I have heard it said; “If a good school is measured largely by its growth, what is the mark of a great school?”
In answer to this question, we believe a great school is evidenced by its ability to retain families year after year and not just its ability to recruit new ones. In any school, your current families are vitally important to the success and mission of your school and essentially the revenue needed to accomplish your Kingdom mission.
Orientating your whole leadership team (from the Board to Middle Management) and staff around the idea of retention is vitally important to the long-term growth and success of any school as not only does this increase revenue, but families who are passionately committed to the vision and direction of the school, are families who ultimately will not hesitate in telling their friends and family all about your school creating positive word-of-mouth advertising. We like to refer to this as creating ‘parent evangelists’!
Parent evangelists are essentially families who are so positively passionate about your school they choose to voluntarily share their experience with others both online and offline. This is the best type of advertising you can NEVER buy.
Thanks to the internet and social media channels, schools today operate in a world where a single parent’s opinion on the quality of their child’s education is no longer limited to the ‘carpark’ or the backyard conversation, rather, parents today are actively involved online in community forums where literally tens of thousands of strangers are engaging with one another to gain a sense of whether your school is right for their child or not.
Unfortunately, this often creates significant headaches for schools in handling the online perception of their school. Before an initial enquiry is even made, there may be negative word-of-mouth feedback and reviews existing online creating a narrative around your school which is either untrue, biased or the result of an unfortunate conflict situation (which unfortunately is inevitable in school life). This is especially true for Christian schools online where religious organisations can often come under attack for holding true to their Kingdom mission.
We believe today, more than ever, schools must engage in active and aggressive strategies to ‘close the back door’ and maintain consumer (parental) confidence.
A major goal of your marketing strategy should orientate around enforcing to existing parents daily, the notion that they have made the “very best decision for their child in enrolling at your school”.
So how do you do this? We have 6 strategies you can put in place right now.
Retention is everyone’s business!
While a Marketing Manager might interact with a parent at the enrolment stage or the odd event or occasion, your teachers, support staff and finance officers are some of the biggest advocates when it comes to creating your parent evangelists. Essentially a parent will be most impacted and satisfied with a school when their child is safe, happy and thriving in the classroom environment. Therefore, is it imperative that building an organisational culture orientated around the idea of creating ‘parent evangelists’ is part of the leadership’s strategic goals and growth plans for the whole school.
Focus on key transition grades.
Create strategies and messages that will positively enforce a parent’s decision to keep their child enrolled. Whether that is Kinder to Prep, Year 6 to Year 7 or Year 9 to 10/11, create spaces where parents can talk to the relevant school heads, can access information and can engage in the conversation earlier before they have turned to online forums for their advice or can reinforce negative ideas or opinions.
Tell your story.
It is vitally important that schools create a positive narrative around what makes them unique and special in the community. We always encourage clients to use film to create stories which showcase and connect families emotionally and inspirationally to your school. Celebrate wins, students’ successes and school milestones. People are more likely to remain loyal to a brand or product if they know the brand and story behind it. As your parent community becomes increasingly more ‘millennial’, schools absolutely cannot afford to not create moving and emotive stories about their community.
Conduct Parent Satisfaction Surveys.
Measuring parent satisfaction on a regular basis should be a vital part of your enrolment and marking plan. This will help you identify areas of satisfaction and dissatisfaction so that you can improve the experience and ultimately keep families enrolled and engaged in the school community.
Keep it personal.
Wherever possible senior leadership should be engaging with the parent community regularly. This is outside of any communication concerning disciplinary actions or a complaints issue. Management must avoid the appearance of a ‘glass tower’ style of leadership and actively be seen and involved in the wider parent community. These actions can go a long way when issues do arise as there is relational ‘change in the pocket’ already.
The current reality with relation to consumer behaviours is that parents are no longer the only decision-makers in families when it comes to their child’s education. Children themselves are actively involved in the decision-making process and it has become increasingly evident that in some cases, parents leave the choice completely up to their child to decide based on their experience. The repercussions of this is for enrolment figures is that a student will have considerable sway over their peers – if one student leaves, potentially the whole peer group will leave with them.
Therefore, the process of safeguarding these social connections is vitally important. Parents are also increasingly wanting to create meaningful relationships with other parents beyond the school carpark and school events to their personal social lives.
Schools should focus on enhancing the naturally occurring relationships within a school environment (parent to teacher, teacher to student, student to student) through events and initiatives such as Parent Ambassador programs, Facebook Groups, student lead initiatives and Buddy Programs.
In summary, your current families are the foundation of your school and the key building blocks to achieving consistent word-of-mouth marketing. When it comes to developing a successful marketing strategy in schools, leadership would be well aware that it is always cheaper to keep a current family enrolled than to recruit a new one.
Schools who do not allocate time and resources to understanding the principle of retention will undoubtedly suffer in their marketing success long term.
By focusing on your current community first and foremost, you will orientate your marketing around them and subsequently create loyal, and dedicated ‘parent evangelists’ who cannot help but tell their friends the exceptional story of your school.
For further school marketing tips and strategies or how we can partner with you to achieve your goals, contact us today for a free strategy discussion.