What I wish Heads knew about being the school marketer

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A few years ago, my school began a communication initiative between the parents and their children’s teacher with three goals.

These goals were:

  1. To impress upon the parents how much our teachers genuinely know the students in their classes
  2. To create a culture where communication between parents and teachers is not always about things their children did wrong
  3. To generate positive word-of-mouth in the community at large.

The idea was simple: each parent would receive some sort of communication, preferably a phone call, from one of their children’s teachers. They would tell them something good that the student had done recently and share a story about the child, so that the parent could see the teacher really did know their child.

As you can probably guess, the results were fantastic! At least they were initially. I say initially, because a few weeks into the communications, we heard that the parent of a younger student was raving to their child’s teacher about the call that she received and, for some reason, the teacher shared, “You know, they made us do that.”

The narrative that the school made the teachers make those calls spread everywhere and, with those seven simple words, the results of our collective efforts were severely diminished. As an aside, the disappointing part of this story is that the majority of our teachers consistently and frequently have this sort of communication with parents as part of their regular practice. We, as a school, were simply trying to make the experience consistent for all parents.

There are three marketing takeaways for me. First, this story highlights the power of word-of-mouth marketing. Second, this entire initiative did not involve the ‘marketing’ department of the school. Finally, the marketing of the school does not rest solely in the lap of the person whose title includes the word ‘marketing’.

To expand on the final point a little more, the moral of this story is that your school marketer is not your chief marketer! You, as Head, are the chief marketer of your school.

What does this mean for you? There are three things you should understand in order to embrace your position as the marketer-in-chief.

  1. Simply acknowledging this fact, and articulating your role in the school community publicly, will go a long way in helping to market your school.
  2. You will need to reinforce the fact that it is everyone’s job to market the school, including teachers, staff, cafeteria workers, maintenance staff, coaches and especially the person who answers the main school phone.
  3. Begin to think of the person who holds the position of school marketer as an orchestra conductor; they help to organise the marketing function at your school. Just as a conductor cannot make music without musicians, a school marketer cannot effectively market a school without the other employees playing their proper part.

While parental stories at your school can cause harm, they can also result in extremely positive outcomes as well.

Just recently, our Lower School Division Head invited parents to an information session to discuss our new Mathematics program in the Lower School. He conducted it in the evening to allow parents who work the chance to hear about the changes. While he only had about a dozen parents in attendance, the initial feedback was outstanding! Parents learned about the process of selecting our new curriculum, how we implemented the program with their children and how the program ties into our PreK-12 Mathematics curriculum. While the initial feedback was very welcome, what was particularly welcome was the fact that we heard from parents who weren’t even at the event that the program was very well done.

This story further reinforces that we are all marketers. Again, our marketing department had absolutely nothing to do with this event, and the positive word-of-mouth marketing that resulted cannot be replicated by placing a Facebook ad or a print ad in the local newspaper.

Brendan Schneider is the Director of Advancement at Sewickley Academy in Pennsylvania USA, and a leader in the field of inbound marketing for schools. He is also the Founder of SchneiderB Media, a digital marketing agency specialising in helping schools use inbound marketing. 
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SMJ Brendan Schneider

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