Does your school REALLY have a story?

August 3, 2018 Emily Cretella

school marketing elevator pitch

Picture this: you’re a brand-new intern at a fancy downtown highrise. You have a fantastic idea that will help your company save money … if only you had the opportunity to pitch it to your boss.

And that’s when you see her entering the elevator by herself. So, you hop in.

The pressure’s on. You now have approximately 30 seconds to explain your idea before your boss exits on the next floor. You need to be strong, and succinct, and relevant, and engaging—or your chance will be over before it begins.

Welcome to your “elevator pitch.”

You’ve no doubt heard the term before: it comes from the business world, but it has been widely adopted by companies and organizations alike to describe a quick yet interesting explanation of an idea that can be delivered in the time it takes to ride an elevator.

Well, today’s elevator is the Internet.

In today’s fickle and fast-paced online world of business and communications, you have less time than an elevator ride to tell someone your story—so now, more than ever, it’s important to have that “elevator pitch” down. Except nowadays, simply having a quick pitch isn’t enough.

You have to have a story to tell.

A story is “a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.”

What’s important about that definition: it’s all about the hearer or reader—it’s not about the writer or teller. When you’re telling a story—or, more specifically, marketing your school’s story—you need to keep the old elevator pitch in mind and put your audience’s interests and amusement upfront. Because if you don’t, your audience will walk out those invisible Internet doors and forget your “pitch” as soon as you’re done giving it.

Your school story should be less about you and more about what you can do for your dream students and families.

Now, you might be saying, “Oh yeah, we have a school story. We’re all set.” But as a school storyteller who partners with dozens of independent and private schools each year, I implore you to continue reading.

Most of the school’s I work with fall into two school story categories:

  1. You’re pretty sure you have a story: you have a mission, a vision and guiding principles. Is that all you need?
  2. You know the parts of your story, but those parts are spread out over various brochures, articles, website pages, and you’re not sure how they piece together.

If either of these sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Because schools are made up of so many different tales—of legacy and traditions and alumni and students and values and innovation and wins and losses—it can seem daunting to come up with ONE core, compelling story. How can you fit all of that into a 30-second “pitch”?

It may seem impossible, but think of it this way: if it’s hard for YOU to wrap your arms around your school story, how can you expect your dream families to do it?

That’s why creating a powerful school story should be one of your most important school marketing and communications goals.

A powerful school story can attract dream families, increase admissions inquiries and enrollment, strengthen communities, and grow school influence by:

  • Appealing directly to your admission audience’s specific wants and needs, and addressing their challenges and hesitations upfront.
  • Ensuring all school communications are consistent, highlighting your true outcomes, benefits and differentiators.
  • Giving all constituents—faculty, staff, alumni, parents—the tools they need to help share your story and become your biggest advocates.
  • Providing content creators with a foundation to work from for all marketing and communications projects.
  • Strengthening your school’s authority in your specific areas of expertise.

So what do you need to create to ensure your school story achieves all of these goals? Here are the three storytelling components that I’ve found set my school clients up for storytelling success:

A Positioning Statement

No, it’s not a mission statement. While a mission statement tells the world what you’re working toward, a positioning statement tells your audience why your mission matters to THEM. Why they should care. How it will impact their lives.

A positioning statement is usually one or two sentences, tops, and packs a lot of punch into a little amount of words (that’s why it can be so challenging to craft!).

Your school positioning statement covers a few key story elements:

  • The desired outcome you provide to your students/families
  • The specific audience your school serves
  • The unique approach or benefits you offer in order to achieve your outcomes

An example from my friends at Sanford School:

"Find yourself at Sanford School, a creative and inclusive preK-12 community that encourages you to embrace your individuality, tap into your talents, stretch your skills and broaden your ambitions as you approach learning and life with no limitations.”

In that one sentence, Sanford is able to define its dream students and tell them the outcomes they can expect (and how they will achieve those outcomes) as a Sanford student.  

Being able to say all of this in a few sentences is a great way to get your dream families to remember and differentiate your school during their school search process.

A Positioning Story

If your positioning statement is the “pitch,” your positioning story is the “meeting.” It expands upon the promises you’re making in your positioning statement, adding both rational and emotional storytelling elements to further engage your audience.

Your positioning story can take many forms, but most often it’s a narrative that explains your outcomes, audience, and approach/benefits in more detail. It’s not as critical to be brief; here, you want to connect with your audience and hold their interest as you introduce more of your school’s culture and personality.

By writing a powerful school narrative that brings out your school’s personality, you make it easier for your dream families to connect with you on a personal level.

Reasons to Believe

It’s great to make a promise, tell and story and paint a picture … but can you back it up? That’s why you need reasons to believe, proof points that show: “here’s how we do it.”

Reasons to believe can cover all the unique details that make your school shine. Special programs, faculty accolades, innovative initiatives, alumni support … these details should support the claims you’re making in your story and give readers reason to trust your positioning statement and story.

Once you have these three elements defined, the opportunities are endless. You can use them to craft strong and engaging website content, you can use them to spark ideas for creative campaigns, you can use them to create endless social media updates or scripts for school ambassadors to help share your story.

When you have a strong story foundation, you know that whoever is creating your marketing communications, they have a grounded starting point. They can get in that proverbial elevator and pitch your school. And in the Internet age, that’s priceless.

Need help crafting YOUR school story? Learn more about school storytelling at Cursive Content Marketing, or tweet us at @emilycretella / @blackbaudK12.

About the Author

Emily Cretella

Emily Cretella is a marketing strategist and copywriter who helps her clients create and share stories that make audiences take action. As owner of Cursive Content Marketing, Emily provides consulting, copywriting services and workshops to independent schools and higher education. Read her stories at

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