When I started my career, I was taught that a marketing plan needed to be an enterprise document that required extensive research, took weeks (if not months) to create, and needed to address over a dozen aspects of business operations and marketing strategies. It was a long, intense, and daunting process that I dreaded and avoided at all costs.
If you’ve never seen the traditional marketing plan outline, do an online search for one. I’m sure your search will return millions of results, some of which will be trying to sell you an elaborate template or expensive consultants to help you complete one. Undoubtedly, you’ll also find numerous examples of corporate marketing plan outlines.
For me, just reading those outlines was overwhelming and intimidating, partly because I didn’t know where to start. The truth is, schools don’t function in the same manner as corporations, and my department didn’t actually have oversight of all aspects of a traditional marketing plan. It would have been impossible for me to do this alone, and we all know, gathering all the key leaders together to work on a project is nearly impossible.
Plus, like many marketing and communications offices at schools, mine was a small shop with giant shop workloads, and the idea of taking a few weeks (or more) to conduct research, coordinate with others, and build this comprehensive and complex document was just too much to even fathom. So, like many others, instead of trying to create a marketing plan, I just limped along without one hoping for the best. I was convinced that I hated marketing plans.
Fast forward to today, and I can’t imagine working without a school marketing plan to help drive enrollment and other initiatives, though it differs in nature from the traditional model I was taught all those years ago. I eventually realized that I don’t hate marketing plans at all; what I do hate is working with a marketing plan structure that doesn’t meet admissions and my organization’s other needs, is complex and time consuming, and provides little value to me in the long run. Who has time for that?
It took me years to figure out what I actually needed out of a marketing plan and what my organizations expected the marketing plan to cover. Once I discovered that, I realized the true value of a solid school marketing plan and what it entailed.
Even better, I realized that a school marketing plan didn’t need to be this massive enterprise document that takes weeks to create. Once I started thinking differently about marketing plans, I discovered that the example I really needed was mini-marketing plans that centered around marketing and communications aspects of admissions and other individual initiatives and outlined the partnerships I needed with other departments.
Soon, I was creating documents that didn’t just guide my work, but kept others informed and on track. Plus, I was better able to manage projects and avoid unnecessary work and frustration. As a bonus, I found that having an organized plan meant that I was actually promoting stronger collaborations and partnerships with the departments around me.
Once I started relying on a strategic marketing plan for schools to drive my planning and processes, I realized just how much work I used to do that wasn’t directly tied to an initiative and wasn’t contributing much to achieving our goals. It was just more noise in an already loud room, and no one was really paying attention to whether the message was getting heard. Fortunately, I found that when I shifted from tasks to strategies, I was able to be more productive and more successful.
To get to this point, I had to really dig into the reasons why the traditional marketing plan outline didn’t work for me and my schools. The truth is, most schools don’t fully understand marketing or how it differs from communication, public relations, or even advertising. Sure, schools are familiar with marketing terms, but they often don’t truly understand what they mean within the scope of operating a business. Let’s face it, schools are businesses, and families are our customers.
But, I quickly learned that the culture of our schools wasn’t going to change overnight, and fortunately, we’re starting to see a shift, but we’re not fully there yet. The role of a marketing department at a school, which is still considered just “communications” at many, is starting to change, but it is still vastly different than in the corporate world. So, I had to alter what a marketing plan covers for my school.
To do that, I conducted research about what my role was within my organization, what my organization’s expectations were out of a marketing plan, and what I truly needed out of a marketing plan. I had to go back to basics before I figured out how to improve my work.
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