Looking at School Marketing Through a New Lens

private school marketing tips

After 15 years of leading the admissions and marketing efforts in schools, I find myself reflecting on my first year at Truth Tree.

This past year, I’ve spoken to dozens of admissions and marketing directors, heads, board members, and CFOs at schools all across the country and I see some big themes in how schools operate, and where they are in their marketing journey—some big surprises to be honest!

A lot can be gleaned from seeing how other schools operate–what works and what isn’t quite where it needs to be (yet!). 

Curious about my 5 biggest takeaways and how your school stacks up? Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Admissions and marketing teams are not aligned. 

This has been a shocker, to be honest. 

How a marketing team doesn’t understand what’s happening in admissions and vice versa is alarming to me (Is this your team? It’s a red flag, folks!). Each function is so intertwined with a school’s success and it literally is like running a three-legged race with someone’s leg cut off. 

It doesn’t work. 

I’ve talked with dozens and dozens of schools this past year and I’m gobsmacked when I hear “I don’t know anything about the enrollment numbers” or “Marketing doesn’t share that information with me.” And I’m hearing it all the time. In every school type and structure.

It’s a problem.

2. Everyone is working their butts off.

This isn’t a shocker, I know.

You’re working hard and your colleagues are too. And you’re in it to win it. 

Many of you have taken your school, schlepped it up on your back, and are shouldering on, fighting the good fight. Digging in to explore new marketing strategies, figuring out what’s happening in your school’s local market, still reeling from Covid blips and bumps. But you’re doing it. 

3. Schools still have not adequately prioritized marketing staff and budgets. 

Ouch. This one hurts. 

I remember the days of going to my CFO and Head of School, even presenting at various board meetings and committees, laying out the case for a larger marketing budget. It was a multi-year discussion and I was elated when I finally squeaked out a decent budget. 

Then, each year, I did it again. Sharing more intel, talking about doubling down on marketing even when times are tight, and committing to a marketing line item in the budget (and growing it) year after year. 

Many of you are in that same boat and some are *just* starting those conversations. It’s concerning to me that you’re working your hiney off (see #2) and with little or no budgets. 

It just won’t work. 

4. Digital marketing is overwhelming and confusing. 

Yep. I get it. 

I knew that I needed to be committing to a digital marketing strategy when I was a director of admissions and marketing, but I didn’t have the bandwidth to become a digital marketing guru. I knew that it needed to be done right and I needed to have a high level of expertise, but I knew that person wasn’t going to be me! 

As I talk with schools, I can see that marketing and admissions folks are all over the place in terms of their understanding of the value of digital marketing or even what it is. I have actually enjoyed sharing my newly acquired knowledge and some “Liz Yee nuggets” along the way. 

I look forward to breaking it down and showing schools why 70% of parents start their school search on Google and what that means for your marketing work. 

5. Data collection and analysis (and understanding) are not where they should be. 

I spoke with a school recently that seemed to be keeping track of their admissions data on the back of a paper napkin–no kidding! 

Now I was never a data genius, but I knew that I needed to have accurate data, know how to run some basic reports, and interpret the findings for myself and our school leadership. It was the only way I could know what was working, where we stood, and what to expect. 

Many schools are simply not there yet. It seems like there is a lack of infrastructure or systems, but also a lack of understanding in terms of data as a valuable tool in your marketing and enrollment toolbelt. 

If what you’re reading resonates, here’s what I recommend to get started:

  1. Get your admissions and marketing directors talking. Seriously, it’s that basic. Get them in a room once a week and that meeting is never double booked, it’s sacred time. 
  1. Take a look at your budget. (Maybe even scrap the entire thing and look at it with fresh eyes.) Pro Tip: budget analysis would be a great first agenda topic for your new admissions/marketing team meetings!
  1. Agenda topic #2: how will we track our admissions and marketing data this year? Can we move from a napkin to a Google Sheet? #babysteps
  1. Learn more about digital marketing. It’s no longer a “wish” line item in your marketing tactics. It’s a must-do. 
  1. Schedule a vacation. ASAP.

What resonates with you and where do you see gaps in your own school? Do these resonate? Send me a note and give me the scoop! 

by Liz Yee, Director of Marketing, Truth Tree

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