Siloed offices, limited resources, zero time for strategic planning…year after year, the familiar gripes among marketing and admission offices can often stand in the way of meeting enrollment and retention goals and create unnecessary tension between departments.
But in the never-ending pursuit of healthy enrollment, there must be a better strategy — a secret sauce — to unlocking improved working relationships, removing barriers, and developing a frictionless enrollment process that actually produces results.
We connected with marketing/communication and enrollment professionals to gain insight into how the two offices can work better together, to hear their wishes, and understand their approach to better office collaboration, streamlined communications, and creating successful enrollment strategies for their independent school.
Here’s what they shared:
Both Offices Need to Agree on Messaging
“We consider the admissions team our primary client of this team,” said Hilary Morris
associate director of communications at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Princeton, New Jersey. "Like us, many schools are operating on tight budgets and scaled-down teams, so it makes it harder if you work independently. As a team, we asked ourselves, ‘what are the talking points we are putting out there? What do things look like design-wise? Who are the point people for receiving inquiries?’ Both teams are involved with external and internal communications management and we have to do it together.”
Everyone is Responsible for Building a Culture of Enrollment & Retention
“I am lucky to have a strong partnership with our director of marketing/communication — we worked closely together as she was guiding us to launch a new Finalsite website, and I was nearing implementation of SchoolAdmin,” shared Joshua Labove, PhD, dean of enrollment and financial aid at Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.
“We ensure marketing/communications has a seat at the table for any strategic conversation,” added Labove. “I hear a lot of admissions folks talk about their marketing/communications counterparts as the do-ers, but Wayland has been well served by seeing our marketing/communications staff as thoughtful collaborators. Enrollment is key for all of us — and there will always be more enrollment work to do than an admissions office can do on its own. We aim to promote a culture of enrollment management and a culture of retention with faculty, so it only stands to reason the same could apply for other units around campus. With marketing/communications, we have an understanding that enrollment is key — I trust them to tackle so many of the ways we advance enrollment, just as I trust faculty to teach in ways that inspire powerful word of mouth marketing and retention.”
Communication Between Teams is Essential
"I would want a communications employee to remember that every communication should be written with an admissions mindset — if you are not selling someone on the experience, you are reselling them on the experience,” shared Lauren West, a former admissions officer who is now the director of marketing and communications at Greater Atlanta Christian School. “Families choose your school for a reason, and once they attend for a time, they need to be reminded why. Your internal audience is also your best word-of-mouth marketing tool for sharing with prospective families. The things current families share about a school are some of the most valuable content for promoting admissions and increasing enrollment.”
Teamwork is Needed at Every Stage of the Funnel
"So much of the work that we do in admissions, to fill and retain a full school, is tied to making informed decisions about communications and marketing to families at each stage of the funnel—inspire, search, recruit, admit, yield, enroll, retain, and graduate,” said Rohan Arjun, director of enrollment management and financial aid at Friends Select in Philadelphia. “The touchpoints at each stage keeping families engaged are essential. There is just so much overlap in the work that we do and without a strong relationship with the marcom department, admission offices cannot do what we are tasked to do.”
Families Want the Truth
“I wish directors of marketing/communications understood just how emotional the process is for families,” shared Kevin Ramos-Glew, director of enrollment at New England Innovation Academy in Marlborough, Massachusetts. “Families want to understand all-things intellectual about the school while also connecting emotionally with who the school is. They have entrusted us with their child's mind, future, and livelihood, so they deserve to hear how we deliver in those areas. More contact with end-users (parents, students) would help the marketing/communications people to learn how this process is a true balance of visceral and academic. Also, it's key to be candid with the families — clearly demonstrating the Who, What, Why, How of the school...and showing it with real examples, anecdotes, and profiles rather than only polished imagery and descriptions. Families want to see under the hood, and if they don't get it in the marketing, then they'll find it on their own (outside of our narrative).”
It’s Okay to be Vulnerable
“I don’t believe admissions offices can be as effective as they’d like to be without the help of the marketing and communications team to tell our story,” said Sean Atkins, director of admissions and financial aid at Suffield Academy. “We ask a lot of them — a lot of times we say, ‘we need this…’ but we don’t understand a lot of things they're doing. Everyone needs to be on the same page, and both departments need to be able to make themselves vulnerable and listen. Just listening to their ideas and what they’re passionate about, and then at the same time, them doing the same for us — being vulnerable and letting them know the struggles that we endure. Being vulnerable and communicating are necessary to be successful in any relationship.”
Close Working Partnerships are Needed
“While we obviously have different titles, and the director of admissions and enrollment management and the director of marketing communications both report to the head of school, we’re on the same team and work together towards the success of the school,” shared Annette Accarrino, director of marketing and communications at the McGillis School in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“A weekly standing meeting is vital in making certain we’re working together,” added Accarrino. “I ask a lot of questions to better understand the goals and challenges of the admissions office and to determine how best marketing and communications can make an impact. Together, we review data, brainstorm, and ideate to achieve our enrollment and retention objectives. A close working partnership is key!”
Break the Silos
“Our best ideas really do come out of our teamwork and our brainstorm sessions, even if it's literally just a lunch together when we're sitting down and having a quick conversation,” shared Monica Vogel, art director for the Office of Communications at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Princeton, New Jersey. “We've had some of our best ideas come out of those moments, and we've realized that the whole siloed approach doesn't work for us. With such a small team, the more meetings where we can collaborate, the better. We come out with these amazing ideas that started small and snowballed into beautiful concepts — that wouldn't have happened if we didn't sit down and have this coffee together; we wouldn't have even known that we could have done this. It just makes things easier when you collaborate and leave time for brainstorming.”
Prioritize the School
“The key to successfully working together has been always putting the school first,” shared Drew Miller, director of enrollment at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. “I am fortunate that Cranbrook’s director of communications and I have developed a very strong, professional relationship. When the two of us disagree on something, instead of trying to win the argument, we set our egos aside and ask, ‘What is in Cranbrook’s best interest?’”
“I completely trust our Director of Communications’ expertise and readily defer to him on marketing and communication issues,“ Miller added. “In turn, he listens carefully to my enrollment challenges and respects my judgment on admission issues. Both of us report to the director of our school, so we welcome disagreements and use them to push for better outcomes without ever feeling threatened by one another.”
Each Team Offers a Different Perspective
Eagle Hill School’s admissions and marketing teams meet often but having the unique perspective of colleagues who regularly interact and engage with families is a benefit to every team member, shared Chris Komenda, director of marketing and communications at Eagle Hill School in Hardwick, Massachusetts. “I’ll go to our meetings with different marketing ideas that the admission team may not necessarily be thinking of. They're considering more specific admission needs, such as streamlining the application process, connecting with families, and balancing the enrollment goals for the school.”
“You have to appreciate each person's craziness for that day,” Komenda added. “You have to do your homework and when you come to a meeting prepared with some ideas, it makes it that much easier and more productive.”
Exceeding enrollment and retention goals requires more than extra hours in the day, more meetings, or expanded budgets—it’s about marcom and admission offices truly listening, responding, and developing a collaborative system to meet shared goals. Creating a streamlined and strategic approach to your school’s marketing, communications, and enrollment processes will help create a mutually beneficial relationship between offices and prospective families alike.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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 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, story-telling, coffee, and creating content that connects.