Does your private school have a marketing plan? If not, you’re not alone.
For decades, many K-12 private schools successfully recruited prospective students without devising concrete marketing strategies. However, as the current landscape continues to change due to the impacts of COVID-19, it’s more vital than ever to implement a digital or virtual marketing plan that you can carry out from a distance. And with increasingly more competition, efforts that yielded strong enrollment and retention numbers in the past are no longer always reliable.
Uncertainty around next year’s enrollment can make it challenging to plan for the future or ensure a steady flow of income for your school. But a thoughtful marketing roadmap can help you stay on track, measure progress and performance, identify which efforts drive the best results, and continue to recreate that success.
Today, marketing is essential. But it can also seem complicated, expensive, and overwhelming. How can you add yet another round of duties to your team’s already packed-full plate?
The good news is, developing a comprehensive marketing plan for your school doesn’t have to consume all your resources. Private school marketing can actually help you consolidate all your efforts and streamline the path ahead. It can also help you move to the next stage in the Enrollment Management COVID-19 Response Curve. You just have to take it step-by-step, or piece by piece, and pretty soon the parts will come together to create an organized, strategic whole. And using specific digital channels, like your website or social media, can help you connect with your audience like never before.
The most important part is simply to begin. You have to begin creating a marketing plan wherever you’re at and do what you can to make the biggest impact with your available time and resources.
Here is some useful advice, plus five steps to creating a private school marketing plan that yields results:
Can Small Admissions Teams Afford to Have a Marketing Plan?
I know what you’re thinking: “Marketing is great for large schools with more bandwidth and a larger budget, but my team (or my team of one) is already strapped for resources. There’s no way we can invest the time in creating and launching a marketing plan.”
But the truth is, a well-formed marketing plan will alleviate plenty of your team’s headaches by rallying everyone in your school around common goals and giving you the opportunity to codify your efforts. Rather than working in silos with disparate strategies, you can formalize the process and ensure every activity ties back to specific, measurable goals.
Yes, it will require some initial set-up, but you’ll likely discover much of what you’ll need to do aligns with work you and your team are already conducting — just in a more streamlined way. And by tackling your marketing plan during the summer months, you can stay on track all year long.
As a small team, you already know the value of doing what you can with what you have — and marketing is no different.
5 Steps to a Successful Private School Marketing Plan
Marketing often gets a bad rap for being tedious, time-intensive, and overly complex. But while some marketing practices can be highly technical and involved, our advice is to start small and simple. Then, build your way up based on need, skill set, and available resources.
Here are the six steps you should take to build a great private school marketing plan:
Step 1: Define Your Goals
What do you want to accomplish? Before you do anything else, it’s critical you answer this question. Your goals are the foundation of your marketing plan, and you’ll need to ensure they’re airtight. One way to do this is by creating SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) goals.
- Here’s an example of a SMART goal:
Our goal is to increase enrollment 10% year-over-year from the 2019/2020 school year to the 2020/2021 school year.
You’ll also need to define your objectives and key results (OKRs).
- Here’s an example of an OKR:
Objective = Get more inquiries virtually for the 2020/2021 school year
Key Result = Update the website to increase organic traffic by 10% (resulting in more potential families)
Determine how you’ll measure your performance, and the metrics you’ll monitor to determine whether efforts are successful or need to be improved.
Step 2: Analyze Your Situation
Next, you need to identify where you are now by performing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. Strengths and weaknesses are internal and can be controlled and maintained by your specific school while opportunities and threats are external and come from outside interaction with families, your competition, or the environment in which we all operate.
Here’s an example of each:
- Strength: Great reputation in the community
- Weakness: Lackluster online presence
- Opportunity: Parents interested in engaging with the school online
- Threat: Other local schools have a more robust online presence
A few more items you need to define before moving to the next step include:
- Target personas of mission appropriate families for your school
- Existing channels, tools, and technology you can leverage
- Timeline you have to implement and execute your plan
- Budget you’ll have to work with
Step 3: Define Your Value Proposition
You can’t successfully market your school without clearly defining its values and key value proposition. And it’s close to impossible to talk about a marketing plan without having a messaging component. Especially during times when families may not be able to visit your campus in person, messaging will play a huge role in how your school is perceived.
For example, George School has its value proposition displayed prominently on the website home page.
Their messaging makes it clear they value diversity and their ties to local roots. It’s a community where you will be challenged, valued, and heard by your teachers. This messaging gives you a taste of not only the school values, but also the culture, and what a family can expect if their child attends.
Ensuring your messaging is unique and clear can help families understand what sets your school apart, and navigate decisions during a time when they may not be able to make it to campus.
Remember: Your value prop should resonate with your prospective and current families because it’s emotive and focuses on answering the question, “WIIFM: What’s in it for me?”—as in what will a student gain by attending your school.
Step 4: Outline Key Strategies
It’s a good idea to develop a multi-pronged strategy that addresses a few key channels:
- Social Media
Identify which channels are most popular among your target audience. For example, the top three platforms for US teens include YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat, according to Pew Research. On the flip side, Facebook is more popular among adults aged 25 – 44 than teens, according to data from Statista.
Your website should be your online hub — a place where current and prospective students and families can access information about your school, contact you, and connect to your portal and social media accounts.
It’s essential you develop content to address questions and pain points at each phase of the admission and enrollment funnel. Ensure each piece of content includes a call-to-action (i.e., the next step you’d like your audience to take). Additionally, determine how you’ll deliver the content. (e.g., On your blog, via email, at an event, etc.)
Create an email nurture series (automated communication plan) for each of the goals you identified in step one, with content addressing your target audience’s needs at each stage of the funnel. Make sure you follow email best practices for the best results.
Determine how your events can tie back to your goals, and how you can repurpose content and messaging you’ve created for other elements of your plan. Use other channels (like your social media accounts, website content, and email) to increase event attendance for in-person and virtual events.
- Direct Mail
While direct mail can sometimes be thought of as dated or irrelevant, when done properly it can make a big impact. For example: mailing a perfectly timed welcome package to newly admitted students with an “instagrammable” item, like the example below from The University of Texas, can make a huge impact.
Step 5: Launch
Once you’ve created your school marketing plan, it’s time to get started. Launching a new marketing strategy can be nerve-wracking, but remember — you can always improve and tweak your plan along the way. Digital marketing is especially malleable, and you can update content and assets as needed.
Step 6: Reflect and Reassess
After you’ve launched your marketing plan, the next step is to monitor your performance and identify areas of opportunity. For example, you may determine your email click-through-rates aren’t as high as expected, which might indicate you need to personalize the content or tailor it more towards your current and prospective families’ needs.
Over time, you can set baselines for each channel and develop more specific goals.
There’s no such thing as a perfect private school marketing plan — you should always be refining, optimizing, and experimenting. By taking the time to sit down and plot out your efforts, and doing what you can with the resources you have, you’ll be much closer to meeting your goals. And building out your school marketing can help you on the path to Enrollment Management Maturity. It’s also an essential part of running a successful virtual admission process that will help you meet your enrollment goals and grow as a school.
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