An Open Letter to Heads of School About Outsourcing MarCom

This post first appeared in the March 2017 issue of  "The Head's Letter" produced by Educational Directions, the well-respected consulting firm for chief executive and senior administrative searches, governance, institutional advancement, and customized projects. The first post I wrote for them appeared in October 2016. I'd like to thank Harriet DiCicco and StacyJagodowski for requesting my thoughts on the subject of independent school marketing and communications. 

The Head’s Guide: Working with Marketing For a series of articles this year, experts will share their insights about the head’s role in marketing. This issue, the author is Liza Fisher Norman, founder and principal of Turnaround Marketing Communications, an independent school branding and marketing firm and creator of InspirED School Marketers, an online professional development resource for school marketing staff.

The Benefits of Outsourcing for Marketing and Communications

Since powerful, effective marketing and communications are more important than ever for enrollment and development, many schools turn to outside consultants—firms, sole proprietors, and freelancers—for help. While outsourcing can be more expensive than doing the work in-house, the benefits to the school can outweigh those costs. Here’s why.

Objectivity. A consultant has an objective perspective of your school that you’re not likely to have—the “can’t see the forest for the trees” syndrome. This is particularly important for brand development and enrollment marketing, when discovering and promoting what makes you truly distinctive can be the difference between full enrollment and empty seats. As Brad Rogers, headmaster at The Gow School, said in one of our podcasts, “We were judging ourselves based on what we saw, not on what others saw.” The benefit is that this kind of perspective can bring clarity that cannot be found internally.

Direction. A consultant can give your internal team tools to maximize efficiency, consistency, and results such as brand development, visual and editorial style guides, and a magazine template. Armed with these, your internal team can hit the ground running, focused on content instead of reinventing the wheel. The benefit is brand-centric marketing and communications that don’t rely on consultants after the initial engagement.

A consultant can be a gift when your internal team is maxed out and needs a hand with overflow.

Capacity. First, a consultant can be a gift when your internal team is maxed out and needs a hand with overflow. Second, a consultant can devote large chunks of time to critically important projects like brand development, a viewbook, or campaign marketing—anything that’s a one-off—when an internal team can’t fathom adding one of these to their workload. Third, a consultant can be a boon for ongoing, time-consuming projects like design of the magazine or annual report. The benefit is that a consultant can expand your school’s capacity to get things done and done well.

Talent. A consultant often leads a team of professionals with more expertise than you are likely to have in-house. Examples include strategists, photographers, designers, digital media designers, or others. The benefit is that you don’t have to seek out and bring together these people yourself, and the consultant can direct them without you using your valuable time.

Turnaround. A consultant can turn a project around faster than your internal staff because they are focused and freed of the inevitable interruptions that a small school office encounters. The benefit is projects that are completed in a timely fashion.

Payroll. A consultant can help with perception issues if the current school community would frown upon hiring additional staff to get the marketing work done. Engaging a consultant for a specific task or on an “as needed” basis may be a way around that. “Hire someone who comes in, but goes off the payroll fairly quickly,” as Andrew T. Weller, director of admissions at Avenues: The World School, said in one of our podcasts with regard to marketing and design consultants. The benefit is that the work gets done, but a new desk isn’t occupied.

Value. A well-respected consultant has worked with tens if not hundreds of schools whereas your internal team can probably count their experience on one hand. The best consultants are on top of trends and have a proven track record of success. When all of the previously mentioned attributes come together, a consultant can provide far more value than the monetary cost. The benefit is a solution to your challenges and a foundation for your internal team to build on.

One caveat: When considering who to work with, schools should strive to outsource to consultants who truly understand independent schools. Marketing a school is not like marketing a pair of sneakers or a set of tires. For parents, sending their child to your school is an emotional, long-term decision with a significant financial commitment. Find a consultant who “gets” schools in general and your school in particular to make your investment worth it.

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