Jane’s first day at her new school was a mess.
It was a sunny morning towards the end of August. She was full of hope. The school had just created the new marketing role.
All her dreams would come true now...
... all the work done at the agency, before becoming a teacher...
... all the podcasts and blog posts she had read...
She could serve her community as she was always meant to!
On the first day, she met the Head of School.
"Schools are not businesses,", he said.
A Board member had forced the marketing role.
He handed Jane a bunch of mundane tasks.
"Fill out these Open House invitations."
What was worse, the whole school culture seemed hostile to any form of marketing. Faculty members talked about how marketing is worthless.
"Happy kids are all you need."
How will Jane turn this around?
That’s when we met.
And Jane inspired this article about what you should do in the first 30 days of a new school marketing role.
I will share the step-by-step process that Jane followed in her first 30 days.
She won over her school head, created a powerful marketing engine and gained 12 new students during the 2017/18 school year.
OK, so you’re wondering:
“Is this for me if I am not new in my role?”
We can always refresh or reboot our daily practice. It’s hard to keep our beginner’s mind open, challenging our routines, trying new things.
So please read on whether you just started in school marketing or have been doing this for decades...
Day 1. How to Make a Good First Impression: From Awkward Newbie to Intentional Change-Maker
You have Googled all your new colleagues already, right?
Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, no shame in that. You are not snooping for gossip, you are exploring... how will you best serve your new colleagues?
The first day is all about relationships.
You want to meet the key administrators.
Forget all the talk about a firm handshake and good body-language, focus on being intentional instead.
This is also true when you are new or 10 years in the role.
Meet everyone, one by one. See eye to eye.
Ask them about their life. Learn about the school’s history, what marketing has been done already?
Where are the old dusty boxes?
What has worked and what did not?
The most important task of all: Identify key staff that will support you or who have complementary marketing skills to yours.
Hey you, long-timer are you still with us? Do you have a core team of supportive admins working with you? If not, please read on.
Last but not least, meet the Head of School and set expectations.
My recommendation: promise a school marketing plan in 30 days and ask for a short, weekly meeting to help steer you through the coming weeks.
That will drive momentum for you.
It shows you are organized, driven, decisive and collaborative.
Day 2. The Secret Marketing Committee
You made the rounds yesterday, but today you will build your secret marketing committee.
You should do this immediately. Excitement is in the air, a new person joined the team (that’s you).
Before things settle down to normal, ask the people who engaged with you yesterday to join a discussion group.
It’s a simple ask. A baby step. Yet powerful.
You can choose from several free chat groups like Slack, Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, or more.
“I am building a small marketing chat room to help me as I start on this new role. Can I add you to the group?”
Identify who can help you (administrators, students, or parents). Please mix it up: not just administrators, but also staff, parents and even students.
Traditional hierarchies melt away in your marketing committee, it is an informal chat-based discussion where a middle-schooler and the Head of Admissions have the same voice.
Aim for 3-10 participants.
You are looking for these skills (you will not find them all!):
- video editing
- software development
- technology integration in the classroom
Also, which teachers or admins are doing fun and exciting things (that you could promote)?
Anyone doing STEAM workshops? Great projects in the community? A daily chapel Livestream?
Your secret marketing committee will not only give you support but help alignment, and change perceptions across the school.
Day 3. A leaky bucket appears
Chances are that you are now getting a feel for what the key problems are.
- Declining enrollment?
- Issues in certain grades?
- Lack of measurable outcomes?
You should map the current marketing funnel.
Assuming the marketing role is new, this will be a rough exercise based on feelings, instincts and hearsay. Don’t worry about that for now.
Here are the key questions to ask:
- Where do inquiries come in from?
- What are our key stages? Eg. Information download, inquiry, request for a call, request for a tour, event registration, application, financial aid application, recommendation letter submission, enrollment
- What information do we collect on prospective families at each stage?
- What specific action do we do when a family enters a stage? Eg. what do we do when we receive an inquiry?
Your secret group will come in handy here since you can chat away, everyone will pitch in their estimate and you can have robust figures.
Then, you also want to ask questions like:
- What does a school tour look like and who conducts it?
- What does the Open House look like?
- Is there a social media management routine in place?
- Is there a budget?
Collect any calendars you find and plug all the major dates into a spreadsheet. You will build the backbone of your marketing calendar. This is separate from your school calendar.
You will want to include all sources of marketing messages, fresh content creation, or an opportunity to create a buzz in the community:
- Major administrative deadlines
- school events
- athletic events
- field trips...
