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Setting (Real) Expectations for a School Marketing Budget
Connor Gleason

Deciding how much to allocate to your school marketing budget can be challenging, especially when resources are limited. Effective marketing can include digital advertising, professional video production, social media marketing, photography, copywriting, and almost anything imaginable.

But each component plays a different (and necessary!) role in your private school's marketing plan, and navigating the complexities of budget allocation is even more complicated when busy school administrators don’t have realistic expectations for the actual investment of professional services.

We’ve all witnessed the eye rolls, the audible gasps, and the questions from admins about costs and the inevitable, “Do we really need this?”

So, how much should a school budget for marketing?

Despite a recent NAIS survey that found that 42% of member schools have an annual budget of $85,000 or more, admins may be unaware of the actual costs of essential marketing investments (or maybe their perceptions are anchored in what it did cost 10 or 15 years ago...)

Setting realistic expectations can help your school make informed decisions, and by understanding the costs investments of different marketing strategies, you can allocate your school's budget more efficiently and achieve better results.

Let’s look at the key components of a school marketing budget and provide insights on setting realistic expectations with school administrators. Whether you have a small or large budget, there are cost-effective options that can help you achieve your school's goals.

How to Set Your School's Marketing Budget

Digital Advertising for Schools

Estimated Investment

    •    Small Budget: $500 - $1,000 per month
    •    Large Budget: $2,000 - $5,000 per month

Digital advertising is essential to school marketing because you need to reach a targeted audience and generate new leads. There’s a lot to consider, but when determining how much to spend on ads, consider various factors like:

    •    The platform (Google, Bing, Facebook, Instagram)
    •    Ad type (social ads, PPC)
    •    The keywords you’re bidding on
    •    Your targeted audience
    •    Length of the campaign
    •    Your campaign goals

On a small budget, focus on cost-effective platforms like social media and search engine marketing. Allocate funds to campaigns that drive measurable results, such as website visits, inquiries, and event registrations.

For larger budgets or specific goals around increasing enrollment, explore additional multi-touch campaigns and invest in retargeting to maximize your reach. For example, if you’re hoping to boost enrollment, your budget will be affected by those key performance indicators (KPIs) as opposed to a general brand awareness ad campaign. More on this later...

Keep Reading: How to (Wisely) Spend Your School’s Digital Marketing Budget at Any Scale

Professional Photography for Schools

Estimated Investment of a Photographer

    •    Small Budget: $300 - $900 (per day)
    •    Large Budget: $1,000 - $5,000 (per day)

Professional photography costs can vary based on the scope of the project, the photographer's experience, and the shots you're looking for. If you’re working with a limited budget, consider scheduling photo sessions during key events like graduation ceremonies, school performances, or spirit day.

For larger budgets that are a little more flexible, invest in a photography plan that covers various aspects of your school's life throughout the academic year. Day rates can vary on the market, the number of photographers and assistants, equipment, and editing costs. However, consider having a photographer capture the “quieter” candid moments across campus that can better illustrate student life. This ensures you have ample high-quality images for use in various marketing materials, both online and in print.

“High-quality custom photography can be a total game changer for an institution,” said Tom Kates of Tom Kates Photography. “Bringing on a photographer who is an ally in advancing the messaging and values of a school allows the in-house communications team to show off their brand in virtually every venue, from quick social media posts to high-profile print pieces for admissions and development.”

Tom explained that while the investment upfront can be substantial, the returns are significant. “When a school can show through imagery, the connections between people, the range of activities offered, and the care and compassion of an institution, the school communications benefit in numerous ways.”

“Working with a photographer who can provide storytelling is ideal. Those image makers who can do it all are often not the cheapest. They tend to be the ones who work with an assistant, are capable of lighting situations when needed, and are ready to conceptualize as well as document.”

Professional Video Production for Schools

Estimated Investment of a Videographer

    •    Small Budget: $1,000 - $2,500 per video
    •    Large Budget: $5,000 - $10,000+

Video content is a powerful tool to convey your school's value proposition and engage prospective families. The cost of video production for school can vary greatly and depends on the type of video: For schools with limited funds, showcase your school's personality through student testimonials, campus tours, classroom snippets, and daily life, and then consider outsourcing post-production to freelancers or lower their video costs with video editing tools.

Larger budgets can accommodate high-quality production with skilled videographers and advanced equipment that greatly boost production value and leave a lasting impression.

