St. Patrick's Episcopal Day School & Finalsite Advantage
As a coeducational, Nursery to Grade 8 Episcopal Day School in Washington D.C, St. Patrick’s places a focus on its students’ involvement in sustainability, service, and social justice, as well as equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts to reveal the “infinite value” in everyone.
The school’s previous site, however, had reached the end of its “infinite value.”
The marcom team was frustrated with the old website’s content, look, and feel, and knowing they needed a new site, they signed for a new custom design — just as the pandemic hit. Understandably, the team’s focus shifted and the website redesign was put on hold.
Meanwhile, amidst the grip of the pandemic, the school’s board had green-lit an initiative to partner with a consultant and identify how to market to public school families unsatisfied with the local districts’ responses to remote learning.
St. Patrick’s response was to work closely with Finalsite’s Tracy Tigchelaar, a lead school strategy expert from the Finalsite Advantage team. The Advantage service got to work with positioning St. Patrick’s as a leader in the field of remote learning — and their efforts paid off. As Karolina Canning, director of communications & marketing, explained, “Our work with Tracy for those three months was incredible.”
At a Glance
Founded in 1956, St. Patrick’s enrolls nearly 500 students in three divisions across campuses in the competitive metropolitan D.C. area. The school strives to create a diverse and inclusive learning community of students, faculty and staff, and parents who recognize the infinite value of every individual as a child of God.
The Challenge — Multiple projects, limited experience
As the team’s remote learning “pandemic project” continued, more pressures started to emerge. On top of a looming website redesign, the team was facing additional challenges, with internal communications being at the top of the list.
“Our school was extremely email-heavy — we would send a lot of one-off emails that were very long, every day of the week,” Canning shared. She knew parents were inundated with communications — they were overwhelmed and having a hard time absorbing information. “It was almost like the parents weren't getting it,” Canning said. “They’d go to the division heads and teachers and ask them the same questions, but we had already shared that information.”
And as far as the website was concerned, with a background working with large public relations and talent management corporations, Canning was ready and willing to get down to work but wasn’t sure where to start. “The website lived in ‘no man's land,” remembered Canning. “Nobody really owned it. My colleague and I really wanted to take back ownership but it just felt overwhelming. It was something we knew we had to get to — we just weren't sure when or how.”
“We were really impressed by what we were able to do in such a short amount of time...Advantage helped us stay on top of our website deadlines while we were working on different internal communications plans.”
DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS & MARKETING
The Solution — Finalsite Advantage for a strategic partnership
Understandably, Canning and her team were feeling the pressure. Luckily, the school had an “advantage” up its sleeve.
Having seen the success of the previous project with the Advantage team, St. Patrick’s once again saw an opportunity to extend its partnership with Finalsite Advantage and get them to assist with its new website redesign AND overhaul its communication plans, essentially rebuilding its marketing and communication strategy from the ground up.
“Doing the website was like learning a new language and Tracy was almost like our tutor for helping us with that process,” Canning shared. “We were really happy with the work that we had been doing, so when we redesigned our site, she definitely was a key player. She helped us think strategically and asked us questions that I could bring internally before they really arise,” Canning added. “We were able to really strategically think through the answers.”
Canning and the Advantage team met weekly to overhaul their internal communications, rethinking its approach to parent communications. Moving away from multiple one-off emails, they developed a new weekly newsletter separated by division, one that utilized Finalsite Posts and tagged dynamic content. They also built new portals for parents, faculty and staff, and trustees, and introduced an ‘incoming families’ area to their new site.
But as Tracy explained, it didn’t stop there: “As we worked through the internal communications projects we also supported the efforts of the Admissions Office during the key enrollment season — helping streamline engagement with prospective families. This work was part of an overall marketing action plan that I developed with the team, aimed at providing a clearer focus — for them and for management — on what they wanted to achieve and how we were going to get there.”
“We were really impressed by what we were able to do in such a short amount of time,” Canning said. “We kept going with other communication marketing initiatives while redesigning the website. Advantage helped us stay on top of our website deadlines while we were working on different internal communications plans.”
The Result — An award-winning website and streamlined communications
St. Patrick’s best-in-class website has strengthened its position as one of the best choices for education in one of the most competitive independent school markets in the country. The homepage is about discovery, with divisional entry points, engaging calls to action, a call out to its mission, and a simple grid that showcases its multiple distinctions. The “Why Our School?” page provides a variety of supporting answers, as well as a range of interior pages that present its “infinite value.”
For all these efforts and more, the site was honored with a Gold Award at the 2021 W3 Awards and featured as one of the top 10 websites at Finalsite’s School Marketing Day in 2021.
“When we launched the site last April, it was such a labor of love, but something that we're all very, very proud of,” Canning recalled. “I just don't know if it would've happened if we didn't have Tracy because we were able to think ‘big picture’ and incorporate that into the launch of the site.”
Canning and the team have received a lot of positive feedback and meaningful comments from the school community, too. “I've heard from parents and faculty and staff that it's just so much better; a lot of people are reaching out and saying how beautiful the website is and how they love our redesigned newsletter.”
Looking back, Canning remembers what it was like before partnering with Advantage. “We didn't really understand how to use the product and the power of features like Posts and Messages and using tags and filters. Now we know how to use those, which is really, really helpful. We're now working at the level we should be working at and we're maintaining this level of work while adding content every week.”
“Each week, we worked on a new idea and initiative and our communication and marketing efforts have been totally revamped,” Canning said. “Tracy’s taught us a lot — we come up with the idea, and then we actually do the idea. We're able to check things off our to-do list every week.”
Now, thanks to Advantage, St. Patrick’s is proactively taking control of its inbound marketing efforts, developing its email campaigns, inviting families to new family events, successfully marketing its open house tours with SEO, PPC, and social media ads, and congregating its forms to the Finalsite CMS, forms that previously had been scattered across several different platforms.
This summer, St. Patrick’s will welcome new leadership to campus with the arrival of a new head of school. “We really do have an opportunity to continue to develop how we communicate and market. We're going to have room to grow and push ourselves.”
“There's an appetite for change — all independent schools are figuring that out right now, too,” Canning said, noting the preference for mobile-friendly sites and condensed communications. ”Families are digesting communications differently than they have been in the past and now it’s just a matter of how to bring parents along.”
Looking ahead, St. Patrick’s certainly has infinite value to share.
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