Independent School Director of MarCom: Hiring and Being Hired [Podcast]

JANE ARMSTRONG

JANE ARMSTRONG

With the face of the Director of Marketing and Communications changing so rapidly over the last decade, InspirED wanted to know what impact this has had on hiring for independent schools and where individuals for this position are coming from.

In this episode of the Sparkcast, we sit down with Jane Armstrong, Managing Partner of Independent Thinking, an executive search firm based in Boston that works exclusively with independent schools on senior administrator hires. Jane began her independent school career as a "triple threat" English teacher, dorm parent, and coach at the Peddie School. She served Peddie as the Director of Publications before returning to her alma mater, Amherst College, to work in the Alumni and Development Office where she helped to achieve record fund raising dollars and over 60% alumni participation. Jane returned to independent schools as the Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life at the Garrison Forest School where she chaired its reaccreditation self-study. Later Jane became the Director of Development at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School, also raising record dollars and serving a key role in the preparation of a strategic plan. Jane has served as an independent school trustee, and she is the parent of five independent school graduates, one of whom is now a triple-threat at a CT independent boarding school.

Our conversation unearths the challenges and solutions leadership and professionals face with the position of the independent school Director of Marketing Communications. 

 

Jane Quoted

The challenge for most independent schools is that they’re not in a position to have a big marketing and communications team.

I interviewed someone who was in this role at a college and she was a candidate for a position at an independent school with the same title.  She said, “It would be a waste of my time to update the website. I am a strategist and I run an office of 30 people.” I thought, "No way you’re going to fit into the independent school world.”

Candidates coming from for-profit world are interested in being in a mission-worthy endeavor. Using their skills on behalf of young people and education feels more rewarding.

Gaining a sense of their willingness and ability to do it all is a challenge. Anyone who works at an independent school knows that you could be talking at a very strategic, intellectual level one minute and then setting up chairs for an event in the next. If you don’t have that willingness, it’s probably not the place for you.

Most people at independent schools are overworked.

The challenge is to get a handle on whether the school’s leadership has thought through the priorities of the position and has an understanding of what the main needs and goals are for the position.

A wise candidate has to ask what the role of the position has been in the past and the goals going forward, how they will be evaluated, what the priorities are. They want to be successful in the role, but can only be if there is a shared understanding of what the role is.

Having the role of Director of Marketing Communications be seen as equal to admissions and development functions is important.

It’s harder to keep score in the MarCom office than it is in the other advancement functions. You know how many enrolled. You know how many dollars were raised. Those numbers tell a story, but capturing the impact of one’s work [in MarCom] is trickier.

What You’ll Learn

  • What qualifications schools look for in new hires.
  • Where candidates coming from for this role.
  • If you can teach independent culture to a candidate.
  • The pros and cons of hiring someone from corporate.
  • How to onboard someone to absorb the culture.
  • What candidates look for in schools.
  • What questions candidates should ask during the interview process.
  • How many people there are in an average MarCom office compared to Admissions and Development offices.
  • How salaries changed in recent years.

 

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