"Investing in professional multimedia for your school's website is crucial to maximize your online presence and connect with a wider audience,” shared CampusVision Productions President Robert Van der Waag.

“Just like you wouldn't let a non-professional decorate your physical spaces, entrusting skilled professionals to create captivating online content ensures it leaves a lasting positive impact on visitors. The benefits of this investment go beyond aesthetics, as high-quality multimedia content promotes positive perceptions about your school and enhances user experience, increases engagement, and ultimately leads to higher conversions of visitors into prospective students."

Social Media Marketing for Schools

Estimated Investment:

  • Small Budget: $200 - $500 per month
  • Large Budget: $1,000 - $2,000 per month

Social media platforms offer cost-effective ways to connect with your target audience. On a small budget, focus on creating engaging content that resonates with your community. Encourage user-generated content and leverage parent ambassadors to amplify your school's reach organically.

social media ad mockup

For larger budgets, consider using funds to boost posts and target specific demographics through social media campaigns, like those used to promote your fall admission events and open houses.

SEO & Digital Advertising Fundamentals for Schools

Content Creation and Copywriting

Estimated Investment:

  • Small Budget: $100 - $300 per piece of content
  • Large Budget: $500 - $1,000 per piece of content

Producing high-quality content is critical to your school's marketing success, which doesn't mean you can rely on ChatGPT for everything. Consider hiring professional copywriters and content creators for larger budgets to maintain consistent, high-quality, on-brand work.

If you’re on a limited budget, you can still create valuable blog posts, infographics, and testimonials highlighting your school's strengths by tapping your in-house talents and engaging teachers, students, and parents to contribute content. 

Factors Influencing Marketing Budgets

Marketing Goals and Objectives

Clearly defining your marketing goals is essential in budget allocation. Identify specific key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of your campaigns. For example, if you want to increase admissions inquiries, allocate more funds to digital advertising and lead generation efforts.

Target Audience and Geographic Reach

Understanding your target audience and their location helps tailor your marketing efforts. For schools targeting a local audience, consider investing more in community events and local search advertising. If your school seeks to attract international students, allocate resources to an integrated and targeted online campaign.

Amity International School Ad

Seasonal Considerations

Consider seasonal fluctuations when setting your marketing budget. Allocate more funds during peak enrollment periods and major school events.

Keep Reading: Digital Marketing for Schools: Paid Social vs. Paid Search Ads 

Balancing Cost and Effectiveness

Investing in Long-term vs. Short-term Strategies

Find a balance between long-term branding efforts and short-term lead generation strategies. While immediate results are important, building a strong brand presence over time will be more sustainable and cost-effective.

Monitoring Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Monitor and analyze your marketing efforts' performance based on predefined KPIs. Use data to adjust your budget allocation and optimize campaigns for better results. Be flexible with your budget and allocate resources to efforts that provide a return on investment (ROI). Scale up successful campaigns and adjust or pause those that underperform.

Setting Expectations with School Administrators

Effectively communicate the value of marketing in driving enrollment and enhancing your school's reputation. Always connect your marketing goals with your school's broader mission and vision. Demonstrating how marketing efforts contribute to achieving larger objectives will help gain buy-in from administrators.

Pro Tip: Back your budgets with data-driven insights showing successful marketing initiatives or examples of other schools that have invested in marketing for their school. 

Strategies for Cost-Effective School Marketing

Leverage Free and Low-Cost Marketing Channels

  • Use social media, email marketing, and content creation as cost-effective ways to reach your audience. Free channels can be powerful tools when used strategically.
  • Harness the power of your school's community by engaging alums and parent ambassadors in your marketing efforts. Encourage them to share positive experiences and testimonials.
  • Involve your students, teachers, and parents in content creation, too. User-generated content reduces costs and supports a sense of community engagement.
  • Build partnerships with local businesses and organizations to co-host events, share resources, and reach a wider audience. Collaborative efforts can expand your marketing reach without significantly impacting your budget.

Key Takeaway

Effectively managing your school marketing budget is a process that requires a balance of strategy, creativity, and data analysis. By understanding the components of a school marketing budget, you can set realistic expectations with school administrators, and with a little careful planning and a focus on improvement, your school marketing efforts will make a long-lasting impact.

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Connor Gleason Headshot


Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.

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