First Time as a Marketer for a Private School? Start Here.

I love, love, love your podcasts! I am new to education, and they are a lifesaver. Thank you for your service to the profession!
— Joanna Massee Rosenthal, Director of Communications, The Nueva School, CA
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Congrats on your new position!

Joanna Massee Rosenthal's email got us thinking about marketing professionals who come to private schools from the business world.  

We predicted that this would happen years ago due to the increased importance of marketing in private schools and need for experienced professionals to fill new positions.

But Joanna's email made us think about how you're going to need to acclimate to academic culture quickly so that you can hit the ground running with a firm grasp of the who, what, when, where and why of your new work environment. You've probably taken this position not only because you're a skilled marketer seeking a new challenge, but also because the idea of working with young people does your heart good.

We have a few suggestions to fast-track your learning curve and to help get your first independent school experience off to a great start.

Take a deep dive with one person at a time

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Take advantage of this unique opportunity meet your colleagues one-on-one and learn about the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the school. You'll never have an opportunity to do this once you're in the day-to-day. Go for it now. Schedule 30-60 minute meetings with key administrators and faculty. Yes, this process will take a couple of days, but it will pay off in too many ways to count.

Consider these meetings individual focus groups and have a set of questions to ask them all, but allow the conversation to flow when and where it needs to. You might be tempted to ask to tape these conversations for later reference, but we suggest you don't. Building trust should be a top priority. Instead, take copious notes and assure your colleagues that you will not share what you learn with others at the school. (And then don't.)

Take all that info and breathe it in. You'll need it.

Get the answers to these questions

Be sure to ask open-ended questions and listen more than you speak. You'll learn more that way. Here are some questions to get the ball rolling: 

  • What's your title, what do you do, how long have you been here and where were you before this?
  • Do you have children at the school?
  • What kind of student thrives here?
  • What does the school do best?
  • What's changed in the last 5 years?
  • What surprises you about the school?
  • How is your life different because you work here?
  • Where do you see the school in 5 years?
  • How can the school improve its MarCom?
  • How can I help you do your job better and make your life easier?

Gather info about your department

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To determine where the strengths and weakness are in your new department, find out the following from anyone who has institutional knowledge.

  • When was the last time formal brand development took place?
  • Does the school have a formal brand statement and messages?
  • Does the school have a formal style guide for graphic identity and editorial preferences?
  • Who has final say in projects related to admissions and development?
  • Where is there MarCom cross-over with other admins and where are the gaps?
  • How well does the internal and external community know the school's brand (particularly faculty and admin)?
  • What's the level of knowledge faculty and admins have of MarCom terms, practices and effectiveness?
  • Are faculty and students directly involved in marketing? Who and to what extent?
  • Is there a Board of Trustees Marketing Committee? Are they entrusted with policy only? If not, what else?
  • Is there a formal social media policy?
  • Who are our trusted designers, printers, writers, marketing consultants? When was the last time we checked their pricing?
  • When was the last redesign and approach for the website, viewbook, annual fund, capital campaign and community relations initiatives? Who was involved for each?

Follow the experts

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These specialists will keep you abreast of trends and solutions to your marketing challenges. You'll probably hear their names a lot when private school MarCom folks gather. Please let me know your favs and I'll add them to the list.

InspirED School Marketers: Yeah. Us. ;-) We are a free professional development resource and community for private school admins who have marketing and/or communications responsibilities. Check out our blog, podcasts, Brilliance Awards competition and annual MarCom Survey (and Report), to name a few. We make your private school marketing job easier. Sign up for our newsletter. Join our Facebook group where your peers are your best source of info. 

Finalsite Blog: insightful, reliable advice on private school websites and marketing, often with good examples, from the leader in private school web development. Check out their podcasts, too. **

Blackbaud K12 Blog: Another resource that provides great advice for private school marketing, websites, and social media. Listen to their podcast as well. Check out their podcasts, too.

NBOA: Why would you want to follow the independent school National Business Officers' Association? Because their president believes in marketing, wants your business officer on board, and will help you advocate for it. **

NAIS: The National Association of Independent Schools is the source for all things private schools including blogs on numerous topics relevant to your job. 

TABS: The Association of Boarding Schools is in the first phases of the North American Boarding School Initiative campaign to boost the boarding school brand. Even if yours is a day school, get to know this campaign. Their insights can benefit all private schools. They have a fabulous annual conference that school marketers will want to attend. **

CASE: The Council for the Advancement and Support of Education focuses primarily on higher ed, but oftentimes their marketing initiatives can influence ours. They sponsor a large awards competition, The Circle of Excellence Awards, each year where your school has to be a member to enter. (Or enter the InspirED Brilliance Awards ;-) 

The Enrollment Marketing Association Blog: Formerly SSATB, advocates for and supports enrollment management for PK-12 schools. Check out their free report The Ride to Independent Schools

Hubspot Marketing Blog: More and more private schools are turning to Hubspot as an inbound marketing and sales platform. Their marketing blog is worth following. 

Connor & Associates Blog: Mike Connor "gets" private school marketing, and, as a former classroom teacher, he "gets" faculty as well. **

SchneiderB Blog: A powerful community of private school social media marketers lead by Brendan Schneider. **

Mission Minded: A branding and marketing firm that specializes in non-profits with a fabulous set of marketing guides. **

Caylor Solutions Blog: Bart Caylor specializes in academic marketing, primarily for higher ed, but you can never have too many ideas.  **

Enrollment Catalyst Blog: Rick Newberry specializes in private school marketing and is a strong advocate for parent satisfaction surveys

More blogs to check out

Stacy Jagodowski*

Dr. Arnaud Prevot*

Schola Blog

Cursive Content*

Penny Rogers Blog

Your School Marketing

I hope these folks give you guidance and inspiration. Welcome to the private school marketing community! We hope you love your job as much as we love ours.

* InspirED Guest Blogger
** InspirED Podcast Guest

Now go get 'em!

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