Clearly, it’s that time of year for Open House. How can I tell? Well, it’s not the crisp fall air, or the the changing colors of the trees, or even the increase in traffic in the mornings as I drive my daughter to school.

No. It’s a much simpler answer.

It is the 435 radio advertisements I hear on my morning drive, touting the various qualities of the area private schools, enticing you to “take a look at our school”. That’s all the tip-off I need to know that it is, in fact, open house season.

Let’s look at those ads for a moment, because there is a cautionary tale in here. I have listened to ads all week, and without naming names, I can report that even to my untrained ear, most of the ads sounded the same. Nearly every advertisement contained the following phrases:

  • “Our faculty truly cares about our students”
  • “Cutting edge technology makes our education special”
  • “College prep classes”
  • “A caring environment”
  • “A rich tradition of excellence”

Wow. For the record, there are over 70 private high schools in the Baltimore Metropolitan area (!). If the best a radio ad can do is educate about the five bullet points above, I would suggest that perhaps a major opportunity has been missed. With the amount of money that it takes to do an effective multi-channel, multi-media advertising campaign, these institutions are fighting for any bit of attention they can get. With vanilla, cookie cutter verbiage, these schools have retreated into the malaise of “private schools” instead of standing out as “School X”!

Case in point: there was one school that ran a great advertisement.  It was an impassioned story told by a father about the amazing transformation he has seen in his daughter due to the private school she attended this year. I was riveted to hear about how she has blossomed in learning Latin, does regular community service, is the first in her family to speak Mandarin, and has successfully coded her first robot. Those three examples, which were beautifully described, told me that the school has faculty that cares about students, cutting edge technology, college prep classes, and a caring environment. That kind of student success couldn’t be attained without those factors built in.  I DEFINITELY paid attention to the name of the school and when their open house was, because the idea of what my daughter COULD become engaged me in the ad.

So, as you are thinking about how to position your school in the marketplace, you should be taking a second look at the language you use to describe the wonderful things that happen every day on campus. Get away from “buzzword bingo”, and really dive in to the heart of what makes your school special.

Sometimes you really only have 15 seconds to make an impression. Make them all count.

3 Comments

  • Great points to think about. You are correct in that almost all private schools point out the same bullet points. The telling differences are the stories on how our school has changed or impacted the life of the individual student. Powerful words coming from the parents also speak to the success of the school and its mission.

    • This is a great post. People often underestimate the power of words. Buzzwords will only carry an ad so far… Storytelling is the oldest art form, and the reason this particular ad worked is because it used powerful language to tell a succinct, effective story. The proof of the impact is in the reaction it elicited. Good stuff.

  • Meaningful stories and testimonies from students and parents are invaluable to a school’s reputation. The radio Ad mentioned above, is an excellent example of achieving successful peer-to-peer contact without actual physical connection.

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