Day 4. All systems go
It always amazes me how we can set up a state-of-the-art marketing platform in 24 hours and (often) for free.
Marketing tools have come a long way. It’s all about finding the right balance between the features you will need.
Setup your toolkit:
- Google Drive or Dropbox
- Google Analytics (if you know how to, or maybe someone on your marketing committee knows)
- Hubspot Free CRM
- Canva for design
- Buffer for social media posting
- Feedly for content curation
- Unbounce for landing pages.
Day 5. Audit existing and past external relationships.
As you were talking to your new colleagues, someone said:
"XYZ Media Inc. did an amazing job with the Open House invitations 2 years ago."
"Jane Smith & Co sent over a videographer that was rude to the kids."
When these comments come streaming in, take down notes. Take them at face value for now, you don't have the luxury of time, yet.
Marketing agencies, printers, helpful parents, etc.? Google them, reach out to them to arrange a phone call, look for past invoices or contracts to make sense of what they cost.
Then it's time for a quick content audit. You have your secret committee, so:
- Create a Google Drive or Dropbox folder for each category of content
- Send out feeler messages to your committee members with links to your cloud folders
- Wait...then maybe send a reminder or two a few days later if some people don't reply :)
Pictures, videos, flyers, anything.
Day 8-13. Immerse yourself in school life.
How can you leave the office after just one week in the job?
I know tasks are pilling up. You are already getting buried in the routine stuff.
Take a deep breath. Step out into the corridor.
It's time to establish yourself as approachable as connected to the school’s culture. This is very important to do early on as you will create connections that fuel amazing marketing later on.
Imagine a web of relationships, connections that send you warm, fuzzy stories, messages, images and videos, vibrant scenes of daily life. Imagine what you can do on social media with such content.
The web of connections is best created early.
Visit classes, understand the school culture, talk to students, talk to parents.
Feel free to survey parents with a cool survey tool like Typeform.
You need to uncover the Remarkable (check out "How to be remarkable" by Seth Godin).
Take pictures and videos on your smartphone (check that the school has consent forms first). Forget about fancy $2000 Nikon cameras for now.
A tip from Jennifer Janikula in our Facebook Group, School Growth Mastery:
“Create and publish a simple video or slideshow asking a wide variety of students, staff, community members what they love about their school.”
That's a cool trick as it brings people together, establishes nice, early momentum for you, creates buzz and excitement around your arrival and gives you some amazing content to work with.
Day 16-21. Time to create your marketing plan (rough draft).
Here's what you need to include:
- Target market
- Parent persona
- Marketing spend allocation
- Proposed quick wins (eg. parent ambassador program, adjustments to your website)
- Rough annual calendar
Two versions: low-budget (0-$4,000) and high-budget ($5-$20,000).
Here's a cool, free support tool from Hubspot: it creates a baseline for your marketing plan.
If you need support on budgeting, look up the latest trends on how much small businesses are spending on marketing in your area. It is between 10-20% of revenue.
Jane's Head of School was wrong.
Thanks to School Choice, schools are becoming more like businesses. We need to take strategies out of the business playbook. So watch how they market their products and services.
You don’t want to just present the final goal, which is an increase in enrollment.
You need to track the “how” in your marketing plan.
You will monitor your progress as you move through the year: engagement, event participants, inquiries, applications, referrals and more....
Leverage your marketing committee, it’s a group effort.
Day 24-29. Pitch your marketing plan to key stakeholders.
We are close to wrapping up Month 1.
It's intense so far.
Old timers, is it still this intense for you? It should be! Things are changing fast, so we need to keep the pace up...
This is when you secure your budget. I know, it's a tough discussion to have. There is no right or wrong outcome. It depends on where the school is on its marketing maturity journey.
You also need to secure your time.
- I suggest going paperless from day 1, before routines settle. When someone brings you that paper form to complete, move it over to Typeform. I know it's hard to change old ways. But if you start with a paperless reputation, it saves you amazing amounts of time later on.
- If you get pushback because some forms are legal documents, check out services like Pandadoc which are 100% legally compliant.
- Use screen casts with a tool like Screecastify or Loom to convey important information, always think of how to automate repetitive tasks through technology).
- Tap into your secret marketing committee and extend it.
- Rely on students. Trust them. Fight for them. Give them credit. Student ambassadors, student tour guides, student web developers, student designers, etc.
Now you start working for real, let’s hit the ground running.
Take it one step at a time.
Fingers crossed :)