Communitas PR is a marketing communications consultancy working exclusively in the education sector both in the UK and internationally. Director Ken Stevens has designed and led on a number of whole-school launches and website developments for Mayesbrook Park School, as well as South Bank Engineering UTC , Barking and Dagenham School Improvement Service (BDSIP) and The Lion Academy Trust.
In this blog he looks at what you need to do to ensure your school stands out from the crowd.
Developing a marketing plan can sometimes sound like corporate psychobabble. At a time when your focus may be on how you are going to pay for school meals, you may wonder what it has to do with you – and whether it should take up any of your already stretched time.
However, with diminishing pupil numbers and a crisis in recruitment, it is increasingly important to stand out from other schools to help you get pupils through the door. At a very basic level, marketing will help you to:
- Talk to the people you need to influence and persuade (your target audiences)
- Stand out from the crowd
- Deliver the results you are looking for
- Measure and improve your performance over time
The point of this blog is not to stun you with everything you can do, but help you to understand how you can get the best outcomes for your school.
Understand why you need to market your school:
The first step is to understand exactly what you need to do. Ask yourself:
- What are the 3 most important things to achieve? Is it attracting more pupils, recruitment or rebuilding your school’s reputation after a particularly difficult time?
Understand who you need to communicate with – this will help you focus and cut down on any unnecessary work:
- Do you need to speak to people you already know, or do you need to reach new people? Are you looking to speak with existing parents or new parents? Are you looking to attract employees?
- What is the best way to communicate with them? Is it social media, newsletters, email, your website?
Learn from your competitors to be clear what you are up against:
- What are your “competitors” doing well?
- What are their weaknesses?
- What do you do better?
Identify key differentiators about your school and write some short, sharp sentences (your “key messages”).
This is not something that you have to sit in a room and try and do yourself. Why not get people from your team and school involved?
- Hold a “focus group”. This is a discussion group made up of, for example, a governor, a member of the Senior Leadership Team (not the Head), a teacher, non-teaching staff and administrative staff. It can last about an hour and allows you to question people about what they think is great about your school – and perhaps where you need to improve.
- Use online surveys to ask parents what they think about your school. There are plenty of examples online that can help you get started. These survey results will show some great quotes that can be used as “key messages” (sharp, ten word sentences that should be used in all materials; your prospectus, your Head’s message, your social media channels, in your recruitment material and on your website.)
- If you are using direct quotes from parents or staff, do not make them up – use real examples so that you can prove you are not inventing them if someone asks.
- Once you have your key messages, test them with your focus group to make sure they are relevant.
Use your website and your social media effectively – these are how you communicate and are your “communication channels”
- Your website should be aimed at parents, potential parents and potential staff members – not at children. It needs to be clean and clear, up-to-date and signpost what you want people to look at. Good examples are Chesterton Primary School, Lion Academy Trust, Skinner’s Academy Trust, and Paxton Primary. These school websites use photography really well and Paxton Primary makes great use of quotes.
- Less is more – if your website is clear and concise people are more likely to engage. The same goes for newsletters. If they are well designed and short, people are more likely to read them. Remember to look at what your competitors are doing to see if there are any tips you can pick up.
- When using social media, think about when and where you are posting. LinkedIn and X (formerly Twitter) are most effective for recruitment and Facebook and Instagram for parents. For prospective employees it is better to post in the early morning and for parents in the evening.
It’s important to measure how effective your efforts are, to see if they’re helping you reach your goals. Set some targets to help you track the impact of your work. These could be:
- An increase in the number of followers on your social channels e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn
- An Increase in the number of people engaging with your communication channels, e.g. newsletter open rates, attendance at open evenings, upturn in prospectus downloads
- Positive changes in attitudes which can be measured through your parent surveys.
- Upward trends in enquiries / applications
Tracking success means you can change how you run your campaign – throw out the things that do not work and focus on the things that do.
Reminder! Do not forget your focus group. It is always worth checking back with them to see what they think, asking for feedback and improvements.