Effective open house campaigns once meant filling the halls with artwork and dusting off your PowerPoint floppy disk.
Today, that dated approach is turning prospective parents away.
Parents are no longer content to send their child to the most convenient school next door. They want to know how your school will benefit their child.
Oh, and they have strong beliefs about what will benefit their child. And they have the options to choose from.
An ineffective open house strategy will send parents to your competition.
Follow these tips to turn your open house into an effective recruitment tool.
Adopt a marketing mentality
Some schools still think of marketing as distasteful. It can be hard to reconcile marketing with the idea of a non-profit organization that has a calling.
Yet schools are very similar to a business, whether we like it or not. The current market is driving this reality home faster.
An open house is very similar to a marketing event in a business. It all comes down to having a defined, differentiated message that will appeal to prospective parents who come to visit your open house.
With that in mind, we will go through the same steps a business would to host a great event. Why will they give you their time? You need to show them why. You even need to earn the right to their attention, and to their precious time.
Yes, it’s tough.
Since our open house needs to stand out, let’s first see what else is out there.
Identifying your competition
You need to know your competition. Are they planning open houses? What are they doing? Parents need to know why they should come to your open house over another.
Are they aggressive, offering drawings, discounts, gifts?
Do they propose interesting speeches, cool projects, food, fun games?
Have a look around at schools in your area and analyze their offerings.
A good idea is to also do interviews with parents of students who have left your establishment. Or current parents: no shame in asking them if they have friends that went to another open house.
Besides looking at the school websites, be sure to also check their Facebook pages as events will be posted there more regularly. Eventbrite is also a popular tool for open houses.
While you are at it, look out for shadow day options as well…
Check on your open house brand
Your open house will sparkle if your own brand does. If you haven’t done any branding work in a while, it is time to do it well in advance of next admission season. Otherwise, you will need to go for the cheapest tips and tricks to get the room full.
However, if you have gone through the exercise to redefine who you are, what you offer, and what sets you apart from your competitors, open house promotion is much easier. We see it every time.
Then your open house message is an extension of your brand message. The events you plan for the open house will resonate with the school brand as well.
Are you a STEAM school? Plan a few workshops that are fun but also educational.
Project-Based Learning? Start planning hands-on group projects that will show parents why your approach is best.
Faith-based? An open house around Daily Mass is a good idea, to let your warm community spirit shine through.
You get the idea…
Involve your staff
Once you formulate your open house brand message and decide on a strategy, make sure the entire staff knows how to communicate this to the public. Give your staff a script to use when speaking to parents. Ensure everyone presents the same message to prospective families.
Your staff is invested in the success of the school, so make them a part of the marketing plan. Once they are informed of the brand message the school is sending out, encourage them to include their own elements. They should include a list of their accomplishments in the classroom, and be specific about displaying specific student’s achievements.
Remind staff that parents are essentially coming to evaluate them, and they should treat every parent interaction like a job interview.
Rethink your advertising
Weekly advertisement in the local bulletin isn’t going to generate enough traffic. Traditional marketing won’t cut it. Consider other avenues for advertising your open house.
Parents will search your website and browse your social media before deciding whether to visit your school.
Using social media and digital advertising is now the most cost-effective and efficient way to publicize your open house. If you are proactive enough, you can even build an enrollment marketing funnel just for the open house itself. That’s how we increased attendance by 260% for one school.
Choose the date(s) carefully.
Having an open house at the end of a long week will hinder your efforts. Tired staff members may subconsciously drive parents away.
Consider moving your open house to the beginning of the week ensuring your staff members are well-rested and feeling their best. They will naturally be more positive, more enthusiastic, and more eager to engage with parents.
Check your schedule. Make sure that your open house day isn’t during a particularly busy school period, such as exam time and big sports tournaments.
Does your open house fall on the same day as your rival school? Years ago, every Catholic school in Cleveland had their open houses on the same day. The Diocese believed that Catholic education was the product, and parents should choose their local parish. School shopping was not a consideration. This meant that parents had to make their decision before they even visited the school.
Another idea many schools have applied with success: ditch the open house completely!
(Hey, why write this article then? Because different things work for different schools.)
Some schools find that shadow days are the new open house. They have two days a week where you can schedule a time to come in and join the daily life. It requires a certain openness and a mindset that you are always showing your school to prospective families. But it works and it requires little planning…
Update (or throw out) your presentation
Are you still using the same PowerPoint from 2005? You may not realize that a parent who came to last year’s open house will remember seeing those slides. A recycled presentation will reaffirm their belief that your school is not right for their child.
Create a new PowerPoint presentation every year with slides emphasizing your school’s current accomplishments.
For more visual impact, consider an animated presentation, such as Prezi, which has a free account for educators. A fresh modern format gives the impression that your school continues to evolve with the times. Be sure to include your new brand identity in your presentation.
Keep your presentation in line with what your school is doing now. Highlight current programs, and emphasize the results. Every school has Smartboards and a mobile lab.
Which innovative and effective ways are you using them?
What are the results of the new math approach?
It isn’t enough to say you have these programs. Focus on results, and use real statistics to back up your claims. Parents don’t want to hear about the programs, they want to know how your school will benefit their child.
That’s why you may think of throwing out the presentation all together. Put up signs or use whiteboards at key areas in the school. Have teachers or even students maintain them. The graphics are not as pretty (in fact there are no graphics on a whiteboard), but it is real and alive. Parents appreciate authenticity.
Wrapping it up, here’s something to think about:
A successful open house takes more than pulling out last year’s tricks.
Treat it as a sales process. What do your prospects want? What aren’t they getting at the competition? How can you be different?
Identify your open house brand and involve the entire staff in the message. Focus on the results of your programs and the benefits these programs will have for students. Emphasize the unique opportunities your school offers.
After that is done, that’s when you need to get the word out.
Follow these steps and your next open house will showcase an integrated and successful school.