How can we compete with a new local school?
Even without competition from the new-build school down the road – you know, the one with the shiny outdoor gym and the queue of parents at the gate – the best way to market your school is always to unearth its remarkable and promote that. Make sure your unique selling points – in approach, track record, style, facilities, etc. – are not only headline news but run through everything you do and everything that promotes what you do.
These are the activities of a well-branded school, designed to attract pupils and parents whose values and needs match what you have on offer. Let’s not pretend, however, that heads can’t be turned by the new – who doesn’t want to try the Salted Caramel and Glazed Almond flavoured Magnum even though they have loved the Magnum Classic from the beginning? How do you make sure your school’s qualities stand out and make an impact even when your playground and your website need surfacing? Even with a revamp, can your school compete with the enticement of, possibly cash-injected, freshness?
A new school, if it’s got sense, will grab some headlines; your school can do that, too, but it can also provide the regular features and favourites that complete the picture of what’s on offer. We all know that there’s value in old over new (think flat-packed furniture!) You have a real, not just a promised, track record; you have embedded character and staff; you have a reputation – a story that can be told by you with input from satisfied students, parents, teachers and community members. Conversations about the new school can easily gain traction but conversations about achievements, strengths and established qualities are built on tougher foundations. Perhaps you already have a spot in the local magazine, a relationship with the radio station, nursery or secondary school, college or community centre – seek out opportunities to stand up tall and wave at the world.
New schools aren’t alone in having some advantages; Academy Trusts have upped their game – employing professional marketing techniques that mean they are getting better at the way they present and represent themselves, convincing parents that they’re the right schools. If yours is, for example, a primary school sitting on its own without great marketing experience, where do you start?
You need to look at what you’ve already got. Consider the physical space and your place in terms of reputation and community involvement. Photography can be hugely important, especially as it will be compared with pictures of the new school in all its finery. Kids are kids, though, and yours are just as delightful, intense, charming and strong as the next school’s. Start by renewing your professional photography to show not only happy faces but to give a sense of what activities go on, the interactions between teachers and pupils, the Eureka moments in lessons. Think about what extracurricular activity is special in your school and discuss your key messages with designers to ensure the photographs reflect what you want to push out to parents and to the community. Make sure that whatever you say – in words, deeds and pictures, is consistent; ask yourself if your message reflects the values of the school and its leadership.
Your website deserves some attention. It should be attractive but also call people to action – book a virtual (or real!) tour of the school, request a brochure, watch a video. One of the easiest things that a primary school can do is to step back and just put themselves in the position of a prospective parent. They don’t want to have to wade through reams of text on a website or elsewhere – they want to quickly gain a sense of what you offer and feel reassured that their child will be happy – and do well – at your school. Much of this takes place unconsciously as key words and photographs create a genuine sense of the remarkable in your school. Having done that, you need to make it easy for the viewer to get some further information.
There’s no harm in sneaking a look at the new school’s website or promotional materials. If you notice something that stands out – in a good way – then you have a clue to what’s perhaps missing for your school. You might even have a go at ‘mystery shopping’ – get a friend or relative to explore a website or enquire at the school and listen to their feedback. Did it feel friendly and understandable? Was it easy to navigate and keep their attention? Was it tasty with creamy caramel and just enough salt?
Key to keeping up with the neighbouring school is having confidence in what you do and knowing how to promote it. This process starts while the new school is still displaying its architectural drawings, because you don’t need to wait for admission numbers – and your funding – to drop before taking action. Your school is remarkable. Its uniqueness runs through it at all levels, on all platforms. It’s like a Magnum Classic and even the Double Raspberry White Chocolate Mint Caraway Seed* flavour can’t beat that.
*No such flavour but if they bring it out we wouldn’t even try it.