Retention Strategies: Closing the back door

We have heard it said that, “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 marked by its ability to retain families year after year – not just its ability to recruit new ones.

In any school, the current families are vitally important to the internal success and broader mission. It is the current families who are passionate about the vision and direction of the school, who will ultimately tell their friends, family and broader network all about your school, creating positive word-of-mouth advertising. We like to refer to this as creating ‘parent evangelists’.

Parent evangelists are families who are so positively passionate about your school they choose to voluntarily share their experience with others both online and offline. In essence, this is the best type of advertising you can NEVER genuinely buy.

Thanks to the internet and various social media channels, schools now operate in a world where a parent’s opinion on the quality of their child’s education is no longer limited to the ‘car park’ or a ‘backyard’ conversation. Instead, many parents are actively involved in online community forums where thousands of strangers are potentially engaging with one another to gain a sense of whether your school is right for their child.

Unfortunately, this can also create significant headaches for schools in handling the online perception of their school. Before an initial enquiry is made, there may be negative word-of-mouth feedback and reviews existing online. This can create a narrative around your school which is either untrue, biased or the result of an unfortunate conflict situation (which is inevitable in school life). This is especially true for Christian schools where religious organisations can often come under attack for holding to their Kingdom Mission.

We believe that today, more than ever, schools must engage in active and aggressive strategies to ‘close the back door’ and maintain consumer (parental) confidence.

A primary 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 six 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, the leadership team, teachers, support staff and finance officers are some of the most prominent advocates when it comes to creating 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, it is 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 it’s Kinder to Prep, Year 6 to Year 7 or Year 9 to Year 10, spaces must be created where parents can talk to the relevant school heads, access information and engage in the conversation, before they have turned to online forums for their advice and 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 share stories which showcase and connect families emotionally and inspirationally to the 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 the parent community becomes increasingly more ‘millennial’, schools cannot afford not to create moving and emotive stories about their community.


Conduct Parent Satisfaction Surveys

Measuring parent satisfaction regularly 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 broader parent community. These actions can go a long way when issues do arise as there is already relational ‘change in the pocket’.


Create Connections

A current reality with relation to consumer behaviour is that parents are no longer the only primary decision-makers 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 entirely up to their child to decide based on their experience. The possible repercussions for enrolment figures are that a student may have considerable sway over their peers – if one student leaves, potentially the whole peer group could 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 that transcend the school car park and school events into 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 led initiatives and Buddy Programs.


In summary, the current families are the foundation of the school and the critical 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 the 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 positive story of the 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.