With over 20 years of experience in the independent school industry and helping companies to grow, we found three systematic issues that many schools need to change in order to grow:
- Create a school-wide growth strategy and implementation plan
- Stop the fragmentation of your messaging and marketing
- Create an environment in which the strategy and plans can be executed
Most schools struggle with these issues for a variety of reasons, although the implementation is more straightforward than many think. Here is a quick framework to address all three of these fundamental issues.
1. Create a school-wide growth strategy and implementation plan
Having a school-wide strategy and implementation plan is essential to the success of any independent school. The first and probably most important objective is to align the board with the administrative team and staff and ensure universal agreement on the short-, mid- and long-term objectives, priorities and goals.
Second, it is essential to develop a school-wide messaging and communication strategy that unifies the various needs of admission, advancements and the school’s overall needs. In most schools this is not the case and results in inconsistent messaging and often in weak differentiation from the competition.
Strategies are only useless presentations if they don’t include clearly prioritized implementation plans that are based on the real capabilities of a school. Most schools struggle with lean resources and understaffed departments with people that have to wear multiple hats. Creating a strategy and action plan has to take this into account and provide solutions and a path of success. More on that later.
A common reason why schools don’t have a strategy is either because the staff is caught up in the daily operations and can’t get their heads above water and/or they don’t know how to build a methodology which allows for the creation of a strategy.
Often it is a combination of both. Using an external resource is highly advisable, because it delivers the methodology, drives the strategy development along a timeline and provides an outside perspective which is important. In addition, an external resource can help to bring the different constituency groups together.
2. Stop the fragmentation of your messaging and marketing
One of the biggest issues in schools is the fragmentation of marketing, messaging and communication. Most schools have completely different approaches and responsibilities for the various marketing activities (e.g. admission vs. advancement). However, independent schools are not different from companies in other industries that have different business units, products or service lines. Schools need to consolidate marketing and communications and then break down the actions, campaigns and sub-messaging based on the departments’ needs. Often, the admission department is tasked with website development and social media management while attempting to meet both the short- and longer-term goals for the admission office and the school. The result is not only inconsistent messaging and brand presentation, but due to the fragmentation, budgets are not maximized and there is redundant spending and resource usage for things that could, and should, be managed centrally across the school. This is true for smaller schools with modest budgets as well as for very large schools with more robust budgets.
3. Create an environment in which your strategy and plans can be executed
Over the past 15 years, marketing has become complex and sophisticated, yet most schools treat it as if a part-time or small staff can provide the entire spectrum of marketing services a school needs. The reality is that a small army is required to provide the specialty expertise for today’s marketing. However, schools don’t have the budget for a small army of marketers. Outsourcing is not an option but there are two problems that come along with this need:
1. Most schools don’t know how to manage and integrate a service provider. Here is a framework that should be implemented. The role of an outsourcer is to:
- provide specialty expertise
- get projects executed along a clearly defined strategy and timeline
- provide ongoing transparent reporting about progress, performance and make suggestions for adjustments
On the other side, the role of the internal resources should be to provide the outsourcer with information that is difficult to obtain as an outsider and be the bridge between the school and the outsourcer. A tangible example of a problem many independent schools face is not being able to meet all of the content needs. To address this issue, Blue Baden assigns each school with a staff of dedicated content producers. Let’s say the school has an upcoming event. Our writer talks with and interviews the school’s staff. It’s not different from what a reporter does. The only difference is that our writer and the school staff have a close relationship and get to know each other over time, which makes things even easier. Once finished, the content piece produced by Blue Baden’s staff will be returned to the school for review, and any necessary adjustments will be made prior to its publication. All of this happens along a tight timeline which is managed by our marketing account manager. Successful outsourcing doesn’t mean “throwing something over the fence and hoping it gets done,” but fully integrating external resources with internal resources in a seamless process. What’s clear is that most schools need external support in order to be successful and previous failed attempts are not indications that external help won’t work. It simply means that in the past, you may have chosen a partner not well suited or fully capable of meeting your school’s unique needs.
2. There are not many marketing and consulting companies that have deep independent school industry knowledge. This is certainly an issue and makes things more difficult. However, Blue Baden is the leading full service provider, focusing exclusively on the growth of independent schools.
If you follow these three steps, you will see that your school will experience much faster growth than your competitors and that your staff retention will improve. If you are interested to learn how this could be implemented in your school, please contact Blue Baden at (413) 446-6068.