A question school admissions professionals, administrators, marketing consultants, and teachers get is one that gets to the heart of the schools themselves: why do schools, especially private schools, need marketing anyway? Can't schools simply function without hiring a marketing consultant, establishing a marketing team, or devoting resources to the endeavor? Many teachers are uneasy with school promotion and marketing, and they feel that it cheapens their teaching (Oplatka, 2007).
What is school marketing?
The following is a working definition I have had about school marketing : It's a process, started but never finished, which school administrators and executives use to better the school experience for the students (external) and the teachers (internal), maintain financial stability, communicate effectively, and create life-long relationships with their student’s families.
What happens without school marketing
Schools who opt out of marketing altogether, or who devote minimal financial resources to the art and science of marketing will be able to save time, manpower, and money. In return for these temporary savings, they enter into the marketing doom loop. (See below.)
This will lead schools to fall into a trap, where any drop in enrollment or lower school perception will lead to a perpetually vicious cycle of cut-backs and loss. With marketing absent, schools will rely on their reputation and hope that they will be able to attract individuals. Their brand will be completely out of their control; meaning that other schools, parents, community members will be writing, and rewriting their own story.
Why teachers and some administrators feel uncomfortable with marketing
Promotion and "selling the school" is not what most teachers are looking to do when they sign on to work in a school. Research shows great discomfort among teachers when they are asked to promote themselves, their program, or their school as a whole (Oplatka, 2006). Teachers either say that it is not their job or that schools should not market themselves, as it cheapens the school experience. They feel that "market-like environment leads to high levels of stress and uncertainty in their work" (Oplatka, 2006). Administrators usually have a better feel for their abilities to promote and manage the school's marketing (oftentimes with a committee), but they also suffer from a similar impediment to that of their staff members. Principals, headmasters and other admins should never succumb to the temptation of telling their employees that they had "better" promote and market themselves because of a need to "fill seats". When teachers hear that their positions depend on their promotional abilities during open house days, they feel threatened (Oplatka, 2006), embarrassed (Oplatka, 2007) and may consider the administrator as having failed.
Schools should invest in marketing
Whether a school is public or private, they should look to invest resources (time, money, energy) in the proper and deliberate marketing of their institution. This is the same as "investing in oneself". This will not lead to a sales idea where a school is looking to push themselves on unsuspecting prospective parent, but to a situation where the schools help "pull" parents out of their current problem: being in need of a school which has similar values and can help them educate their own kids socially and academically. It's often the case that older and more established schools would do better to hire an outside marketing specialist so that they may help cut through the established "ways of doing things" and perhaps better relate to prospective parents.
Investing in marketing means putting aside your institutional ego
Institutional ego is the misplaced pride an administrator has in their institution. They may believe that they are they have the best programs in town, or that they alone can educate students with "21st century skills" for an "interconnected tomorrow," because students are "safe and loved." The reality is that every single school promises this. Marketing allows a school to grow out of their comfort zone and act face-to-face with the realities of the educational market (thus the original definition of marketing). Every single prospective parent has to wade through the bland bromides of schools. But a school which uses marketing will learn to help prospective parents with real promotional tools which will attract parents organically. This is also why outside marketing consultants are so important since the good ones will not be susceptible to the "same-old same-old."
Oplatka, I. (2007). The principal's role in marketing the school: Subjective interpretations and personal influences. Planning and Changing, 38(3/4), 208.
Oplatka, I. (2006). Teachers' Perceptions of Their Role in Educational Marketing: Insights from the Case of Edmonton, Alberta. Canadian journal of educational administration and policy, 51, 1-23.
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