not only think about getting the word out to new families but also about keeping the ones you have. Read about the value of retention here, but in short, it's more efficient than going after new families and it just makes sense--you want to be at a school where families stay put, not where there is a ton of turnover.
Hopefully you will be more strategic and deliberate in your approach to marketing your school than I initially was! I hope you never man a booth at an all-day carnival and only talk to one person who he lives out of state. If you are just beginning, you may want to read up on involving your principal, something you should do from the get-go.