More than ever before, it is critical that heads of school become integrally involved with marketing strategy and initiatives. Not only that, but the success of the whole school may depend on it.
Why now, you ask? Consider this. What was once a product has become an experience. When parents register their children at your school, they are buying way more than educational outcomes. They are buying an experience and now see – and continuously assess – their relationship with a school through the lens of that experience. A whole new imperative for school marketing has been established. This is what the folks at McKinsey have to say in a brilliant article called, We’re all Marketers Now:
In today’s marketing environment, companies will be better off if they stop viewing customer engagement as a series of discrete interactions and instead think about it as customers do: a set of related interactions that, added together, make up the customer experience.
So, every interaction with a current or prospective parent contributes to their perception of the school and the quality of their overall experience. The implications of that are far-reaching. That same article from McKinsey makes this powerful statement:
At the end of the day, customers no longer separate marketing from the product—it is the product. They don’t separate marketing from their … experience—it is the experience. In the era of engagement, marketing is the company.
Putting all of the theory into practice means that marketing has morphed from being a fixed set of activities that emanates from a particular office to something that now touches every department in a school. Marketing has to be part of every department’s plans and the way that every staff person conducts herself. Interactions with the front office, teachers, educational leaders, the business office – even custodians – all contribute to the parent experience. Everyone now has some responsibility for marketing.
Now we get to the hard part. How exactly will the marketing department extend its influence and provide direction and support throughout the whole organization? And as the McKinsey article asks, “ … if everyone’s responsible for marketing, who’s accountable?"
Realistically this is not something that school admissions or marketing professionals are going to be able to deal with on their own. Even directors of enrollment management or advancement don’t have the implicit authority to put marketing on every department’s agenda and demand accountability. You don’t have to be a clairvoyant, to see, as McKinsey does, that, “Behind the scenes, that new reality creates a need for coordination and conflict resolution mechanisms within and across functions …”
Enter heads of school. It is only with their involvement, influence and authority as well as their knowledge, experience and judgment that a positive and pervasive parent experience can be established.
Want to understand why that’s true? Who else can persuasively speak to faculty about the ways in which they can meaningfully contribute to the parent experience? Who is going to have the conversation with the people in the business office about ensuring positive interactions with parents?
How else can we ensure that the people who guide parents into a school – the admissions department - remain part of the parent experience and, in that way, contribute to retention success? And finally, who will speak with trustees and lay people about the ways in which their actions contribute to the parent experience and positive enrollment results?
Only heads of school have the reach and the credibility to raise the prominence of marketing and the parent experience. It is only heads of school that can demand marketing accountability from every department and every staff person.
So, in an age where the parent experience is almost synonymous with marketing, it’s now clear to see how heads of school are essential to marketing success. But, it goes farther than that. If, as the experts at McKinsey say, marketing is the company or the school, then marketing success is school success. Tom Olverson, former head of school and now consultant with RG175 puts it this way:
“Know that the success of your marketing efforts has everything to do with continuing to improve your professional development, quality and breadth of programs, fund raising, etc. See the whole and understand the centrality of marketing to achieving the school's overall goals.”
The reality is that the role of the head is changing dramatically. Not only must heads must accept that their contribution to the educational imperative is equally important to their impact on marketing initiatives, are equally important and in fact, symbiotically related.
About the Author
Chuck English helps independent schools improve enrollment results by providing strategic branding, marketing, communications, and creative services. He has worked with many schools in the United States and Canada and has presented his ideas at numerous conferences, workshops, and webinars as well as in white papers and his blog. Chuck is the driving force behind English Marketing Works, a firm that has helped schools, businesses, and fundraising organizations achieve strategic goals through outstanding marketing and creative initiatives. He is also the co-author of The Philanthropic Mind, a book based on comprehensive interviews with Canada’s top philanthropists. Chuck’s business experience is complemented by a strong record of community involvement having served in leadership positions and on the boards of many organizations. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.More Content by Chuck English