Beyond this definition, I address 3 core areas that build on one another:
SYSTEM – your overall marketing effort has to be built on a solid systematic way of marketing. Rather than chaotic, shoot-from-the-hip marketing, your school marketing is well-thought-out and intentional. Inside of your larger umbrella marketing system, there are plenty of micro-systems centered around social media, referrals, lead generation and nurturing, family follow-up, etc. Each one of these micro-systems has to assess the tools, finances, personnel and skills sets needed for success. Your marketing system should have a clear understanding by your entire team about how your school addresses the 3 Rs of school marketing: recruitment, retention and referrals. Without this fundamental understanding of system, you will only achieve average enrollment marketing success at best.
STRATEGY – as the system is set in place, you can begin to determine your strategy based on your enrollment gaps and goals. While your marketing system (and all the micro-systems) are fairly consistent from year-to-year, the strategy should vary depending on where you need seats filled. Your strategy can obviously address 3-5 ideal family personas. If you do not target your personas at all, you end up with a “one-size-fits-all” marketing message that really should be renamed as “one-size-hits-small”. If you are broad and generic, your message will resonate with no one. Know the persona’s pain points and how your school is differentiated as the best solution in your local market to meet that need. Develop this “know-like-trust” effort with specific touch points to lead a potential family toward becoming one of your school’s most loyal ambassadors.
TACTICS – the implementation part of marketing is what gets most of your attention (time and money). The “practical and tactical” make up the line items in your budget so you tend to think about these items most, but often neglect #1 and #2. If you do the former correctly, the system is in place so that a sound marketing strategy will dictate the most effective tactical implementation plan. If you are implementing the same marketing plan every year, then you are demonstrating that you have no targeted strategy.
The fall months offer your team is the most optimal time to consider your enrollment marketing plan. For many of you, especially if you have rolling admissions throughout the year, the summer months are filled with last-minute inquiries, visits, and applications. But for most, by October, the dust has settled on who will be in your seats for this year’s academic year. Now what?
Take some time to evaluate your numbers, your processes, your tactics, and your wins and losses. Examine where your strengths were but also where you fell short.
Analyze enrollment data, trends, and gaps
Are there any new emerging patterns?
Why did we fall short of our enrollment target for that grade?
What is the most likely factor in our great numbers in those grades?
How did we spend our budget last year? Best return on investment?
Was our messaging clear? Did our personas hear us talking to them or was it a mass message?
What feedback can we attain from new families who got accepted and are now enrolled?
Can we ascertain anything from families who chose to go elsewhere?
These are just some of the hard things to look at with your team.
Now, let’s look forward.
Having done the hard work above, now it is time to anticipate next year. There doesn’t seem like enrollment coordinators have much time to rest because it is time to start thinking about next August. If you have rolling admissions, you know the work never stops. Sometimes you have a few families even join after Christmas. But even if your enrollment to future families doesn’t open up until spring. now is the time to look ahead.
Where are our largest enrollment gaps for this upcoming school year?
Are their enrollment patterns in other grades that concern you?
Do we know who our ideal family is?
While a mass marketing message is important, how do we target our communication?
What programs do we need to highlight better for these personas to take note of?
What stories do we need to curate that will resonate with these personas?
What written stories can we tell better?
Are there good audio interviews or podcasts we can record to tell a better story?
What is our video strategy for telling our school’s story?
TIME FOR A COMEBACK!
If your enrollment numbers were a challenge this year, it’s time to look forward to this spring and bounce back! You can stage an enrollment comeback if you have the right system, strategy, and tactical approach!
I love to help Christian schools – how can I help you?
Have you done an honest assessment of the families who are enrolled in your school? I’m talking about an honest assessment.
Are they 100% mission-appropriate? Are they aligned with your mission?
Are they misfits who, according to the definition above, are students (and their families) “who fit badly” or are “poorly adapted”?
Regardless of the type of school you are (covenant or evangelical), you have to be selective in who sits in your seats. If you are a Christian school, there are some in your community will find that word “selective” as repugnant. They will equate your existence with that of the Lord’s church where we are to be loving, accepting, and welcoming to all. But as a school, you are a not-for-profit business that must think of the “product” you are providing. If families look at your school and do not perceive the fruit as being sweet, they will pass. If current families start to feel that “one bad apple spoils the bunch” (to stay on the fruit metaphor), they will leave before they are damaged.
There is not one algorithm or list of factors that you must use to ensure you are selecting mission-fit families. But here are a few of the most common and most important:
Do they agree with your school’s mission, vision, and core values?
Do they agree with your school’s approach to discipline from actions in or out of the classroom?
Do they agree with your school’s approach to monitoring and correcting behavior even at home?
Do they not only agree with but also consider themselves ambassadors for your school’s mission?
Do they help you market the school via word-of-mouth?
In a time when enrollments can trend downward (as the price tag increases and the value of private education is often debatable among your market), it is easily justifiable for a school to loosen the evaluation and accept anyone with interest and the bank account to afford the school. If you do not mandate mission appropriateness, you will find yourself pulling your hair out in the future.
