Small Shop Savvy: Parents as Marketers

The Savvy series contains thoughts, musings, advice, and maybe some humor from a veteran small shop development director wearing many hats at The GreenMount School in Baltimore, Maryland.

Small schools generally have small budgets, so big creativity and harnessing the power of volunteers is the way to get your school’s name and great reputation out in the community. Choosing the right volunteer for the right marketing job will ensure that “right fit” families come knocking on your admissions door. Here are 6 steps to craft your Savvy parent-driven marketing plan:

Step 1: Decide on your budget. 

At minimum you will need some cash for printed materials (folders, brochures, flyers) so your school looks like the solid institution it is, and some traditional advertising (Facebook and Instagram, and possibly print ads if your geographic area relies heavily on that), and swag (pens, magnets, or other little give-aways that remind people to go to your website).

Step 2: Craft your story. 

What are the aspects to your program, curriculum, community, and general aura that makes your school the perfect place for your students, parents, and future ones like them? There are several ways to find this information. I recommend Appreciative Inquiry. My blog titled, “Branding for the Small Shop,” highlights that process. Find the three or four outstanding aspects that best identify your school and build your marketing plan around them. Your plan should include photography, printed materials, web content, social media, and talking points.

Step 3: Recruit parents who are professional graphic designers and photographers. 

Their generosity and willingness to work with you, and for the betterment of the school they love, is a key to your success. By engaging a professional graphic designer who can create beautiful pieces within the templates of a budget online printer, you will save thousands. A professional photographer is worth his weight in gold. If you have a parent who is one such professional, this is a wonderful thing for your school.

Step 4: Invite parents and teachers to take photos of outstanding aspects of your school. 

You can’t be everywhere all the time. Likely, marketing is the third hat you wear! Ask teachers to tell you about the cool projects that are happening in the classroom in the next week. Then, ask parents or teachers to take a few photos and send them to you. Be sure to tell them about the “outstanding aspects” of your school that you want to highlight so that they can choose the shot accordingly. Review and edit all photos before posting or mailing them anywhere. Don’t let volunteers post photos to your social media pages. This is a key aspect of your brand and you need to monitor that closely.

Step 5: Recruit an on-the-ground marketing team. 

This is a multi-faceted group and each needs to be carefully recruited to best fit the parent’s strengths, time commitment, and the goals of your marketing campaign. Suggestions for facets are:

  • Editors. Everything you put in print or online should be spelled correctly and be grammatically sound.

  • Online presence monitors. There are numerous rating sites for schools, and community list-servs. Ask volunteers to monitor these sites, and ask other parents to make positive reviews of the school. Be sure that school administrators address any complaints or negative comments that may arise.

  • Admissions Ambassadors. There are so many ways that parents can contribute to the formal admissions marketing process. The Savvy marketer will collaborate with the Admissions Director to find creative ways for parents to bring right-fit families to your door. Here are a few ideas: 1) Take a booth at the local farmer’s market once or twice a season. Train and orient a group of volunteers to talk with prospective parents who come by the booth. 2) Ambassadors can work school fairs and drop off brochures to area feeder schools. Concentrate efforts on your main admissions feeders. 3) Ambassadors can host groups of parents in information sessions while prospective kindergarten students attend a “play-date” at school.

  • Board Members and Faculty. These two groups are some of your best marketers. They are most likely to be asked for their expert opinion of the school. Be sure they know what to say! Provide faculty and trustees with a back-to-school presentation with marketing messaging and a handout and/or shared Google doc with talking points.

Step 6: Keep the balls in the air.

The Savvy marketer is also a master project manager and cheerleader. Your fabulous group of parent volunteers will work miracles for you, but you must do a few things to make this juggling act work: monitor your team’s progress with regular communication, set realistic deadlines with very long lead times (parents have jobs and are doing this for you in their minimal free time), cheer them on to victory, and celebrate them with kind words and fun food (everyone likes special treats for their important efforts)!

Savvy small schools really can create an amazing marketing plan with materials to match. Allow yourself some extra time to find your brand messaging and get the right team in place. Juggling lessons, anyone?


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