Our content marketing webinar series continued this past week with a success story like no other. Kate Persons, Senior Client Success Manager at Finalsite, spoke with Joanna Dugan, Communications Associate at Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, to get the details behind the success of marketing the school's new strategic plan as a small shop.
During the webinar, Joanna shared how the strategic plan successfully involved its school community from the beginning and how it's being marketed today through their website, social media, and even video:
A New(er) School, New Leadership, and New Ideas
Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart is located in Princeton, NJ — a very competitive independent school market. As the only all-boys school in Princeton, they inherently have a story that is intriguing, exciting, and different from any other school in the area (although it was founded just nineteen years ago).
Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart fell under new leadership three years ago when Headmaster Alfred F. Dugan III joined, and the timing couldn't have been more ideal for the school to be due for a new strategic plan around its mission and impact for students. He spent his first year simply getting to know what current students and families, as well as faculty, staff, and alumni thought of the school, so by his second year, the strategic planning process could begin.
This opened the doors to what the school would do differently from most other strategic plans: they would involve the school community from the beginning and use the strategic plan to underpin all subsequent marketing efforts.
Too often, strategic plans are crafted behind closed doors in a board room and the school community isn't aware of what it is and its goals until after the fact. Instead, Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart wanted to do approach their new strategic plan differently.
"The decision to make this experience transparent and inclusive was right from the beginning. It was important to us to be able to design who we are, what we do, and find out how we can share that with the world," said Joanna. "The school and board for the strategic plan decided to hire Christina Drouin from the Center for Strategic Planning to help them kick of the strategic plan, which has been driven by our school's story."
The strategic plan officially launched May 5, 2016. Drouin is still involved and has helped guide the work and process for the teams involved. Since then, the school has now established a high presence of the plan throughout the community and online.
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Engaging and Involving the School's Community
The purpose of the strategic plan is to provide the school with an opportunity share what it offers and how it differentiates in a "new generation of boys." The strategic plan process embraced the idea of having everybody in the school community's voice be heard.
"Involving the school community was ideal," said Joanna. "So we've been hosting events since the launch to allow members of the community to participate."
One of the most successful events was called "Visioning Day." The event was hosted on December 3, 2016 and had over 150 participants from current students and parents, to middle school students, founders, alumni, and even alumni families (a very large turnout for a small school, particularly right during the busy holiday season!). The individuals were invited to spend a full day sharing their thoughts on the school, its mission, and where they vision Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart becoming in the next five years.
"The event was a huge success. Current students were given an opportunity to speak to the audience about where they thought the school was headed," said Joanna. "During our break group sessions, participants especially enjoyed the exercise of placing a dot under which words they thought reflected the school in the best way. This was also a great way for us on the strategic plan team to gather data around what resonated the most with these individuals and how the school was being portrayed in their eyes."
Another popular event the school has hosted four times this fall are "Hawk Talks." These are brief coffee chat sessions that current parents have participated in with the school's Headmaster and leadership team behind the strategic plan. They are held in the morning right after drop off so it is helpful and convenient for working parents especially, and have been another great way to keep current parents informed in the work that is being done for the strategic plan.
"The leadership team has been able to think of fun, new ways to keep the current parents informed and engaged during this entire process," said Joanna. "We have had a good mix of parents at the Hawk Talks, and continue to be open to new event ideas, including more night events for all current families."
Overall, these events have helped the leadership team keep the school community informed in initiatives drafted for the strategic plan. It is also important to note much of what is being implemented now came from the ideas of the individuals participating in these events. They plan to continue hosting similar sessions next year.
Using The Website to Promote the Strategic Plan
Since Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart is keeping its school community as informed as possible, they created this page under the About Us section on the site for the plan to incorporate all of the details of the plan, its branding, events, updates, and more than on the school website.
The page opens with the title for the Strategic Plan, "Epic Vision: Soaring with Heart." As Joanna describes, the leadership team wanted a compelling title that was exciting, engaging, and forecasted the direction this new strategic plan would take the school within the next five years. They even had a logo created specifically for the plan that is not only seen through out the website, but also serves as a decal in the school's cafeteria as a reminder of the strategic plan's impact.
"Being a boys' school based on intention and design, we involved a graphic designer to help us create a new logo for the plan," said Joanna. "Yes, the hawk is our athletic mascot, but when we described ourselves as a whole, we are the hawks. We also successfully incorporated our Sacred Heart mission through the eye of the hawk, and now this logo is the visual behind the entire strategic plan."
The page also includes a description of the strategic plan, its mission statement, a list of committee members, videos, photos, upcoming events, and more. Because the school already uses Finalsite Composer, creating this page was easy.
