More to Come

Independent Schools Need A Strategy for Marketing

I know. Obvious statement, right? But not exactly obvious, if the initial findings of a survey of independent schools on marketing are correct.

Schools seem to be embracing a wide range of communication activities, including digital and social, but the investment in these media looks to be catch-all. There’s no clear trend in investment — as a percentage of overall marketing/communication spend, as many are spending less than 20 percent on digital as are spending more than 50 percent. Digital is starting to, well, dominate isn’t really the right word… But print is not the overwhelming choice any more.

Overall marketing spend? Nearly 60 percent are spending less than $80,000 annually — and compared with earlier research, that’s a fairly large increase. But when the average annual tuition at a boarding school is more than $50,000, and about half that for day, $80,000 is a tiny fraction of revenue, and most schools aren’t spending even that.

Think of it – if your school has 400 students paying say, $30,000 per year (a little over half-pay in boarding school), that’s $12 million in annual revenue. By most measures in other industries, a “maintenance” budget would be more like $1 million a year just to maintain the current enrollment (about 8 percent of revenue). If you’re in growth mode, that number should be closer to 10 percent or 11 percent.

Using the figures above, you’d need just 33 students to break even on that investment. Even if you merely doubled your budget from $80,000, you’d only need, what, six students to earn a small profit on the spend. This is what we mean when we talk about strategic marketing.

It’s all more complicated than that, of course, with net tuition targets changing throughout the budget cycle, and the desire to fill seats/beds in the school affecting financial aid spend, international recruiting, and much else.

Let’s just say, however, that the reason schools don’t spend anywhere near what other organizations do on marketing is that they aren’t articulating what should be done with it. They typically throw dollars at the wall and see what happens. No one will give you $1 million to just try stuff out.

What’s essential is a strategy — what initiatives are going to move the admission needle, by how much and over what time period, at what cost. A comprehensive, integrated plan moves the school forward and answers the questions the business office and board ask. Executing on that plan brings results.

Where’s your plan?