Marketing Your School During A Recession

marketing your school during a recession - Truth Tree

By Trevor Waddington, Principal, Truth Tree

In the summer of 2008, I moved from Philadelphia to Washington, DC, for a new directorship in admission and marketing.

By October of that year, The Great Recession had a grip on the nation. In a bedroom community of realtors and financial sector employees, the effects devastated the schools in my area. 

If you lived through that and the COVID-19 Recession, you are battle-tested. But those recessions came on in a flash, and quick decisions had to be made. Now, you have the chance to plan for what seems inevitable.

Don’t take it from me, though. 

Instead of panicking and battening down the hatches, think about how you can find success during difficult financial times.

Here are my recommendations to help you market your school during a recession.

1- Scan Your Current Family Community

Who are your families? Really.

During my initial year at that school, I used Claritas to gather information for an internal market review and better understand the school’s market viability. The information from Claritas included whimsical segmentation names, like Country Squire and Winner’s Circle, which were plentiful at the school.

The names lost their playfulness when they revealed these segments’ valued material status. Through exit interviews, a common theme surfaced:  ‘I went to public school, and look how I turned out’.

Understanding the psychographic nature of your current families will not only help you identify look-a-likes in your market, but it will also help you predict your enrollment and revenue for the coming year. 

Dig in. Learn what your current (and prospective) parents value to anticipate how a recession will impact your school. 

2- Don’t Stop Marketing

“When times are good, you should advertise; when times are bad, you MUST advertise.” 

Google backs up that old adage. Even in tough times, people are still looking for private schools.

This concept can be difficult for schools to put into practice. We see repeatedly that struggling schools immediately hack their marketing budgets when they should be doubling down. How else will your school weather this storm if you’re not actively marketing? 

Between 2004 and 2022, “private school” searches had no significant or anomalous dips. (Though you see the overall downward trend. Some of that is due to people searching more for “independent schools,” but only some)

private school searching during a financial crisis

That doesn’t mean you keep doing exactly what you’re doing while the Dow is falling. 

With a looming financial crisis, now is not the time to throw money at ideas unless data back them. For every school, it’s going to look different. 

Here are my recommendations:

  • Focus your budget on Google Ads. When someone searches for a school on Google, they do so with intent. No one scrolls their Instagram feed and hopes to see an ad for a school. They go to Google, type in “private school near me,” and off they go.  When the budget is tight, focus on people you KNOW who are actively seeking a private school education.

  • Keep searchers interested through strategic retargeting. Depending on your budget, I like a 70/30 split. 
    • 70%: retargeting people who have been to your site (and have spent time actively engaged with your content). 
    • 30%: retargeting people searching for private or charter schools online. 

This is best executed using digital display and social media ads. This will ensure that people who are searching for a school like yours will eventually come across your brand. And the more they do, the more likely they will contact you.

  • Nurture inquiries vigorously and thoughtfully to move them through the funnel. In volatile times, people are fickle. That’s why you can’t take your foot off the marketing gas pedal. Keep feeding them display and social ads, but now add a compelling and continuous email marketing campaign. Within those emails, provide content marketing pieces that drive home your value and demonstrate what will happen if they do (or even don’t) enroll at your school.

  • Ramp up your SEO for schools! It’s no secret that we expect the best results to appear first in a Google search. Google has done a great job of conditioning us to think the “best” options appear first in a Google search. So, whether or not a parent is searching for “the best school in St. Louis” or “private school in St. Louis,” they will consciously or subconsciously equate your organic snippet’s location in the results with how valuable an investment you could be. During unpredictable times, people flock to stability. If your school is on page 1 of a relevant search, that tells the user it’s a stable investment.

Speaking of investments…

3- Market Your School as an Investment

Anyone who started investing in the market between 2010 and 2021 made out pretty great.

Now, not so much. 

Parents with the means now sit on money earmarked for investments. They can continue to sit on it or heed your call to invest in their children’s future–NOW.

If you’re currently pushing more emotive messaging in your ad campaigns, move to language that appeals to the left-brainers searching for a school. Like this:

Numbers don’t lie, so if your marketing campaign tells the ROI-driven parent your school is a safe and valuable investment, you’ll very likely win the click.


BONUS Recommendation

If you are strapped for marketing cash or have the bandwidth to do it, consider content marketing, particularly regarding the recession. Here are some ideas for content.

  • How to teach your pre-teens about investing
  • Why opening a Roth IRA for your preschooler is a smart investment
  • How a recession can teach kids to use their money wisely.

What investment-type content has your school promoted? 

Thank you for reading! 

If you’d like a partner to help you through the recession to ensure your school is wisely positioned online, reach out today

Identify your school’s next digital marketing move.