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Pulling in the Same Direction: Everyone’s Role In Advancing Your School’s Mission
Emily Howeth

“I’m a teacher, not a cheerleader,” “Marketing isn’t my job,” if these statements sound familiar, you might find it difficult to convince your faculty, staff, head of school, CFO, or board of trustees about the value of their role in marketing your school. But everyone plays a role in advancing the mission of your school whether they realize it or not. And the most successful external marketing initiatives begin with internal collaboration. 

In this post, we’ll highlight what Mike Connor, Founder & President of Connor Associates, shared to help you get everyone on board and pulling in the same direction so you can advance the mission of your school. Read on for his tips and tricks, download Mike Connor’s full Ebook, or watch the full webinar recording to learn more. 

Meet Mike Connor

Pulling in the Same Direction Mike

Mike Connor is the Founder and President of Connor Associates, a communication, marketing, enrollment management, and fundraising advocate for public and private schools and nonprofit organizations. With 16 Strategic Partners and Research Associates across the United States, Mike and his team have worked with hundreds of clients spanning 4 continents and 26 states since 1998. Mike has spent nearly 40 years working in public, charter, and independent K-12 schools and colleges. Prior to founding Connor Associates, he was an experienced teacher, coach, counselor, academic dean, admission director, development director, director of communications, and director of advancement.

How to Establish Clear Brand & Identity 

Before looking at the role of each individual at your school in marketing your school, it’s important to make sure you have a clear brand and identity to build your marketing initiatives off of. A lot of schools struggle with the ideas of brand and identity, but if you don’t have a clear vision, your internal marketing plans won’t hold water. You must agree internally on your brand to be successful. Here’s a quick way to determine your brand and identity with what Mike Connor calls “The 6 W’s.”

1. Who you are

Be clear on who you are. Families want to know not just who they are joining, but what it means to be one of you. Don’t just point to the mission statement or to the latest tagline that you have. Who we are is what you value and what kind of family you’re looking for. 

2. Who you are not

Another question you can ask is who you are not. It’s an equally important point to take a stand on, especially in the early part of the admission process. Don’t be afraid to tell families if they are not the right fit for your school. You’ll save yourselves a lot of heartache and negative word of mouth if you’re really clear about who you are not. 

3. What you stand for

This is what speaks to your core values. For a school, core values are timeless guiding principles that will never be compromised, regardless of consequence. Your core values are who you really are, not what you’d like to be, and this is a very important distinction to make. One test for determining if your values are really core is to ask if you would shut down your school before you compromise X value. It’s a harsh test but will make core values very clear. 

4. What you will not stand for

The next one is what you will not stand for. It makes it clear to those you serve or seek to serve that certain behaviors or attitudes will not create a long-lasting, positive, fruitful relationship. You’re actually helping prospective families by clearly stating what is expected and what might put that relationship in jeopardy. This is not something that admission directors tend to want to talk about, but it’s really important for your families to understand what you won’t tolerate.

5. Why you matter

“If I may be brutally frank here if you believe your school has the power to change the world, you are in the right profession, at the right place at the right time, but if you don’t believe your school can change the world or your school can express the power to do that, why for the love of Mike, would anyone want to invest in you? That doesn’t make sense. You really have to talk about why you matter.”

Mike Connor, Founder and President of Connor Associates

This is about the human need to feel connected to others who share your values. It’s about pride of association. It’s about the desire to feel connected to something meaningful. Think of your vision as your dream, and think of your mission as what you do. Think about how will your organization change the world?

6. Where you are headed

This is not just talking about your institutional strategic plan. It’s where you are taking the family, or where they will be headed if they join you. This goes back to your vision. Families want to know you have a dream for your school, but more importantly, they want to know you have a dream for their child. A picture of what their success, as you define it, will look like. By talking about where your school and your families are headed, your institution will attract and retain those families who want to go there with you and you’ll also attract the philanthropy that will help you get there. You won’t have to sell them. They will self-select you. 

Pulling in the Same Direction Notes

Indicators Of Successful Marketing 

When you’ve established a clear brand and identity, your marketing will begin to take flight. Here are a few indicators that your marketing will be successful: 

1. A clear value proposition

It’s become more and more important for schools to talk about why they are worth what they cost. The best people to be talking about that is not you, it’s your past clients and your alumni. They are your walking value proposition. They, along with your teachers and current parents, can give you credibility. 

2. Everyone plays a role in demonstrating value

Everyone has a role to play in demonstrating value that will enhance enrollment, retention, and philanthropy. It has to be part of the culture of your school. Good marketing involves everyone at the school.

3. The school is grounded in its community

The schools that are grounded in the communities they are in are going to have a clear enrollment and philanthropic advantage now, and in the future, because you’ll be seen as an asset to the community and you’ll be touted as a school that is relevant. The research on teaching and learning makes it clear that relational hands-on, community-based learning all have greater depth and staying power over learning confined to the classroom and divorce from actual real-world conditions. When your school is grounded in its community, you can truly thrive and provide long-lasting value and impact. 


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Getting Everyone to Pull in the Same Direction

Everyone at your school plays a different role in marketing endeavors. Here’s how every person can play a part. 

1. Head Of School & Principals

Change starts at the top. The role of the head principal, divisional, or departmental officers stems from their ability to ask several questions. They should ask: how can we make this even better? Whether it’s an event, program, or subject. That should be coming from all of you, but it has to be modeled from the top, especially the head. When you have your administrative meetings and you’re looking over the events that you just had or the traditions that you have, always ask how we can make this better and be prepared for improving it for the next year.

