Cost effective marketing for schools and how to ignore good advice.

Blue Apple Education

Have you ever bought a supermarket cake and then realised you could have made a much better one yourself? (Of course, you eat the bought one anyway). Making cakes is one of those things that lots of people can do really well. However, would you hire a plumber and then advise them on how to fit the taps? Would you appoint a solicitor to defend you in court then take over yourself on the basis of your ‘A’ level Law? It’s worth giving this some thought when you are deciding how to take forward your school’s marketing strategy – and how much you want to pay.


The ability to strike a balance between expert design and customer input is an essential ingredient a good designer can offer your school’s marketing plan. Online or hard-copy materials that look great but neutralise the character of your school won’t do the job. A good graphic designer should know about you, the school, the staff, parents and students before presenting you to the world. The designer should help you find that fine line between low budget materials – that might suggest low budget facilities and teaching – and overdone, flashy design that makes people question where you priorities are. You also need to achieve balance across the various ways you profile or advertise the school; a plan for marketing may include some materials you’ve designed yourself – certainly you may manage publicity at some school events without any external professional involvement – yet you should avoid a mismatch between the various ‘shop windows’ you present.

Working this way ultimately ensures that what you spend on your promotional strategy gets you the best possible results for the price. If the design team understands your school and the way you want to approach marketing they will be eager to work with you right from the outset when you are thinking about cost. How you spread whatever you can afford across everything that needs to be done is a huge consideration. For example, the design team should not ignore any aspect of a promotions strategy that doesn’t include them! If you blow your last pound on a great website you may end up doing invitations to a school event in felt pen and photocopying them in the local shop.

The involvement of design expertise early on helps bring your strategy together as a whole. This gets results by capturing the best internal input and combining it with sensitive design work by people who understand what you’re trying to do. A good graphic designer will also understand that cost is a major consideration and that, ‘It varies’ or, ‘It depends’ isn’t a helpful response when you ask, ‘How much will it cost?’ To get over this difficulty you might:

  1. Look at the samples of work with costs: A good design company will offer you sample work, e.g. a website, leaflet, prospectus, and tell you how much something like that would cost. Don’t forget the cost includes building a relationship with you, discussing and developing your ideas, fitting in with (or helping you develop) an overall strategy and amending or adding to the design as you work together – so ask for detail about the approach and how much you’ll be involved.
  2. Ask for a standard quote: This is a costing for an ‘off-the-peg’ product, for example, a 5 page website, a 2-sided leaflet, a 20 page prospectus or a combination of several specified products.
  3. Get a detailed, itemised estimate: Once you know exactly what you want then ask your design company for an accurate costing.

An outcomes based costing: Talk with the designer about what you want to achieve then devise a product and activity plan to make that possible. For example, you may want to increase your student numbers by a certain percentage or raise your profile in sections of the local community. The design team may also be able to help you with evaluating your success through things like analysis of increased website traffic and target group feedback – so ask them about this, too!

graphic designer is trained in more than just using an Apple Mac or manipulating graphics and fonts. An expert designer knows what appeals to different people, how most people respond to words, colour, pictures, format, etc., and can create eye-catching graphics that highlight your school’s strengths with subtlety and style. If you have a good reason for insisting on using the Comic Sans font by all means discuss it with your designer but also listen to their advice, (that Comic Sans can look amateurish and, by association, suggest a lack of professionalism).

Photography can be expensive and is another example of something undertaken as a hobby. However, well-composed, pin-sharp images with, for example, all children’s (and staff!) eyes open, acting naturally, in good light and processed correctly for printing, require the skills of a photographer experienced in this kind of work. Of course, existing photographs are often popular, because of the memories they conjure up or the history they represent, and it may be appropriate to include them.

People like to stick with what’s familiar so it’s not surprising that sometimes a designer comes up with a new and fresh website or prospectus that is initially enthusiastically welcomed by the school. The school suggests a little change, a few tweaks to the colours, images or fonts, add a little bit, alter something… before you know it the website looks remarkably like the old one that the Head of 6th form’s daughter’s friend put together in her gap year 10 years ago. One customer that recently did this with their website eventually saw their mistake and then requested that everything be changed back to the original design – not a cost effective way to operate!

Whichever way you go decisions should be based on your strategic approach and desired outcomes, working with experts who know how to include essential components whilst still producing a professional look and a feel that reflects the school at its best. That’s the best way to achieve what you want with the money you have; it’s like having a homemade cake and eating it. That’s cost-effective.

We are school communication & design experts

If you want to find out how Blue Apple Education can help you unearth the remarkable in your school you can call us on +44 (0) 330 223 0766 or email us

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