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November 28, 2018

Is IndySchools Marketing Growing Up?

The Enrollment Management Association’s quarterly magazine, The Yield, hit our mailbox here at True with a big impact earlier this week. It’s TABS this week, and our Sean Williams is going — so the timing was terrific.

Why? The cover story.

“The View from 30,000 feet” featured 12 consultants to the independent school enrollment industry, and the “latest trends” were pretty darn scintillating reading. Some of the many ideas that resonated with us are outside of marketing, but of course, those that DID apply to our IndySchools marketing practice were quite cogent and interesting.

See our take on some of the key trends discussed in the feature:

Enrollment Manager as “Connector in Chief”

The idea that the enrollment manager is the “connector in chief” was fascinating. Scott and Tammy Barron run School Growth, and their view is that the siloed organization at most schools has got to go. Collaboration among advancement, business office and enrollment management represents a golden chance to share not only data, but insight and interpretation.

We love this idea, and often recommend creating a communication council that pulls these constituencies together along with representatives from parent communities, faculty, and other staff and leadership functions. The path to collaboration runs through communication and coordination – you can read more about that in our blog series on integrated communications

What a Successful Leader Looks Like

Chris Baker’s “Six characteristics of successful leaders “ also resonated. Here are the six with a little of our commentary:

  1. Visionary and strategic –TRUDAT! Leaders do more than just operate your school, they have a strong idea of where they want the school to be and engage people on how to get there – the vision and the strategy. This is where marketing and communication become essential for schools – you have to discover and articulate what makes your school different
  2. Analytical – we live in a world where we have more access to more data than ever before. That means leaders have to be able to find insight amid the tidal wave of numbers and endless cross-tabulations. That’s why the partnerships across the leadership departments are so crucial. Leaders don’t want to miss the chance to glean insight just because one department doesn’t talk to the other.
  3. Collaborative – The Barrons covered that off well. You can’t live in your own pen and expect to build teams.
  4. Balanced in intelligence and emotional quotients – Definitely, schools aren’t for the weak! You need to see things from both perspectives, and in some schools, from the spiritual angle as well. This requirement is why when we talk objectives in our work, we say, “What do we want people to think, feel and do?”
  5. Calculated risk takers – What we did yesterday may have worked fine, but today is a new day. You have to live in the now and think to the future. That’s going to mean some uncomfortable choices, and leaders will need to balance the risk and reward, just like every other industry leader does!
  6. Leaders with a sense of urgency – Leadership by its nature needs a bias for action. Problems, issues and opportunities don’t last forever, nor do their solutions. Experiment, try things out, but by all means move – like a shark, you swim to live, and that’s the case for schools as well. Your families and students expect you to be the experts, so help them by insisting on strong action.

How IndySchools Marketing is Evolving

The last highlight we’d share is on marketing – Dr. Americus Reed notes that schools, at last, are learning from other industries and embracing branding not just for its logos, colors and typefaces. He says the hard part “is infusing [your brand] into every single fiber, every aspect of what you’re doing, and using your brand to make decisions every day about HR, enrollment and strategy.” (p. 8)

Rick Newberry notes that most schools still aren’t making the needed investments in marketing, both in terms of budgets, but in terms of people. “[T]hey’re sensing the need for knowledge about how to reach their markets. Investment in market research is critical, but enrollment teams need to start the conversation with the board, starting with the data they have on hand and advocating for funds to get the data they need.” (p. 10)

Newberry says schools should spend 1%-3% of their operational budget in marketing. We assume that’s exclusive of salaries, and expresses a range that may correspond to school size. For most industries, including salaries, 5%-9% of revenue should go to marketing depending on whether the organization wishes to grow. Recent research put those numbers higher, but we’ll stick to the 5%-9% range. Of course, if your school is 25% under-enrolled…


There’s more. Want to talk IndySchools marketing? I’ll be at TABS from Thursday reception to mid-morning Saturday. Hope to see you there!

Otherwise, find me! SDWilliams@truedigitalcom.com or 216-356-6689. Oh, and @CommAMMO on Twitter.

independent school marketing
independent school strategy
thought leadership

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