“How do we know what’s important? We watch how our leaders spend their time. A head can achieve marketing goals without making a clear statement about the need for marketing and modeling behavior.”

Mike Connor, Founder and President of Connor Associates

You also need to anticipate potential challenges. Look over the horizon as a scout and see what may be coming down the pipeline so you can have discussions in your leadership meetings. You’ll also want to reinforce positive things and define what mission and what success means for your school and hold yourself to that. Then, encourage your families to measure the school based on your definition of success.

2. Teachers, Staff, & Coaches

“You can’t do school marketing without teachers. The admission office may set the table, but the teachers, coaches, and staff bring the entrée. People enroll in schools based on evidence — and evidence of good teaching and great teachers is what it comes down to. They may think they want the playground. They may think they want the facility, but it really comes down to the emotional connection that the teacher and the student and family create together.”

Mike Connor, Founder and President of Connor Associates

The best way to get your teachers, staff, and coaches on board is to spend time with them. Sit in on their classes. Sit with them at lunch. Talk to them. You’ll learn a lot more about them and they’ll appreciate you more. You may also want to consider making it part of their enrollment contract that they have a responsibility to promote the school. If they trip over the word marketing, you can call it relationship and trust-building. 

If you’re asking how they can market easily on top of everything else required of them, it’s actually pretty easy. You need to understand what families and students need to know about teachers, coaches, and staff, and have your teachers be introspective so they can answer the questions themselves. They don’t need to put on their cheerleader uniform and pom-poms. It’s about them being able to say, in a teacher-people conference or on a school visit, why they chose to teach or coach, what they enjoy most about working at the school, what motivated them to become a teacher.

If you’re a communication or marketing director, you can ask these questions point-blank over time, or create a survey for them to answer so they’re prepared to talk to parents and provide them with answers to what parents want to know. 

3. Admissions Directors or Enrollment Managers

“As an enrollment manager, you are the unofficial guardian of the quality of the school. You are the orchestrators of relationships. You’re the bridge between the families and the program, and yu’re the one with your ear to the ground when it comes to why people choose your school and value it. You’re also extremely important as a manager of expectations. And you’re the chief revenue officer as up to 90% of revenue in schools comes through your office. But you are not the sole salesperson. That’s what the idea of pulling together is all about.”

Mike Connor, Founder and President of Connor Associates

Enrollment management officers are one of the most important links in your internal marketing chain because they are on the front lines every day with prospective families. One of the most important things you can do is have a clear set of expectations for families. You need to indicate to them whether they will be successful at your school or whether they may be at risk.

Relationship building is made easier with a CRM like SchoolAdmin. You can use communication plans to keep families moving through the funnel and manage and orchestrate relationships as well as keep track of details and information about families and have it accessible when you need it.

4. Advancement Roles

“A big part of the job of advancement is to create an unapologetic rabid school evangelist and several of them, not just one. So if development is doing its job in advancing the mission, they are creating a collaborative culture between the donor and the school.”

Mike Connor, Founder and President of Connor Associates

This group includes development, alumni relations, and communications. They are the forward-facing department that ensures everyone is on the same page and using the same message. These roles are not just about raising money, though that is an important aspect, they’re about building relationships to engage communities and advance institutions. This group can reach out to alumni for feedback on how well you prepared them for the next stage of life. Your alumni are proof of your value proposition, so make sure you include them in marketing efforts. 

5. Marketing & Communications

“There’s four elements or four buckets that you have to put your value into. The first is how you are making a difference in the lives you touch, that’s the return on investment piece. Number two is how the school practices innovative teaching and learning. Number three is how you provide solutions to a family’s needs. This is all about customer service and putting the customer first and emotionally connecting with them. Number four is how the school stewards a family’s investment in the tuition and in their philanthropy.”

Mike Connor, Founder and President of Connor Associates

Marketing and communications leaders can gather and promote compelling evidence of the school’s value and performance in the marketplace. That’s the return on the investment. Engender support of key internal and external constituencies, including the media. Increasing pride of association in the storytelling that they do about the school. Always proactively looking for mutually beneficial win-win connections, especially in the community.

 6. Finance, Operations, & Business Officers

“Business officers, CFOs, or CEOs advance the mission when they understand the school’s culture, when they equate and explain the budget as the quantification of the mission statement, when they help everyone achieve a sense of responsibility for the long-term financial health of the school, when they work with admission to make the school as affordable as possible, when they are a supportive leader, coach and problem solver, and when they promote market research as an investment in future revenue, not as a frivolous cost.”

Mike Connor, Founder and President of Connor Associates

A very wise CFO demonstrated the concept of enlightened self-interest when he said, “When we all do customer service right, the receivables will be much easier to collect.” The business office is not just an accounting function anymore, they are knee-deep in customer service. When you provide a great experience, it’s easier to collect payments and receivables. 

7. The Board of Trustees

“Trustees now have a new role, an ambassadorial role in addition to their fiduciary role, and they need to leverage their collective social and business networks and use that to look for innovative strategic partnerships that will raise your school’s relevance and visibility as a community asset and provide relevant instructional opportunities to students in the community.”

Mike Connor, Founder and President of Connor Associates

The role of the board has changed over the years. We need them more than ever to be a supporter, a promoter, an advocate, an ambassador, and they understand market research and demand proof of outcomes for your program.

The more players at your school you can get on board with marketing, the stronger you’ll pull in the same direction and ensure you meet your goals and reach more families. With a clear brand and identity and focus on communicating value, and engaging the community to raise your visibility and revenue, your school can grow and thrive. To learn more about ways to get everyone at the school involved, download Mike Connor’s free ebook.

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