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5 Biggest Takeaways from School Marketing Day 2021
Mia Major

Finalsite hosted our third School Marketing Day on October 21, 2021 and one thing is certain: virtual professional development is here to stay. While we definitely miss getting together in person, you can’t beat the convenience of online professional development — especially when it comes to connecting school professionals from all over the world.

School Marketing Day had 30 unique sessions across four tracks with one goal in mind: help school professionals like you gain the knowledge and confidence to climb whatever mountains lay ahead. And we feel pretty certain that the more than 2,000 school marketers that joined us are ready to blaze a trail through 2022 and beyond.

Let’s recap the day’s biggest takeaways!

1. It’s time to work together.

Finalsite CEO Jon Moser boldly said in his keynote, “schools are the only place where you don’t see marketing and ‘sales’ [admissions] working together.” And this is a problem. A big problem.

As the liquid expectations of prospective and current families rise higher and higher, the only way to be successful is to break down silos and work together. “Success between marketing and admissions working together means success for your school,” said Jon.

Jon Moser’s keynote wasn’t the only place where attendees were urged to work together. In the session How Do You Feel About That? A Couples Counseling Guide to Marketing and Admissions, Finalsite CMO Risa Engel and Sandy Spring Friends School’s Director of Marketing, Julie Mendez honed in on how to forge strong relationships.

“Strong relationships are not accidental. They take work, time and intention,” said Risa.

How do you forge these relationships then? Both presentations gave concrete suggestions on how you can purposefully break down silos: 

  • Get in the same room: Set up recurring meetings or even move your offices closer together.
  • Set common goals and find common ground: You build a relationship between marketing and admissions by making them accountable for the same goals.
  • Define roles: Empower everyone across both teams to play a part in the process.
  • Share metrics: Share your data across both teams to help make informed decisions.
  • Combine processes and products: Streamlining your efforts and products can save you time and effort — just be sure everyone understands how and when they play a role.

At the end of the day, you’re all on the same team — even those outside of marketing and admissions. In the session Reimagining School Admissions Through Experience Design, David Willows, Director of Advancement at the International School of Brussels, reminded attendees: “Everyone is a fundraiser. Everyone is an admissions officer.” Everyone is responsible for helping you reach your enrollment and retention goals.

2. It’s all about relationships.

It’s not just about building relationships between you and your colleagues — but also, between your school and your families. Building a relationship with them requires understanding how they feel, and creating messaging that speaks to what excites them and scares them.

In Chuck English’s session, Speak to the Heart: Drive Marketing Results by Focusing on Emotion, he shared how creating marketing campaigns that evoke emotion are the most successful. “Emotional marketing is so effective because it is memorable, it is shareable, and it influences purchasing decisions,” said Chuck.

But what happens when your messaging lacks emotion? Parents tune out. In a time where parents in particular are facing major burnout, emotional intelligence is key. In the session Creating Connections in a Hybrid World, client success manager Sam Spain shared that school marketers need to focus on getting the right message in front of parents at the right time — and that doesn’t mean sending the same notification on every channel. It means being smart about what you say and when you say it. 

3. “Conversation rules. Everything else drools.”

In the second keynote of the day, Ted Wright, author & CEO of Fizz, the focus was on Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM). Ted’s keynote also stressed the importance of building relationships — this time, in order to curate authentic content and spark organic conversations between current and prospective families.

It’s these content pieces conversations, he claims, that have unmatched power for enrollment and retention. “Conversation rules. Everything else drools,” he said.

4. “Everything else drools”...except for your website. It’s still your most important marketing and communications tool.

In Ted Wright’s keynote, the focus was on WOMM — but, he did beg the question: well, what happens if a current parent gives a glowing testimonial about your school, and your website falls short of the hype?

The hard truth? You may never hear from them.

The source doesn’t matter — a word of mouth referral, an organic search result, a paid ad, or a slew of positive online reviews — they all point to the same place: your website. It’s your first impression, and if it doesn’t meet the expectation of the prospective family, they may never inquire.

The session GenXers, Millennials, and Retention, Oh My! led by EMA’s Peter Baron and Hans Mundahl, focused on the “stealth buyer” — individuals who do all of their research before submitting any sort of inquiry form. This is where your website becomes pivotal. If your website does not meet their expectations, or they can’t find what they’re looking for, you may never hear from them.

Curious if your school’s website would land your school the short-list of a stealth buyer? Request a free website report card and we’ll tell you!


5. “Change” is the only thing we can guarantee. 

From new social media channels and Google algorithm updates to changing web design trends and iOS updates, each year school professionals are challenged to keep up. And if you can’t, you run the risk of letting enrollment, revenue, or fundraising take a hit.

Let’s start with social media. In The Algorithm Conundrum: How Social Media is Changing Everything We Thought We KnewFinalsite’s Senior Growth Manager Kristen Doverspike shared how algorithm updates and social media trends continue to make it difficult for schools to engage their followers.

2020 ushered in some major shifts in how social media algorithms give weight to particular content. Users became less responsive to promotional content and began to crave real, candid, human content to make up for the connections they were missing due to the pandemic. This means that posts with comments, likes and shares trumped those without engagement. And similarly, photos and videos strongly outranked text-based posts, and even graphics. 

The focus on human connection spawned rapid growth for TikTok and Instagram Reels — with TikTok’s user-base becoming as age-diverse as Instagram’s. So if you previously thought TikTok might not work in your social media strategy (and hey, just last year we doubted its significance too) may be time to re-evaluate.

In addition to these changes in social media, School Marketing Day was abuzz with questions about Google’s Page Experience Update, Google Analytics 4, and Apple’s iOS 15 update. All of these updates are aimed at creating a better experience for the consumer — not you. 

So, as you head into 2022, take a deep breath and remember you’re not alone if:

  • Google’s page experience update is making you feel insecure about your SEO strategy
  • Google Analytics 4 leaves you questioning everything you thought you knew about your website traffic
  • Apple iOS 15’s privacy update sabotaged your email analytics

Changes are just about all we can guarantee in the world of school marketing...and in life. We’ll do our best to guide you through it all — so be sure to subscribe to our blog to stay up-to-date with all of these changes, and how to handle them.

Key Takeaway

The world of digital marketing — and even more specifically, school marketing — is always changing. And as we look ahead to 2022, School Marketing Day forecasted the biggest trends and changes to keep an eye out for — and what to do about it! You can request access to the full day of session recordings here, and binge-watch at your leisure! 

School Marketing Day - Access Recordings


Mia Major

Mia is a creative and passionate school marketing thought-leader. Since joining the Finalsite team in 2013, Mia has produced hundreds of pieces of content with one goal in mind: helping private, public, and international schools improve their online presence. In her current role as director of demand generation, Mia focuses on full-funnel inbound marketing strategies. She's also a co-host on The School Marketing Show, a frequent blogger, e-book author, Expert Course consultant and webinar host. She loves putting storytelling at the heart of all communications — and before joining the Finalsite team, Mia was a TV and radio broadcaster, wedding cinematographer, and author for various online magazines. She is an army wife, mom, and rookie photographer currently living in southern Georgia.

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