A marketing plan is crucial to your school’s overall success. It outlines your goals, how you’ll get there, and the budget and resources you need to make it happen. And while most traditional businesses have a marketing plan, we’ve found that many schools do not — that's a big mistake because independent schools need to market themselves more than ever before.
It’s not just that a marketing plan will help outline and keep you on track to reach your goals; it will also avoid sinking you into a vicious cycle.
As you focus less on marketing, enrollment goes down, the school has less money to spend on quality programs, and the school’s perceived value goes down… and the cycle starts over again.
A good marketing plan should derive its direction from the school's overall strategy. That sounds simple, but it is a basic approach that can easily be overlooked when the day-to-day marketing tasks get in the way.
If you’re thinking this all sounds great, but you don’t have the time, creating a successful school marketing plan may be more attainable than you think. With a few steps and a committee of colleagues, you can make a marketing plan that you can use this year to grow enrollment, better communicate with your community, and stay organized and on budget.
How to Create a School Marketing Plan
Start with Your Goals
Marketing teams can often be islands at schools, raving about “value props” and “personas.” But, you and your peers in advancement and admissions are on the same team, after all, so get together and discuss how marketing does more than design logos and make the viewbook; your work together on a marketing plan can help with the initiatives they think are important, like growing enrollment, retaining current families, and boosting alumni participation in the annual fund.
Now that your all-star committee’s in place, it’s time to connect the pieces of your plan.
Evaluate Local and National Trends, and Your Competition
Just like a traditional business making its marketing plans, there are external economic forces impacting your school and your target audience. These trends — including economic downturns, improving public schools in many states, and the growing cost of college —weigh on prospective families’ minds as they think about spending tens of thousands of dollars on an independent school education.
Review the trends you think are impacting you and get specific:
- Is it the high cost of living in your area that’s deterring families from considering your private elementary school?
- Are prospective millennial parents carrying higher student loan debt than previous generations?
- Is your school not sharing enough about its academic programs in science or technology?
When you understand these trends, you’ll be better positioned to improve your admissions page.
After reviewing the trends, it’s time to review the strengths and weaknesses of your competition. Include both private school and public districts within a set radius and ask:
- What are you doing better than they are?
- What do they do better?
- What makes you unique in comparison?
- How much is their tuition? How do they sell the cost?
Create or Refine Your Value Proposition
A value proposition is a statement that describes the benefits students and families can expect from attending your school and why your school is a better choice than the alternatives. If you’ve already created a value proposition, good for you! But it’s probably time for a refresh after doing all that research into trends and your competition. Are you sharing your value proposition well on your site?
If you’ve never created a value proposition, now’s the time, and it can be done in three steps:
- Identify your ideal prospect(s)
- Understand how you bring them value
- Know what you offer uniquely well, or at least better than most
These three points will allow you to shape your marketing plan with messaging that speaks to your prospective families and shares how your school does better than your competition.
You probably already know who your likely “buyers” are: prospective parents, prospective students, current parents and students, and alumni, but how well do you know them? Developing personas is a great exercise to get to know your school community better so that you can target the right information to them at the right time — the core of inbound marketing.
Delve into your buyers’ demographics, challenges, information sources, and more, and ultimately, this will make your inbound marketing efforts more successful.
Set Three (Realistic) Goals for Growth
Your marketing plan is meant to cover just this year, so focus your attention on three goals that you think are attainable.
Admissions wants more students, advancement wants more donations, and you probably want a whole host of engagement metrics for your site and social media. But, you’ll want your goals to be S.M.A.R.T: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
For example, here’s an old "goal" from the head of school: “We need to increase enrollment!"
The new goal from your marketing plan: Raise enrollment by 5% by April 1 while retaining 5% more families than last year.
When your goals are specific, backed up by data from previous years’ enrollment, bolstered by a plan to get it all done, you’re on the road to reaching those three realistic goals!
Plan Your Budget
Whether you’re on a shoestring or have a marketing windfall coming your way this fiscal year, staying on budget is crucial. Divide your budget into the areas where you’ll likely spend this year: A website redesign, online or social ads, photography, and marketing consultants like those in Finalsite Advantage can help you make the most of your marketing activity.
And, if you’ve always done things the same way —say, budgeted for expensive postage fees for an annual report that’s now available online —your marketing plan can shift funds to online efforts.
Create an Execution Plan
How are you going to get it all done? A marketing strategy that divides up the work, determines who’s responsible, and notes when it's completed is essential.
For example, let’s say your three goals for the year are:
- Increase enrollment by 5% (25 new students) by May 31.
- Increase engagement with prospective parents with 15% more inquiry forms completed by April 15.
- Grow Annual Fund by $25,000 with a 10% increase in alumni donors by June 15.
The execution of your marketing campaign will describe who is responsible, when you want to reach this goal, and all the steps and actions to get there.
Here’s a marketing plan example for a school:
Goal 1: Increase enrollment by 5% (25 new students) by May 31.
- Open House Events: Schedule and promote three open house events between January to April.
- Responsible: Events Coordinator
- Completion Date: One each in January, February, and April.
- Digital Ad Campaign: Target local parents on social media and search engines, highlighting the school’s achievements and benefits.
- Responsible: Digital Marketing Team
- Completion Date: Kick-off by January 15, with periodic optimization checks till the end of April.
- Engage Current Parents: Organize two referral programs or events encouraging current parents to refer potential students.
- Responsible: Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) Lead
- Completion Date: Launch by February 15 and another by April 1.
Goal 2: Increase engagement with prospective parents with 15% more inquiry forms completed by April 15.
- Website Optimization: Redesign the inquiry form to make it more user-friendly and visible on the homepage and admissions landing page.
- Responsible: Web Development Team
- Completion Date: By January 30.
- Engaging Content: Publish monthly blog posts or videos about school activities, student achievements, and teaching methodologies. Add more prominent calls to action to our marketing channels.
- Responsible: Content Team
- Completion Date: Starting January 15, then every month.
- Email Campaign: Send bi-weekly newsletters to prospective parents highlighting school updates, student testimonials, and reminders about the inquiry process.
- Responsible: Email Marketing Team
- Completion Date: First email by January 20, then bi-weekly till April 15.
Goal 3: Grow the Annual Fund by $25,000 with a 10% increase in alumni donors by June 15.
- Alumni Events: Organize two major alumni events where attendees can network, connect, and be asked for donations.
- Responsible: Alumni Relations Coordinator
- Completion Date: One in February and another in May.
- Personalized Outreach: Identify and reach out to key alumni who have previously donated or shown interest in contributing.
- Responsible: Development Team
- Completion Date: Start on January 15, and continue till June 15.
- Promotional Campaign: Highlight school development projects, student success stories, and testimonials to encourage donations.
- Responsible: Communications Team
- Completion Date: Launch by February 1, with monthly updates leading up to June 15.
Evaluate Your Plan — Frequently
You’ll need to check on your plan frequently, so in the examples above, each team will provide a bi-weekly progress report to ensure that the plan stays on track. The head of the marketing department will conduct monthly meetings to address any challenges and discuss further strategies. Note that all actions are set with early or mid-month dates to provide ample time for review and readjustments, ensuring you meet our goals efficiently.
A successful school marketing plan will have set goals, clear objectives, and ultimately, reflect the values and mission of your school. This year, break the cycle and develop a winning strategy that positions your school as the top choice for families.