Bringing Multiple Marketing Efforts Together for Strategic Plan
Being a small shop, Joanna is able to do more marketing efforts and collaborate with other departments across the school. Joanna's role for the plan has been to entice people to be involved in the strategic plan process and create ways to make it fun, engaging, and something individuals want to be a part of. Joanna is part of the school leadership team taking on the implementation phase for the plan. She helps inform other teams on the committee new marketing efforts to get initiatives implemented.
"Our team's focus is on identity and loyalty. I work alongside the director of admissions to coordinate ways to tell the school's story to prospective and current families," said Joanna. "We also are incorporating the strategic plan's vision statement for admissions, as well as open houses. When prospects come to our website or to campus, our discussions are around this vision and what prospective families can expect."
Joanna breaks down four specific marketing efforts behind the strategic plan and how they've been successful:
Digital/Print Formal Strategic Plan Booklet
Sent originally as a mailed piece but also featured on the strategic plan page on the school's website, the Formal Strategic Plan Booklet nicely summarizes the goals of the strategic plan, along with its vision statement, four pillar areas behind the plan, and more.
"We developed a communications plan for the strategic plan, and this booklet was one of the deliverables," said Joanna. "We sent this brochure out not just to current parents but to the entire community as a way to inform them of the strategic plan."
Joanna also highlights there was approval for a separate budget for the strategic plan to allow some traditional marketing around it as well. Yet, the rest of the marketing efforts have all been executed digitally.
After giving the strategic plan the title, "Epic Vision", Joanna and many others on the team felt people may not interpret the word epic as they would hope for the plan. This led to one of the videos behind their marketing efforts.
"We came up with the idea of recording a video featuring the school's Headmaster defining the word 'epic' so there would be no confusion," said Joanna. "We had a lot of fun making the video through a Masterpiece Theater style, while also emphasizing the point of the strategic plan and its title at the same time."
The video is just brilliant. Their team was able to take something serious, but make the video fun and engaging to bring people into the conversation about the plan and want to be involved.
Another video behind the marketing efforts featured the popular carpool karaoke theme that originated from The Late Late Show host, James Corden.
"Since I am a huge fan of James Corden, we thought of this video idea based on his carpool karaoke episode featuring Michelle Obama when he picks her up from the White House," said Joanna. "We thought, what if our headmaster went around and picked up school leaders to discuss the strategic plan?"
The video starts with the headmaster preparing for the day with a Rocky-themed workout, then makes a superhero-style quick change of clothes into his jacket and tie to pick up members of the strategic planning committee to sing inspirational songs and bring in the fun.
What's also great about this video is how it helped humanize the head of school and showcase his involvement with the students. During the Rocky-themed scenes, you can see him interacting with the boys and it paints a great picture of what their experience is like at the school.
Joanna noted their team hired an outside vendor to handle the video production for this, as it was a bit tricky with setting up the cameras throughout the car. However, she helped plan the content and songs that are showcased in the video.
Email has been another major digital marketing effort behind the strategic plan. Joanna mentions the influence of words and content in the emails for communicating details on the strategic plan to its constituents, as seen in this example:
"We're approaching the words and content in the emails by defining the words we want to use behind the strategic plan," Joanna said. "We understand word of mouth has evolved into more digital storytelling and we are the narrators of the story of not only this strategic plan but our school. We want to provide our constituents content that expresses who we are."
To see more email communication the team has put together, they have linked all their eNotify notices under an archive on the strategic plan's page on the school website for individuals to access in one place.
Finally, there isn't a better way to engage in your school community or promote a major school event than on social media. Joanna mentions how much they want individuals to share photos, thoughts, and ideas about the strategic plan online, especially if they are bringing them to campus for events and involving them during the entire process.
They created branded hashtags behind the event that pulls in those hashtags on the strategic plan page to showcase who's been part of the conversation:
"Our social media strategy behind the strategic planned led us to create our school's Instagram account finally last fall," said Joanna. "We find different audiences are using the platforms we are using to share content about the strategic plan, so we spend some time crafting different kinds of content to best engage with these audiences."
They are finding that many of the current students and alumni are using Instagram, while many professionals and even the school's Headmaster are on Twitter, and current parents/grandparents are on Facebook.
Some best practices behind their social media success include live tweeting during events and involving the Headmaster on social media.
Overall, by using these branded hashtags, it's encouraging individuals to continuing being part of the conversation about the strategic plan as a whole. Since it began with the idea of involving the school community from the beginning, this has allowed the strategic plan to truly make an impact on the future students of the Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephanie brings a fresh new marketing perspective with her background in social media, communications, and radio broadcasting. She is a co-producer for the FinalsiteFM podcast network and is passionate about helping schools stay ahead of their marketing goals by tracking new trends and developments. She is also a practicing singer/songwriter and loves to expand her creativity in DIY projects.