Reaching your schools target groups

How many times have you heard it said: ‘People need to know more about us’? You will have given time and thought to how you might successfully get your message to the father who drops his son off on his Harley Davidson. What about the mother in the sharp suit and Louboutin heels who always turns up early with the curly-haired twins? Then there are the new communities that have recently settled in your area or perhaps you have new specialist facilities? How do you keep the right people informed?

Publicising your school and its strengths will never be as simple as communicating straightforward information with potential students and their parents

Rarely will any one communication method reach all your target groups equally. Marketing decisions include whether or not to include all community languages on your website, when and how to mention your school’s particular challenges and the wording of your admissions policy. The need, therefore, to use multiple processes in publicity is linked to another major consideration: your school is not an island (and, for Simon & Garfunkel fans, you can’t just hide in your room!). You are part of several different overlapping communities – educational establishments generally, your particular sector, your local, regional and national community, your immediate surroundings, the business community, the voluntary sector, communities of language, faith, needs and interests.

When you think about any communication or publicity method you have used or considered you will know that the tiniest details matter. From what pictures you use on a website to where you advertise your open days – these things say more about your school than any words and what they say will be different to different people: a picture of the same building says, ‘Crunchem Hall’ to one and ‘Grange Hill’ to another. The secret is to achieve a balance between spreading your net wide and retaining a focus.

You might begin by giving some thought as to what communications systems already exist in the communities of which your school is a part. If you are familiar with educational magazines and networks and the Times Educational Supplement, you might also consider the town website, the Livineer Herald, the parish noticeboard and St. Blessums’ church magazine. These are all places that not only provide for potential students and their parents – they give you a presence in your locality. For schools in other types of communities the list will vary – community centres, the Mosque, supermarkets, parks, places of work, etc. Think about how you already connect with the community and how you could build on that. Do you have people from local businesses visiting? Do you run work experience programmes or take children on trips? Does the school get involved in fundraising for local charities or support students involved through other groups such as uniformed organisations? Your establishment could be at the heart of the community literally – often geographically – or figuratively – popping up on websites and in bulletins, appearing at gatherings and events. Learn from product advertisers: recognition is half the battle. Schools where ‘branding’ (logo, colours, strapline, etc.) backs up their actual involvement and presence do well as people come to associate a recognisable brand with what it sees the school doing. If you need to take steps towards strengthening community involvement you might start by inviting businesses into your open days, for example, or highlighting some of your current community links in your prospectus, website and leaflets.

Very few marketing approaches can stand alone. Emily Robinson’s mother is considering where her daughter should go; she works in a local shop and sees an article about your school in the shop bulletin. The next day Emily’s friend Julio’s Nana talks about seeing your advert in the local paper. A week later Ely and Julio play hook-a-duck on your charity stall down by the schoolyard. That evening Mrs Robinson goes online and looks you up. Make sure you are easy to find and that when you are found you look good and keep her attention. Schools that don’t disappoint the Mrs Robinsons of the world – that reflect what happens externally with what is found online – put themselves in a position of strength (seeYour School’s Online Presence in September).

You might begin by giving some thought as to what communications systems already exist in the communities of which your school is a part. If you are familiar with educational magazines and networks and the Times Educational Supplement, you might also consider the town website, the Livineer Herald, the parish noticeboard and St. Blessums’ church magazine. These are all places that not only provide for potential students and their parents – they give you a presence in your locality. For schools in other types of communities the list will vary – community centres, the Mosque, supermarkets, parks, places of work, etc. Think about how you already connect with the community and how you could build on that. Do you have people from local businesses visiting? Do you run work experience programmes or take children on trips? Does the school get involved in fundraising for local charities or support students involved through other groups such as uniformed organisations? Your establishment could be at the heart of the community literally – often geographically – or figuratively – popping up on websites and in bulletins, appearing at gatherings and events. Learn from product advertisers: recognition is half the battle. Schools where ‘branding’ (logo, colours, strapline, etc.) backs up their actual involvement and presence do well as people come to associate a recognisable brand with what it sees the school doing. If you need to take steps towards strengthening community involvement you might start by inviting businesses into your open days, for example, or highlighting some of your current community links in your prospectus, website and leaflets.

Very few marketing approaches can stand alone. Emily Robinson’s mother is considering where her daughter should go; she works in a local shop and sees an article about your school in the shop bulletin. The next day Emily’s friend Julio’s Nana talks about seeing your advert in the local paper. A week later Ely and Julio play hook-a-duck on your charity stall down by the schoolyard. That evening Mrs Robinson goes online and looks you up. Make sure you are easy to find and that when you are found you look good and keep her attention. Schools that don’t disappoint the Mrs Robinsons of the world – that reflect what happens externally with what is found online – put themselves in a position of strength (seeYour School’s Online Presence in September).

Whether you think it’s an indulgence too far or an essential part of modern parenting – kids have a say! From 4-year olds seeking reassurance that their new school will be OK to 16 year olds considering boarding for their A level years, a school needs to prepare to be analysed by students themselves. Children and young people care about where their friends (and enemies) are going, dinners, clubs, uniform and sports or drama facilities. They also care about reputation – yours and theirs! Consider what methods you might use specifically to attract their attention – separately and together with more general publicity. How do you arrange your school tours for prospective students, for example? If you haven’t asked people what appeals to them or doesn’t, you might start with current and potential students. Use consultation and evaluation tools to measure the importance of different aspects of the school and its publicity material. You might want to employ specialists to advise you but there is a lot you can do using common sense and the skills of your staff. Talk to your design company about how to collect information and then use it in products such as websites, posters and leaflets.

A word on special schools

The new legislation giving parents more choice in where to send their child with special needs is an opportunity for special schools to sell their expertise directly to parents. Local authority placements will increasingly factor in parental choice leaving you open to closer inspection by families than ever before. Some parents may not yet be aware of the increased choice – so tell them! Although they will be attracted by appearance – a professional look, happy children & facilities, as well as eye-catching design – they may want more detail about teaching methods, pastoral care and specialist expertise. You may want to re-design information leaflets, brochures or website in order to show the school at its best in an accessible form.

Appealing to faith groups

Whether you are a faith-based school or one answering the needs of children of various or specific faith communities, you should know how to get your message to the right people and places. Think about your policies and rules, the language you use and advertising venues. Don’t try to be what you are not but see marketing your school as an opportunity to find out what makes it special (See Identifying a School’s Unique Selling Points, October) and highlight that to gain interest. Sometimes appealing to faith groups means dealing with people for whom English is a second language – possibly parents more than children. Think about how you might embrace this in a way that is fair and achievable. Your design company will be able to provide translators and interpreters if required.

Overall, reaching your target groups successfully depends on the implementation of a professional strategy. The engagement of an expert design team is one way to build a bridge over troubled waters of that nature and guaranteed to ease your mind and the minds of your governors, staff, students and parents.


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 hello@blueappleuk.com

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