You may have a much more detailed list of factors when determining whether a student is accepted or not (based on their academic assessment, behavioral history at other schools, letters of recommendations, etc.), but one of them has to be whether or not this student and their parent(s) are mission-fits with your school.
If you need help in ensuring your school has an effective marketing system to ensure you have the most mission-fit families, I want to help. Click the link below and let’s start a conversation.
For a number of you, your enrollment is wrapped up for next fall. You are putting the finishing touches on the package of kiddos who will sit in your seats for the upcoming school year.
Others of you may sit at the other end of the spectrum, scrambling, praying, and laboring daily for every single inquiry, hoping that in some way you defy statistics and enroll 100% of those who even ask you about your school.
Both groups have marketing things you can do during the summer months:
DONE – FUN IN THE SUN:
While this group has already wrapped up enrollment, I know you are not taking off 3 months in the summer. In our business, who really gets to do that?! But since you have completed your enrollment, here are 3 things you should do to get a jump start on the fall:
REVIEWS: the end of the school year can be a great time to ask parents to review your school on Google, Facebook, Niche, Private School Review, and Yelp (because it is linked to Apple Maps app). Be selective because you also may get irritable parents also in need of a summer break! So ask who you know will give you a 5-star glowing recommendation.
PLANNING: something most people in our business tell me is that they never have time to truly plan their marketing. Take time this summer to walk through the critical steps of your marketing system. Do you have the components of a strong word-of-mouth marketing system? Do you know what your lead-generation system looks like? I love helping schools with this – contact me if I can be of service this summer.
BACK-TO-SCHOOL WOM: before summer fever takes over, take some time with your team to map out specific events and experiences that will propel your word-of-mouth marketing in the fall. I’m working with a school now to outline a word-of-mouth marketing and retention system. It helps when you think about retention about a year-round effort.
LAST-MINUTE SUMMER SCRAMBLE:
OK, now for the next group. If you are nearing the filling of your final available seat, or if you are desperately trying to do what you can to meet budget, your priorities will be different.
SOCIAL MEDIA: while things might be crazy, you need to take a few minutes to look at social media for the next 3 months. Plan out themes and develop a list of content that you need captured before the kids leave the campus. Look at any way to incorporate a virtual experience of your campus so your admissions team can show the campus in the summer months when no one is around. Capture videos, QR shows (since most smart phones now automatically read QR codes, it is much easier to incorporate this technology), a podcast, or any other way to tell stories. Even if you need to take a few days for summer vacation, you can use a variety of scheduling tools on various platforms to post your content even while you are away.
TARGETED PERSONA: while you might be tempted to blanket a “one-size-fits-all” message to anybody and everybody who might be looking at your school, you will be more effective by targeting your message. Create some piece of relevant content targeting young Kindergarten moms who are nervous about putting their little one in the hands of an education system. Make a blog post about the transition years to Middle School and how your school can help ease the move. Videotape students in high school talking about their college readiness which ensures every parent that your college preparatory experience is worth every penny!
COMBINE THE FIRST TWO: your best bet is to create social media content that targets specific personas and blitz this out for the next 3 months. Batch process some videos of high schoolers talking about how your school has equipped them for college and then dribble this out throughout the summer with a similar message: you come to our school and we turn our confident kids ready for college!
When your Head of School, Board, or even a parent asks, “how many of our families are returning next year?”, do you start to squirm in your seat? Even as hard as schools do to recruit new families, that pesky re-enrollment number is often so frustrating. Families often choose not to re-enroll because of a few common reasons:
MONEY – probably the most common reason given (true or not)
MOVE – don’t you hate hearing that a good family is being relocated?
MALCONTENT – while you hate to see them go, sometimes it’s for the best
MAYBE – these fence-sitters are some of the most common culprits
So what can you do about these reasons?
In terms of MONEY, it is likely not really the COST of tuition/fees, but the VALUE they perceive they are receiving. Even a 4% increase in tuition does not usually make it suddenly unaffordable. It just happens to be the straw that gives families a reason to jump ship because of a lack of perceived value. To minimize this, showcase student successes, especially in graduating seniors (scholarships and college acceptances) and alumni (have them testify to their preparedness for the university-level of work).
On those who are MOVING or in the group of MALCONTENTS, there is not a lot you can do here. However, conduct personal exit interviews face-to-face so you can tone down any frustration they may have (the latter group for sure). By offering a listening here, you are absorbing their rage/frustration so that they are less likely to rant on Twitter or give you a negative 1-star review. Give them a voice. On the flip-side, if someone is happy but forced to move because of a job out of state, invite them to give a glowing 5-star review as they leave!
As far as the MAYBE group, these fence-sitters must be identified, by name. Ensure each division leader (principal) has a list of every student in their grades who yet to re-enroll. Enact a swift communication plan for personal phone calls and hand-written notes (don’t just send emails). Find out the reason behind their hesitation. Sometimes, they are waiting on a tax refund or a summer bonus. But do not assume, only to find out in August that there was something else behind their not re-enrolling.
With these three ideas, I hope you retention numbers climb back up!