Coming up with exciting and inventive ideas that will help schools meet their wider goals – income generation, recruitment of pupils or staff, a better reputation in their local area – is an enjoyable part of school marketing.
But there’s often a catch. How can schools make sure that key messages are shared consistently by all the staff that parents meet? How can you tap into the wider networks that teachers have in the local community? And what if you can’t find any examples that back up your ideas and show stakeholders how your school is truly different?
The key to achieving these goals is to engage your staff in marketing. You can accomplish this via two key stages – explaining to staff what marketing is and why it matters to your school, and helping them make a real difference to your plan.
Some schools don’t like using the word itself, preferring to instead talk about ‘communication’ or ‘reputation management’, but I’d always recommend taking the bull by the horns and using the dreaded ‘m’ word. Why? Because it’s actually got little to do with common perceptions around ‘advertising’, ‘promotion’, or (my favourite) ‘organised lying’. In fact, marketing is defined by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as “The process of understanding and meeting the needs of stakeholders to enable an organisation to meet its objectives.”
In a school, that can mean listening to local community groups who’d like to use your facilities; making changes to your recruitment processes so that the best teachers can attend interviews on a day of their choosing; or focusing your parental communications so that parents can clearly see the strengths of your school on a regular basis. It’s usually less about spending money and much more about finding and telling stories that show what’s great about your school. Once staff realise this, they’ll be happy to help.
The difference staff can make
With the aforementioned definition in mind, there are many ways in which staff can get involved in your marketing. Here are six of them…
1. Helping you listen to parents and other stakeholders
Teachers and reception staff are your eyes and ears in the community. If something isn’t working, or parents are thinking of moving their children elsewhere, this needs to be passed quickly to someone who can take action. Conversely, if you’re doing something new and they like it, this should also be shared.
2. Helping create marketing messages
It’s important when marketing a school to be clear and consistent about what makes it great. This means focusing on strengths and future plans, but these are stronger when they’re agreed by and come from the whole school community. When creating these messages, staff should be involved at every stage.
3. Finding stories that illustrate these messages
Schools are full of fascinating stories, but it can often be the same people or departments who share them. By encouraging all staff to pass on great things that are being planned – ideally well in advance – they can be captured and shared to show the school’s full breadth. Once these members of staff see their stories being shared, they’ll soon find more.
4. Using their talents to help make stories come alive
School staff possess a huge range of skills that can help your marketing efforts. These include practical skills, such as videography, illustration or music production, as well as language skills that can help you communicate to wider communities, and digital skills in areas such as social media and website analytics. Make sure they have time to contribute them, and that their contributions are celebrated.
5. Helping you reach wider communities
Make sure to ask staff for their community connections, whether it be running a local Cub Scout Pack, serving as a charity trustee or helping to organise a faith community. These links are important ways of getting your messages out, provided the staff in question are given the right information and aren’t simply expected to ‘sell the school’.
6. Pointing people in the right direction
This is a small change that can make a huge difference. Could every member of staff help parents find out more about your school, assist them with filling out application forms in their own language or point newly arrived families towards community organisations that can help them? If not, do they know anyone who may be able to help, how they can be reached and when they might be available?
Putting it into practice
In November 2017, Risley Avenue Primary School in Haringey, North London, was facing a decline in application numbers driven by an external population change. Rather than accepting that it would have to close down one of its three forms of entry, the school looked instead to create a communal marketing response.
An initial workshop led by Marketing Advice for Schools for staff from across the school led to an explosion of good news and marketing ideas, from a new school video and improved recruitment processes, to better ways of communicating with existing parents.
There was also a realisation that the school needed to become more engaged with its diverse and changing community. The school took this message on board and responded swiftly, holding a full staff INSET session to gather information and engage everyone in the marketing process. Conversations were then had with an architect to gather ideas for making the school appear more physically welcome. Office staff were brought together to think about how they gathered and used information from interested parents, and how they could go about revitalising their use of social media.
Six months on, you just need to look at @risleyN17 on Twitter to see how the school is now sharing great stories with its community. More importantly, the school is back on target to run three reception classes from September 2018.
As headteacher Linda Sarr explains, “Working as a team has resulted in all members of our staff team, parents, governors and the children themselves knowing how and why we need to promote our school. Everyone understands the need to create the very best impression when people visit. Parents recommend our school to their friends and family. In a matter of three months we managed to increase next year’s Reception roll numbers by 25 pupils. It’s been truly astonishing!”
Simon Hepburn is the founder of Marketing Advice for Schools